There are no words

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A line spiraling behind him, the man stood at the checkout — frozen.

The cashier stared, waiting for his response.

She rolled her eyes. Why is this foreigner holding up everything? Why can’t he just speak up and move on?

And I thought, I’ve been him.

Once upon a time, in a country where people spoke a language I didn’t understand, I, too, stood frozen, unable to say what I held in my heart.

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Translate

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I am a Jedi like my MOTHER before me


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Cue the theme music… here comes “Good Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, with the blue light saver (sic),” also known as my three-year old son. Lately, we can’t go anywhere without that light saber.

This little guy has an incredible passion for all that is Star Wars. From books and cartoons to Legos and mini action figures, he simply cannot get enough. Well, with the exception of the actual movies… which, after several trial viewings, he has deemed too scary.

Even without the Lucas films to reference, he’s memorized most of the plot line and convoluted family tree. Plus, he’s got an unquenchable desire to make-believe. In one favorite game, he pretends the guest bed is the Millennium Falcon and we have to scoop in to save Padmé or others in distress. Other times, he instructs one of us to play Darth Vader to his Luke. It goes something like this:

Me: [with labored breathing sounds] Luke, trust your feelings and you will know it to be true. I – AM – YOUR – FATHER.

Mateo: [gasps] What?! Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Then we redo the scene. Again and again. Sometimes it’s hard to share his enthusiasm.

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Even his older brother, age 6½, our Star Wars Lego building expert, is getting fed up. He loves the movies and can’t wait to get his hands on all the latest Star Wars toys but his little brother’s total fixation has become rather annoying.

This got me thinking about another set of siblings in a not so distant galaxy where little sister (that would be me, age 3 in 1977, the year the first Star Wars movie came out) became similarly obsessed with the Star Wars merchandising machine. I coveted the impressive collection of toys my big brother, age 7, had acquired. He seemed to have it all — Death Star, Millennium Falcon, Tie Fighter… and when his Star Wars figures would get a little worn out, guess who would get them?

Yes!

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I loved Star Wars and started to amass quite a collection of my own. Prized possessions included several dozen action figures, an x-wing fighter, a ton-ton which Luke or his comrades could actually ride and the planet Hoth with a built in at-at.

Oh, Lord. Is it obvious that I’m not quite over it all yet?

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Me with my older bro and younger sis, circa 1976.

I’m not sure if my obsession riled my brother’s nerves though it probably did, especially when I cut off the tips of Obi Wan and Luke’s light sabers to make them more realistic and tried to slide Vader and Leah’s cloaks on other, bulkier characters. (He seemed to have a sixth sense that these toys, or at least their non-mutilated twins, would have value someday.)

My parents surely worried that the only times I’d play with my 3-story doll house was to reenact an elaborate scenario in which the resident family hid beneath the removable kitchen floor to escape the ruthless Storm Troopers who came looking for them.

Behavior like this (not to mention my questionable taste in naming my baby doll, “Carwash”) must have led to some serious eyebrow raising but they never let on that I was an unusual child. They let me be me, quirks (especially quirks!) and all. I’m glad for that now.

All of this has left me wondering a few things:

  • Is this all a coincidence or is age 3 a moment when most children fixate on a particular passion?
  • How important is the influence of older siblings or do all children go though a similar phase?
  • Finally, should I worry that my son is obsessed with Anakin and his struggle between the light and dark sides of The Force or is it actually the perfect metaphor for the impulses he’s experiencing now?

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No doubt, my Star Wars youth prepared me well for having two boys. Each time I was pregnant, I wondered what on earth I would do if nature bestowed a girly-girl upon me. How would I handle it? I guess I would have done the only possible thing, dug down deep, marched into the American Girl doll store to buy a brunette doll who could fit a custom-made Princess Leia costume.

Dare to be a Tourist

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Recently, I’ve been tackling a variety of DIY tasks — things like repairing a peeling bathroom ceiling, putting the suck back into a vacuum that had gone kaput, and battling some carpenter bees that have moved into our deck. My motivation has been simple — a personal challenge to see if I could actually do-it-myself and an attempt to save a few dollars in the process.

It’s been strange terrain for me as I’ve never been terribly handy (i.e., probability’s high that I will cause unintentional harm to myself or others when I climb a ladder, grab a hammer or drop a tool.) Yet, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.

By asking questions, getting help from in-laws or parents, and doing extensive online research, I’ve developed the courage to try. To my delight, I’ve found that I am indeed (as my 4th grade teacher once assured me) lovable and capable.

Thinking about these new challenges reminds me of something I experienced last summer and jotted down in a little, pocket-sized notebook that I’d brought along on our trip to France. Here are those notes — with a touch of editing — that I hope express my new mantra that trying is more than half the battle.

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When I lived in New York, I never had any trouble spotting tourists: they were the goofy looking ones wearing practical shoes, neon windbreakers and staring up at the towering skyline.

I couldn’t help laughing the other day when I found myself sporting exactly the same attire and striking the identical pose. There I was, part of a nature and wildlife expedition,  searching the sky for a “fantastique” bird that everyone else seemed to see.

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Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s ?#$@!!

I started to feel like the legendary Emperor presented with a spectacular new wardrobe of the transparent variety.

Should I play it cool?

“Oui, bien sûr! Je le vois… il est magnifique.”

[Yes, of course! I see it… it’s magnificent.]

Or desperate?

“Mais où??! Je vois rien de tout!”

[But where??! I see nothing at all!]

It’s an interesting predicament. Is it better to try to blend in and pretend we understand or should we ask questions, thereby admitting our lack of knowledge?

