Beyond the Bars

To avoid pouring water down the drain, I spend ninety minutes washing dishes in two pans, running water out to my new mulch to dump, and putting everything away while Bruce researches home equity loans and Trump tax cuts that hurt, rather than help, our current situation.

Behind the bars of my security door, I take this picture of the sewer company’s progress replacing a portion of our main drain.

Behind the bars of this security door, I hide from the American Dream. The one that we are all promised and few of us ever attain. The one where we could afford to buy a house, afford to deal with that house’s expenses, afford to send our children to college or even pay off the loans we might still have from our own degrees.

I hide from the dream of all of my grandparents, a combination of immigrants and endlessly American, one grandfather with an eighth grade education, one with a high school diploma, who were able to raise large families and pay off mortgages well before retirement. On ONE income.

I hide from the audacity of insurance that we carry on our homes, our health, our lives. From the premiums we pay that won’t cover pre-existing conditions (like pregnancy!) or pre-existing problems on our properties (like drains), or pre-existing hope–from all the thousands and thousands of dollars we pour into these plans that leave us empty, behind bars, unable to operate a backhoe.

I hide from the for-sale houses in my neighborhood that are now so outrageously priced that my family, and none of the other families on my block, would ever be able to afford to buy the homes we stand in.

Behind the bars of my security door, I am as insecure as everyone in my generation. The generation that faces housing costs that are equivalent to more than fifty percent of what we earn in a month. The generation of debt that is impossible to avoid even with the best budget. The generation that has made the choice to bring children into this world only to constantly think: why would I bring children into this world? Children I feel inadequate to provide for, children who will face even higher college costs, children who will be straddled with debt for their entire adult lives?

Behind the bars, I cannot see the buyers of the $769,000 remodel on the next block. Where they come from. What jobs they have. What magical formula they applied for that allowed them to take a mortgage that costs more than what our two incomes bring home in a month.

Behind the bars, I hear the Spanish language spilling from the mouths of the workers who have to dig a hole in a yard on a holiday. With perfect efficiency, they have repaired a ten-foot section of pipe within two hours, and they will move on to the next family’s crisis, and the next, and the next, before going home to houses on the other side of town that they also likely can barely afford, because we all know that the $6000 we just paid for that pipe is lining the pockets of a white, male, English-only CEO.

Behind the bars, I live in my dream house, my four-bedroom, two-bathroom, beautiful-garden dream house that we waited seventeen years to purchase. I raise a family of three daughters whose pay may never match their male counterparts but, despite this, whose intelligence and candor will allow them to live the life of their dreams. I share my meals, my home, and my love with my husband who has managed our finances to such perfection that we have flawless credit, making an application for an equity loan for both our properties (because nothing can just happen to this house–both need new main drains), virtually seamless. We both work hard at our dream jobs–teaching and telecom–in order to make this picture perfect.

With the door open, before they rebury the dirt, I snap a picture of our pretty kitty hiding behind my glass of stress wine.

I sit on our paid-for leather recliner and feel the cool breeze of early summer and think about my students who have crossed the world to be a part of this American Dream, and how hard they work to make that dream possible, to learn English and learn how to navigate the complexities of our society that sometimes make us feel like we’re all going down the drain. I think of how hard my husband and I have worked to make this day possible–to give my girls a summer trip to Spain, a year in Spain, to see nearly all fifty states–because of how careful we have been with our money. I think of the health insurance that paid for most of my husband’s surgery and how my grandmother’s baby sister died of a simple infection in her mouth after tripping up on a wooden popsicle stick, all because they couldn’t afford a doctor.

With the door open, we host family friends who make us laugh until we cry, whose daughter will join us in Spain, whose presence makes us appreciate what we have surrounding us in life–a life filled with laughter, love, support.

