Friday, June 6, 2014

Gone girl

My daughter, the self-proclaimed “citizen of the world,” is currently in London for a two-month internship.  She tried to contact me today and I opened up my Skype account for the first time in quite a while. I sent Emma a quick text to let her know I was waiting for her call, and then started scrolling up through all the instant messages I’d sent her from Skype the last time she was away, during a nine-month trip to China. 

It was incredible to me, seeing those chipper messages, and knowing the backstory of what she was telling me during daily Skype calls. She struggled often, especially in those early days – living in a hyper-fast, incredibly polluted city, trying to learn a language she hadn’t heard since she was four months old, coping with privileged classmates and utter freedom. As I read the messages I wrote, I can see how hard I was trying, searching for anything to cheer her up. I don’t think I succeeded very often. She got herself into it, and she got herself out of it, just like she always does, with no help from me.

She arrived in Beijing in September. There was not an ice cube to be had in the entire country, and it was unseasonably hot. There was no chocolate, and she was seeking some comfort. She had to maneuver her bike back and forth to school in truly frightening traffic. Then the bicycle broke. She developed a rule when walking, to always be the third person to cross the street, in case the first two were hit by cars. It was not an easy place to be, at least not in September.

Here is my birthday message from her:
happy birthday mom
i am in china. duh
jk im in alaska
and gonna swim across the used to be beringia thing.  to become a commie. alright, comrad kendrick?

[9/13/2011 7:58:41 PM] Julie Kendrick: Heading into school on this lovely Wednesday?  Hope you get to learn something today!  Remember, THIRD to cross the street, right?

[9/14/2011 7:12:08 AM] Julie Kendrick: Have you had any dreams about home?  I dreamed last night that you gave me a going-away present of a takeout salad that was lettuce, cheerios, hard candies and squishy candied orange slices.  I was happy with it, so thanks.
[9/14/2011 7:12:20 AM] Julie Kendrick: Also, to me you are always SIX FEET tall.

[9/20/2011 12:47:18 PM] Julie Kendrick: Emma, it's a fresh day and maybe a better one. You're right, you don't belong in China, but maybe not in the U.S. either -- you tell me you are a citizen of the world, so that's a good thing.  Ice and chocolate -- who needs 'em?  You are doing something so important and growing your brain muscles.  I am proud of the hard work I know you are doing.  This is the chance of a lifetime and I know you're going to make the most of it.  I will see you in 90 days, along with Mary, Olivia and Dad.

[9/20/2011 6:35:38 PM] Julie Kendrick: Hi Emma, are you getting ready for school?  Be sure to find out about the bicycle.  That is something that needs to be handled TODAY.  I want my precious blossom to be safe!  Love, Mom

[9/21/2011 7:04:46 PM] Julie Kendrick: Emma, I hope that you have a day with sunshine and fresh air, just the simple things.  Also, maybe a little bit of chocolate or an ice cube, but I know that's asking at lot.  What do you think Chinese kids miss when they come here? I love you, Mom.

[9/24/2011 7:27:07 PM] Julie Kendrick: Emma did you go to the great wall yesterday?  Should we go when we come visit?

[9/27/2011 7:47:37 AM] Julie Kendrick: Emma, write to M. She's at college now. She struggled with Chinese a long time ... I think she was failing it in high school. Then, all of a sudden, it just clicked. Ask her how she survived. Also, what Mary was trying to tell you is that she is dressed again as a mean cheerleader for "Mean," and she's carrying your Hollister green bag as her backpack because she thinks it has all your coolness cooties all over it. So, your accessory is a star! Or, at least a member of the ensemble.

[9/27/2011 7:20:09 PM] Julie Kendrick: Hi Honey, you are in school now ... hope it's going okay.  I believe in you and I know you will prevail!

