LSS: Gotcha.

We had not planned to have a party at our house Tuesday.

Until Monday afternoon.

When I realized there was no getting around it. Piper, our resident seven year-old (about to be eight, mind you), insisted.

Tuesday was Piper’s Gotcha Day, the seventh anniversary of the day we “got” her in a hotel lobby in Nanchang, China. The two-year plus wait to adopt our youngest family member was enough to wear us down. But, since the first moment she came into our lives, we have embraced each other with an unquestioning love deep and pure.

She is a joy to behold.

She believes in any cause for celebration – if she happens to be the reason for celebrating, all the better. We made the cupcakes, ordered the Chinese food and invited friends.

Presto, a party.

Piper’s ease in the world and the way she pulls people into her magic occasionally gets old for her 12-year-old sister.

But even her sister agreed that the anniversary of seven years of “getting” Piper was cause for celebration.

Piper has taught us all a lot. She’s a truth-teller and has the rare combination of charm, wisdom and impeccable timing that allows her to say what needs to be said to most anyone – leaving them facing the truth without resentment toward the messenger.

That’s a gift.

One that, on occasion, she makes me wish I had.

Sometimes her insight causes her grief. She works hard to understand how a little girl from China came to be surrounded by so many people who love her in Louisiana. Every few months, she needs to cry about the woman she calls her “Chinese mom.” I’m grateful Piper knows she’s loved enough to be able to discuss the depths of her sadness with me. I attempt to give her the right amount of information.

“China has a one-child-per-family policy.”

“Your Chinese mom wanted you to have the best life possible.”

“She loved you.”

“The Chinese government limits families to one child because there are too many people. They had to figure out a way to control the number of people so they would have enough food.”

Try explaining international politics to a seven-year-old.

For a little girl so full of love and joy, the concepts are impossible to grasp.

There is no way for us to know the circumstances of how Piper and her birth mother went their separate ways. In my heart, I believe she was a woman who loved her baby enough to sacrifice her own love and take a difficult path she believed would best serve her daughter.

There is no question to Piper’s happiness. I often tell people, without hesitation, Piper is the most well adjusted member of our family. Yet, loss exists for her — and an anonymous woman in China who must wonder how that little girl’s life has fared.

Oh, for a powerful potion to resolve their losses.

In the meantime, we do the best we can. The joy far outweighs the grief.

Being grateful…

This year I am especially grateful for:

jobs for my husband and me

our trip to France

extended family who are true blue wonders

Petunia Scouts

our new Mother/Daughter book club

so many good friends near and far who warm my heart and make me laugh

a husband who makes me laugh but does NOT want a plasma television (he believes they’re on they’re way out like Beta videos)

that both my daughters love reading

my daughters’ curiousity

the giant trees in my backyard

the river in my backyard

a good bed and a great pillow

the way onions smell when you’re cooking them in butter

Coca-Cola

my new Kindle

the way 6th graders still have a chance (I’m teaching them this year)

all the possibilities that still exist and the fact that I still believe

LSS: Sharing the load

The two girls walked down the path in front of me.

I thought they were sweet.

They were carrying a medium-sized duffle bag. It didn’t seem very heavy, but each girl had a handle. They walked in tandem, step by step, sharing the load. I remember thinking, “Two adolescent girls wouldn’t be very likely to walk like that back home.”

I had only been living in Slovakia for a few days at that point.

I thought the shared burden was a one-time thing.

Then the next day, they were doing it again – walking down the path, each holding a handle. I thought to myself, “Those must be two compassionate girls.”

A few days later on my walk through the snow to school, I saw two teen-aged boys doing the same thing.

One bag.

Two handles.

Sharing the load.

A week later, I saw two grown men, walking through the city center, each carrying the handle of one large suitcase.

It took me a while to realize sharing the load was a cultural thing – something not a part of the life I knew in the U.S.

Here we take pride in carrying the load on our own.

Even when it’s too heavy.

Even when doing so serves no one well.

Even when someone offers help.

Upstanding Americans tend to insist, “I can do this by myself. I can carry this burden alone.”

