Wonder 54


Tanner is one smart kid. When he plays Arithmetic Attack, he actually knows the sums and rattles them off before the screen even finishes loading. I remember when I was kid trying to master basic math functions. “Feel the numbers!” Tia Berry told me.

I think I ended up doing some sort of fancy visualization of clusters of dots. Memorizing would’ve been a lot quicker, in the long run.


I still heard Tanner calling out the sums while I was in the kitchen. It was my birthday, and I was going to bake a cake!


Luna, living in the big house just across the meadow, was the first to arrive.

“That looks like it’s sugar-free, Chaz,” she said, looking at the cake batter.

“It’s date-sweetened,” I told her, “so it’s got both fructose and sucrose. But it’s still healthier than processed sugar cane!”


“Are you expecting a lot of people?” Tanner asked.

“Oh, not so many!” I told him. I started rattling off the guest list. When I reached eighteen names, I realized that, for a little kid who’d just moved here, maybe that was a lot. “But seus avós will be coming, and you know them already!”

“That makes only sixteen strangers then,” he said.


I thought for a moment that maybe I should have consulted with Tanner–or included him in the planning. I’m still not accustomed to thinking as a family.

I confessed my worries to the caterer, who’s someone I know from the diner.

“I wouldn’t worry,” she said. “Look around! Everybody’s having a great time! Besides, you’re the dad. You get to make the big decisions, like when to have parties and who to invite.”


A little later, I found Pai in the living room, sitting alone and laughing over a movie.

“You OK, Pai?” I asked. I was surprised he wasn’t with everyone else.

“You ever see this movie?” he asked. “This one about the ghosts that need busting! It about to make me bust a gut! It’s Gut-Busters, that’s for sure, Carlito!”


I watched the last few minutes of the movie with him, then we walked together back into the kitchen, where all my friends and neighbors were gathered.

“Where are os velhos? It is all the youth! I want to see the more the gray hair!” he said.


I looked around, and sure enough, Pai and Mãe were the only old folks there. That felt odd to me. It’s the first party I’ve had or been to that Tia Berry wasn’t at, the first one without other friends in my parents’ generation.

I watched Tanner, and I thought about how, for him, he’s in a party with a bunch of old people. Grown-ups. But heck. We were just kids yesterday, and our parents were not even as old as we are now.


I worried about Mãe. Pai kept a smile on her face, but she’s still looked strained and worn.


“You feeling all right, Mãe?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, son,” she said. She’d never called me “son” before. “I’ve got a million feelings inside of me, and a million and one echoes. And every single one is telling me that everything is all right.”

Pai wrapped me in a big hug.

“I am so proud of you, Carlos,” he said. “You always do me proud.”


It was a great birthday. I felt surrounded with all the good feelings of my friends, my parents, and my son.

I didn’t know it at the time–though maybe, on some level, I sensed it–but that was the last time I’d see Mãe and Pai. We found out a few days later that Mãe passed. And the day after that was Pai‘s last. I try to feel thankful that Tanner got to meet seus avós and to remember on top of that that our last day together was full of laughter and hugs.

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Wonder 53

It was the morning after the day my life changed: the day I lost my tia and gained my son.

In the kitchen, while I was washing up the dishes, I looked across, and there sat Tanner, the same little boy I’d met at the clinic the day before, a few hours before I got the phone call from Pai that crashed my world.


He sat there with a huge smile on his face, looking up towards the ceiling.


“What are you thinking?” I asked as I joined him at the table.

“I was just… I don’t know how to explain,” he said.

“That’s OK,” I said. “You don’t have to. You don’t need to tell me everything.”

“No, it’s not that,” he said. “I want to say, but I don’t have words to say. You know how you feel like when you’re on your last life on level 9 and you’re really close to high score, but you’re facing about ten monsters between you and level 10, and you really should have died, but then somehow, boom-boom-boom, you get through, and the bells go off, and it’s high score, and you’re like, ‘Man! I should’ve died!’? It’s sort of like that.”

“You mean like gratitude?” I say.

“What’s gratitude?” he asks.

“It’s the feeling of thank you.”

He thinks for a minute.


“Yeah,” he says. “Like that.”