With the door open and the Spanish-speaking workers gone, the Siberian iris frames my kitty, my pet, my perfect yard. I know that I have given so much to get to this picture, and I know I still have more to give. I have daughters who are lucky enough to have access to all the technology, diversity, and coursework that comes from an urban education, and who will enter their adult lives with an open-minded understanding of the world. I have a house that we can afford and enjoy without feeling like our money is going down the drain. I have a job that brings the global perspective to every choice I make in one of the most beautiful buildings our city has to offer. I have a marriage that has lasted from childhood to adulthood, with all the post-adolescent turmoil and trauma, all the sorrow and joy, that comes with making it work for twenty years.

With my door open, I wait for the American Dream. Somehow, some day, some way, I will see how it is both easy and difficult to achieve. If I would learn to always open the door and move beyond the bars, I would see that not everything is going down the drain. I would see the beauty in every choice, the brutality in every loss, and find a way to make a set of silver linings sweeter than a sip of stress wine.

I would be the wife, the teacher, the mother of that perfect picture. That perfect picture would be me.

 

 

A Few English Words

We took three Afghani students to the foothills today. They have been here for less than a year, so they learned a few English words today: Hike. Trail. Juniper. Ponderosa. Colorado=red rocks. View. 

I tried to ask what it was like for them back home, but they only knew a few English words to describe it: Danger. No school. Grandparents. Parents here in Colorado. All kids–brother, sister, other brother–in Afghanistan. 

Each time I asked if they wanted to continue down the trail or turn around, the most confident girl, the hijab girl, kept insisting we go on. She had no desire to go back to whatever life she had outside of that blue-sky hike, her knee-high boots and sweaty face no hindrance to her joy. She just wanted to walk. To escape. To be on that mountain.

When we were at the top, she leaned in to take a selfie with me, and then one with my youngest daughter whose experiential-learning school had just visited the same location, whose quiet voice shared with us the details of the sedimentary rock layers, the lichen, the igneous and metamorphic. This was a perfect match–the low-English Afghani and my quiet youngest–smiling shyly for a photo, a perfect frame of world peace.

With a walk like this, we step towards empathy. Understanding. Gratitude. We know that things could be worse, that they are worse, for so many people in the world.

But it doesn’t stop me from feeling the pain, the loss that I feel now. For feeling gypped, for feeling like nothing I do, nothing my husband and I ever do, will be good enough to make our lives easier.

Perhaps it’s the curse of Spain. Six years ago, after welcoming two Spaniards into our home, after asking practically nothing for rent, after offering them my car for months when theirs broke down (I rode my bike to work 25 miles a day for three months), after hosting parties for their friends, babysitting their friends’ kids, driving them to South Dakota, after everything, we went to Spain and never heard from either of them again. In addition to the nightmare that that year in Spain was for us, with its broken promises, broken paychecks, and lost jobs, they had to twist the knife right into our backs by acting like they never knew us.

And now we’ve planned a redo. Twentieth wedding anniversary. Fortieth birthdays. Three years into living like kings for the first time in our marriage, with two steady, well-paying jobs, great benefits, and our dream house that we opened up to friends of ours, six of them, rent free for two months because they were down on their luck, and Spain has cursed us again. Our six-week vacation that is 90% bought and paid for, that I have spent over forty hours meticulously planning every last expenditure and activity, will be marred by a pending layoff, loss of benefits, and a mortgage we simply cannot afford on a teacher’s salary.

Let me tell you about that teacher’s salary. Let me tell you about the master’s degree plus thirty credits I have. Let me tell you about all the school events I attend, the lunch meetings, the hours before and after school I work, the summer workshops, the home visits, the dance chaperoning, the sporting events, the class coverage, the every last everything I do to work, to earn an extra buck, to make it. Let me tell you about the eight years we lived on a $48,000 frozen salary.

Let me tell you about my childhood. Parents with bachelors’ degrees in journalism working for a small town newspaper and barely making it. Powdered milk. Ten-year-old, rusted-out Datsun. Ancient house with windows so thin that ice collected on the glass. My mother scraping together a $20 bill for my eleventh birthday and me looking at it holding back silent tears because I already knew that it was equivalent to two and a half hours of her work, and my father was failing his master’s program, and we were moving to Denver for a better life, and everything was crashing down at once.

