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The crossroads

July 17th, 2014

Today’s post is inspired by San Diego Momma’s PROMPTuesday No. 207: Who was your crossroads person?

My biggest worry lately is that my college-aged daughter will hold back when something great comes her way. She’ll mistakenly think she has reams of time, that offers pop out of the underbrush at every curve in the road, that maybe if she’s in a relationship that it should come first. For most of us, if that one great thing comes along, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we take the risk or hang back in the safe zone?

Back in my 20s, the publisher of one of our downtown daily papers took an interest in me. He’d read an essay I’d written and wrote me a personal message in response.  He also invited me to visit his office some day. He was a dynamic man, highly regarded, a great people person and a mender of fences.

After a first meeting, he invited me to come back shortly before graduation. He thought I had what it took to work in the business. He would help me land that crucial first job. Could a few-credits-shy-of-graduating college student with writerly aspirations ask for a better connection? Not only did I have a respected publisher in my corner, but also I had out-of-state relatives offering me a place to stay should I land in their area. I was standing at the intersection of lucky and fortunate.

Unfortunately, that’s not how I saw it. There were terms and conditions. One of those was I had to end my relationship; the guy I was with said I had to choose between him and my career. He would not follow. The other was I had to go where I was sent. I would not get to choose. I felt I was clinging on the windowsill of a burning building with masked characters holding nets below.  Were the nets strong enough? Would I have a chance to ask a few questions before they whisked me away to points unknown?

As I stood at that crossroads, uncertain, I chose the familiar. I didn’t trust the unknown at that point. I’d jumped from one burning building to the next in the past few years, each time thinking the guy with the best offer was the safe one. As it was, I already had one foot tangled in another net, one in which the purported rescuer was working quickly to cut and run. As it was, I was estranged from my family and had no other support system. I felt lost and confused.

This drama prevented me from taking the risk — and possible great reward — that came with the offer. Without the publisher’s boost, I’d likely never rise above the community journalism ranks I dwelled in for 20 years. I know now I held myself back; back then I blamed my relationships. Fear of change, fear of a loneliness beyond what I’d already experienced, kept me tangled in my net.

“I’m in love,” I told the publisher on what would be our last meeting.  My boyfriend and I were now engaged; he successfully convinced me my life was here, not somewhere arid and cactusy, where I was bound to fail. Besides, my family was in crisis. How could I leave them?

“You’re an idiot,” he said, shaking his head.

In shock, I studied the pattern on the carpet of his top-floor office overlooking the Detroit skyline. Did he just call me an idiot?

“Love is important, but you shouldn’t put it above opportunity at this point in your life,” he said. “True love will wait for you to make your journey. Opportunity will not wait.”

I didn’t believe him on that rainy afternoon as we sat at opposite ends of his expansive walnut desk. I had a job, I reasoned, and they promised me a full-time position when I graduated. After I married, I’d check in again.

But it didn’t work like that. Months after I turned down the publisher’s offer I was pink-slipped from my job. Three months of unemployment gave me plenty of time to think about that offer and the prospect of marriage.

A year later, I returned to that newspaper office to apply for work, to make another appointment with the publisher. He never granted me another office visit. It occurred to me then that I had been tested.

In spite of those uncertain beginnings, I had 20 years in the business, working at smaller, local publications. It turns out I really enjoyed connecting with community on a street level. I was never comfortable hobnobbing with mover and shakers. I was compensated well and made many lifelong connections. I eventually married and divorced. I reconciled with my family. Ten years later, I received in the mail a letter from that publisher, written in the wobbly penmanship of the elderly. He’d found some of my work and had nice things to say.

It came back to me then on that day, as I beamed in the praise of this man who’d once called me an idiot, that he was a stand-in for my father, to whom I was estranged during that difficult time. He believed in me when no one else did, not even myself. He was willing to pull strings to send me away from the entrapment of my life. He was willing to call me out on my cowardice. I simply didn’t have the mileage at the time to understand it.

The D word

January 8th, 2014

I’m learning that the only truth is impermanence. The moment something unfurls, it begins to wither. Death, dying, spirit energy, that gauzy space between life and death, ghosts, haunting – these things fascinate and scare me.

I remember as a very young child going up to a body at a visitation and touching the face. It was as hard as the sidewalk. I remember being scolded right away for doing so. I’ve thought ever since that our culture has it all wrong about death. I like the cultures that throw raucous parties, that allow mourners to wail, that say the word dead instead of all the flowery euphemisms.

