Dreaming in Spanish

vanveenjf-1132224-unsplashWhen I was a little girl, my Aunt Kay gave our family a series of books about different countries. I suspect it was a hand-me-down from her daughter who had outgrown them; I got a lot of things that were once my cousin’s.

Each book highlighted key facts about each country: where it was located in the world, its major cities and landmarks, what language the people spoke, how the people dressed, what the landscape looked like, what goods the country was famous for. We had one book each for Switzerland, Holland, France, Italy, and Hawaii, maybe a few others but I remember those five. You can tell the books were a little old because they treated Hawaii  like its own country, which of course it was at one time. However the color pictures and subject matter made the books timeless in a way.

My favorite part of the book was a short glossary or dictionary key words in the language of the country, such as hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. I found it fascinating that there were languages other than English but certain phrases, like those, were universal.

The fact that there were other languages was not a surprise to me, even at the youngest of age. My parents spoke another language at home, their parents’ native tongue, not really Slovak and not really Polish. Many years later, I learned that this dialect had a name, “pono shomu”, that people in the Carpatho-Rusyn region of eastern Europe would understand. I need to track down the reference but I think the literal translation of pono shomu is “what we speak”. I have no idea whether I’m even spelling the language properly. It’s the closest phonetic spelling I could muster.

Carpatho-Rusyns are a people without a country. I am only now starting to learn more about these people, their hardships, and their lack of a national identity.  Andy Warhol is its most famous descendant.

My parents didn’t teach us kids that language. They used this exclusivity to their advantage: when they didn’t want us kids to know what or who they were talking about, they would switch languages right in front of us. They did it constantly with each other and my aunts and uncles.

It had the effect of making me feel like an outsider, someone not part of the club. It’s funny to me how some immigrant families were so proud to be American citizens they completely abandoned their native culture and language to become fully Americans. Others were so proud of their roots, like the Greeks, they taught their children and their children’s children, the native language and kept alive all of the same customs.

In turn, I had no interest in the culture of my people and I still recoil whenever I hear anyone speak Slovak, which happens routinely at church. Funny how my parents, descended from a people without a country of their own, cultivated an environment where they excluded me, their own flesh and blood. They had zero clue the impact it had on me.

I always considered myself a citizen of the world, anyway. Maybe it was the influence of those books so long ago. Maybe it was the “It’s a Small World” album Aunt Kay also gave me, the album I played on endless repeat.


Learning other languages was like playing detective, cracking the code. I remember well the day I learned you could become an interpreter. People actually got paid to translate several languages? That was a dream come true!

My mom operated a beauty shop in the basement of our home. The Mel sisters, Jesse, Dina, and Daisy came weekly to get their hair done, and they were stationed in various seats in the salon. I bounced down the wooden stairs of our house, flung the door open, and proudly announced to my mother and the Mel sisters that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was going to be an interpreter and work for the United Nations!

Mom scoffed at me immediately, “Oh, that’s too hard. You’ll never learn how to do all that!” Jesse and her sisters silently witnessed the exchange.

Defeated, smaller than moments before, I walked back upstairs and never gave it another thought. Not one. I was one obedient little girl alright, doing exactly what I was told to do. I didn’t have the wherewithal to know and value and follow what was intrinsically in my heart, nor did I have an understanding of agency to act on it.


Fast forward to high school, in the early 80s. My school offered two languages: Spanish and Latin. Being the 80s in small town Ohio, I didn’t see what benefit Spanish would ever be to me.

Isn’t that quaint? Isn’t that so stereotypical small town American?

I told myself I would study Latin, since it was the root of so many languages, and used in science, medicine, and law. Surely I would go on to study in one of those fields and it would be useful to me.

That didn’t happen either.

Latin was hard. Harder than I had hoped. Nothing clicked. The construct of the sentences was so, understandably, foreign. I learned a few words but I couldn’t speak it. I hadn’t mastered conjugation of verbs in English let alone in Latin. I have no idea how I passed the class other than Mrs. Schulenberg graded on a massive curve.


Fast forward to 10 years post high school. I was headed to France and England for the first time on vacation, by myself, because I couldn’t find a friend who was interested in making the trip and could afford it. I bought a book to learn a few phrases in French.