 [9/29/2011 7:02:02 AM] Julie Kendrick: Are you around?  Done with your shower?  Did you get your money situation fixed?
[9/29/2011 7:12:54 AM] Julie Kendrick: How was your Thursday?  Any better?
[9/29/2011 7:13:42 AM] Emma Fiala: im practice testing now. so im not gonna respond until i finish SAT practice

She decided to start a blog, and she demanded that I mail her chocolate and exfoliant. Her sister was in a show about bullying, “MEAN.”
[9/29/2011 7:14:23 AM] Julie Kendrick: No worries. Study hard and know that I love you.  I am going to Target today to buy stuff for your care package so let me know if there's something more you want.
[9/29/2011 12:23:27 PM] Julie Kendrick: Just got back from Target ... I've got a shoebox full of emergency beauty stuff and chocolate, just what a girl needs. Just read your latest blog -- what deep things you are thinking.  Remember, you don't have to like it, you just need to learn from it. Also, don't ever underestimate a country's ability to change. Look at the automatons of the 1950s and how it all got cracked wide apart in the 1960s. It could happen there... you can put daisies in the rifles in Tienanmen Square!  Let the sun shine in.

[9/30/2011 7:15:18 AM] Julie Kendrick: It IS a super long time, but as of Saturday you have one month done and 8 to go. And as you remember from Angie [our Italian exchange student from the previous year], the last 3 months fly by. So it's really only 5 months, and we'll be with you almost half a month, so 4 1/2 months, really.  Like my math?
[9/30/2011 7:17:01 AM] Julie Kendrick: We're up if you want to talk ...
[9/30/2011 7:29:07 AM] Julie Kendrick: Mary and MEAN were on WCCO this morning!  She wore the cheerleader costume and looked SUPER MEAN.

[10/1/2011 11:45:01 AM] Emma Fiala: look at my blog tell dad too

I nagged her about not sleeping; she asked me to edit a paper she wrote.
 [10/5/2011 7:15:22 AM] Julie Kendrick: Emma!  Go to bed!  An online study just released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says, “70 percent of high school students are not getting the recommended hours of sleep on school nights”.
[10/5/2011 8:01:52 AM] Emma Fiala: i don't think that proves anything.  one can sleep but not have quality sleep.  I have had nights where i slept 12 hours and felt tired. other nights i have slept 4 and was completely ok. 
 [10/5/2011 8:01:57 AM] Emma Fiala: and paper?
[10/5/2011 8:02:27 AM] Julie Kendrick: sent it via email last night.  GOOD WORK, girlie
[10/5/2011 8:09:58 AM] Emma Fiala: thanks
[10/5/2011 8:10:06 AM] Emma Fiala: so imma take a shower can in call u later?

I kept reading as much about China as I could, trying to understand the life she was living.
 [10/8/2011 6:23:40 AM] Julie Kendrick: Have you heard of this book:  Big in China: my unlikely adventures raising a family, playing the blues, and becoming a star in Beijing (Alan Paul). I'm reading it now and it's pretty good. In his introduction, he said that every single Chinese person makes the "vee" sign for photos, and I thought of you. Are you doing that yet?

Emma discovered alcohol (no age limit in China)
[10/8/2011 8:19:09 AM] Emma Fiala: yesterday night i drank 1 shot of tequila and a cocktail that was blue and tasted like a lemon pineapple
[10/8/2011 8:19:57 AM] Emma Fiala: and i tasted other peoples stuff
[10/8/2011 8:21:21 AM] Emma Fiala: tonight i drank 3 shots 2 kamakazi and 1 called sex on the beach (peach and orange) and i had half a pina colada

And she kept up with her blog posts
[10/11/2011 7:09:41 AM] Julie Kendrick: How was school?  How are you doing?
[10/11/2011 7:39:29 AM] Emma Fiala: thanks, I got to do homework and sleep. i like could not keep eyes open in first 2 classes. about 10 i wake up fully
[10/11/2011 8:30:47 AM] Julie Kendrick: Go to sleep, little baby.  Have a good rest.
[10/11/2011 8:44:12 AM] Emma Fiala: thanks. good night
[10/11/2011 9:20:44 AM] Emma Fiala: I BLOGGED
[10/11/2011 9:20:46 AM] Emma Fiala: read it please!
[10/11/2011 9:20:56 AM] Emma Fiala: im excited to know what u think about it!