Call it an independent streak.

Call it strength.

Call it foolish.

Bearing a burden alone when others are able and willing to help is not good sense – whether it’s a duffle bag or something less tangible like two kids and a spouse out of the picture. Lugging a heavy bag or other burden on one’s own doesn’t improve anyone’s circumstance.

Even young Slovak girls realize walking down the road beside someone and not sharing a load is not good sense. Sharing the burden makes life easier for everyone involved.

Since I lived in Slovakia, I’ve traveled to many other places and paid a lot of attention to the way different cultures handle carrying things. In Africa, I was amazed at how many items of all shapes and sizes people were able to carry on their heads. I saw many people walking down the street with suitcases on their heads, perfectly good handles hanging to one side or the other. After I got over my amazement, I realized carrying things on one’s head was a much more ergonomic, healthy-back conscious way to bear a load.

Then I went to China and Thailand and saw people sharing the burdens of heavy loads dangling from sticks they carried on their shoulders.

The places we come from remember, but somewhere along the way, we Americans have forgotten how to carry things. With the exception of our adolescents’ filled-beyond-capacity backpacks, we generally lean to one side or the other when we haul our burdens.

And, we do so alone.

Yet, we pay a price, beyond aching shoulders, for such independence of spirit.

LSS: Taking a moment to be still

Nothing could be more gradual, but shorter autumn days still catch me by surprise.

This week, however, while I sat waiting for my daughters to get out of one after-school activity or the other, I realized the real reward for days short on sunshine and nights long on inky skies.

At another point in life, I would have missed the pay-off altogether and only focused on the fact that I was wasting valuable time sitting in my car waiting.

Usually, I have a book to read wherever I am — in case I get caught with a few extra minutes here or there.

Or, I have my cell phone.

God forbid I should just have to sit.

But this week, for one reason or the other, I had nothing with me to otherwise occupy my time.

So, I gave myself permission to sit there “as if you could kill time without injuring eternity,” as Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden.

And, I don’t think my lack of productivity harmed a single cell of life.

Unlike Thoreau, I sat in my car on the side of the road. However, I let down the windows and found it impossible not to notice the crazy-beautiful light November’s late afternoons bring.

I watched shadows grow by the minute.

With the sun so low in the sky, there’s a special almost-golden quality to the light of a November South Louisiana afternoon.

I watched the shadow of a fire hydrant lengthen a good foot.

I saw a child’s shadow as long as a tree is tall.

I noticed almost-microscopic bugs dance what looked like a choreographed number. I saw various colonies of minuscule creatures in constant motion, creating frantic columns of activity that had probably been there all along, but I had missed them.

Sitting on the side of the road in the middle of town, I had a sense of why my brother likes to do what he calls “hunting.” Mind you, he went “hunting” for years with nothing to show for it except a pair of worn camouflage coveralls. I’d ask him, “Why do you keep getting up so early to go sit in the woods?”

His answer was always something along the lines of, “There’s lots to see.”

Taking a moment to focus on what’s out there instead of what’s in our heads or what’s on our calendars does a world of good for the heart and mind.

For me, maybe I was still this week because I was sick and too tired to move or do much. Uncommon stillness gave opportunity to notice beauty all around.

Maybe there is something about the light of a November Louisiana afternoon that allows a person to see things she may have never seen before.

Or maybe it’s feeling like night is coming on so quickly that we have to take in the sun while we can.

Whatever the reason, take a moment to be still and go see for yourself.

LSS: Re-inventing the wheel (or telephone cord, as the case may be)

Every home mucks its way through trials and tribulations.

Some problems come on quickly, cause chaos and are resolved.

Others linger.

And some troubles are ongoing.

For years.

My home has been struggling with a chronic situation for far too long.

Here are the basics:

Between the four of us, when the phone rings, we can not find a telephone.

Oh, we have plenty. We have four, in fact, with transferrable cradles. There’s a calling system for the lost handsets. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to find a phone in our home, but often, we cannot.

Or, if we find one — it’s dead.