And I felt it, too. I felt, first, that open-heart feeling of raw grief, and into that open heart rushed tenderness and after that, gratitude.

We invited Mãe and Pai to visit. I worried when I called that it was too soon. But Mãe said she didn’t want to wait. She wanted to meet her grandson.

She managed a smile when she came, and I put on my brightest face. But I could see how worn she was.


“You know I’ve dreamed of this,” she said.

“I know, Mãe,” I replied.


And then Tanner ran out, and Mãe smiled a real smile.

“So this is the boy,” she said.

“I’m Tanner!” he shouted.


“What should I call you?” he asked.

I explained that I’d called my grandparents avó and avô, and he laughed. “I’ll have an avo sandwich,” he said.


Mãe suggested, “You could call me Grandma, but my name is Mae. How about if you call me Grandmae?”

I chuckled. “You’ve got the best name!”


“Do you play chess, Grandmae?”

She’d thought he’d never ask.


Pai wandered up from the beach.

Minha família,” he said. He was all smiles.


We sat and remembered my first visit to this island home, when Pai brought me here to meet meus avós.

“I was about Tanner’s age,” I reminded Pai, “and the island felt like something out of a pirate adventure book!”

“Are there really pirates here?” Tanner asked.


I headed inside to make lunch, and when I looked back over my shoulder at them, I caught Mãe‘s face, unaware. Her eyes were puffy and tired, likely from a night of crying. She looked so drained, it hurt me to see her.


I was about to head back to try to say something, when Pai spoke to her, and she raised her hands and smiled, full of love. I don’t know what he said.


But I could see that it brought her back to this afternoon in the sun, with her new grandchild. I felt at that moment that I hadn’t rushed things. Or that, even if I had, it was for the best. She got to meet her grandson. Minha mãe got to spend an afternoon with the three rapazes in her life: her man, her son, and her grandson.


After they left, Tanner went inside to play games on the computer. I took a swim, and then painted.

As I fit together the swathes of color, I thought about the composition of the whole, made of all the shades, of course, but also made of shapes that intertwine, like emotions.

I can’t be blamed if I rush things. I want to fit it all in, while I can.


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Wonder 51


Since I’ve been working at the clinic, I’ve noticed that we get a bunch of regulars. Jeanette is one of them.

I’m not sure if she’s actually sick each time she comes, but I can’t figure out why else she would stop by. Surely, she has other things to do on a beautiful morning.

“Your heartbeat is regular,” I told her. “Your lungs sound clear. Your eyes are bright. Your complexion is good. I can’t find anything wrong with you.”

“Maybe I should stop in tomorrow on my lunch break,” she said. “Just in case any new symptoms develop. Are you working tomorrow?”

In the break room at lunch, I told my supervisor about her frequent visits.

“Benefit of the job,” he said, with a chuckle.

I have no idea what he was talking about.


Our research is going well. I logged in a few test results after lunch.

My boss was giving Brantley, the research project manager, a hard time.

“The grant deadline is in two weeks!” he shouted. “Have you even started the application?”

“I thought we agreed at our last staff meeting that you’d be handling the application,” Brantley said.


I felt relieved when my lab duties were over and I could return to the examining rooms where we talk in quiet voices.

A boy I’d treated a few weeks back was there.

“How’re you feeling, spud?” I asked him.


He had a sore throat and a slight fever.

“You’ve just got a virus,” I said. “We’ve got a good cure for that.”


“Will it hurt?” he asked.

“Not at all!” I replied. “You’ll feel great within a few hours, and you’ll be running around and driving your mom nuts.”

“I haven’t got a mom,” he replied.


“You don’t?” I asked.

“Naw,” he said. “I’m a morphin.”

“An orphan?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Who do you live with?” I asked.

“The other morphins at the Morphin Ridge.”

I gave him a child’s dose of remedy.


While he rested, I went out front to talk with the social worker who’d brought him in. I’d wanted to let her know that the boy would be just fine and to tell her that she could bring in any of the kids at the first sign of cold or flu. We ended up talking for nearly half an hour about Windenburg Kids’ Home and the children who lived there. Many were adopted fairly quickly, she explained. In fact, the boy I’d treated was scheduled to be moving in with a family just as soon as the final paperwork cleared. But there were some who never found homes.