During my stint as news reporter, I was the paper’s obituary writer, which put me in constant contact with all the local funeral home workers. I got to know some of the men and women who handled arrangements. This was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the places between death and burial. I asked questions. I wanted to know details. When I felt comfortable, I expressed interest in viewing behind-the-scenes work. One of the guys, let’s call him Brian, was open to the idea and invited me to visit the inner chambers of the funeral home.

Oddly enough, around the time I was to visit,  my father died unexpectedly. When we met again, it was as my father’s casket was going  into the back of the hearse. Turns out we hired Brian’s company to do my dad’s funeral.

Brian leaned into the limousine behind the hearse, put his hand on my shoulder and offered his condolences, said he was sorry things didn’t go as planned.   No, having my father die at 58 was not part of the plan.

Yet, how could the plan be any different? We don’t have access to the mighty blueprint.

It took me a full year to collect the courage to call Brian. He pulled some strings so that I could be part of a tour of the newly renovated county morgue. On the tour, I watched three autopsies in progress and watched a slide show by a forensic pathologist.

That slide show was unlike any other I’ve watched. I cannot tell you of these things here because they are pale, eyeless things curled up in the darkest corners of hell. Horrible things done to babies, young women, street people, drug dealers, mothers, fathers, uncles, grandmothers. These pictures were evidence in criminal trials. You can complain all you want about violent images in movies, but nothing compares to real pictures of death. Nothing.

When my father died, I went into that room at the hospital where he lay prone and I looked death in the face. It changed me. From that day on I began hugging people and telling them I loved them.

After that slide show, I remember going home, calling off the rest of the work day, crawling into bed, pulling the comforter up to my chin, and just staring at the ceiling. I needed time to process.  I needed time to get the smell of meat out of my nostrils.

It’s all a great mystery. We won’t know until we’re there and then who can we tell? Only  those who already know. Do I fear death? Of course I do.  Do I fear old age more or less than I fear death? Do I fear the death of one of my children or my partner more than my death? Do I fear outliving everyone I’ve ever known or loved? Do I fear dying before I’ve fully lived?

I fear impermanence and I suffer because of it.

Make today a good one.

 

 

The power of words

March 15th, 2013

madeinchina

We all do it.

The brain issues the statement and the mouth broadcasts it faster than the censors can hit the bleep button.

Then, my friend, you are in the throes of an awkward moment.

A while back, I found myself in the midst of one while engaged in a community volunteer effort.

In case you are new here, my youngest child was born in China. She is an American citizen through adoption. She means the world to us.

We became a family in 2006 when she was just under 11 months old. Everyone who knows us well knows our dynamic. Although we cannot shield her from the ignorance and hate of the outside world, we are fortunate to travel in fairly educated and enlightened circles. Our community is a little melting pot of skin colors, beliefs and lifestyles.

But when something changes, like starting a new school, traveling to other parts of the country, or joining new groups, we have to start fresh. We have to go through the shit — again.

So it came as a kick to the gut during this so-called community outreach project when one of the volunteers uttered an insensitive statement for everyone to hear, including my then-6-year-old daughter.

Apparently upset that a piece of equipment would not perform as well as it should, he began banging it about and cursing.  Then he stood up, set down the equipment with force, and said something close to this:

“Another useless piece of crap from China.”

OK. I know. We are in tumultuous times. The anti-China rhetoric is blowing around like trash in the streets. We, especially those of us in the Rust Belt, gripe about the outsourcing of manufacturing to overseas factories. We all grumble that things are not made to last.  I’m just as upset about it as you are.

As I mentioned, my daughter was made in China, quite possibly to hard-working farmers, or severely overworked and under-compensated factory workers. It is not the fault of the collective overseas workforce that products are inferior. Look to the greedy corporations, suppliers and governments. Many of these factory workers travel hundreds of miles away from their home villages to earn wages to support their whole family. Some have children they never see.  Even the best-paid factory workers in China live lives we would consider totally unacceptable. It is an ugly situation. We all suffer the consequences of it through low-quality and sometimes tainted goods as well as job loss right here in the United States. It is a huge problem.

Please direct your anger where it belongs. Boycott products and companies that take part in these practices. Buy products made in the United States. Write letters. Start a movement. Please do not China bash, especially in front of my daughter or your children or anyone of Asian appearance.

Telling me, Oh, I thought she was Korean, does not make it OK.

