Hello sweet girl and Happy 121 months! Tonight there is an alien-looking reddish glow radiating from the cracks around your bedroom door. And inside your bedroom, there is an alien-looking creature fast asleep under her red basking light.
This month, you became “mama” to Noel, the bearded dragon.
Back in the spring, after visiting friends who had beardies for pets, you decided you wanted one. Correction: you decided it was YOUR HEART’S ONLY DESIRE to have a bearded dragon one day.
Your father and I were not very enthusiastic about getting you a pet. But rather than saying no, we set up a way to test your resolve. We said if you saved $300 to cover the cost of the animal plus its habitat, we’d let you get one. And you had to do this one chore at a time – 50 cents for putting away dishes, $1 for cleaning your room, and so on. Honestly, we figured you’d outgrow your bearded dragon phase before you had the requisite savings.
But suddenly you were begging for chores. “Mama, how often can I wash your car?” you asked. “Can I help cook tonight?” We’d go to stores and you’d find a book or toy or gadget you wanted, and I’d offer to let you use your own money to buy it. “No,” you’d always say. “I really want a bearded dragon.”
And so it went for several months, until a friend caught wind of your quest. He just happened to know someone who’d gone off to college, leaving his 2-year-old beardie behind. It needed a new home, and were we interested?
Your father and I wrestled with this for a little while, because our deal had been $300 or no dragon, and so far you’d saved $200. But you’d been so diligent, and here was this perfectly healthy beardie in need of a home. With all the accessories. Free of charge. It seemed foolish to let that pass.
So we set up a time to go visit Noel, this bearded dragon, just to see if you two would get along. But I knew you’d already made up your mind even before the visit. You had a writing assignment at school, and proudly showed me your story, written from Noel’s point of view. The story was about a beloved dragon who was so lonesome after her owner went to college, until one day this sweet girl named Camille walked in and it was love at first sight…
I knew we were in trouble.
And sure enough, when we did finally meet Noel, you were smitten. So we brought her home.
Noel is a very relaxed dragon who is content to sit on your shoulder and peer around. She’s happy lying on the couch in the sunlight or clinging to the stuffed spider you gave her. And she might even be growing on your parents, as well.
Since last I wrote, we finally wrapped up the celebration of your birthday season with our gift to you – a trip with a friend to the Georgia Aquarium. You and Lola were almost as thrilled about staying in a hotel as you were about seeing beluga whales.
While in Atlanta, we had a birthday feast and introduced you to the wonderful delicacy that is fondue. Naturally, the cookies and cream dessert fondue was a fast favorite.
The next day was the aquarium, and you – my aspiring marine biologist – love to go to the aquarium. This time you came equipped with a notebook and a pencil, feverishly sketching pictures of the creatures as they swam by.
The visit was made even more special by our friends the Valleses who surprised you by joining us for the day. A special treat, since these are some of your favorite people after all.
Also since I last wrote, you started school – the 5th grade! Your last first day of elementary school.
The night before school started, you made a to-do list and laid it on the floor next to your bed. You were excited, but nervous too. After your year abroad, you felt like a new student all over again.
You: “But mom, what if I don’t know anyone in my class?”
Me: “On your first day of school in Costa Rica, how many kids did you know?”
Me: “And how long did it take you to make a friend?”
You: “As soon as I sat down at my table.”
And there it is – another thing you learned last year (even if you had to be reminded). You’re strong and resilient, and strangers can quickly become friends.
Of course, you did know plenty of people in your homeroom class. Before you’d even made it in the classroom door, there were several happy hallway reunions.
Halfway through the first day of school, I got a message from the teacher about some paperwork I needed to sign. So I stopped over at the school and they paged you to meet me in the lobby.
As you handed me the form, I asked in a whisper, “How is your first day going?”
“AMAZING,” you whispered back.
“What’s amazing about it?” I asked.
We topped off the day with celebratory ice cream after school, and it seems 5th grade is off to a pretty great start.
Lots of people have asked me how you’re transitioning to being back in the US. You definitely miss your Costa Rican friends, and frequently exchange emails with some of your best buddies. But mostly you’re glad to be home. More than once we’ve been in the car or out on a walk, and looking around you’ll sigh and say, “Mom, I just love Savannah.”
One change I didn’t anticipate – now that we’re back in the states you are enthusiastic about speaking Spanish. This, from the girl who completely objected to me speaking any Spanish only a year ago, and who never could get comfortable speaking Spanish in Costa Rica. But now that we’re back, I am surprised how often you’ll start conversations with me in Spanish, un-prodded and unprompted..
We were in the grocery store not long ago when you just started speaking Spanish with no fanfare, as though it were the most normal thing. I played along, wondering how long this would last, and we kept it up all the way through the shopping trip. I was stunned – pleasantly so.
My theory is this – when you were in Costa Rica, most of your peers excelled in Spanish and you felt your skills were inferior. But here, your Spanish is muy bien. You’ve even started giving Spanish lessons to any willing friends or cousins who will consent to sitting quietly, watching you conjugate verbs on your dry erase board.
I hope the Spanish skills stick with you through the years because they’ll serve you well. But even if you forget the Spanish, I think you’ll remember the accomplishment you felt by learning a new language, and that will serve you well, too.
You’re a pretty cool kid. Lo mejor. ¡Te amo mucho, mi amor!