Riding the ferry back, I started thinking about my house on the island. I had an extra room downstairs. I’d enjoyed living alone, but was that really what I wanted for all of my life? If there was someone out there who needed a home, and if I had extra room to spare…

I spent the rest of the ferry ride daydreaming.

I got a call that evening from my friend the waitress at the diner. She asked if I wanted to meet her at the bar.

“Bear-suits?” I asked.

She laughed. “No, it’s an extra-terrestrial conference,” she replied. “Interested?”

I wasn’t really, but I thought it would be fun to spend an evening with her, so I agreed to meet her there.

“Charlie,” she said when she saw me.

“Are you feeling OK?” I asked. “Your voice sounds kind of husky. You’re not coming down with something, are you?”

She laughed. “Never better,” she said.


We enjoyed a few drinks and a long conversation. I told her I’d just begun to think about adopting.

“Adopting?” she asked. “You mean, you’d be a single parent?”

I told her how I’d been raised by a single mom and my aunt and how my experience of family stemmed from the discovery minha mãe had made that it was love that made a family, not necessarily a mom and a dad bound by marriage.

My friend said something about an early shift and left abruptly. I decided to walk around to enjoy the warm night. I wanted to turn over my idea of adopting a child so I could look at it from all sides.

I ran into minha mãe.

“Man, this is perfect timing!” I told her. “You’re exactly the person I want to talk about this with!”


I explained my idea.

“There are so many kids that need homes,” I said. “I know that I can’t take them all, but even if I just take one, I’d make a difference, right?”

“Charlie,” she said, “I’ve always known you would be an amazing father. And I’ve also always had a hunch that you wouldn’t become one in the traditional way.”


“Really, Mãe?” I asked. “But what do you mean?”

“Charlie,” she said, “think about it. Have you ever been interested in a girl, I mean in any way other than as a friend?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. “But I’m not really interested in guys that way, either.”

“I know,” said Mãe. “And that’s fine. You’ve always been you. You love everyone, and everyone loves you, just maybe not in the flowers-and-candlelight kind of way. Or even in the quickie-in-the-closet type of way. I think it’s a beautiful thing, Charlie, your love of people. You will make a good father, and I think adoption is the perfect way for you to become one.”


“Thanks, Mãe,” I said. “It’s pretty sudden, but it’s the right decision, isn’t it? ”

She wrapped me in a big hug. “It is so much the right decision.”


“Now just get busy filling out the paperwork,” she said. “I hear the process can take a really long time, and I want to get to have a chance to meet my grandkid before it’s too late.”

I looked at her hard.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” I asked.

“No, spud,” she replied. “Just being realistic.”


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Wonder 35



When I woke, I had forgotten all the lonely thoughts of the night before. It was a new day! It was my first day as a doctor! Or at least, as an intern hoping to become a doctor.

I burst out of bed with the mockingbird’s song. I had to race to breakfast and shower before the 8:05 ferry.

For the whole ferry ride, I kept thinking about being in a position to help people. If someone’s not feeling well, I’d be able to put things right to restore comfort and health. What an honor! What a gift from the universe to be somebody that can help make somebody else feel better. I was bursting with enthusiasm and gratitude when I walked through the clinic’s doors.

The first person I met was Luna Villareal, one of the newer general physicians on staff.

“I hear we’re neighbors now,” Luna said.

“Yeah! Maybe we can take the ferry in together sometime!” I suggested.

“I work a different shift,” she said. “But maybe I’ll see you around the island? Anyway, during the times that our shifts overlap, I’ll be happy to advise or help in any way. Just ask!”


One of my first tasks was to analyze some samples. I had no idea what I was doing. It took a while to figure out the machine, and then I couldn’t make heads or tales of the charts and symbols.

Eva, the roommate/whatever of meu pai, who is my supervisor (she’s the one who got me the job, actually), said she’d be happy to show me how to interpret the results, but she got busy. I guess she gets busy a lot around here.


The receptionist called me to help admit some of the patients, and Mãe was standing in line, looking terrible.