My daughter is proud of her roots. She is too young to understand the complicated relationship between the United States and China (heck, I don’t get it, either.)  She is too young to understand things like Communism and the Cultural Revolution and emerging capitalism and outsourcing. She’s just a kid.

We teach her there are good and bad people. Good and bad businesses. Good decisions and bad decisions. We must take things on a case-by-case basis.

I haven’t forgotten that day or those words. I’m still wondering what to do. I started to write a proactive type of letter that I could send to local newspapers, the school district, or publish online. It doesn’t seem like enough.

Why didn’t I call him out? Why didn’t I pull him aside afterward? I’ve done that before to little satisfaction on anyone’s part. Perhaps I’m not the most diplomatic. Perhaps those who say such things are firm in their beliefs and are just twitching to engage in debate.  When I approached an offending parent at toddler play group a few years back, she vehemently stood behind her words, asserting that there is no correlation between statements of inferior products and the people of a nation. She suggested I grow thicker skin because the issue isn’t going away.

I’m not going anywhere, either. The day I held my youngest daughter for the first time was the day I knew I’d taken on extra duties, ones that require added defense and offense for the inter-country adoption community.

So, please, take a moment to think about the source of your anger. Think about your audience. Think about the innocent people you might hurt with your uncensored remarks.

Thank you.

Discovery

January 29th, 2013

diarywriting

I found your writing.

You call yourself a writer but where are your words? Why are they hidden?

Writer is a big word in my book. You don’t just throw that around lightly.

When I was in college, learning about writing by real writers, they said you aren’t a writer until someone pays you for your words. That one stuck with me over the years.

I admit it: I’m worried about this writer business. What if you’re better? What if you are
a painfully bad writer? Where do we go from there?

Some writers dwell within the neatly spaced paragraphs of their published work and others just make a mess of their keyboards.  Do the good writers even know they’re good? Do bad writers realize they are bad? Is everyone really just a scared kid on the inside?

I think It’s like that with painters and piano players, too.

They all turn themselves inside out to show you their guts. Sometimes it too much to bear, all this beauty and blood.

I found your writing.

It scared me it was so good.

Now, 

I’m twisted inside out.

I feel as if I’ve taken a secret lover. I can’t breathe. I know too much, too fast.  

I feel your pain, I said out loud.

But I don’t feel your pain.  I don’t know your pain. What I mean is: Your words made me feel my pain. That is the only pain I know. And I wanted to take that hurt child — was it me or you? — into my heart. Maybe that’s what they mean by compassion.

 Maybe I can trade jealousy for admiration. Maybe I can break the wild horses that run uncontrolled across my mind.

I want to take a picture of this moment so I can see myself with open eyes.

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Retrofit

November 30th, 2012
 
 
“But I do think that when you own something that once belonged to someone else, it’s like some secret contact with them, with their past. A way to touch people without having things get all messy and emotional. That is what second hand is. But then there are always people who worry about whether those hands were properly washed.”
 
–Michael Zadoorian, ”Second Hand”

 

I’m ironing a new pair of pants. New-to-me pants. In between puffs of steam I wonder the reason they were cast away: weight gain? weight loss? they were *gasp* so last season? an impulse buy?

I’m happy to have them. I only paid a few bucks at one of the local resale boutiques. There was a time in life when I’d cross the street and hold my nose if I saw a resale shop ahead. And the thought of using or wearing something that touched someone else’s skin? Well, that was one step above the bottom.

Not now. I’m reformed. Financial hardship and the local ethos have influenced my thinking. If I have to buy new I hang my head in shame. It’s like a reverse failure. I like the treasure hunt aspect of second hand. I like the shops. The people working in them seem to genuinely like their jobs. They always play good music.

Within the last year, I landed a pair of gently worn Durango cowgirl boots for $10. Another reason I love resale is the endless possibilities. If I want a red sweater, I just go to the racks with all the red garments grouped together. So easy.

Recently I suffered through a trip to the mall in search of a red garment and left in utter frustration. There was no logic to any of it. The offerings seemed as contrived as the piped-in music and the corporate-ordered decor and employees. And not a stitch of red. Apparently red is the color of losers this season.

Do I care anymore? The answer is mostly no.

It’s part of middle age, I think. It’s a place in life you earn. I no longer care all that much about high fashion. Not that I was ever a style maven.

