Mama-san got a book from the library for Trinh called The Merbaby. I love it.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
Briefly, here's the story: a young man dreams of being captain of his own sailing ship, but he's stuck on a fishing boat with his greedy, workaholic brother. He loves the sea but doesn't really enjoy fishing. One day they wander into mermaid territory, and he only narrowly saves their ship from being lured into the rocks by the mermaid's song. The next day, he finds a merbaby in the net with the fish they've caught.
He thinks about putting her back into the sea, but he sees sharks circling. His brother is keen to keep her; they'll turn her into a freak show and get rich. The young man can't sleep that night. Finally, he resolves to take her back to her family, dangerous though it might be to approach the merfolk.
The merpeople are stunned -- they never thought a land-person would be so kind. They lavish him with riches from sunken ships and declare him a friend of the merfolk forevermore.
So much the tale. But I've left out the parts that really get to me: when he plucks the baby from the net, she puts her tiny hand to his cheek; he feels her small arms cling to his neck; her little fingers wrap around his pinky; he gives her a gentle kiss before handing her back to her mother.
I read this story to Trinhity again tonight at bedtime, and it finally hit me why it hits home for me: it's my story.
See, I spent most of my life as a fisherman. The fishing part was fine and good, but I've loved its context most: the water, the trees, the slippery stones, the feel of a well-loaded fly rod, the stories, the music of rivers. It's really not about fishing. It's about the pursuit of present grace.
My daughter was born into the water. I scooped her up and put her to her mother's breast. A pair of tiny hands had entered my life. Sometimes they press against my cheeks, and the little arms encircle my neck. I never tire of those hands, the arms, her eyes, that smile. They are an expression of grace.
Of course, putting her back was never a real consideration, and the crass brother doesn't appear in my story. The mermaid's song does, however: I have heard it, and my hands are upon the oars.
This is where my tale diverges: rather than resolving merely to take the child home, I seem determined to discover her world for myself. This was not my choice.
No, it was destiny -- and it was marriage, not parenthood, that established my path. My beloved wife held keys to a door that I never knew existed; she knew the way, and she guided me gently. For this I shall be ever grateful.
I know not how to confess the depth of these joys -- and my debt -- in her language. I wonder if she knows. She must. But she may not.
The wisdom of her soul and those tiny hands have led me into childhood: my own childhood, in a sense both real and terribly ironic. I have tumbled into the waters and become lost.
This year a second pair of tiny hands entered my life. If anything, these hands reach even more deeply inside of me. Sometimes I see in them my own. Sometimes this scares me. And yet, my own hands remain on the oars. I want to go where these hands will lead.
Again, I wonder if my beloved wife knows of these things. She must. But she may not.
These years of fishing have, in a mysterious way, brought me to a certain present grace. It is not quiet, restful or poetic. It is chaotic, a tearing asunder, a pathos-filled stretch between wretched extremes of emotional and physical work and weariness.
A sad chasm has opened. I reach across, but my arms do not seem long enough. I grieve.
We stand not in the same river into which we stepped. And yet the water flows, a soft music reminding me that this too shall pass. And that this too, even this, is grace.
My hands are at the oars. I shall pull for all I am worth. Always and forever.
Trinh & I had dinner tonight at a local noodle shop, just the two of us. Our casual conversation drifted from the birthday party we'd just left to the waiter's goofy hair, the food, the untold thousands of birds in the parking lot, and plans for tomorrow.
At one point I said, "Ngày mai Trinh muốn đi lửa với Mommy Daddy, huh?"
What I meant was, "Tomorrow do you want to go to church with us?"
Her response was a mix of surprise and confusion. She jerked her head up from her noodles, fixed me with a strange look, and said loudly, "FIRE! FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN!"
My turn to be perplexed. I sputtered, "What do you mean, fire? Why fire on the mountain? What on earth are you talking about?!?"
She gave me a level look, the kind reserved for idiots and the linguistically challenged. She said, "Daddy, what are YOU talking about? You said "fire". Why did you say that?"
"I did? When did I say fire?"
She replied, "Daddy, you said "lửa". "Lửa" means fire! Fire on the mountain!"
Ah, the travails of being the not-so-fluent parent of a radically bi-lingual child. The word I had meant to say was "lễ", not "lửa". "Lễ" is "church". "Lửa" means "fire".
I know, I know, if you're a VN speaker reading this, you're like, "Man, how can you mix up those two words?" Well...it happens, OK?
I'm not sure where the "on the mountain" part came from, but my guess is that she's been watching news about the fires in California at Nhà Ông Bà.
Back to the story: fully aware that the waiter kid with the goofy hair who was sitting at the next table doing his homework was listening, I stammered, "Well, dear, I meant to say "church". How do you say "church"?"