Mãe! You’re ill!” I said.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” she replied. “I just… Oh. I’m just hot. And tired. And achy.”


“But you never get sick,” I told her, as I led her back to the examining room.

“I got sick once,” she answered, “when I was pregnant with you. Oh, I felt horrible then. Just like now. I had such a fever. We worried it would be bad for you, but the nurse practitioner said you’d be fine. And you were! Am I rambling?”

“Just a bit,” I replied.

She asked how my day was going. I confided that it was awful.

“I have no idea what I’m doing. I know I’m supposed to, being a Wonder Child and all that. But I’m seriously clueless.”

Mãe laughed. “No one’s born being a doctor,” she replied.

“I’m serious,” I said. “Take you, for example. I have no idea how to help you. What would you do if I weren’t an intern here?”

“Why,” she answered, “I’d drink some of Berry’s herbal stuff.”

“And would it work?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah! Like a charm! I don’t know what all she puts in there–cinnamon, echinacea, maybe licorice or star anise–but it works, and I’m sure I’d feel better soon.”

“Well, then,” I said, “That’s just what I prescribe. Go directly home, have a generous helping of Tia Berry’s herbal stuff, and call me in the morning. See? I’m getting this down!”


The rest of my shift went pretty smoothly. I managed to clean up a few messes, cheer up a few patients, and even open the door for a few people! Not brilliant, but at least I could say I had “done no harm.”

On the ferry ride back, I kept thinking about Tia Berry’s herbal remedies. I’d taken them a time or two growing up–sometimes for preventive measures and sometimes to cure a cold–and they worked. If Nature provides something that heals, then she does so in order for us to use it. I was going to have to call my tia to find out what she puts in that recipe.

Maybe, part of me being a doctor is doing things my style, with herbs, for example, instead of synthetic chemicals.


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Wonder 29



I’ve been feeling drowsy and dreamy, writing love poetry. What got into me? Somehow, I’ve been nostalgic lately. I blame this book of poetry I’m writing. Together Apart–with a title like that, how could I keep from getting a little sentimental?

So when Paolo stopped by that evening, my heart was already wide open.


Combine my temporary poet’s heart with the man that Paolo is to me–that’s a sure recipe for melted ice cream. Sweet, sticky, and all over you.


Charlie came in while Paolo and I were cuddling on the couch. Actually, we were making out, but we toned it down with Charlie’s entrance.

Charlie didn’t seem embarrassed. I guess he’s used to it by now. Pao doesn’t come over all that often, but when he does, he and I usually end up together someplace, and Charlie and Berry walk around us, pretending we’re invisible.


“What is he making, nosso filho?” Paolo asked when Charlie remained in the kitchen.

I switched on a movie.

“I’m making spaghetti, Pai,” Charlie said. “Do you want some?”

Paolo and I watched the film while Charlie fixed supper.


I love these rare moments when we’re like every other family. Berry joined us for supper, and she and Paolo bantered, the way they do, with him trying to hook her up with every friend and cousin of his, and her dodging each attempt with more and more ridiculous come-backs. By the time I cleared the dishes, Berry was explaining that the true artist finds love within the soul–the soul of indigo and magenta, and so it is in the pigment where the true marriage takes place.

Once the conversation reaches that level, Paolo checks out mentally, and Berry wins every time.

After supper, Charlie went out to paint. I watched him from the porch. Sometimes this boy looks so sublime. I can always see his dad in him, and my dad, too, for that matter. And then there is the quality that is pure Charlie–this essence that no one else but our boy can express.


“What are you painting, Charlie?” I asked him.

“The subject matter is fish,” he said, “but it’s really one of those paintings about oneness and two-ness.”


His dad came out when Charlie was putting away his paints.

“You are looking like the athelete,” said Paolo. “You are working out, yes? It’s not all the painting and the cooking, right, meu filho?”


Paolo got on the treadmill. “Observe,” he said to Charlie, and he set the machine to a high setting.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“I am beating our son’s record,” Paolo answered. “The machine, she remembers the best score. Watch. Mine will be the best.”


Right then, I remembered why I was happy with our arrangement the way it was.

