Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Other Daughter

At the end of this week I get to hug my other daughter. She is not blonde like my first daughter. She has shiny black hair and she's spent her life so far living in Brazil. Portuguese is her first language. I did not give birth to her and didn't watch her take her first steps. In fact I hugged her for the first time just a year ago, when she was thirteen. Okay, she's not really my daughter. But I love to claim her as my own. She is officially the niece of a close friend from college.

When my real daughter was thirteen she visited my college friend in Brazil. They spoiled her, took her to all the sites in Rio and Sao Paulo, and scooped her up into their family as they watched New Years fireworks on the gorgeous beaches of Rio. She became their American daughter.

Two years later they sent Nina to visit us. It was natural to return the favor and show her all the fun things we love about our little piece of the United States. We drove to New Hampshire and rang in the Fourth of July with red, white and blue clothes and food. The nation's birthday was the perfect time to show off our country. We picked strawberries and drove to the coast of Maine. We splashed in the cold Atlantic and took pictures on the rocks by the shore. We explored Vermont on the drive home and then hit the amusement parks the next day. But despite all the plans to show her a good time, this child who very quickly began to feel like my own, decided she loved the simple stuff the best.

They have a lot of great things in Brazil but some of the things my kids count as staples were foreign to our international visitor. Kool-aid turned out to be a new surprise. After she inquired about the 'colored water' in our fridge we decided she should learn to make this yummy beverage. We got out the small square packets and the jar of sugar. My kids showed her how to balance the funnel on top of the jug and measure out just under a cup of the white crystals. They took turns violently shaking the container then samples were poured into small cups. She took a long sip, licked her lips, then announced, "it's like drinking candy." I had to agree. And when she asked why we drink this concoction, all I could think to answer was, "because it's like drinking candy."

Chocolate chip cookies were another thrill. Instead of cheating and buying readymade dough (like I usually do) we pulled all the baking supplies out of the cabinet and measured, creamed and stirred until we had a perfect dough. She quickly got the hang of dropping little mounds of goo on the cookie sheet and then patiently baby sat the oven until the timer went off. The hardest part was waiting for them to cool just enough to pick one up. They melted in our mouths and the joy on her face brought her another notch closer to my heart.

The biggest surprise came to us on her last night in our home. She easily melted into the couch, mixed in with her American siblings, laughing at crazy American shows like "Wipeout". On this particular night she began fiddling with a Nerf gun she'd found on the couch next to her.

She toyed with the sniper light, aiming it at the boys. It didn't take long for them to bite. Before the next commercial break, they had all found their own Nerf guns, collected stray bullets, and the war games began. Round after round, way past bed time, they all joined forces and set up battles. My new dark haired daughter was in the zone. She ran up and down the stairs, in and out of the bedrooms, just like she was one of us. And by that point she was.

While we waited at the airport the next day, dreading the moment we had to let her go, I asked her what she liked best about her visit and what had surprised her the most. Of course she talked about Nerf gun wars, cakes made with blueberries and strawberries (that she'd picked herself) and having the chance to drive a riding lawn mower for the first time. The official entertainment I'd worked hard to arrange for her visit turned out to be pretty low on the list. And as for the things she had not expected about the U.S., her answer surprised me. "The smells," she said, "Everything smells different here." She went on to describe how the foods and treats we cook here make our houses have aromas she's never experienced before. Even stores (and airports) had scents she was not familiar with. It had never occurred to me that every day smells could differ from one country to another.

So this week, when my Brazilian daughter is in our fold again, I will not try so hard to entertain her. Under her father's strict orders I will let her be, let her hang out with her American siblings, let her get to know the everyday America she wonders about so much.

And I wouldn't be a good mom if I didn't stock up on cookie dough, Kool-aid and Nerf gun bullets.

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