We pulled Iris out of school for a month and took her to Europe with us. (I had a business meeting the first two weeks and then we toured for another two weeks.)
We stayed at agriturismos, small farms that also take in tourists, in Volterra (Tuscany) and Assisi (Umbria). They might also be called B&Bs that operate small-scale farms. The olives were ready to be harvested in Tuscany. The hostess also served dinners upon request and cooked with olive oil made from their homegrown olives.
Here are photos of the Tuscan farmhouse and the view from the terrace outside our room.
One of Iris' playmates heard from her older sister that Santa Claus is not real. Of course, this new knowledge was shared with the younger's playmates. Iris asked me if this news is true. I turned it around and asked her what she thought. She replied, "I think I want to believe in Santa Claus for one more year."
A couple of days later, she came and told me that Santa Claus must be real. I asked her how she knew that. She said that Santa brought her what she wanted most in the whole world, Barbie stuff. Her mommy would never buy her Barbie.
Yesterday, while trying to get her to clean up the living room before bedtime, I asked her if she was being good or bad. Without missing a beat, she quipped, "Santa came, so I must have been good."
The morning after her birthday party, we drove to the airport. She knows the drill by now. We pull up in the minivan at the departure deck, the remaining parent goes to the back to get the luggage. The departing parent gives her a hug and a kiss in the middle row where she is buckled into her seat. Then the remaining parent takes her out to a movie or disneyland to distract from the sorrow. She is as much a pro at this as her parents.
This time, she put her arms around my neck and clung to me. She whispered in my ear, "Mommy don't go. Stay here with me."
Iris' birthday party came and went with only minor dramas. We ordered trays of food from The Loft in Torrance. Somehow, the dressing for the ramen noodle salad went AWOL. I googled ramen salad dressing and came up with several recipes. After reading three, I picked one, but used slightly less sugar. It took only a few minutes to find the recipe and make the dressing. When the AWOL dressing resurfaced, we decided that we liked the homemade better.
The Hawaiian fried chicken at The Loft is the best.
We painted t-shirts instead. One kid asked where their goodie bag was. The mom quickly hushed the child up and answered, "Your shirt was your goodie." I am so glad that someone else understood.
My husband and I stayed at the Crystal City Douubletree hotel one night this week. (We both left Iris across the continent to brief different agencies on the same day.) On our way out to dinner, I noticed a group of people sitting quietly in a circle of chairs in the lobby; most wore dark suits. I could not tear my eyes away from a woman slightly older than myself with very red puffy eyes. There was something about her face that is seared in my memory. Only when I passed her did I see the neat triangular bundle of an American flag lying on the table next to her chair. Crystal City is right next to Arlington cemetery.
In my impatient youth, I used to snicker whenever someone spoke as if motherhood gave them special insight. But, in my gut (and the flash of realization felt like a kick in the gut), I knew she was a mother that had just buried her child.