Charlie was inside watching a cooking show on TV. I thought for a moment what it might have been like if his dad had lived there. What would our boy be like living with that type of competition all the time?

I don’t think Berry would have stayed, if Paolo and I had gotten married. She can handle Paolo’s teasing for an evening, but if it were a constant, she’d be out of here.

And Charlie without Berry’s influence? I can’t imagine! She’s the one who’s nurtured his artist’s soul.

I felt a quick spurt of giddy happiness: look how it had all worked out! Just like that, my earlier nostalgia vanished. Thank you, reality, for helping me to check my romance on the shelf labeled “Great Myths of the World.”


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Wonder 27



Charlie seems to have no idea that he’s the type of guy that girls find cute.

I’m his mom, so of course I’ve always thought he was the cutest thing. I love to tease him just so I can see that lop-sided grin of his.


But I’m not the only one who thinks he’s cute. Since his club has been meeting at our place, I’ve been watching the kids in the club, one of them, in particular.

Miranda’s known Charlie since they were little. He met her one day when he took an adventure all by himself to the park. Later, she transferred to his school, and they’ve become good friends.

She lights up whenever Charlie’s around.

I hope she’s not picking up signals that aren’t really signals. Charlie’s so friendly with everyone that he makes people feel special when he talks to them. I can’t tell by watching them if he thinks she’s more special or if he feels she’s regular special.

Either way, it’s pretty clear that she feels he’s most special.


She’s a beautiful young woman.

When I watch Charlie, Yuki, and Miranda meditating together, I wonder what they’re feeling. Are they thinking of each other? Do they feel connected through a shared sense of peace? Charlie looks blissed-out.

I probably shouldn’t feel envious of my kid, but I do. There are times when I see him express a feeling of integration or wholeness, and I think what I wouldn’t give to feel like that.


“The energy of creativity is free,” he was telling Yuki and Hugo. I was drawn to his words, even though I didn’t agree. I’d been facing a writer’s block recently with a poetry collection I was preparing for publication. The form was fine–both on the individual level of each poem and on the composite level of the entire collection. But the essence was missing. My images were falling flat, and every symbol felt trite. I felt dry, and my words were sand.

“The energy of creativity is all around us!” Charlie continued. “In fact, it’s energy! Close your eyes, feel that movement–what is that? That’s life! That’s creativity!”


Yuki and Hugo didn’t look like they were buying it. I couldn’t seem to grasp it, either, though I wanted to.

I started thinking of objections: life flows around and through us, but how do we express it through our work? How do I sit down and write a poem that says something unique about the experience of being alive, without becoming trite?

What keeps Charlie’s insights from being common drivel, platitudes that express only emptiness?


Later, he and Miranda were talking. It’s Charlie’s sincerity that keeps his words from being empty, I saw. He may not have the vocabulary to express what he experiences, but everything he says comes from something he knows, something he’s discovered through feeling, intuition, sensing, being, or exploration.

Miranda seems to get him. I felt a sudden pang watching her smile in understanding as he was talking about patterns of movement that repeat through energetic pulse, music, color perception, breath, brain wave. The type of unity he described is so beyond anything I have ever experienced, let alone conceived of, and he described it as if it were his native language. Where has this boy come from? Has he always had these thoughts, and did he keep them inside of him until he met the right people that he could share them with? This boy, what universes exist within him that I will never be able to join?


Something shifted in me with that realization–it was as if the block slid aside, and words tumbled out. I knew where my poems wanted to go.



We started as one–
this I get.
That breath we shared, same pulse, same blood.
The pain is simply
the separation
of one into

Centrioles move to opposing poles.
The nucleolus disappears.

You will be moving soon,
somewhere away.
I am preparing.

Go, boy.
Leave me to steel myself
for the mitosis
of my heart.

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Wonder 26



Minha mãe is a hero. I always knew it. Today, due to my idiocy, I put that knowledge to the test. It started with the best intentions: my club buddies were over, we were hungry after yoga practice, and I volunteered to scramble up some eggs for us.

Tia Berry said that morning that she heard snapping sounds coming from the stove when she was heating water for tea. We thought it was the kettle expanding.