Much like solving the riddle of the Sphinx or figuring out cold fusion, a solution seems impossible. Even still, we all keep figuring ways and schemes to solve this problem.

Two weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter had a eureka moment. She ran to my room and said, “Mom, I’ve got it. I know how we can always find a phone.”

She went on to explain her idea.

“What if we were able to attach one of the handsets to the base — with a cord of some sort? That way, the phone would always be in the same place,” she said. “We would know where it was. When it rang, we would just go to that same spot.”

She was serious.

And, she was right.

It was a simple solution to our problem.

It was the same solution that never made my family’s current problem an issue for the home where I grew up. The only cradles were for babies. And, the only problem that ensued with our phone was untangling the cord — or not being able to reach the sink or stove while we talked.

It was a do-one-thing-at-a-time time.

Cordless phones were not the first step in double tasking, but they certainly changed things, didn’t they? Suddenly, we could wash dishes and talk on the phone at the same time. We could watch television and talk.

Or could we?

With convenience comes a price, and sometimes that price is too high. The kind of telephone that I used growing up could be used within a certain radius. In so many ways, there were definite parameters back then — parameters my own children have never known and, unconsciously, may seek. From cordless phones, we went to cell phones.

We are always reachable these days.

When the pendulum swings, sometimes it swings too far.

Perhaps that always-reachability, always-can-you-hear-me-now isn’t a good thing. Are that many of us really that indispensible? Where will the counter balance take upcoming generations? What will they develop to make order of lives with so much portability that things get lost or bothered, sometimes creating more confusion?

The solutions and implications go beyond a 12-year-old who’s never seen a phone with a cord coming up with “a great idea.”

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears on Sundays. She can be reached at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: Saying the word

All Saints Day and All Souls Day often get lost in the shuffle that is Halloween. In other countries, many practice spending the two days honoring those they’ve loved who have completed their time on earth. They create little tributes to their lives. In Mexico, they picnic with the deceased favorite foods at the grave. It’s supposed to be a celebration of life.

Here in the good ole U.S., talking about death is tricky. The subject is generally taboo.

Even the word is taboo. In my first job out of college, I was the social director in a nursing home. One day, I was walking down the hall and realized a previously occupied room was vacant.

A nurse walked by. I said, “Where is Mr. Doe?”

She mumbled something.

I asked for clarification. She said something more cryptic.

Finally, I asked, “Did Mr. Doe die?”

To which, she looked upon me in complete horror.

“He expired,” she said, with an emphasis on the ex-pired. “We don’t say that word here.”

Some people believe the reason English-speakers don’t say the word death dates way back and is related to the old superstition that saying the word death invites death.

There are so many euphemisms in English for the death. Think about the ways we avoid saying it: kicked the bucketpushing up daisiespassed awaypassedgone on to a better placebit the dustbought the farm and croaked – to name a few.

Back to the nursing home.

It didn’t come as a surprise to Mr. Doe’s friends and relations that he died. He was 96 and not in good shape. He lived a long and full life.

This is the cycle of things. We’re born. We’re young. Time passes. We age. Eventually, we die.

My seven-year-old was trying to work out the cycle a few weeks ago.

“Mom, will you die one day?” she asked.

“Yes, Piper, one day I will die, but right now I’m healthy and am not looking to go anytime soon,” I answered.

“Will Dad die too?” she asked.

“Yep,” I said. “At some point Dad will die too.”

“Oh,” she said after a long pause. “You know, Mom, eventually, even I will die.”

“Yes, Piper, you are right. That’s the way life goes,” I said.

I may have broken every parental psychological guideline in that one question and answer session, but I’m a firm believer in telling the truth. No need to go on and on about the topic at hand. I’ve learned to ask questions of my own before doling out too much information. But, in this case, my daughter asked a direct question. She deserved an answer.

While our culture tends to avoid the topic as much as possible, sometimes people who have lost someone they love would appreciate the opportunity to speak of the life and times of their loved one. Sometimes, even people who are dying appreciate the opportunity to talk about the situation.

We owe them that, don’t we?