Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kids of Many Countries - Weston, MA

One Chilean-Brazilian and two American-Brazilians on a mountain.

This past long weekend we were visited for the second time by my son Nico's best friend Ricardo from Brazil. In fact, besides family, he is our only repeat visitor--apparently Weston has been put on some watch list that makes it dangerous for my friends to visit. It is true that we have really mean deer. But that's not my point. 

Ricardo (name changed for privacy) is a child of the world. His parents are both Brazilian, but he was born in Chile, and grew up in Mexico and Panama before moving back to Brazil. Our kids met in kindergarten at the small British-language school they attended for three years in São Paulo. Ricardo still attends that school, and has seen every one of his closest friends leave year after year--the result of having a lot of ex-patriate families in the school. 

The best part of this expatriate school, in my opinion, is  making international friends. Yes, it is a private and expensive school, so the diversity is in the cultural backgrounds, not the economic. My kids were friends with South Africans, Australians, Indians, among others. Many of the kids were on their second or third expatriate experience. 

After we moved from Brazil in July 2014, the kids keep in touch now by skype or through their parents emailing about their lives. And sometimes in-person visits--Ricardo was the second from the school, we also had a one-evening visit by friends heading up to Montreal from New York (how Boston was on the way, I will never know, but I love it!). We have also made an effort on two visits to Brazil to get the kids with their friends.

Touch tank at the New England Aquarium

Here the kids played like crazy. They made up fantasies about superheroes and Star Wars, animal tales and dance shows. While three is often a difficult number to get to play nicely, the arguments and tears were few and far between. For five days, the kids played in the snow, went for a day trip skiing, went to the science museum and the aquarium and laughed and talked in two (and sometimes three--my kids massacre Spanish pretty well) languages. 

The kids remember their lives in Brazil in funny ways. During yesterday's make-believe session, Lalo was a superhero who was bullet-proof. Unless you shot him six times in the exact same spot. Somehow Lalo had remembered that the bullet-proofing on our Volvo in Brazil was Level 3--and that this could withstand up to five bullets shot in the same spot on the car--the sixth would penetrate. That made me more than a bit sad to think about early childhood and bulletproofing, but also made me smile to know that once in a long while, my kid listens to me. :)

One of the only things that bothers my kids about Ricardo is that he is in fourth grade while they are in third-- when he is almost six months younger than them. No amount of reiteration that the cut-off of ages is different between Brazil and the US will help. All they know is that Ricardo will graduate high school before them, and that "sucks". The only way I could make them feel better was to remind them that they will drive before Ricardo (driving age in Brazil is 18, here 16). 

Repatriation is a long process, and more difficult emotionally than I expected for reasons I have talked about before. But then in talking with Ricardo's mom, I realized that there is really no such thing as re-patriation. You can never re-patriate. Because living in a different country for years changes you indelibly. You are never happy in just one place again--you miss certain things about different cultures in any place you have lived. 

I miss the familiarity and sociability of Brazil. I miss our weekend house with no phone or internet, just the forever sky and woods. I see the US with new eyes and have less patience with the gun situation, with the legal sue-everyone-for-everything and the rules for everything. Yes, the latter is what makes the US work, but wouldn't it be nice to have a breakdown or two once in a while without a lawsuit or a gun being involved?

On Tuesday, we also received an automated message from the school superintendent about a bomb threat made against schools in Weston. Fortunately there were no kids in school on Tuesday. Sweeps were made of the schools; nothing was found. At least 15 other school districts were also hit with bomb threats and had to evacuate. 

What a world. My world. 

For now.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Love Herself Has Rest - Weston, MA

Haifa, age 12, Maine

On the first day of 2016, I had to say goodbye to my rock, my Haifa dog. She was just 17 days shy of her 13th birthday, and three months shy of celebrating four years in our family. Haifa is the dog who convinced me of the joy in rescuing animals, and especially the love of senior dogs. She was nine years old when we adopted her. 