The book was marginally helpful to recognize some words but I had no idea if I was pronouncing them correctly. I muddled through. It helped that I spent part of my time visiting with a French woman I had befriended in college. She came to the United States for one semester to study at The Ohio State University as part of her business school program, and we were paired since I too was in the business school and volunteered to serve as a host of sorts to our foreign classmates.


Fast forward to today. It amazes me that things like iPhone apps exist, and among the offerings is one called Duolingo, where you can study other languages for free. The studying is structured like a game, one that is fun to play.

So what am I doing? About 10 days ago I started studying Spanish and French. About 15-20 minutes a day, that’s it. I can do it while I’m waiting. I can hear the pronunciation too. I tried Russian, but the words are written with the Cyrillic alphabet and that just pushed me over the edge so I am tabling it for now. Maybe I’ll have some mental bandwidth to pick it up another time and tackle Italian so I’m ready for that trip when we go in a few years.

My husband’s ancestry is Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese. And now he’s learning Hawaiian on Duolingo. My preteen daughter just started learning Mandarin. My teenage son is headed to France this summer as part of a school trip even though he doesn’t know a lick of French, however he’s typically dismissive of suggestions so I doubt he’ll practice before he goes despite me coaching him.


Last night before I fell asleep, I spent some time on my iPad practicing my Spanish. It’s going well. I’m pretty excited that it prompts me to translate a simple English sentence into Spanish which I can do without coaching or hints.

I love words, and it’s been fun to see which ones are similar and different across the few languages I have had exposure to.

The kicker was this: last night, I dreamt I was stuck on a boat in a Chicago with people who looked like they might speak Spanish. I didn’t have a cell phone on me, but I realized I could ask them, in Spanish, for a phone or to dial a number for me, and then I recited a phone number I knew in Spanish: “ocho cero cero,”… blah blah blah, “siete cero cero cero”. And I was surprised and utterly delighted, even in my dream, that I knew how to say it.

Maybe the whole dream wasn’t in Spanish, but it’s a start. I’m finally living out the other kind of dream of mine from long ago, one way or another.

 

Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash

 

Just Another Typical Crazy Day

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588Two weeks back I took one of those “emergency” vacation days. Made the call at 7 am. I felt like a school superintendent calling a “snow day” except 1) I’m not a kid and 2) doing it only provided a tiny bit of relief, not the euphoria we used to get as kids with a snow day. Nothing particularly bad happened. Just everything hit the fan all at once it seems.

Honestly, I don’t know how people do it. For starters, the evening before I drove our puppy and two youngest kids home from a visit to see family, taking four hours in the nightfall, snowy slush with bad windshield wipers for what should have been a two-hour drive home max. I’m a pretty good driver in the snow, if I say so myself. Even my Utah-born husband, who knows a thing or two about snow, is amazed at my nerves of steel and skill driving in snowy weather, inclement weather of any kind, or heavy traffic, all honed from years of travel across the country for work. But still, four hours of 40 MPH, the constant sound of your tires cutting through massive amounts of slush, and skittish drivers on the road with you is enough to unnerve anyone. I collapsed in a heap once I got home.

On the way home, our daughter announces that her grade school Art Club is meeting Monday morning at 7:30 am, instead of its regular Wednesday morning, to make plaster masks they will decorate so she needs 1) a shower cap, 2) hand towel, and 3) jar of Vaseline. This is the art equivalent of hearing your kid has a science fair project due the next day. All this would be fine if we were getting home at a decent hour but I heard it in the middle of an evening snow squall and I wasn’t sure what time we’d be getting home. Then I realize that art could conflict with her orthodontic appointment at 8:30 am (which turns out was really 9 am) but being a mom who understands how FUN the whole project could be, I wanted to make it work for her. We would try to do both, and I tried not to panic or lose it.

My husband was supposed to take her to her ortho appointment, and I was counting on it for weeks, but he had missed Monday morning work at one of his three contracted schools for three or four weeks in a row, and that Monday would have been yet another incident. We’d rather he not get fired from that school contract for being a no-show (reputation and integrity matter a lot, you see….), so I sat at home late the night before and very very early the morning of the impromptu vacation, trying to figure out how I could work from home and do all I needed to.

It feels a little backward to find ways to help him with his work with me being the breadwinner, but there are days when I have flexibility at work, and that has not always been the case, so I hang my hat on that thought and try to make it work.