I loved what she wrote, but her lack of sleep (among other things) was deeply concerning.
[10/12/2011 7:16:39 AM] Julie Kendrick: WOW ... that was deep and wonderful. Are you up; let's talk about it!
[10/12/2011 7:37:19 AM] Emma Fiala: i am getting dressed
[10/12/2011 7:38:34 AM] Julie Kendrick: good  i have to pick up nathalie, then tess, then take all to the howie [theater], then the grocery store.  have a good nite.  good blog!
[10/12/2011 7:40:28 AM] Emma Fiala: when u be on?
[10/12/2011 10:23:04 AM] Julie Kendrick: I'm on now but I hope you are sleeping!
[10/12/2011 10:24:42 AM] Emma Fiala: haha nope
[10/12/2011 10:25:05 AM] Julie Kendrick: Go To Bed Emma!
[10/12/2011 10:34:50 AM] Emma Fiala: hw
[10/12/2011 11:21:30 AM] Julie Kendrick: What does hw mean?  Is it "yes momma" in Chinese?
[10/12/2011 11:22:20 AM] Emma Fiala: homework
[10/12/2011 11:22:35 AM] Julie Kendrick: ARRRGH you re still up!
[10/12/2011 11:27:37 AM] Emma Fiala: yep : i dont sleep well and i have a literal book ton of hw

More editing jobs for me.
[10/13/2011 8:46:15 AM] Emma Fiala: please read this and send me back.  Have enough description? problem is when I put THIS MUCH FREAKING UN-NEEDED DESCRIPTION, it seems to flow really oddly.  Also people lose the point.
[10/13/2011 8:46:28 AM] Emma Fiala: the point it that the people in rain ponchos looked like ducks and it was really funny
[10/13/2011 8:46:54 AM] Emma Fiala: but since miss stick up her butt has no humor, i dont think she will get the point
[10/13/2011 10:53:34 AM] *** Call from Emma Fiala, duration 03:08. ***
[10/13/2011 12:39:33 PM] Julie Kendrick: Well, I like the metaphor of people as ducks.

Our house, as usual, was falling apart, and she was struggling with bowel issues and chapped lips.
[10/17/2011 12:00:50 PM] Julie Kendrick: Honey, the cable guy shut off the cable. The oven man still isn't here. Do you want me to send you the odorless tasteless magic poop powder that Debbie gave me?  I could send it when I send the vanilla and raspberry lip balm. Is there anything else you need?

I took on another job, as Emma’s personal and school assistant.
[10/19/2011 12:39:12 PM] Julie Kendrick: I was at SW HS yesterday, helping students with college essays. Helped a girl who is applying to Yale to study Latin and Classics. Saw Dunden. Talked to Sherwood about re-registering you and PSEO and then called the PSEO offices at the U today and found out more. Saw a great poster, covered with leaves, that said, "Falling for someone?  Ask them to Sadie's." One word to describe that school: Whimsical.  Two Words: Whimsical and Chaotic.

She still felt rotten. School was very difficult.
 [10/20/2011 6:57:13 AM] Julie Kendrick: I said prayers for you all night and sent you good vibes. I love you so much and I'm concerned for you.
[10/20/2011 7:09:23 AM] Julie Kendrick: How was the math test?
[10/20/2011 7:20:26 AM] Julie Kendrick: Is your stomach feeling better? I really liked your "98% whipped" blog, and I left you a comment.

We made plans to visit at Christmas; I worried more about her health.
Julie Kendrick: I saw the school’s letter -- be sure to get the flu shot when they offer it.  Mary and O and Dad are getting all their shots today -- we are so looking forward to seeing you in two months!

