Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

I'm not a patriotic person. In fact, I'm naturally suspicious of anything that resembles group pride, because I know arrogance and ethnocentrism are it's inevitable shadows. I've never been particularly enthusiastic about the 4th of July, and I'm not the type of person to puncture the lawn with the gleaming plastic flag provided by our neighborhood realtor.
But this year is different.
The anticipation began when Lilah and Cleo passed by a store window displaying little girl's dresses in red, white, and blue. They said, "Look, Mommy! Those dresses are America flag!" It suddenly occurred to me that I had neglected to explain the upcoming national holiday that would prevent them from their favorite weekday afternoon activity of checking the mailbox.
"Girls, those dresses are for a special celebration coming up. It's America's birthday!"
Well. Any sentence with "birthday" in it has the power to make jaws drop, ears prick up, and best behavior to come out of thin air. "AMERICA BIRTHDAY? Where is it? What do I WEAR???" inquiring minds wanted to know.
Luckily Grammi had it covered: That same day she presented them with their new T-shirts embellished with red, white, and blue peace signs. I didn't argue. "Okay," I conceded, "they can dress like flags if there are peace signs on them." When we got home they hung the new shirts up on tiny hangers and carefully placed them in their closet. Over the next few days they peeked at the new shirts, asking questions like, "Does Obama go to the America birthday party?" "Mommy, where was the party again?" was the night before the Big Day. Grateful for a bedtime incentive, I explained that if they didn't go to sleep right away we would all be too tired to go to America's birthday party. For literally the first night EVER, they closed their eyes tight and off to sleep they went. I started to feel like I could warm up to this holiday.
Around 3am I responded to Cleo's nightly cry, shuffling into her room like a nurturing zombie. But instead of finding her in a sleepy post-nightmare haze, she greeted me with wide eyes demanding to know, "Is it America's birthday yet?"
Around 7am we heard the familiar pitter-patter coming down the hallway, and when I opened my eyes there they were holding out red, white, and blue ribbons, hoping I'd fix their hair.
Seeing their excitement sealed the deal: This is my new favorite holiday.
They may be too young to understand the collective significance of July 4th, but it means something very special to them personally. It's a chance to show that they feel they belong here, to have pride in their dual identities, and to celebrate the life ahead of them in this country. So this year I'm not going to be shy about it. I tied giant bows in their hair and found the flags they were handed at the airport when they arrived in the U.S. We each held a flag out of the car window (mine, the plastic one from the realtor) as we flew down the highway toward our 4th of July pool party. We counted every single flag we saw, and sang Happy Birthday to America.
Today as I reflect on what it means for Lilah and Cleo to be here, celebrating their own Independence Day and looking forward to all of the opportunities that lie ahead, my mind keeps repeating a statement that I've never felt with greater passion and enthusiasm: God Bless America.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Lilah and Cleo,

We've only been home a little over one month. You have transitioned into your new life more gracefully than we ever could have hoped for. Our house has never been more bright or joyful, and we really can’t imagine how we ever lived without you.

Lilah, you are exceptionally observant, and nothing gets past you. You notice everything and love to ask questions. You are eager to improve your English and to learn at school, and you absolutely love being a student.

You enjoy pointing out when someone is wrong! You love being a big sister and often tell Cleo what to do and what not to do. I have to remind you of who is the Mommy!

You are confident and ambitious, but sometimes a little fearful of new things like Simone, the Easter Bunny, and especially snails. Often when you look at me I see an adult behind those eyes. Then, in an instant, you are back to being my baby, wanting to be held, rocked, and loved. You like to tickle my back after story time at night, and to me there is no better feeling in the world.

Cleo, you are a jolly soul, always laughing wildly and intoxicating everyone around you. You sleep as hard as you play. You really dislike waking up from a nap and are angry about it for at least an hour afterward.

You love being the baby of the family. You often call out for me at night and I spend lots of time sleeping next to you. You love kissing me on the lips over and over, and playing with my cheeks. You adore your big sister.

You are fearless. You watch to see what other kids are doing, then you set out to accomplish the same- and you always succeed. You are small as a peanut, with a belly like Buddha, and eyes that sparkle with delight. People are drawn to you like a magnet.

My daughters…you are precious. How did I ever get so lucky?