Speaking of pants, which I was not wearing at the gym last night, and thereby exposing my legs to the unforgiving overhead lights. I once had very shapely legs. Next to my eyes, my legs were my second-best feature. No more. They’re thicker and a bit saggy around the knees. Worst of all are the scabs and scars. Some are old scars from hiking and biking injuries. Some are the result of chronic hives. The itching makes you reckless about what you use to answer its call. The aftermath of blood, pain and burning is a relief compared to the itching. When the welts recede, you’re left with a crime scene of scabs and bruises.

I’ve caught side glances at the gym, mostly from young men but sometimes women, too, as my legs are an attention-getter. I’m sure they shudder once I’m out of range. Why don’t I wear yoga pants or capris would be the obvious question. On my worst days, I do. But sometimes I just don’t care.

Head to toe I am a collection of second-hand parts.

I’m inspired by a 70-something woman I see around town. She proudly wears her hair in a fuchsia mohawk.  She has prominent tattoos. Sure it looks crazy, but wow, to be that free.

That’s what I want. Not careless, but carefree. Not looking like I let myself go, but like I can let go when necessary. Like I have great stories tucked away in secret pockets.

Only the lonely

October 7th, 2012

 

I forget myself and walk by his house today, head down against the cut of the wind. Then I remember and furtively glance over at the trio of white lighted trees glowing in the front window, the weary plastic carolers leaning a little to the east, the sagging garland bearing the weight of seasonal duty. I look away in embarrassment.

I could have predicted he’d be the type to extend Christmas into January. It takes one sentimental type to know another.

Did he do it for her? Was it she who delighted in all this twinkling, flashing ornamentation? Did he do it for himself, to fill in the empty spaces that surely must echo through that household of one?

“I lost my Irene this year,” he says to me, a stranger on the street, on that brisk fall morning when we first meet. As his eyes blur with tears, he wipes them away, and tells me of his wife. How he lived in this town all his life, how he and his Irene built this house. They were high school sweethearts, he says, back when the high school sat on the property that now holds the SuperMegaMart.

The two of us stand a foot apart on his corner driveway, amid the blowing leaves, a few footsteps from the bus stop. He in varsity jacket and skull cap. Me, obscured by dark glasses and hat pulled down low, on my way home from morning drop off. I listen and zip my jacket up to my chin.

He’s been watching me and my little girl, he says, and wants to know something.

Words like that don’t go down smoothly. They bounce around inside my head like a pinball, hitting various fear and panic buttons. I want to flee.

He’s lonely, of course, which explains his morning sentry in the front window, waving at passers-by, and his maybe-not-so-random offers for companionship.

“Coffee?” he says on a glowing September morning as I pass his yard. He leans out his kitchen window, hoisting a mug in one hand and pointing toward his back porch with the other.

“Good morning!” I say, waving as I keep walking, my face reddening. Does he really expect me to stop? Am I more embarrassed of my dishevelled state or his bold offer?

What he may not realize is that my morning trek really is an extended walk of shame. The hat, glasses and coat are a cover for a person who deems it acceptable to roll out of bed, slurp a cup of coffee, and race to the bus stop, child in tow, underwearless.

Two weeks later we meet again. This time on his driveway. He isn’t going to let me get away this time. Me? I’m still underwearless and sleepy-eyed. I wonder if he pities me.

“Do you like dolls?” he says.

Inspired by “Lars and the Real Girl” I imagine he has a high-quality blow up doll propped in a chair at the kitchen table, one made up to look like his late wife. She has a kind smile and wears a flowered apron. Maybe her cross stitching basket is nearby.

“Well….”

The rest of the story is that the cancer took Irene last summer. The kids are grown and gone. There are a few grandkids around but only boys. His wife collected dolls. He has a lot of dolls. He sees my little girl skipping by each day and wonders, naturally, if maybe she wants one or more of the dolls.

Across the space between us, the tendrils of despair reach out, twist around my ankles, work their way upward. I think of a man living alone in a house filled with the sound of ticking clocks and the stare of ornamental dolls. Hundreds of soulless eyes following his every move. Hundreds of little hands reaching out in endless need. The dark blanket slips over my shoulders, wraps around my throat. I feel the weight and I don’t want to go into that dark house and look at those empty-eyed dolls. I want to run as far away from it as possible.

I tell him I’ll think it over, that it is an extremely nice gesture, and I’ll get back with him. I continue walking home, knowing I am a liar. I hate those collector dolls. I want to hug that man and burn his dark blanket, watch the inferno fill every corner of his house with happy light. I wish sad people would leave me alone.

The next week, my girl suggests we take a new route to school and I oblige. She doesn’t know my reasons for being so agreeable but I know she wants to walk to the bus stop with the children who live on the next block.