There were lots of long Skype calls, followed texts from me, checking on her.
[10/20/2011 8:58:29 AM] Julie Kendrick: Are you feeling okay?  We're worried about you.
[10/20/2011 8:59:06 AM] Emma Fiala: im ok. played soccer, got a 35% on math (he drops lowest score so I have an my favorite 89%. then went and did really well in erhu [A Chinese instructument] class teacher thinks im really good. and then belly danced
[10/20/2011 9:08:31 AM] Julie Kendrick: Oh, god, I am relieved.  I was honestly worried about you, baby girl.
[10/20/2011 9:10:53 AM] Emma Fiala: no im ok now!
[10/20/2011 9:11:26 AM] Julie Kendrick: Good, I will have a better day knowing you are okay, Precious Blossom

She rediscovered the nightclubs.
[10/28/2011 11:37:51 AM] Emma Fiala: got kissed by NOT a gay guy! a kazahkstani. or russian. but  think kazakh
[10/28/2011 12:35:02 PM] Julie Kendrick: KISSED! By a foreigner?  Do tell more!

She did not tell more.

[11/2/2011 6:57:13 AM] Julie Kendrick: Hello hotdish!  How are you 2nite?
[11/2/2011 7:02:38 AM] Emma Fiala: got a lot of work ugh
[11/2/2011 7:22:00 AM] Julie Kendrick: stay with it smarty pants ... you can do it!  Dad mailed your granola bars yesterday.

She had to make a big speech in front of the whole school. Her host mom rode her bike 20 minutes to the school to see Emma, then praised her.  She was such a kind woman, and she was so good to Emma, in ways I will probably never know. I still think of her with such a grateful heart.
[11/30/2011 8:51:24 AM] Julie Kendrick: Computer shut down!  Sorry!  Love you, go to bed!
[11/30/2011 8:51:27 AM] *** Call from Emma Fiala, duration 10:49. ***
[11/30/2011 10:39:01 AM] Julie Kendrick: GO TO BED!!!!
[11/30/2011 10:40:48 AM] Emma Fiala: who is there?
[11/30/2011 10:43:32 AM] Emma Fiala: mom
[11/30/2011 1:34:42 PM] Julie Kendrick: Mom is always there, toots!  good luck with the speech!
[12/1/2011 8:06:25 AM] Julie Kendrick: How did it go?
[12/1/2011 8:20:26 AM] Emma Fiala: great i think! i didn't forget anything i said in my head the first line went up there and spoke, i didn't make any mistakes says my host mom who went to see me. everything I said was fluid except once or twice i slowly and a bit awks said a word but other than that it was like speaking english i knew it so well
[12/1/2011 8:24:41 AM] Julie Kendrick: I am so proud of you!
[12/1/2011 8:24:54 AM] Emma Fiala: thanks!
[12/1/2011 8:25:18 AM] Julie Kendrick: i am around for three hours, so if you want to talk, I'm here.
[12/1/2011 8:25:28 AM] Emma Fiala: ok cool

December was awful for her. But then we came to visit, and by January, I think she could see the end in sight. She decided she did not need to talk to me anymore, she told me.
[1/23/2012 10:48:08 AM] Emma Fiala: hey im fine. trip soon which is good.  busy but you dont need to worry im adjusted and i dont need to talk to home much, im kinda living on my own and im good about that. see you in 4 months. Bye

Unless, as I’m gathering from this message a few weeks later, she needed at some point to update me on some troubles, just so I could continue to worry.
[2/15/2012 3:36:09 PM] Julie Kendrick: Emma, I hope you are feeling better.  I am sending opening, relaxing thoughts your way.  Love, mom

She started Skyping again. This was the day of her sister’s birthday party (a very late sleepover)
[2/19/2012 9:52:53 AM] Emma Fiala: hey mom, i sent you an email and because you always tell me to go to sleep, for once I just might. write me soon. have a good day. i hope mary had a good time and is not too tired this morning ;)

