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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

after the shoot




The shoot is over. The actors have said their goodbyes. Our producer, Alexander helps us carry all of the equipment upstairs. There is a shorthand between us, barely a few words say everything. A handshake, the door closes. I am starving, nothing to eat since breakfast at 7AM on a cold Sunday morning. E is dragging her backpack to her room, and I ask if she wants to get something to eat. She says she will go, but isn't very hungry.

The morning and afternoon are fading, countless setups, lens changes, changing dialogue, the hurried retelling of stories and jokes in-between scenes. Paying the actors, paying the sound man who is one of the quietest Russians I have ever known. My script is twisted up, wrinkled, at the bottom of a bag now. It is all on the data cards, everything I wanted to say today. My heart on my sleeve, dangling like a tooth about to fall out.

But, none of that matters. I am a father, and there is that look in her eye.

We walk through the snow, as it crunches under our feet. E tells me about the other kids at school, how they talk through all of the lessons, passing notes. One girl asks her all the time if she has a boyfriend.
"I'm only eleven." She says, her hands wiggling around.
I rest a hand on her shoulder.
She tells me about what is important to her classmates - dolls, chewing gum, cartoons.
"I haven't played with a doll since I was seven." She announces.
I think of those frantic visits to stores when she was five, and how a Princess Jasmine doll was all she wanted.

I tell her not to let it bother her. There is a lot of sexism here, and no one complains about it. They actually like it that way - men opening doors for women, giving seats on the metro, stepping back in long lines. I tell her that it isn't wrong, so much as different. She understands. It isn't about one place being better than another, it is just about being the exception and how that road is a frustrating one. But she knows full well, that this is all training for greater things. Being vulnerable and strong, that takes some to figure out.

We sit in the crappy sushi place near us. It is really the only sit-down restaurant in the neighborhood. A security guy in a suit bangs a gong softly when we enter. It will be a full thirty minutes before someone takes our order, another forty before the food comes, bland and salty at the same time. I am too tired to have gone further from home, and she suddenly has an appetite, reaching across the table to snag a few pieces from my plate.

There is a walk home, in darkness even though it is only five o'clock. We go to the tiny market that has Italian sodas. I buy something for dinner, and halfway home E realizes we forgot to buy pickles for the third time. She is laughing hard, as the snow falls around us.

"I am your kid." She says, cracking a smile.



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