Let me tell you about contract work, the only kind of work Bruce was able to find when he left the Air Force. No guarantee. No health insurance. No paid time off. No holidays. No sick leave. And when it ends? No unemployment checks.

Let me tell you about health insurance. Let me tell you about the two children I have given birth to without having health insurance because it was a pre-existing condition, and the near $10,000 we paid for those births.

Let me find a few English words to explain to these students from Afghanistan: American Dream. Housing. Insurance. Education. SCAM.

Let me tell you about what we have done to avoid bankruptcy: No car payments. No student loans. No credit card debt. Two properties. Saving and spending. Buying a house only when we were ready, when we could afford it. Saving up for a cursed redo of Spain. Road trips staying with family and camping to save money while traveling. One computer for the whole family. Still driving my 1998 Hyundai Accent.

Let me tell you how I know what poverty is. I know what sacrifices are. I have made them.

Let me find a few English words to say: Fuck this country. Fuck this Trumpian tax cut that cuts workers while CEOs live like kings. Fuck this blue-sky day. Fuck my husband’s military sacrifice, his months in the desert, his sold-his-soul-to-boot-camp commitment, his veteran status that has given us NOTHING.

Let me be twenty years into my youthful marriage and not have to feel like I’m just twenty minutes in. Let me keep my dream house. Let him keep his union (that screwed him) dream job. Let my kids feel like there’s a future here for them and that with two degrees they won’t be buying powdered milk.

Just. Let me be. I’ve had enough.

My Fortieth April

My fortieth April comes to an end with pink flowers and red shirts. Both images are equally beautiful and painful–fuchsia tinted with the blood, sweat, and tears we put on the line every day for a society that vilifies us and threatens us with jail time for shutting down schools for a singular day–when that same society has worked to shut down schools for decades.

My fortieth April is these nachos–too damn big to consume, too impossible to say no to–because sometimes life just feels like a challenge we must at least attempt to make a mockery of.

My fortieth April means my parents are in Paris, on their way to only four months in Europe because I begged them not to totally leave me, sell the house, and disappear from our lives when I’ve just lost my father-in-law and every remnant of parenthood on my husband’s side of the family.

My fortieth April brings the beginning of the end of my children’s childhoods–no more towing them in the bike trailer, no more feeding them from rubber spoons, no more shuttling them to elementary school–instead, the hard reality that they will ride their own paths, make their own decisions, and quite often, leave me behind.

My fortieth April means half of my life has been in the warmth of this man’s arms, this man who flew alone to Tennessee to bury his father while I made a mockery of life with nachos, this man who has never done a thing but work to please the people in his life, who speaks so little but whose actions speak volumes… volumes of loving and giving.

My fortieth April has been hell. Our school district has desks twenty years old and teacher salaries to match. My husband is in a union job that will likely screw him out of one because of seniority. My oldest daughter’s first words to me on my fortieth birthday were, “Can I have my phone back?” My beloved father-in-law died. My parents boarded a plane. My school district’s open enrollment healthcare plan is $1000 a month with a $3500 deductible and $12,700 out-of-pocket maximum. We have bought and paid for six weeks in Iberia and are beginning to wonder why.

My fortieth April is these blue skies. These smiling faces. This willingness to stand up to the truth behind teachers’ vilification. These parents eating French fries in France. This beautiful set of girls we have somehow managed to raise, healthy and unscathed. This fuchsia bleeding into red shirts at Casa Bonita, making a mockery of all that is pain, all that is life.

My fortieth April comes to an end with pink flowers and red shirts. Because we’re all a little bruised after forty years on this Earth. Because the blood, sweat, and tears that go into living this life are as beautiful as the laughter, mockery, and joy.

My fortieth April is the middle of spring. And just like all the other springs that have made up my life, it is time to spring forward, time to smile, time to move on.

Because it’s April–it snows and burns a crisp on our necks within the same week–and we must learn that even the red scars of sunburn will eventually fade into the soft petals of fuchsia.

Eulogy to My Father-In-Law

I was nineteen when I first visited Tennessee, and I felt simultaneously as if I were stepping back into my childhood small-town upbringing and into another world, fifty years past due. Bruce and I drove the twenty-four hours in one stretch under gray Kansas skies, down interstates with gas stations still boasting 99-cent gallons of gas, and through the winding hills of the Smokies east of Nashville.