[2/19/2012 7:36:08 PM] Julie Kendrick: sweetie ... i read your email ... you really must save that, maybe as an unpublished blog.  you have learned so much and come so far.  Mary is TRASHED as i am. i was up til 1:30, then yoga at 8:15. Cooked cinnamon rolls and choc chip waffles ... lots of cleanup.  i've just tried to tackle a copywriting gig that's due tomorrow and  i may just have to get up early to do it because i am not making sense. anyway, love you very much, VERY WILLING to hear whatever you want to share.  I will always be your mom and will always love you, no matter what.
[2/19/2012 7:36:58 PM] Julie Kendrick: HOPE YOU FEEL BETTER !

Her dad came in April and took her to her home village and the orphanage where we met her. She was confident in her Chinese and much more comfortable in the country. In May, love bloomed. Repeatedly.

[5/3/2012 8:59:56 AM] Emma Fiala: i have a date with a chinese 19 year old guy, i met him at the club and now he asked me on a real date. i have no idea what to expect
[5/3/2012 9:00:20 AM] Julie Kendrick: wow!  this is news.  what's his name?
[5/3/2012 9:00:31 AM] Emma Fiala: uh. i think its sun qi
 [5/3/2012 9:03:09 AM] Emma Fiala: i told him i had to be home before curfew
[5/3/2012 9:03:25 AM] Emma Fiala: unlike when i met him, (dad was my guardian so no curfew)
 [5/3/2012 9:04:55 AM] Julie Kendrick: was that the night you saved olivia from the menacing man?
[5/3/2012 9:07:18 AM] Emma Fiala: no, different night. that night was fun too
 [5/3/2012 9:07:52 AM] Julie Kendrick: are the best nights the ones that have a hint of danger, like when the russians chased you?
[5/3/2012 9:09:44 AM] Emma Fiala: yeah
[5/3/2012 9:10:22 AM] Emma Fiala: hint of danger make me on my toes, gives me another reminder of dont get drunk. also i love the night, its my forte, i feel strong not weak, predator not prey
[5/3/2012 9:10:27 AM] Emma Fiala: powerful
[5/3/2012 9:50:14 AM] Julie Kendrick: so... tell me more about the mystery date...what are you wearing? what movie are you seeing?

I never got a response.

[5/9/2012 9:14:51 AM] Julie Kendrick: So, how was your Wednesday and are you okay?
[5/10/2012 7:29:14 AM] Emma Fiala: yeah im really busy with essay
[5/10/2012 7:29:45 AM] Julie Kendrick: Good luck!  I will send some glittering prepositions and sparkling adjectives your way, in thought.

She called me on Mother’s Day.
[5/14/2012 9:33:48 AM] Julie Kendrick: Thanks for all your kind words and wishes. I am also glad that we have been in this grand adventure together.  My life is richer, better, more exciting and infinitely more interesting for having known you!
[5/14/2012 9:35:03 AM] Emma Fiala: thanks mom!

The last Skype message between us was on May 18, 2012, and then she came home. And then she left. And then she left again. And now, a bit more. That’s my girl. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Revisiting the Hill

Outside my door this spring, I've already heard plenty "whees" and "we-can-climb-it!" encouragements. Last night was the first bike accident of the season, and happily it was relatively minor ... a ten-year-old boy who wiped out on the sidewalk. He was just about to cry at my proffered ice bag and comforting words, but then his buddy showed up and he decided he was just fine. Men. Still, he let me gently rub his back while he sat on the ice, and genially allowed me to deliver a stern lecture (sure to be ignored) on why he should wear a helmet. Then he took off with his pal into the perfect spring evening. The whole thing made me think of Theo, my favorite accident victim yet, so I dug up this post from last summer.

SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2013

Living at the Bottom of the Hill

I live at the bottom of a hill. More specifically, my front yard faces the base of one of the steepest slopes in what’s called “The Grand Rounds” of our municipal bike path. On uphill cycling journeys, the sight of this hill generates gritted teeth, groans, and, often, the decision to hop off and push the bike up on foot. On the downhill side, the swift ride to the bottom seems to demand an exclamation from even the most taciturn Scandinavians -- “whee” being the standard utterance for someone who is letting go and letting gravity take over on West Minnehaha Parkway.

One of the happiest harbingers of spring is on that first Saturday afternoon when it’s warm enough for the windows to finally be open all afternoon, not just for a brisk morning airing. With the open-windowed house facing the path across the street, I’m once again connected to the community that’s passing by my door – the wisp of a baby’s wail, being shuttled past by an exhausted parent, the jingling of a heavily tagged dog trotting by, launching my dogs into an agony of “no trespassers!” warning barks.

But when I hear the first exultant “whee” from a cyclist flying down that hill, then I know in my heart that spring has finally made its way to Minneapolis. People cycle on  these paths year-round, but it’s only in spring that the “whees” return.

With every joy there is a sorrow, and, mixed in with all those happy-faced, delighted encounters with terminal velocity, there are also a goodly number of brutal examples of the essential vulnerability of our mortal selves as we combine machines, speed and gravity, fancy bike helmets notwithstanding. When you live at the bottom of a steep cycling hill, you not only hear a lot of “whees” – you see a lot of accidents, too.

I always have big band-aids on hand, and gauze, and ice packs that I can hand off -- for the woman who broke her ankle when a teenaged boy, racing his friends, decided to take a shortcut on the pedestrian path and plowed right into her last August, or for the boy who tipped over his handlebars, cut his lips badly with his own braces, and lost his eyeglasses in the underbrush a few years ago. Ambulances have been called. Seriously bad things have happened, right outside my door.

By those standards, what happened on Tuesday night, even if it resulted in twelve stitches administered to a tiny, but valiant, chin, was pretty mild. I had just stepped outside when I heard a boy’s cry, then looked across and saw the telltale signs – a bike lying flat, a Mom kneeling down over a small figure, an older sister standing by. “Do you need ice, a towel or a band-aid?” I called out, my usual First Aid Menu, here at the Accident Cafe. The mother’s face that appeared, her head snapping up at the offer of help, was wide-eyed, beautiful and worried. “A towel,” she called back, “and thank you.”

By the time I’d raced into my own house and come back out with a dampened towel, the trio had made their way into my front yard, as the injured often do. Bikes were tossed in the grass, the boy sat on the curb, and the mom began to dab at spots on his arms and legs. “Do you think he’ll need stitches?” she asked, tipping his chin up and revealing a very deep and ragged gash. I was conscious that both of them were looking right at me, so my first reaction -- "For the love of Jesus!  Don’t show me that! Now I have to go upstairs and lie down; goodbye!” didn’t seem like such a good idea. I tried to keep my face neutral, because I could tell the boy was watching it closely. “Tell you what,” I said, “Let’s put a few band-aids on it and see what happens.”

The older sister began to assert herself. You can’t be five years old, the ordained boss of a younger brother, and not begin to let everyone present become aware of your opinions on the matter. “This would be his fifth set of stitches,” she archly confided, in a tone that indicated that she was hoping for some tsk-tsking on my part. I just nodded, noncomittally. This is a man, I thought, who leads with his chin.

Once the sting from that first hard slap of reality had begun to wear off, the practicality of dealing with the aftermath of an accident began to emerge. The question is always the same -- what happens next?

“Do you think you can ride your bike home, Theo, or walk it?” the mom asked, in a jolly of-course-you-can manner that fooled no one. Let’s just say here that “Theo firmly declined this offer,” and draw a veil over the actual words that transpired.

“We can drive you home,” I suggested, “and put your bikes in the back of our car.” She thought this over for a moment, then looked up at me with her big, lovely eyes. I could tell I was talking with a woman who had read every single brochure in the pediatrician’s office, twice. “But you don’t have car seats in your car,” she said. Right.