Our sitter, who usually takes the kids to and from school in the morning, works another job and often has appointments for her own personal life. She’s entitled to a life outside of the help she gives us. I just couldn’t ask her at the last minute to be late for her obligations to help us out. It makes me sick to my stomach to ask for help. It really does. I just couldn’t do it.

Did I mention that my husband said to me, also late the night before, “Oh, [our oldest] has an orthodontic appointment in the afternoon to get fitted for a replacement retainer,” he lost last weekend on our trip to get the puppy, “and I don’t think I can get him there after all.”

And then I realized, OMG, I had an eye appointment that same afternoon myself.

Really? Really. Really?

I was not ready for it to be Monday. Really I wasn’t.


I have the flexibility to work from home in situations exactly like the one described above, but I feel GUILTY doing it, even with my boss’ blessing and her boss’ blessing, even though it’s perfectly acceptable to do on a periodic, as-needed basis, or even a routine basis…but nothing about the way I’ve been doing seems to fit either category. I don’t want to abuse the working from home capability, you know? And God knows I don’t need anyone at work to feel resentful about what I’m fortunate enough to be able to do, especially if their current role does not allow for the same, because believe me, not everyone’s role allows them to do this.

I mean, for heavens’ sake, I had just spent the week prior working from home to acclimate a new puppy to our house! I jokingly called it “PETernity leave” (see Puppy-Parent Pooped), which is just a play on words because honestly I was working. True, it took me longer to put in a full day’s work any given day, and then there was a point on both Wednesday and Friday where I just passed out on the sofa because: EXHAUSTED? (Seriously, we bought this sectional for our family room that is better than a Tempur-pedic mattress. I can’t sit on it even a tiny bit tired because it wraps its soft, velour upholstery around my body and lulls me to sleep.) I HAD to claim a half day of vacation just from that time I am not going to make up in any way.

Are you starting to grasp what I’m dealing with here? I mean, WHAT? How does all of this just RAIN down on us the way it does? I guess I knew about the ortho appointments, both of them. And my eye appointment. But I didn’t realize they were all the same day! And throw in Art Club….

How do people actually work with kids? My husband’s missed a ton of work lately, visiting his mom, being sick himself earlier in January (or maybe that was December…I can’t even remember because it’s just a big, giant blur), then there were snow days…

We DO have an official policy on workplace flexibility, and I am very fortunate I’m in a role where I am no longer in the back to back meetings daily like I used to be, in a job that had an unrelenting pace. That’s when I felt compelled to push-off doctor’s appointments as long as I possibly could, or even sent our sitter to take the kids to appointments I should have attended as the parent… That’s just wrong, but when you have no backup…what do you do? In the meantime, my employer has loosened its grip on a cultural norm that all meetings were to be held face-to-face. They’ve provided a number of technology tools to facilitate remote/work from home meeting, so not only is it ok, they enable it.

So my impromptu vacation day? I spent it at home, writing most of what you’re reading right now (to let off steam), and then running to appointments throughout the day. I got about two hours of effort in for work because there were some things that I absolutely had to tackle that Monday, but otherwise I took full day of vacation.

And why did I put in those couple of hours of work? The very next day, Tuesday, I would show up late for work because I had a two-hour diagnostic breast imaging/mammogram in the morning. Here we go again. For the 2nd year in a row the medical team found interesting stuff they want to explore further. I went through a needle biopsy last year (see The Biopsy Blues) and they found nothing but there I was hearing that maybe something is going on after all. I didn’t even have time to think about it. I figured I would deal with whatever that would mean for me when the time comes, but karma has a way of kicking you in the butt. More on that in a post yet to come.

I mean, I know I need to take a deep breath. Pray. Meditate. Clean the house. Something. I missed about a month of church at this point, traveling for two of those weeks, dealing with a snow storm a third, and just flat-out run-down a fourth. Gosh, run down? Imagine that.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. I know this is what having kids is like. This is what working is like. Plenty of people have it WAY worse. I have several friends who’ve lost a parent recently, friends who are dealing with illness that runs the gamut of mildly inconvenient to life-threatening, and loss of income that goes with it. That stuff is REAL. I’m just an overgrown baby, whining…

It’s just, I haven’t been working out, I’ve been eating terrible food, I’m sleep deprived, I have a headache, and I’m feeling hugely guilty about not being on-site at work when we have a tough issue I’m trying to help us solve and the answer just isn’t coming easily. And I take things WAY too seriously. I can’t wait to get back to a normal schedule.

