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Small Packages

 

By Gretchen Schiller

“I tired, Mommy.” Three-year-old Ana Lu leaned into me and wrapped her arms around my leg.

“I know, Sweetie, me too,” I replied.

This was the sixth apartment we’d looked at today. Ana Lu had hit her limit two apartments ago. I hit mine six apartments ago.

The landlord jostled the key and opened the door. Ana Lu froze. I knew what she was thinking. Ick. I agreed. Ick. I gently nudged Ana Lu through the threshold of the door. We had to do the obligatory walk around and polite “No thank you.” I took inventory. Another D-lister; dark, dingy, dirty, depressing, downsized apartment for a divorced mom. “There is coin operated laundry on first floor five apartments that way,” the landlord gestured while mumbling through his spiel. His words became lost in the noise from cars whizzing by the front of the complex.

“One more, Baby, promise. This is the last one,” I reassured Ana Lu while reaching back to her car seat to pass her a cheese stick. Zero for six. Really zero for thirty-something. I’d lost count and my “I am woman hear me roar” attitude.

I swore the house did not matter. I’d learned very early that home is where we are, not where walls are, but after so many dreary apartments, I doubted my brilliance. Ana Lu had been born in Guatemala where we’d lived for a year, thousands of miles away from loved ones but we were together. That made it our home. We embraced the togetherness and the diverse culture. Recently, she’d started verbalizing how many people she saw that were white like Mommy. She’d put her arm next to mine and exclaim, “You white! I brown!” It was an innocent toddler observation, but it was my hope that I could help her observe some more brown and black skin so she’d learn there are many different colors of skin in the world. We visited a Latino church, predominantly Latino stores and we had a Latino babysitter, but there was no consistency in her exposure to other children with skin the same toffee brown as hers. Even in her Spanish Immersion Preschool she was the darkest child.

At our last stop we walked up to a white wooden gate. Bougainvillea climbed a matching trellis, fuchsia flowers exploded against the lush green vine. We walked into an adorable cottage. Natural sunlight flooded the main room thanks to two skylights. I saw a stacked washer/dryer tucked into a nook of the 300 square foot space. The cottage was teeny-tiny. Like seriously teeny-tiny. Maybe a smidge bigger than Barbie and Ken’s mansion. Maybe. But with the sunlights, the fact that it was half the size of even the dingiest of apartments was okay.

A dark arm reached out to shake my hand, “Hi, I’m Lara. That’s my husband, Finn.” She nodded toward the tall, thin man behind the house entertaining two school-aged children, both bouncing balls around, giggling and playing with their dad. Their beautiful caramel colored skin shimmered in the sun.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. My heart smiled. The landlord was Jamaican! I was giddy with excitement knowing that Ana Lu could possibly live next door to kids with beautiful brown skin like hers. The skylights, the washer/dryer, the diverse family, the safe neighborhood, the small homey look of a cottage, the incredibly kind landords…the…the…the…this was too good to be true.

Ana Lu and I moved in a month later and the first thing we put up was a photo of me holding Ana Lu when she was an infant. “When I wuz a baby and you and me in Guatemala, I was teeny-tiny,” she says as she scrunches up her face and pinches her fingers together.

“That’s right, Sweetpea,” I reply, kneeling down and touching my pinched fingers to hers. “Teeny-tiny,” I add in a high-pitched voice.

I look around this modest 300 square foot apartment I’m outfitting for the two of us. Every piece of furniture, every decoration, did not make it through the front door without scrutiny. “Does this make me smile?” I’d ask myself.baby-ana-lu-300x225

Pink’s music blared while I painted one wall a spectacular bright orange. I leaned back and surveyed my work. Gosh, I love this orange, I thought. Bright, bold and happy. “Huh,” I chuckled, “just like the new me.” My bare, orange-speckled feet danced, my ponytail bounced in sync with the music. I belted out, “So, so what! I’m still a rock star! I got my rock moves!…I’m all right! I’m just fine!”*

While our little apartment could easily be mistaken for a playhouse for one of the wealthy kids in the area, it’s home. So what if Ana Lu has to take baths in a cramped plastic tub. So what if I’m a Registered Nurse who now cleans houses to make ends meet. So what if I have to hand wash my dishes. So what if most of my furniture is second-hand. So what if I’m using Dollar Store soap. So what. I L.O.V.E. our new cottage, our location and our landlords. We have shelter. We have food. We have one another. Ana Lu has a Daddy who adores her; and I have an ex-husband who respects me and who is very responsible with child support. We’re happily co-parenting our daughter, so Ana Lu has two places brimming with love that she calls home.

Exhausted from painting and moving, I plop onto my loveseat. I look over at my glorious orange wall, then glance at the adjacent wall and stare at the matching quilt hanging there, the quilt my mother bought in Guatemala the first time we picked Ana Lu up from the orphanage when she was only seven weeks old. The quilt is orange, a backdrop to a magnificent rainbow of colors hand-embroidered into rich flowers, mountains, birds and moons. I look directly above me at the skylights. Two glass hummingbirds twirl and float in the ceiling space between the two angled panes of glass. Looking at them makes my heart feel gratitude and joy. So what if I had to downsize. With less money I’m more creative, resourceful, imaginative and artistic. I’m more me.

I was led right where Ana Lu and I were destined to be, in a teeny-tiny Barbie and Ken-sized Dream Mansion just perfect for a new start for two. Good things do come in small packages.

*Some of you may know that Pink is very verbal that this song, “So What,” was written as a direct attack on her ex-husband.  I feel it is important to note that the lyrics in this song do not remotely resemble my feelings toward Charles. The song has a great beat, is fun to bounce around to and even more fun when singing obnoxiously loud. The only lyrics that had any meaning to me that day in my cottage are the ones in quotes in the story. That day I loved thinking that I will be okay, that downsizing will not kill me, that divorce will not kill me. It felt so good, so hopeful, to scream “I’m all right!” at the top of my lungs while immersed in multiple dramatic changes. Charles is not looking to start a fight, Charles is not a tool and I didn’t always give it (marriage) my all. If I was going to be “showing” anyone I was “all right” that day it was–and continues to be–myself.

Originally Posted in Single Sassy Mom (dot) Com | Nov 8, 2011 |

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Originally posted 2013-07-07 01:38:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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