Finally, it was decided that she would run the four blocks back to her house, get the car (with the car seats, thank God), and drive the kids home, then figure out how to have that chin stitched up. As she started to go, she realized that the one hitch in this plan was that she was forced to leave her children with a complete stranger, and she looked back to me for mother-to-mother comfort. “We will not leave this spot,” I promised, patting the very safe-looking grass of the front yard. She hesitated, then turned and ran off.

And that’s how I got to spend some time with Flora, age five, and Theo, age three, who, while a bit battered by recent events, were really the nicest part of my Tuesday afternoon. “The first order of business,” I declared, “is Fruit Roll-Ups and some glasses of water.” Flora’s eyes got very big. “I’ve never had a Fruit Roll-Up before,” she confessed. As I handed over the shiny little packets, their eyes gleamed with the zeal of kids who have seen a lot of baby carrots in their day. I almost said, “Let’s not mention this to mom,” but quickly realized the folly that lay down that particular rabbit hole. Instead I cheerily declared, “First time for everything,” and watched the two of them ravenously gobble down the little packets.

“I think Theo’s teeth are bleeding, too,” she said, peering in at him, but closer inspection revealed a gummy chunk of roll-up between a crevice. She was used to looking at him very closely, I realized, probably out of the corner of her eye, when she didn’t think anyone else noticed.

For his part, the injured party was having a pretty good time. I had an ice pack on his knee, and I kept applying fresh band-aids to a chin wound that can only be described as “gushing.” In the meantime, he busied himself patting the small dog and looking at the big one.

“I think that big one looks like Scooby Doo,” I told Flora. “We’ve never watched that, but I’ve heard about it,” she told me. Oh, you darling children, you've been raised on PBS and baby carrots, and now here you are at the witch's gingerbread house, I worried. Well, they'd have a lot to talk about at dinner tonight.

Theo, I noticed, was wearing a bead bracelet, which spelled out, it was revealed, “Worm.” Asked why, he declared matter-of-factly, “Cause I wuv em.” Flora’s bracelet, appropriately, said “Love,” and she hadn’t forgotten the silent “e” when she’d spelled it, either.

We talked about school, about what books they liked to read. Theo told me he loved a series about pirates who wore “dirt perfume made out of dirt,” and Flora was compelled to tell me, “that’s not a real book.” “But it could be,” I said, “and maybe he’ll write it.” She thought about that for a while.

I wondered what it was that seemed so remarkable about these children, and then I realized:  they were relaxed. Even though something bad had happened, their mom had told them she was going to fix it, and they were going to be okay. They were spending time with strangers, but, based on current experience, strangers turned out to pretty nice, with sugary snacks and dogs to pet. No matter what had happened so far in their short lives, it was clear to me that they have always had a place they can lean into for a bit of rest and comfort. So far at least, there has always been a set of loving hands to hold them up and give them peace.

I thought about the children I encounter at the Crisis Nursery, and the contrast is so marked. It’s as if Flora and Theo are allowed to face life’s dangers from the safety of a big, comfy recliner, always supported by the wise and loving adults who care for them. My nursery kids have usually been dealt the life equivalent of a hard metal chair, the sort with one wonky leg and a spring that snaps shut on little fingers. “Relaxed” is the last word I’d ever use to describe those kids with whom I've spent so much time, so it was strange to have two relatively calm children right there in front of me, even if one of them was bleeding bucketsful onto one of my kitchen towels.

“Mom should be here soon,” Flora said, and lo, there was mom, hustling up the sidewalk. You have a need, and the answer appears. What a good way to start out a life.

I hugged the kids goodbye and told them to wave the next time they rode by, but carefully, please. As they walked away, I could hear Flora telling her mother, “I have something to tell you. She gave us Fruit Roll-Ups.”  I hustled inside, quickly, to put away all the band-aid papers, wash off some spattered blood, and say a small prayer for Theo’s battered chin.