In 2010 we were living in Brazil, and we had lost our yellow lab Chopp to laryngeal paralysis at Christmas time. Our chocolate lab Caju, then 12 years old, went into mourning. He moped around for four months before I decided that we should adopt an older dog to be his companion. I didn't think Caju would appreciate a puppy, but I was somewhat worried about a rescue dog since my kids were still young (five years old) and I thought of the risks of a dog with unknown aggression issues. I decided to pursue a senior labrador.

After talking with the vet, I sent a message to Brazil's largest labrador breeding kennel. The owner called me later that day to express her shock that I wanted a senior dog--she had never been asked that before. She said she would think about it, then she sent me a note later that week saying that she had three retired breeding females, one of each color, and all available for free. 

I went online and looked at each of those beautiful females. Then I got to Coffee Haifa (you can see the link here) and noticed that her grandfather (Power of Love) was also the father of Caju (my 12 year old lab). Crazy dog generations. It was fate: we had to adopt Caju's "niece". 

Haifa came to our home a week later, and she was in shocking condition. Dirty, confused, half-deaf, exhausted. For days she slept and lost her fur. She lost almost all her fur within two weeks. I have to give full credit and love to my husband BH for not making me give her back. She was ugly--a teat hanging almost to the ground and a giant growth on one paw.  But she wagged and wagged with that stubby tail, and light came into her eyes when she saw me. 

Haifa, 2012, after operating on her leg. Joanopolis, Brazil

Slowly she came to herself. Her head came up, her fur grew back, we operated on the teat and the growth. She played with Caju. Caju came back to life. We were going to rename her Daisy or something happy, but in the end she stayed Haifa. We once asked the old kennel why she was named Haifa and they couldn't remember. She bonded with me and would never be far from my feet. We took her with us to our weekend house in the country or to the farm in the interior of São Paulo state. She didn't care where she went as long as she was with us. Her tail wagged even when she could not hear us (her deafness became stronger with age). She was the happiest dog on earth--there were no bad days.

Haifa, 2013

Caju died in June 2014 of old age, then Haifa came with us to the US (story is here). She slowed down, eventually not walking much-- just a sniff around the front yard, or a stroll to the bus stop. I drove her twice to the trails at Lincoln conservation--she saw the beautiful lake, the wooded trails. She developed laryngeal paralysis, she suffered from tiny strokes that would make her fall over spontaneously; she got bladder stones and UTIs that were unstoppable. But she still clickety-clicked on her long nails to greet me at the stairs in the morning. She wagged her tail so hard that it would hurt if you were in the way. She pawed me for scratches in the morning, grrrrring with happiness.

She went downhill quickly when I traveled for three days in New York for the holidays. My amazing neighbor had to pretty much carry her outside to do her business--first Haifa lost use of her back legs, then on the day I returned home on December 31, she could not stand even on her front legs. She stopped eating. We stayed home on New Year's Eve--me knowing in my heart that she would be leaving us the next day.

In the early afternoon of January 1, I took her to Blue Pearl vets in Waltham. They could not find anything completely wrong--but she was breathing like Darth Vader due to her laryngeal paralysis and could not walk. I declined an MRI for her. I declined to think of surgery on the old girl. Steroids were not possible due to her bladder issues. It was time to let her go.

We went to the lounge where you say goodbye to your pets. Rugs and sofas, and a little remote with a button you press to call the vet who will put your dog to sleep. I put the Girl from Ipanema music on my phone--olha que coisa mais linda, mais cheia de graça. She was not full of grace, but I will say that everyone did smile when that girl passed by. She was love itself.

It was just me and Haifa. I cried and cried while she wagged at me and gave me a big slurp on the chin. I pressed the button. It was over quickly--first a sedative for her to sleep--she quickly dropped her head to sleep as if she were thankful for the rest. The vet hugged me as I cried. I went home to tell two devastated little kids. Coal, my other dog, has not left Haifa's bed until today. Today we are all a little better.

And Lord Byron's best poem echoes through my head several times a day. The heart must pause to breathe...and so it did...

So We'll Go No More a Roving

By Lord Byron (George Gordon)
So, we'll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
   And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
   And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
   By the light of the moon.