We went the back way into town, and I remember how excited he was to show me, though it was a dark December night, the Four Corners mart where he’d ridden his bike to on every day of his childhood, the small elementary school, the tiny post office, the grandiose Baptist church, and the cotton rope mill where his father and his grandfather had spent their entire adult lives tirelessly working.

His parents lived in a modest home with the most spectacular view of a golf course and the Smokies, and just like everyone who had worked for the mill for nearly a century, they paid nearly nothing for rent and were allowed to stay there until the day they died.

That little house has rested upon its hill unoccupied for the past two years, its only residents the quilts, pie safes, furniture, photo albums, mementos, and memories of a marriage that lasted fifty-six years and produced four children and seven grandchildren. For the past two years, Don’s eldest, his beloved Donna, has tirelessly committed her life to his care as his mind slipped and his heart broke after losing his wife and the mother of his children.

When I first met Don, or Pappy as everyone was already calling him, he gave me a big hug and welcomed me to the family even though Bruce and I had only been dating for four months. The morning after we arrived, we drove to another town to have breakfast in a small diner. Nanny, Pappy, Aunt June, Bruce and I all piled into Nanny’s van and drove through rounds of curvy roads before settling ourselves into an oval table at the back of the restaurant. When the waitress came, people began ordering the typical southern delights: biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, grits salted and buttered, pancakes stacked high.

I ordered one of my favorites, French toast, and Pappy lifted his gray, bushy eyebrows over his metal-framed glasses, his blue eyes twinkling. “I was hoping somebody was gonna order that,” he grinned.

As Bruce suppressed a chuckle, I wondered if there was something special about the French toast at that place. When the food came and Pappy began to dig into his grits, he held up his fork and said, “Gimme one of them pieces of French toast,” in a jovial, but adamant, tone.

“Well I guess you’re part of the family now for sure,” Aunt June joked. “Once Pappy wants something off your plate, he considers you one of his own.”

The next morning, on Christmas Eve, Bruce proposed to me to make it official. We spent that evening in Pappy’s childhood church for the candlelight Christmas Eve ceremony, where everyone from the small town of Rockford seemed to know Pappy, who proudly introduced his airmen youngest, “here all the way from Colorado,” and his new fiancee. I think it must have been half an hour before we even sat down because Pappy knew and loved everyone, and he was so damn proud of his baby joining the military and coming home for Christmas. The congregation flocked around the deacon and his family, cooing over his young granddaughters, praising Pappy for raising such a beautiful family, and he beamed, offering hugs and handshakes and goodwill.

Over the twenty years of our marriage, in every interaction I had with my father-in-law, I never heard a cruel word come out of his mouth. He had a quiet humor, a loving heart, and an unmatched generosity. He and Nanny helped the people in their town, the people at their church, and their children and grandchildren, any time any of us ever needed anything.

“You were going to have a baby at home and you had to go to the hospital and are suddenly faced with a bill you can’t afford?” The check was in the mail before we even brought our youngest home. Whether they had the means or not, with their simple existence and Pappy’s tireless work, they found a way to help others.

Pappy worked at that cotton mill for over forty years. He came home every night and had to “use the bathroom” with his magazines and chewing tobacco. He then settled in to watch whatever sport was playing that season, running the television on mute while he listened to the small wireless radio that he claimed had “much more accurate sportscasters.” He read the whole set of newspapers from all the localities through and through. He played bluegrass music, George Strait, and Alan Jackson when he tired of the sports. And just as he always had, he went to work for all but the weeks of Christmas and Fourth of July, the two weeks out of the year that the mill would shut down to give their employees a break.

That is, until Isabella was born. His fourth granddaughter, all the way in Colorado, inspired him to take a week off of work in May so he and Nanny could fly out and cover the gap between the end of my maternity leave and the end of the school year.

“You know this grandbaby is awful special if she got Pappy to take off work,” Nanny cooed as she held her. “I don’t believe there’s ever been a time he’s done that.”

