Dear daughter, Dear son


Be kind. I will show you how. 

Be strong in who you are, but flexible. Allow for change. Make room inside yourself for growth, even when it scares you. Especially when it scares you. I hope I’ve shown you what bravery looks like. 

Listen deeply, as I do to you. 

Speak confidently, as you see me do in life. 

When someone needs help be there as a friend. I will show you what friendship looks like. 

If your neighbor is sick take them food. We will cook together. 

Recycle. Nature is my gift to you. 

When you want to take a picture of yourself turn the camera around and take a picture of what’s in front of you. Better yet, put the camera down and just look. I will tell you stories of my youth where no one stopped to capture anything. 

No means no. I will teach you to say it firmly. 

So much can be fixed with a hot bath and warm tea. That’s why you see me making them so often. 

If someone hurts you think about how wonderful it was that someone meant that much to you. Each time we are hurt and it leaves a mark it means we have been touched by love. Keep going. A marked heart is full heart. I know that well. 

It’s important to join large causes and scream for justice with the masses. It’s equally important to see the homeless you pass by, or the overworked mother of 3 down the road. Give them your time, even if it’s to say hi, I see you. We’ll make a card together for the child who sits alone at lunch. 

You can always go in a different direction. See how many paths I have veered from. 

You can always start over. I will teach you how to take one step at a time. 

Remember that when the waves come all you have to do is ride them and go with the current until they spit you back out into calm water. You won’t drown. Listen to my stories of tidal waves fought. I will teach you to tread water. I will teach you when to paddle hard. 

It takes strength to cry. That is why I celebrate your emotion. 

Don’t be afraid of sadness. It is how you will truly know joy. 

Make strong boundaries. I have taken your hand and shown you when it was time to walk away. 

Sometimes though, forgive. Even I make mistakes. 

Don’t look for a happy life. Look for a full life. I am so very full, which is my happiness. 


Red, White, and Guns

I am from Florida. Most of my family still lives in Florida. I want my heart to break for the school victims, I want to cry and scream, and it did and I do, but my heart can’t break much more because it’s already broken.

It broke with Sandy Hook. It gave up with Sandy Hook. If little children dying in gunfire did not wake my country up, if little children watching their classmates die did not shock my country into change, nothing will. Little children.

The truth is guns are why I didn’t go home. It’s why I chose Canada.

My husband works in South Sudan. And he feels safer there than he would in the US. When a UN employee goes to a new country there is always a security briefing on that country. When going to the US he was  told to always avoid confrontation. No matter what, to walk away. Because in the US you must assume everyone has a gun.

You must assume everyone has a gun.

It’s been a fascinating journey to explore what it means to be an American outside of my culture. When I say, “I’m an American,” what I am saying, in essence, is I am an individual. I, capitalized. America as the myth where anyone can make it, where you can be and do whatever you want, you as YOU. And that is beautiful and powerful and intoxicating. But where is the WE? Yes, you can be a New Yorker, or a mid-Westerner, a California girl or guy, or have deep Southern pride, but what does it mean to be an American? What binds us all? The safety of our children should bind us all.

I recently became a Permanent Resident of Canada. At the end of my interview and swearing in the consular said, welcome to Canada, you may now work, and will forever have health care.

I cried. I hugged my husband and thanked him. I thanked him for giving me a new country to call home. A country where the collective is bigger than the individual. A country where my rights are tied to my obligations. I am a part of something, and my happiness is tied to my neighbors and my communities, my province, and I am humbled and awed and honored to play my part.

I love the US. My children are American as well as Canadian and I hope that one day they will be able to go and be a part of something larger than themselves there as well. That the good-for-all overcomes the me and my rights.

The US is not all bad and Canada is far from all good, but I love that I feel so less important here. I love just being a petal on the flower.

Get your geek on

One of the things I love about being a mom is all the fun things you get to do. When was the last time you chased a butterfly? Pet a starfish? Mixed glue and borax to make goo? Underneath it all I am just a geek at heart, and nothing is more fun than spending a Friday morning at a science center showing your child all the wonders of the world and reminding yourself just how cool this crazy ride on this amazing planet is.

The Princess of Rome

One day in Uganda I was picking up our daughter from a play date and wanted to take her picture with her friends. There were two little girls, one her age and the other a few years older, around 6. In the pictures, our girl and the friend her age are smiling and goofing and completely uninhibited, whereas the older girl stood ridged and uncomfortably self-aware. It was astounding to this new mother that yes, it all changes when self-consciousness sets in, when innocence is replaced by awareness. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a big moment and one I hoped would stay away as long as it could, so that our daughter could enjoy the bliss of ‘just being’ a little while longer.

I mentioned in an earlier post about moving to Rome and our wondering how a mixed family would be received and how it’s been nothing but welcoming. But it’s been so much more than that. You see, we came to a place where our daughter is a minority. In Uganda, she swam in a sea of sameness and it was mommy and daddy that were different. But here she would stand out, and I was so worried when we came that the self-consciousness moment would be forced upon her too soon. But wonderfully,  the complete opposite happened. Because Italians love life, and they LOVE children, and since it’s a live-out-loud culture, they make that known everywhere you go.

So yes, she stands out, but for all the right reasons.

For our daughter has become the princess of Rome. We cannot walk down the street nor go into a shop without someone pinching her cheeks, kissing her head, rubbing her hair, and always, always telling her she is beautiful. At a time in her life when her difference could have made her shrink, the Italians have let her stay young and wild and free.

I think of anywhere else in the world we could have gone: back to NY, where inappropriate questions (which we sometimes got when there on holiday) and/or indifference might have shaped her, or an area not welcoming to diversity which could have molded her, where we would have had to shield her, armor her.

But we came to Rome, where there are no questions, no looks, no comments, just a family with a really cute kid and people who like to celebrate that. I can’t believe how lucky we got by winding up here and I will forever love Rome for this priceless gift that they have given our child.

La dolce vita

Italians love their sweets. For breakfast it’s always, always dolce. You cannot find a plain croissant in Rome. Most are stuffed with jam or custard, and if you ask for a plain one it’s been glazed with sugar, because why would you eat it otherwise? And for treats throughout the day? Well, of course, more dolce. At my daughter’s school we’ve been battling this part of the culture. I sucked it up as long as I could, biting my lip and tongue as I watched them giving her cocoa puffs in chocolate milk and cookies dipped in Nutella every single day of the week. The flood gates opened, however, when I came to pick her up and watched her having her first soda. At 3! I explained to the teachers that while I want to respect how things are done here, motherhood (and values) must come before cultural integration and this mom would like her daughter to have a more nutritious snack. After much negotiation they allowed me to bring in rice cakes and fruit for her. But unfortunately, I was not clear enough, and the next time I came to school during snack time I frustratingly watched them dipping the banana in jelly. When I explained again that no, please, just give it to her plain, they looked at me completely blank, as if the cultural divide was just too great to even comprehend, and then they looked at my poor little one with such pity for her deprivation. For in Italy there are 3 food groups: pizza, pasta, and dolce; sugar, sugar, and sugar. Of course, I write all this with a stash of chocolate in my drawer and a glass of wine in my hand.