I think I need a nap. Thanks for letting me vent. If you see yourself in me, and that makes you feel better, good. If you don’t see yourself in me and you think I’m crazy, but it makes you feel better about yourself, good!

I leave you with this thought from Dr. Brene Brown, who has so much to teach us. I heart her. And courage is my word for 2019.

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Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

A Brief Ode to Dance Moms Everywhere

img_1086‘Twas the night before competition

and all through the house

you could tell it was stressful

with Mama’s freak-out.

All the costumes and dance shoes

and hair gel were packed.

Not a creature was stirring,

‘cept Mama who’s cracked.

 

Photo credit: Kim Lukens with Prisma Gothic filter

Puppy-Parent Pooped

I am writing a bit sleep deprived which makes me “puppy pooped”, not to be confused with our puppy, who poops (wink).

Raising a puppy is very much like having a newborn but with tons of puppy kisses and belly rubs – hers, not mine, although that sounds divine come to think of it.

We picked her up the first weekend of February. It involved an overnight trip for the five of us coming from Ohio traveling to this absolutely wonderful breeder named Pamela in Virginia. That isn’t normal, making an overnight trip to get a dog. Many people just get a puppy locally or otherwise don’t give a lot of thought to breeders unless they are looking for a classic purebred dog. There is also a big push in the United States to get a dog from a local dog shelter since there are so many abandoned dogs, but that wouldn’t work for us, for reasons I’ll describe below.


Starting about the Wednesday before pickup, I began to feel real anxiety about getting a dog. Very similar emotions coursed through me, reminding me of the night before giving birth or buying a house, this realization that you’re about to change your life in a major way and you pray that you’re doing the right thing.

Everything about it felt right leading up to that point, you see. I did my homework. I felt very good about the breed, about the breeder, about the breed’s compatibility with our family and the age our kids are right now. I felt good that our kids are old enough to handle the puppy properly and love her, to help care for her, but mostly I had to be ready to take on the responsibility myself.

This was, in my mind, my dog. I always thought if I got a dog, I would get a little one. I’ve had my eye on Yorkies for years but hearing that they weren’t necessarily wonderful with kids was a deal breaker.

My husband was against the idea of a puppy for the longest time even though he’s more of a dog person than me. It was devastating five years ago for him to put down Monk, our basset hound, after 14 beautiful years together. It tore him apart. He routinely describes it as one of the worst days of his life. But even he was ready at this point, ready and excited to welcome a new pet.

Then again, I totally expected I could get him on board after showing him endless pictures of precious Maltipoo puppies for weeks on end. He really is a big softie and it worked.

I may have shared this conundrum before too: my oldest has allergies to certain dogs, mostly big breeds, and he was understandably apprehensive about bringing a dog into our home. He was the one who remembered what it was like to have a pet in the house. However our younger two kids desperately wanted a pet as they didn’t really remember life with Monk all that well, and I didn’t want to deny them experience during childhood. Really, how do you balance the desires of all kids?

Well, we hedged our bets and decided we would become a pet family once again.

Naturally the anxiety kicked in overdrive the few days before pickup. I was having a hard time falling asleep. I could tell my breathing was shallow and I had to actively concentrate on deep breathing. My stomach felt queasy. I knew this was a Very Big Commitment, easily a 14-year one, and the thought of my oldest breaking out in hives and having to rethink the decision was nauseating. I most definitely didn’t want him to think we valued a puppy over his health. I was virtually certain he would be ok but there was a tiny little bit of doubt in my mind, and plenty of doubt in his.

All that gave away the night before pickup. I pretty much collapsed into bed and was running on adrenaline over the happy thoughts of getting her. It was a pleasant, excited drive to Pamela’s house. She greeted us with a big, warm smile and introduced us to our new pup who we named Zoe, the puppy’s litter mate, Samson, who was waiting to get picked up that same day, and the puppies’ mother. All jaw-dropping adorable.

My children melted at the sight. I will never forget how utterly charmed they were by these precious wee babies. Even my oldest smiled so broadly his dimples popped on both cheeks!

Pamela gave him Samson to hold and my daughter held Zoe. I will never forget what happened next. My oldest whispered to me, “Mom, she needs a puppy buddy. Let’s just take them both,” and as he nodded his head toward the door, he continued whispering, “Let’s just go…” It was surprisingly mischievous for him to suggest. If only Samson wasn’t already promised to someone else, we just might have done it!