Pappy LOVED babies. He loved coddling them, feeding them, gurgling over their tiny fat faces. He and Nanny spent a week traveling around Colorado with Bruce and Isabella, just three months old at the time, visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, the Garden of the Gods, the city of Denver. Pappy sat in the back comforting Isabella if she ever got fussy, only commenting with, “She lost her fooler, where’s her fooler?” teaching me another southern colloquialism I’d never heard before that first trip to Tennessee.

“It takes an awful good baby to do all this driving without so much as a fuss,” Pappy pointed out. “You got you a good little girl in this one.”

The years went by, and we continued to make our twenty-four-hour treks to Tennessee, where Pappy and Nanny would spoil us with dinners out, endless toys and clothes for our children, hugs and love.

One Christmas, we discovered surprising news just before we made our trip. I couldn’t quite think of how to share the news with Bruce’s family who gathered at the Vittetoe home for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, where we played dirty bingo and then opened all the family gifts before Santa would come and leave unwrapped presents under the tree for the next morning.

Finally, when all the gifts had been opened and we were running out of time before Bruce’s siblings, nieces and nephew were to leave, I told Bruce to find a bun and put it inside the oven. Bruce searched the whole kitchen snack area that was filled with all kinds of cookies, chips, and breads that Pappy loved to munch on, but he could only find a roll. He put it in the oven and told everyone to go into the kitchen.

“OK, I have one last gift to give you all this Christmas,” I announced as they curiously gawked at me, wondering why on earth we were standing in the kitchen. “Pappy, will you open the oven?”

Pappy bent over and stared at the small roll in the center of the rack. “Is this a preview of the dinner you’re fixing tomorrow?” Nanny wondered as he pulled it out, perplexed.

“Well, it was supposed to be a bun,” Bruce chimed in.

Pappy didn’t waste one second. His blue eyes lit up with joy as he walked across the kitchen and wrapped me in a bear hug. “Another baby! Well, what wonderful news… Now that you’re having three, you know how babies are made, right? So this is the last one, right?” He joked.

He always knew just what to say. He always knew just how far he could go with a joke, with a comment, with a piece of advice. He never thought of himself; he always thought of everyone else in his life first.

Even with his name. After fathering two boys, each of which Ann had wanted to name after him, he insisted that his name wouldn’t be carried on because he didn’t want anyone to ever have to go by Junior or Donny.

It wasn’t until many years later, when the baby, the last baby, made his entrance into the world, that Pappy lost his name battle. Ann went to the hospital and pushed out a nine-pound, blue-eyed, perfect little boy who looked just like his father, just before his father could arrive at the hospital.

When Don entered the room to meet his newest son, Ann looked up at him and said, “His name is Donald Bruce Vittetoe the II, not junior, and we’re calling him Bruce.”

And so my husband, the eighteen-years-after-the-firstborn baby, became his father’s namesake. My husband, the kindest, most caring, quietest human I have ever met, was named after the father who shared those same traits. Named after the hardworking man whose joy was found in the simple pleasures of spoiling his pets and grandchildren, of giving himself to others, of living to please.

When I first visited Tennessee, I entered a bygone era–one of chivalry, simplicity, and a lifetime commitment to a home, a job, a church, a family. This was the world of my father-in-law, Donald Bruce Vittetoe. A world I came to love as we moved from flatlands to green hills, as we barbecued in Cades Cove and on the back patio, as the twangy steel guitars and banjos peppered his southern drawl, as he shared his love with me from the moment we first met.

This was Pappy’s world. The Smoky Mountains, the cotton mill, the steadfastness of working, loving, giving.

When I first visited Tennessee, Pappy shared a piece of French toast from my breakfast plate and gave me one of many small, sweet memories of a man who knew how to take just a tiny bite out of this beautiful life that he spent eighty-four years sharing with everyone he loved.

And I am so lucky to be one of the people he loved. As everyone who was ever blessed to know him can attest to.

Goodbye, Don. May you rest in peace with the angels you surrounded yourself with in life.