The man and his dolls are forgotten.

Today, as I glance at the tired carolers and limp garland, I remember everything and I wonder:

Does the lonely man still wait at his front window for the dishevelled woman and her little girl to walk by? Does he wonder why he never saw them again? What did he say to all the waiting dolls? What story did he tell them of why the little girl never came to get them? What did he tell Irene?

Symbiosis

August 13th, 2012

Spring:
Natural order is in disorder.
Problems crack open like chicks from eggs.
Gardens wither in the shadow of neglect.

I cast the problems to the wind
thinking nature takes care,
who am I to interfere?

Summer:
I flee west to dance on mountains,
where the gods’ gardens grow without my help.
Sun bleaches clean, rain rinses despair.

At home on the flat land,
vines choke delicate blooms,
weeds squat in empty beds
of nutrient-starved soil.

Stooped in defeat, the plants curl into themselves
and break my heart.

As payment to sun and rain
the healed becomes healer,
tending with tools, rich compost, and the sweat of debt.

Heal me, nature,
so that I may heal my garden of neglect.

Thirty days’ penance: dig, pull, yank, trim, turn, prune, nudge, drench, wait

Harvest:
Stalks and vines, heavy with fruit, offer thanksgiving and reward.
Leaves reach upward to caress the sun and cup the rain.
I collect the offerings in gratitude.
I thank the sun and wind and rain for nourishment and restored health.

 

 


Born to be wild

May 9th, 2012

I remember the day I first discovered the magic of Maurice Sendak.  Intrigued by the dozing monster on the cover of this slim volume tucked away in my elementary school library, I pulled its taped spine from the shelf and cracked opened the well-worn pages.

Trouble begins on the first page. A little boy in a costume, acting naughty, goes to his room without dinner. Then, strange things happen. Trunks and foliage sprout from the floorboards and bedpost, stretch skyward, knocking away walls and windows.  The ceiling retracts, exposing stars and clouds suspended above “the world all around.”

What luck: A private boat with his name on it sails him far away across a choppy sea to a land of monsters, which he tames with his staring trick.

What an amazing — and scary — thing to have happen to your bedroom, especially when you are a kid in trouble. Nothing like that ever happened to me. The story reminded me of a time when I was young and I thought I’d have a solo adventure in the woods. When I was too far to run to safety or call for help, I heard the sloshing and branch-snapping of a large animal in the swamp. I stood still, heart bouncing in my chest, breathing heavily but quietly, until the sounds receded. Bear? Deer? Swamp monster? I’m sure I couldn’t tame it with my staring trick, but I did wish for a magic vehicle to sweep me away.

Much like that swamp encounter, my heart races as I thumb through the pages of “Where the Wild Things Are” ignoring the words at first in favor of drinking in the mesmerizing illustrations, which are neither too cheerful nor overly terrifying. As I sit cross-legged on the little carpet, I flip back to the beginning over and over, to carefully study the metamorphosis from tame to wild to tame again. I decide which monster is scariest: it’s a tie between the one with the rooster beak and the one with the bull horns.

There is danger but there also is power in this tale. I believe in monsters of all shapes. Some live in the shadows behind the attic door in my upstairs bedroom, others lurk under the bed. Some live in the bright light of day, visible to all, but only scary to me. I have no power.

It didn’t take long for someone else in the library that day to notice I was hoarding “Where the Wild Things Are.” He stomped over and demand I turn it over for his perusal. Reluctantly, I handed it to him and watched as a crowd of boys gathered around to follow Max’s journey. From that day on, it became a game of who’d get to the book first.

I’m sure I thought about Max’s adventure that night as I lay under covers, gazing at the sturdy walls, wondering if they had the potential to transform into something wild, or if my roof might retract to show the heavens.

I thought about it years later when I had my first child and the book was gifted to us. She loved it so much she called it “Wild Rumpus.” I’d read it and we’d jump up and down in her room, roaring our terrible roars and gnashing our terrible teeth, making our own wild rumpus. I still have the framed print I made for her third birthday. It now hangs in our downstairs bath, an homage to the power of  imagination.  My husband, also a fan, brought to our marriage two copies of the book, along with soft cover collection of Sendak’s art.

So it was with surprise today that I learned Sendak died. I wasn’t sure I knew he was alive.  NPR aired an interview with Terry Gross from the ’80s.  He was a brusque, to-the-point kind of guy. I listened with pleasure and interest.  l liked how his mind worked, how he marched to a different beat.