Whatever anxiety I had about a dog virtually disappeared once we laid eyes on Zoe for real. She was as soft and small and sweet as we saw in the photos and video before-hand, although it is surprising to hold a puppy that small. It really is like having a newborn. You forget how small newborns are, too, until you hold one again and remember.


I was uncertain what to name her, which is odd because I’m pretty good at naming things. First I wanted something unusual, about me or my life, and that just became too hard to narrow down. A friend of mine suggested Lumi because she said she thinks of me as someone always trying to bring knowledge, be positive, and shine a light on matters. I have got to admit, that was an incredibly lovely sentiment! Yet the name Lumi didn’t roll off my tongue, so I didn’t run with it.

Since music is such a big part of my life, I spent time mulling musical names. I briefly considered Tempo, but it hit me that I really love both the sound of the word cello and the sound that instrument makes. I immediately thought of a woman who I worked with on a training project once, and her name was Chelo. I learned it’s a name of Spanish origin meaning “consolation or comfort”. It was another one of those aha moments since I had hoped this puppy might fill the void of loneliness that has marked much of my life.

We called her Chelo for a couple of weeks before pickup, mostly trying to get my daughter to buy into the name. Her first pre-teen reaction was, “Mom, it’s weird. I don’t like it.”. I was going to pull the Mom-veto on her since the boys liked the name, but wouldn’t you know, something about her reaction planted that tiny seed of doubt that it wasn’t quite right. I wanted all of us to be bought into the name. While Chelo sounds so lovely, we’d be spelling her name and explaining what it meant forever.

My daughter wanted to name her Athena after the Greek goddess of wisdom, but that didn’t fit 100% either. Our puppy was too tiny to be an Athena, even as I warmed up to the name. I certainly fit the unusual but beautiful criteria I had.

The week before pickup I had just listened to fantastic podcast about creating a powerful alter-ego for yourself. One woman named hers Ziva after the NCIS character Ziva David. Boom! I thought that was it. I held my breath looking up the meaning of Ziva, then sighed in relief when I learned it means “radiance, brilliance, and light”, which aligns itself nicely with the Lumi sentiment my friend suggested. Still, something continued to nag at me such that I wasn’t 100% sure. Our puppy wasn’t exactly exotic looking, and part of me felt that a dog named Ziva needed to be mysterious.

We even tried Ziva for a few days but it became pretty clear to me, as it did all of us, she’s really a Zoe. Zoe means “life” and that’s what she brings to us. Enormous waves of life in a teeny tiny body. I don’t care if it’s a common name for a dog, it fits her perfectly. We are completely charmed by Zoe Grace.

For the record, our breeder gave her a middle name of Grace upon birth, and we felt it was lovely so it stuck.


Our breeder recommended that someone stay full-time with Zoe for her first week at home, and luckily for me, I was able to arrange to work from home that week. America needs to get on board with “pet-ernity leave”, if you ask me. I work for a company that sells pet food, so one would hope my employer would be sympathetic to the demands of acclimating a new puppy to a home (and they were!)

Seriously, pet-ernity leave should be a real thing. I suppose we Americans should master maternity leave, and paternity leave first, but wouldn’t pet-ernity be incredible?

Our week together was wonderful. I got a feel for Zoe’s schedule: when she wakes, when she’s rowdy, and when she sleeps which incidentally is much of the day, again, not unlike a newborn. We bonded, and started potty training. I got a feel for her personality and she got a feel for our home, which we have slowly introduced to her one room at a time. We’re onto week three and she’s doing great.

We are too. Zoe has brought a lot of laughter and joy into our house, and dare say the kids have focused their attention on her and not as much on gaming and bickering with each other. I had my fingers crossed for this sort of outcome, but W H O A. Our oldest comes home and coos all over her, and he’s teaching her tricks and commands. She’s already figured out “sit”, and we’re now working on consistent delivery of “down” and “roll over”.

It’s rather poetic that her gotcha day was in February and she is a real-live valentine. I can hear my mother, who’s passed, singing as she often did, “How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggily tail,” and it’s almost as if my mom is celebrating the fact that we are once again a party of six with a little soul that delivers a very waggily tail.

Zoe is a little dream come true.

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