The "must I explain everything to you" look came back to her face. "Daddy," she replied, "you can say "nhà thờ" for "church". Don't say "lửa". That means FIRE!!!"
At this point, the waiter kid pretty much lost it. As usual, I couldn't decide whether I was terribly proud or thoroughly humiliated.
Last night Trinhity got her second 'nursemaid's elbow', a partial dislocation of her right elbow.
More technically, it's an "interposition of the annular ligament into the radial humerus joint", which essentially means that a ligament has slipped out of where it should be and ends up where it shouldn't. It's common for young kids, but that doesn't stop it from being painful.
I thought I blogged about the first one, but I can't find it. It was completely my fault, and I felt like dirt about it. Still do. She was 2, maybe 2.5 when it happened. We were at Starbucks, and I was swinging her by her arms. She was laughing -- and then she was crying. She held her arm and refused to move it.
We iced it, took her home, surfed hard and figured out that it was probably a pulled elbow, then took her to the doctor. She hated that. But he agreed with our diagnosis and performed a slick rotate-and-bend trick that took a whopping 2 seconds, fixed it. We asked him to instruct us on how to do it. He kindly agreed.
Last night while the Mama-san was out taking a walk and I was feeding Tai his dinner of porridge and provolone (mmm!), Trinh was swimming her way across the hardwoods to the dinner table. I didn't see it, but she apparently slipped and rolled her body weight over her right arm.
Her sudden cry was unexpected and uncharacteristic, so I rushed out and swept her up. I hauled her back to the kitchen and proceeded to try to stuff porridge into the little dude with one hand while peppering her with a string of questions about what hurt, how it happened, range of movement, etc.
When he was sated and I'd sorta wiped his face, I took them both back out to where it happened and attempted to re-enact the fall according to her instructions. "No, Daddy," she mussed through her tears, "that's not how a penguin swims!"
It would have been roaring farce if not for the tragedy.
I called the Mama-san; she rushed home. We agreed on the diagnosis, and I surfed again quickly to brush up the fix, a technique called "reduction". I was moderately confident.
At first she didn't want me to touch it, but she relented quickly when I presented the alternative: a trip to the emergency room. I performed the maneuver quickly and felt the ligament snap (cringe) back into place like a rubber band.
She continued to fuss, and I wasn't sure it was fixed. I rushed the mancub upstairs for his bath, and Trinh & Mama stayed downstairs to snuggle and read books. Somewhere along the way she put her arm up into the air and said, "Look, Mama, it's fixed!"
Hallelujah. Seeing those little arms waving for her goodnight hug last night brought tears to my eyes. I don't remember a sweeter hug.
The semantics are ironic, no? Perhaps they could be taken as an axiom for the always tenuous but compensatory way in which trust and joy arise from hardship and sorrow: "By way of reduction was a new level of trust earned."
God bless the Mama-san. But by heaven, I do declare that she's hereby banned from operating large electrical household devices.
It's been a rough week here. All four of us are down with varying degrees of a cold / flu bug, replete with nasty coughs, runny noses, aches and pains, sore throats, and Daddy almost got laryngitis when he really, really needed his voice to deliver a couple of demonstrations at work.
Mama's had the worst of it. See, she's not sleeping much. And when the Mama don't sleep, ain't nuthin' right in our household. But we've seen a couple new twists this week.
For instance, just today, she wore her pants backwards for, oh, about 6.5 hours.
But last night took the cake. Somewhere just shy of midnight, Daddy went to swap the laundry from the washer into the dryer. About a third the way down, it was clear that something had gotten loose in the wash. It wasn't clear what. About a third up from the bottom, he found it: a diaper.
Perhaps you aren't intimately in touch with modern diaper science. Let us illustrate this: you know those silica desiccant packages you get with your shoes? The ones that say, "Danger! DO NOT CONSUME!"
When it gets wet, each of those silica pellets absorbs a considerable amount of water. Imagine an enormous number of them stuffed into a flexible fabric-esque wrapper girded with velcro.
Now imagine what happens when you accidentally leave one in the wash. The diaper....er, grows. It gets enormous. And somewhere in the spin cycle, it might rupture.
[all together now] "Ewwwwwww......"
Yes, that's right. I spent about 30 minutes in the middle of the night trying valiantly to shake those sticky little gelantinous particles off our beloved children's clothes. Then clean them out of the washer. Then flush the washer to make sure they were gone. Then re-wash the load and pray pray pray that the washer plumbing wasn't somehow backed up or something would stain.
I'm pleased to report success. I'm also pleased to report that the news was broken to the Mama-san at a point in her day where it evoked laughter and a sardonic sense of resignation rather than just tears and misery.
But that doesn't change the new laws around our house: until she gets more sleep, the Mama-san is not to operate any large appliances without supervision.