A little reminder to us all: our children are wild and they have incredible imaginations. Let us tame the former to reasonable standards and the latter to no extent at all.

Gem

April 1st, 2012

When we meet at a formica table in that echoing hall, I do all the talking. He sits in silence, studying something in his lap, his hands neatly folded and out of trouble. I’ve known him only a week. He is an unexpected mid-year replacement. The last relationship spun far out of my reach; I wonder where this one will lead.

In spite of the sudden change, I find this new one’s demeanor soothing to my psyche, which is in recovery. How could the last one, who was such a charmer, have been so unreachable? That blinding white smile. That great booming laugh. Those linebacker shoulders and arms that pulled you in but never answered your questions. Not a one.

Minutes into our second meeting in the hall, the new guy begins fidgeting in his chair as if he’s sitting on something alive. Every noise, passing person, draws his eyes away from me. Last week’s silence was really a swollen reservoir on the brink of bursting. Today, the dam gives out, gushing thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, and how much he likes robots. He really likes those robots.

Touching his hand lightly, I ask him to look at me. I ask him to listen.

Let’s make this work, I whisper. Let’s be a team.

He stops. His brown eyes lock with mine.

Is this going to work? I ask myself. Will I be able to shine a bright light through the fog?

I look away and count to 10, studying the beige ceramic tiles racing toward a vanishing point. I give him time to compose himself, to settle his hands and feet.

“I have something for you,” he says.

He leans to the side, digs into his navy blue pants pocket and pulls out a small, opalescent object. He sets it on the table.

“What is it?” I say.

“It’s a gem. I found it on the gym floor. It’s for you.”

You know what? I’ve been at this for almost three years now, tutoring children who, if they had a chance and a prayer, could work their way through the dense fog and shape something of their lives. I hope they do with all the hope in the world. I hope in spite of the odds against them.

I pick up the gem, which is really a sweater button, but I’m not going to say anything to him about that, and tuck it in my pocket.

“Thank you.”

He nods.

“You know what?”

He shakes his head, brows lifting in anticipation.

“You are the gem. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”

A book of a different cover

December 31st, 2011

by zitona via flickr

I went to the library the other day.

I walked away with two books for me, four for my girl, and a life lesson tucked in my pocket.

So, here’s how it happened: I was hoping to find a room full of children to occupy my youngest daughter, who’s on winter break from school and bored. Instead, I found one woman and one child in a children’s department roaring with silence.

First thought: Oh, look at the cute little blond girl with the Asian woman. She’s the nanny.

Second thought: Shame. Shame. Bad. Bad. As a caucasian mother of an Asian child, where do I get off jumping to conclusions?  I hate it when strangers give us the once-over and draw conclusions about our family dynamic. Why judge at all? Yet, there it was, a judgment.

Third Thought: Truth is, I live in an area where it is fairly common to find nannies and au pairs taking their charges to the library for story time. Many times I’ve started talking to who I thought was the mother only to have her  wave off my questions explaining: “I’m the nanny.” Sometimes that means: No further questions.

Fourth thought (after I learned they were mother and daughter): We are the exact opposite, yet we have much in common.  Although I didn’t ask, I’ll bet she gets a fair share of nosy questions and double-takes about her family dynamic.

Then I stopped thinking and started talking.

It began like this:

Is your  daughter from China?” the woman said from across the room.

Yes,” I said.

I am from China,” she said, moving closer and pulling up a chair.

This opened the gates to a flood of questions and answers: What province in China? What city? How long have you been in America? Does your daughter speak Chinese? What is your name in Chinese? What do you do for Chinese New Year?

Before long, we were deep in stories of China, raising multi-cultural children, the best Chinese markets in the neighborhood, and other moms-of-school-aged-children stuff.

At one point, our girls mistook the library for a playground and began running and shrieking between the stacks. The librarian on duty quickly stepped in. I’m sure she had an awkward moment when she attempted to match girl to mother. At first she directed my daughter to the Chinese mother and the blond girl to me, then sensing an error in judgment, quickly switched the girls again.

There was a time when that move would have bothered me deeply. But today, we exchanged knowing glances and shared a good laugh. We had a bonding moment: this wonderful woman from Beijing, me, our two girls and a big empty room filled with books.

Then the two of us mothers gathered our things,  slipped into our jackets, and headed our separate ways. She, a dark-haired woman with almond eyes and a yellow-haired child, and I, an American woman with a Chinese-born daughter.

Two books who cannot be judged by our covers.