But as I was cooking, there was a loud pop under the front burner, and then the stove burst into flame.

I grabbed the fire extinguisher before my mind even registered what was happening, and then next thing I knew, there was Mãe at my side, fighting the fire with me.


Mãe!” I yelled. “Go outside! Take Berry with you! Get safe!”

“We got this, Charlie,” she said.

Yuki ran in screaming. “I smelled smoke!”

“Get outside, Yuki!” I shouted. “Take my tia with you!”


Time did that weird thing where it stops and silence wraps itself around everything. I loved it. I hated the fire, and I felt like such an idiot for having started it, but I loved that silent envelope. I felt like I was moving through clarity–not a thought, just total awareness, like I could step through the frozen moment.


“You’re awesome, Mãe,” I said when the fire was finally out.

“We did it, spud,” she said. “Not bad.”


She got that wistful look she gets when she watches me.

“I ever tell you about the first fire I fought?”

She hadn’t.

“It was my second trimester,” she said. “I was hungry all the time. And sick all the time, but you don’t want to hear about that.”

She told me about how the stove had burst into flames when she was scrambling up some eggs for breakfast. She’d put out the fire then, too.

“I liked it,” she said, “if you want to know the truth. I liked the power of quenching the flames. I liked knowing I could keep you safe.”

“That’s how I feel now,” I said. “I’d do anything, Mãe.”

“Me, too,” she said.


The kitchen was a mess–flakes of ash everywhere, the stove emitting the stench of burnt plastic and electrical wires.

I cleaned it up. If I really would do anything, then that means doing the gross work, too. Heck, minha mãe had just put out a kitchen fire. She shouldn’t have to clean up the kitchen, too.


I realized I was starving once the biggest part of the mess was cleaned up. We had to wait for the new stove to be delivered, and, besides, I really didn’t feel like cooking with heat. I made a salad.


Later, after Hugo and Yuki left, when Mãe and Tia Berry were sleeping, I did some reps out back. It’s a weird feeling I had. Can a person feel both tender and strong?

I felt vulnerable because I realized how quickly anything could go wrong. I felt like a baby because minha mãe had rushed to save me. I realized she’d always do that–as long as she lived. No matter how big, how strong I am, I’ll always be o bebê da minha mãe.

At the same time, I felt powerful. I’d protected her. I’d protected our house. I’d found this strength and courage inside of me. I’d stepped into that mighty tunnel of silence, and I’d found something in me I never knew I had.

I don’t know how this works: How does it work that I can be both a baby and a man at the same time?


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Wonder 25



Lately, I’ve been watching Charlie as if I’m seeing him for the first time. I wonder if my dad felt like this sometimes. I remember once, I was about Charlie’s age, and I was writing in my journal. I remember that I felt excited–I’d just discovered something. I forget what it was, but I was writing quickly, and when I looked up, I caught my dad looking at me.

“What are you doing?” I asked my dad.

“I’m seeing you,” he said. I blushed.

“I’m nothing to look at,” I answered.

“No,” said my dad. “You’re beautiful.”

I remember how bashful I felt. But as I’m looking at Charlie now, seeing how beautiful, how amazing he is, I imagine that my face looks like my dad’s did then: lost in the wonder of this person that somehow came here through me.

Charlie and Berry as so similar. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, Berry and I raised him. And Berry and I, we talk a lot. I mean, we’re always talking, always sharing our ideas and our opinions. I guess we’re opinionated. So it makes sense that Charlie would pick up our views and mindset. But it’s not just ideas that he shares with his aunt: he even has her gestures and mannerisms.


I always thought that Charlie would grow up macho and tough. I’m not sure how I got that idea. He was a bold kid, and his dad, while not coarse, by any means, is certainly very masculine. So I always imagined that Charlie would grow up to be just like him. But Charlie has such a sensitive side. He’s creative and intellectual, and he speaks articulately and eloquently, and he seems to be always thinking, always feeling.


He’s started a club. It’s called “Paint,” but it’s really a club for sensitive, creative types like him. It was his idea that they practice yoga.

“I’ve been reading about meditation,” he said. “Musicians are using it to help with performance anxiety. I think I need to add it to my toolkit.”