The best path I’ve found is to allow ourselves, at times, to be novices — and join the ranks of fellow tourists in the world.

Ever said “yes” to something out of politeness or pride when you really would have said “no” had you known the terms of the deal? You probably regret not asking that clarifying question.

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If we happen to be around helpful, patient people, we have everything to gain. And, if we’re around jerks who don’t want to help at all — good riddance. They’re not the ones we want to be with anyway.

Wandering a wooded path in a small provençal town, I found myself in totally unfamiliar territory. Even in English, I would be lost trying to follow a lecture on birds and wildlife. In French, with layers of precise foreign terminology — patterns, wing spans, habits, and habitats… fuggedaboutit.

Here, it was obvious I was a tourist; I was wearing the fluorescent clothes to prove it. So I went ahead and asked my questions.

The more daunting task is admitting one’s a tourist in what should be familiar situations. That’s what often happens when traveling or living abroad. Exchanging a dress, buying groceries, and simply eating become pitfall-prone treks through the wilderness.

But we have to be willing to observe, participate and ask questions if we hope to grow and become, well…  less touristy.

After all, it’s OK and even wonderful that we do things differently in our respective cultures but learning the codes of etiquette are an important, continual and necessary process.

Allowing ourselves to be beginners, whether the new frontier is birding, building or learning a foreign language, is a noble pursuit. What good would we be if we stopped learning? We’d become stagnant, boring creatures, waiting to wither away.

So, in that spirit, would somebody finally tell me how to properly slice French cheese? And how much is appropriate to take the next time the plateau is passed my way?

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If I could put time in a bottle

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No matter where I go, I always receive the same advice from total strangers:

“Squeeze those boys tight!” says the cashier at the grocery store.

“They’ll be grown before you know it,” says the lady down the street.

“I remember when my kids were that small,” says the grey-haired man in line behind us.

Their eyes glistening, I immediately know one of two things. Either a.) their own children are grown and have moved away or b.) their own children are teenagers, have not moved away and are driving them completely bananas. Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about how I would capture my five year old and two year old in words right now. Here are some memories that I’d like to bottle up and save for later, if I could.

Noah is starting kindergarten in just a few days. Even though I’m secretly freaking out, he seems to be taking it all in stride. He’s eager to meet new friends, take the bus, and learn French at his new immersion school. He tries so hard to be a good son and big brother, wanting to please his parents and do the “right thing.” But I know it’s sometimes a struggle for him to be a big, brave boy. At times, he longs to be the baby.

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He has two loose teeth and nothing could be more thrilling or terrifying for him. He wonders, when will they fall out? What will the Tooth Fairy do with them? And what would happen if he keeps them instead of handing them over? Perched on the footstool and stretching his neck just so, he can finally see his face in the bathroom mirror as he wiggles those teeth.

He gets frustrated trying to tie his own shoes, unable to solve the riddle of twisting “bunny ears” into knots. Yet, he’s a whiz at legos — concentrating for hours while building a new plane, car or robot. He loves cooking and has a surprising passion for the Food Network series, “Chopped.” When he talks about growing up, he imagines multiple simultaneous career paths. He’ll be a race car driver, a lego engineer, a chef in his own restaurant and a soccer player for the U.S. national team.

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Most nights, he carefully pastes stickers into his World Cup Panini soccer book alongside his dad and little brother, even though the matches are long over now. He can identify every player’s country of origin, with a simple glance at the flag that decorates each Panini card. Beyond soccer, his world is all about superheros, water balloons and icees. At night, he dozes off while listening to the “Curious George, the movie” soundtrack. He has a blessed obliviousness to the greater problems of the world which I hope will last for some time still.

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His little brother has just turned two. What a beautiful age. It’s all about unbridled enthusiasm for EVERYTHING. It’s pizza night and Mateo run-skips through the house shouting “PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA! YAAAY!” He bobbles, not quite able to balance his oversized head on his pint-sized body. He surprises us all the time with new words and phrases.

He’s a little ray of sunshine who thinks his big brother is THE greatest person in the entire world. He wants to be just like him and imitates almost everything he sees him do. (As if to punctuate this thought, he starts singing “Let it go!” at full voice, for no other reason than he’s heard his brother do it too.) Eager to nap on most days, he waves and says “night night” to anyone nearby. Like his older brother, Mateo’s a polite little guy — often uttering a “please” or “thank you, Mama” without any prodding.

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He’s picked up the delicious habit of sprinkling French words in his spirited chatter: “non, merci;” “Time for dodo;”  “Bisous, Mama!” He thinks the best joke in the world is adding the word “heiny” after any name. It’s sure to be a hit with his new preschool friends, whom he’s just days away from meeting.

At night, he sucks his thumb and cries for a “tag.” Unlike other kids who nestle with a stuffed animal or blanket, he has a mania for the labels on t-shirts and other articles of clothing. Snug in his PJs, he loves starting books together and then declaring we’re “all done” a few pages in. He grabs another book and insists “not yet!” when we tell him it’s time for bed. He finally lies down, thumb in mouth, rubbing the tag between his fingers, when I sing a lullaby.

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Most of all, both boys crave attention, recognition, stability and warm hugs. “Mama, Look!” they shout, as they do their own version of breakdancing in the living room or in the cereal aisle. Life is still simple and I cherish it. They are happy, healthy and we don’t embarass them… yet.

* Less than 24 hours after writing this, Noah lost his first tooth. Seems I just can’t seal that bottle tight enough, no matter how I try.