Pappy with his granddaughters, Sarah and Rachel, 1996.

Pappy, Nanny, Bruce, Karen, Donna, David, Rachel, and Sarah. 8 August 1998.

Danny, Ann, Bruce, Don, Teddy, and Lisa. May 1999.

Nanny and Pappy with baby Isabella. Rocky Mountain National Park, May 2003.

Pappy with his youngest granddaughter, Riona. October 2006.

Ann and Don’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, 2008.

The Vittetoe Clan in Ann and Don’s yard in Rockford, July 4, 2010.

2014.

Pappy with his grandchildren Bailey, Isabella, Sarah, Rachel, Riona, and Mythili. 2015.

Pappy with his grandchildren, 2016.

Donna, Mythili, Isabella, Don, and Riona. January 2018.

No Matter What

No matter what I do, it will feel like the wrong thing. Allowing her to have a boyfriend. Harping her about homework. Not allowing her to see her friends. Giving in to shopping and a movie instead of a hike. Checking with her teacher about her grade. Begging her to fix it.

Doubting her. Loving her. Wanting her to be better than the me I was at age fourteen.

No matter what, it will feel wrong.

Because she is my guinea pig, my first, my test.

Because no matter how many times she pushes me, I am always going to push back. Because I spent two and a half hours pushing her out of me, and I have been pushing her ever since.

On a sunny Sunday, she tests me again. This time it is about cans. Coats. Collections. And putting on a vest. She doesn’t want to wake up. She doesn’t want to volunteer. She doesn’t want to be voluntold.

She wants to be free. Like the toddler I trapped in the room who would play for hours without my supervision. Like the four-year-old who was fearless enough to have her first sleepover. Like the seven-year-old who I let go to the park by herself. Like the nine-year-old who moved to Spain with me, joy in hand and sorrow in heart, not speaking enough Spanish to realize her mistake. Like the eleven-year-old who tried out the militaristic charter school, who stayed after for forgetting a pencil, a belt, gym shoes… Who came out, unscathed, and better for it.

She is so my daughter. She is every bit of the me I wanted to be, when I was fourteen.

Fearless. Defiant. Independent.

Ready to navigate the world in front of her, ready to manipulate it into the shape that suits her.

And no matter what I do, no matter how much I question myself, I have shaped that shape. I have bought that hoodie. I have pushed her out, pushed her hard, pushed her into this world.

No matter what, she is my daughter. And I couldn’t be more wrong, or more right, about her place in my world.

FBQ: Friday. Be Qualitative.

“This is an FBQ conversation,” she begins. And her artistry, backed by data, emphasizes the urgency.

The urgency. It is mid-October, and I’ve seen my principal cry too many times in the course of twelve months.

The urgency of children who have escaped a war zone, who have traveled on three city buses to escape their neighborhood school, who have escaped poverty with our food bank, to be on the tips of our tongues as we sit in the come-down-to-Jesus choir room, AKA, staff meeting with bad news.

This isn’t the day after the election when our hijab-wearing girls were too fearful to take a bus to school, when our students of color were threatened by now-openly-racist citizens, when we were lost souls in a city school surrounded by bigotry.

This isn’t the almost-there rating of last year when we met in our usual fourth floor, everything’s-going-to-be-fine lunchroom location.

This is a Friday-the-thirteenth, tell-it-like-it-is, FBQ meeting. The urgent meeting.

We face ourselves and then each other. Is it you? Is it me? Is it them? Is it us?

We argue in the hallway after, fuck the contract hours on a Friday afternoon when we’re supposed to be at FAC. “You know those charter schools eliminate kids left and right. One infraction, gone. SPED? Gone. Detention for forgetting a pencil and you don’t show up? Gone. Charter schools in the poor neighborhoods? Don’t even try to argue, I looked at all the scores last night. RED.”

We are ourselves, wholly ourselves, and we promise to honor her FBQ request.