“It’s good for artists, too,” said Yuki. “Integration of mind and body!”

I watched Yuki talking with him. Charlie doesn’t seem to notice yet, but he draws women to him. I’m grateful he’s sensitive: at least if he breaks hearts, it won’t be intentional.


During the first club meeting, Berry and Hugo got mired in a debate about pointillism. I had to shake my head. Leave it to my sister to refute the optics theory behind it.

“It’s all dots anyway,” she said, “whether we paint them as such or not. We just can’t perceive them in any other way!”

Hugo seemed deflated.


Charlie joined them.

“It’s having a renaissance, did you say?” he asked Hugo.

“Yeah, sure,” said Hugo. “And I’m the biggest champion.”

“But why not Impressionism?” said Beryl.

“It’s not either-or, is it?” Charlie said. “Don’t we learn more when it’s both-and? And even if now, we can see what about pointillism doesn’t work, doesn’t that make it even more interesting, for we learn about how our minds put together what we see, like when we listen to music, if we know something about auditory theory, we can understand how our minds put together what we hear into a cohesive piece? Isn’t that what matters?”

Beryl and Hugo both looked at him, feeling their argument had been diffused.

Charlie smiled and continued talking with more and more enthusiasm about how we create meaning out of what we see and hear.

I thought of my dad, again, as I always seem to do whenever I reflect on having once been a daughter, and now being a mother. I remembered how my dad picked up my journal one day and held it before me. “It’s just little lines on paper,” he said, “until the human mind decodes these scratches and forms them into meaning.”

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Wonder 23



Another birthday. Dad would always ask me on my birthday, “What did you learn this year, baby girl?”

What did I learn, this year? Oh, so much! And it’s what I’ve known all along. Family is more than those under the same roof: family is made of those individuals we move through time with, sharing affection the way we share meals, jokes, stories, and songs.

Berry spent the afternoon learning to play “Happy Birthday” on the guitar.

“It ain’t easy!” she said. “This song is so dang complicated. Let’s sing Frere Jacques instead! I got that one down. Or Down in the Valley.


As soon as Charlie got home, he texted all our friends to let them know the party was starting.

“By the way, Mae,” he said, “Grades are in, and I got an A!” Even more reason to celebrate!


Charlie’s grandparents came from the island. We didn’t get a chance to visit much. Carlo spent most of his time out in side garden with his neighbors from the island.


Every birthday, my dad would also ask me, “What did you give this year?”

What did I give? It doesn’t even feel like giving when it just comes out naturally.


I gave Charlie a lot of time.

Berry and I have stuck by our original decision to let him pursue his interests. He’s become a musician. We gave him so many days and nights when he could practice all day. Now he’s composing. Given a choice, he’ll always turn to his violin.

When I hear his talent, it would be so easy to pressure him to be a professional musician, but Berry and I have both decided that we’ll just support him in going the direction that he wants to go.


My dad’s third birthday question was, “What do you dream for the coming year?”

I dream of warmth. This love inside me–I’m not damming it up. This year, I dream of letting this warmth spread like sunshine, wherever it wants to go.


I watched Berry meander through the party crowds, gathering the dirty dishes. When she’s helping, she’s happy. That’s one way  of spreading the warmth.


Paolo’s mom made a side comment to me in the kitchen. “Seems to be an abundance of young single men here, mãe de meu neto.”


I guess she didn’t like to see her son, the father of her grandson, there with our other single guy friends.


“To my sister!” Berry called as the party was winding down. Everyone cheered, and I felt, suddenly and surprisingly, shy. I’m usually one to just laugh and deflect the attention. But feeling all eyes on me, including the eyes of Paolo’s parents, made me feel like a five-year-old again, and I darted off to the bedroom, hoping for a few moments alone to collect myself.


I ran into Paolo instead–or rather, into his arms.

“Mae,” he whispered, “you are to me always meu Mae.”

“Can you stay awhile?” I asked Paolo. Suddenly, I had this wish for us to be a family, and I could hardly wait for the guests to leave, so it would just be Charlie, Paolo, Berry, and me.


Paolo and Charlie talked about music–not futebol, but Berlioz.

I love to watch Charlie talk with his dad. I enjoy tracing the genetic patterns, seeing my dad’s nose on a face shaped like Paolo’s. But even more, I love the warmth in Charlie’s eyes.


Charlie’s stayed best friends with his dad. I wonder if they’d be this close if Paolo had lived with us during Charlie’s childhood, instead of just down the street. Because Paolo had his own home and his own life, separate from ours, I sensed a respect and a tenderness that existed between the two that the pressures of daily life never had a chance to erode.


And that same tenderness exists between me and Paolo, too. When I don’t have years of resentment built up over piles of dirty laundry, or morning breath, or forgotten bills, all I have instead for the father of our son is gratitude and love. Feeling this is the best birthday gift.


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Wonder 19



“What if they don’t like me?” Charlie asked.

“Of course they’ll like you!” I said. “They’re your grandparents!”

“But I’ve never had grandparents before,” Charlie answered.


Paolo surprised us a few days ago by telling us that his parents had sold their furniture store, retired, bought a little cabin on the island, and moved in!

They wanted to be part of their grandson’s life.

Paolo told us all of this apologetically, as if it was an imposition. But I told him it was an honor. Charlie is lucky to have grandparents.

I called his school and arranged for him to take Friday off so he could go with Paolo to the island to meet them.

“I get to ride a ferry, right Mae?” he asked.


“Sure thing,” I replied.

“So even if they don’t like me, it’ll be worth it to ride the ferry.”

“Son,” I said, “when have you ever met anyone who hasn’t liked you? You’re friendly, polite, and enthusiastic. You are a very likable person.”

Charlie thought for a few moments.


“Well,” he said at last, “sometimes other people don’t like me at first. But usually, after we’ve talked and cracked a few jokes, they like me at last.”


“There you go!” I said.

“Plus, I bet if I’m really useful and helpful, even a grumpy avozinha would like me.”


“I don’t think your grandma will be grumpy,” I said. “She used to be an opera singer!”

“I’ll practice being useful anyway,” Charlie said, and before his dad came to pick him up, he washed all the dishes, even the ones we left outside the night before.


With him gone, the day seemed to drag on forever, and I was so eager to ask him about his grandparents and his visit when he returned at the end of the day.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Ok,” he said. “Avozinha is sort of just like Pai if he were old and had a long pony-tail.”


“And is she nice, your avozinha?”

“Oh, yeah. She sang for me. It’s the sort of song that makes you feel happy and also really sad at the same time.”


“Puccini?” I asked.

“I think so,” Charlie said.

“And your vovô ?”

“He’s cute. He wears a hat. Even inside. And his eyes are like a gnome’s.”

“You mean squinty?”

“No,” Charlie answered. “Twinkly.”


“What did you do?” I asked.

“I played their piano. It’s about the size of a boat, a fishing boat. It makes really loud noises but also really soft ones, too. I played that song I’m working on for the violin.”


“Did you eat?” I asked.

“Of course!” Charlie said. “When it was time to eat, Avozinha sang a song that was about ‘refeição está pronta,’ and so we ate.”


“Who ate more, you or Pai?”

Pai left by then,” Charlie said.

“What?” I was shocked. “You mean Pai left you there all by yourself?”

Charlie explained that Paolo took him there, introduced him to his parents, and then took the next ferry back. Since Charlie obviously had such a good time, it was hard for me to stay mad, but this certainly wasn’t what I’d expected.


“But you were OK there by yourself?” I asked.

“I wasn’t by myself,” Charlie said. “I was with Vovô  and Avozinha, silly!”


“Well, as long as you had a good time,” I said.

“I had so much fun,” said Charlie.


“And when it was time for the last ferry, I got to run down to the dock all by myself!” Charlie said.


“Your grandma and grandpa didn’t go with you?” I asked.

“Naw,” said Charlie. “Avozinha was doing the dishes, and Vovô was taking a nap.”


“What was the best part of the day for you?” I asked Charlie.

“Taking the ferry back,” he said. “The captain let me ride up with him, and I even got to blow the horn! What was the best part of the day for you?”

“When you got back home, safe and sound,” I said.


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