But this room will be on our minds for the weekend, for the week, for the rest of the year. This conversation, this seeking of solutions. This, what-did-we-do-wrong-this-time question that sits at the back of our minds every damn day when kids don’t show up, when kids say, “Fuck this class,” when kids come crying about their dying mothers, their far-from-home brothers, when kids wish nothing more than one percentage point higher than what they have earned.

“Can we turn the qualitative values of this school–I mean, look how many of you are wearing purple today–into something quantitative?”

FBQ: Family, Be Quiet.

I want to stand up and shout: You can’t measure this. You can’t quantitatively, statistically, mathematically, measure the amount of emotion that drips down her cheeks, that causes me to clench my fists and hold back my own tears, that makes us question the very effort and belief system we put in place with every moment of every lesson we work so hard to place before them.

You cannot measure, quantitatively, LOVE.

Family, Begin Questioning.

Start with:

1) Why do we vilify teachers?
2) Why do we blame students?
3) Why do we quantify humans?

I want to change her acronym. I want to change them all. To mesh the SLO with the CLO, to move LEAP into SIOP, to blend FAC with FBQ. I want to change colors from yellow to green to the beautiful blue sky that hovers over my beautiful school, with its red-yellow leaves just making that blue pop like a world you’ve yet to see.

It’s Friday.

Be Qualitative.

Because you can’t quantify love. And isn’t that what matters?

Castellano

I’m thinking about Spain tonight. Not just because I’m already planning our summer road trip across the Iberian Peninsula. Not because Castellano is on the tip of my tongue–because it’s not.

I’m thinking about the garage full of trash bags that I gave to the Goodwill before we went to Spain. Old toys, books, clothes, unwanted small appliances, furniture, shoes, pillows… JUNK. About fitting our lives in five giant suitcases, five backpacks, and an airplane across the sea. About coming back to all of our items left in our house… that was no longer ours.

The piano. The maple nightstands that stood on either side of my parents’ bedroom in that custom-built two-story in upstate New York. The dining set we picked out soon after our wedding, its oak pedestal and matching chairs a testament to the solidity of our marriage. The most comfortable recliners a body could rest in.

Our beds. Our patio set. Our entertainment center. Every last comfort, joy… empty from our rental house upon our return.

How we begged and borrowed items to make a home once we returned from Spain. How we spent the “advance” of my first salary to buy double-over-double bunk beds so that our girls might share a room.

How, when we went there, with everything packed in luggage, we had to adapt to uncomfortable furniture, to a mattress on the floor for a bed, to no closets, no bath, no extra bathroom, no dryer, no dishwasher, no place to fit our lives into.

And how our girls… adapted. How they made friends, made paper cutouts to decorate the walls, painted ceramic eggs from the “Chino” to hang on the tiny plastic Christmas tree we found in the wardrobe, sat next to one of the space heaters during rainy winter months when the wind whipped through the frail windows, learned how to wash dishes and wait hours for clothes to dry and speak Castellano more fluently than me by year’s end.

And the aftereffects of Spain, of moving out… and moving back. Of trying to pick up the pieces of the life we’d left, trying to reposition ourselves amongst our friends, our family, our view of the world, trying new careers and new colleagues and a new house that was ours… and wasn’t ours.

That is why. Spain is why, five years later, we can make space in our two-bathroom, five-bedroom home for six other people. Why when I drove a couple miles today to pay a neighbor $80 for an extra refrigerator, her jaw dropped when I said what it was for, her “For Sale” sign in the yard of a house just like mine because she, her husband and two boys “just need more space.” Why, after sharing one bedroom for a year and one bathroom and one suitcase full of clothes, my girls could move things over, purge, split their beds, their time, their Americanness, to make room for a whole other family in our home.

I may not have learned Castellano. I may not have r’s rolling off of my tongue. My girls may not remember more than what a croqueta is.

But they know what it means to make a sacrifice. To give up a piece of themselves. To move. To transition. To lose and gain friends. To try new foods and new schools and new sleeping arrangements.

That is why this revised chore chart, designed by Mythili and with input from six other voices, is my picture for today.

There is beauty in those three Expo colors. Compromise. Adjustment. Initiative.

Adaptability. With a little bit of gumption and Castellano on the side, just for good measure.