Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Miss Saffron Apron

Oh, Saffron, Saffron. What is thy life these days?

For starters, when you grow up I am confident you will be forever grateful to Grandma Swensen for giving you the perfect word to teach people how to pronounce your name. (My “Africans” v. “Afrikaans” was a bit obtuse, I admit.) Grandma’s simple, “Well, it’s just like apron” will get you much further in life.

This has been a much bigger issue than I ever dreamed it would. In fact, though I’m a devoted word person who would never have considered spelling Ruby’s name “Rubie,” I have recently considered changing the spelling of your name to “Saffren.” It felt like heresy, but I had to consider whether that spelling would bother me less throughout my life than the mispronunciation of your name would. The problem at school has become so bad that now you can no longer figure out how to pronounce your own name the way your family does—you keep saying “Saff-rawn” and don’t yet have enough command of English to understand the difference. Poor thing. I didn’t mean to saddle you will something so difficult. Perhaps we should have gone with our second choice—Pat. That’s why we’re so grateful to Grandma S. So, let’s remind everyone once again: It’s Saffron, like Apron. If you typically say Aprawn, then I must remind you that you are talking about seafood rather than women’s culinary wear, and there is no hope for you. You’ll just have to call her “S.”

And, so you’ll always know why we chose such a beautiful if troublesome name, let me remind you that Saffron is one of the most beautiful and exotic spices and colors in the world, and IS the most valuable spice in the world. Not to shabby, eh? Certainly stands up to ‘Ruby,’ a most valuable woman, and ‘Willa,’ one of America’s greatest female writers. (Eudora Welty, I also love your writing, but wasn’t so keen on ‘Eudora,’ or ‘Welty.’ Sorry.)
saf⋅fron  [saf-ruhn] –noun
“Coming from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, it takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound which explains why it is the world’s most expensive spice.” --The epicentre.com

Yes, we could have given you a more typically American name. But saffron is a spice and a color that is valued the world over. The spice is ancient—transcends time. And the color is the choice for the robes of peace-loving Tibetan monks. It is as beautiful and transcendent and ancient as is your Ethiopia. We knew you would never be like Willa—you would always carry your memories, your culture, your Ethiopia with you. We wanted to honor that. Don’t let anyone underestimate your value, or you name. Ever.

And so, Saffron, what else can I tell you? You love watching TV. You want to all the time. You have no regard for content. You just want to watch. Always. Why? Is it an escape? And why do I often refuse? Why does it irritate me? I think it’s too early in your American life for me to worry about you becoming a couch potato.

I have figured out why you don’t play with friends or talk on the playground, and why you struggle to entertain anyone but Ruby at home. There are two reasons:

One, you are much more self-conscious about your English than I realized. You have finally told me you are afraid to speak without me or Ruby there. And now that I’ve learned to ask you about specific words and sentences, I realize you are understanding less than I thought (though still an amazing amount for 2 ½ months). It’s OK. People aren’t looking for you to fail! You must try.

Two, in Ethiopia you didn’t play. Now that Willa can express more and has become obsessed with repeating to me facts about life in Ethiopia, I know that 'Sam' and Willa played everyday, but Saffron never did. Saffron only ever watched. I can easily imagine you squatting, as you do, next to your shambles of a hut, and watching the other kids play. Willa often says “Saffron no play” when she talks about life there.

Somewhere in the last few weeks I lost my patience with you and began responding to your negative attitude, rather than transcending it. If I take the high road, you usually come along pretty quickly. But if I join you on the low road to nowhere, we both languish there. It’s good for me to be reminded what you came from only a few short months ago, and how far you’ve progressed. It’s my job to turn again with kindness, over and over and over. That is what is required for older child adoption. They tell you over and over how different it is from young child or infant adoption, and they’re right. Parenting you and Willa is night and day. Older child adoption is definitely more difficult, but the rewards are worth it. There is something amazing about a child old enough to recognize the mighty change in their life.

Finally, your hair. I have neglected to mention that we removed your extensions over Christmas break. They were coming out, and getting yucky. We knew they would only last about two months, but this was still very traumatic for you. You bawled for hours. You hated me for a bit, I think, and sulked for a few days. Now that I realize how much that hair meant to you, I think I may have made a mistake in letting you get them so early.

When you came, I was very eager to help you feel confident when you started school. I knew you wanted extensions in Ethiopia, so I hurried to get them for you here. We quickly got your teeth fixed so the brown spots didn’t show. I told you how beautiful you looked. So why should I be surprised now to realize you have wrapped your self worth in America up in that hair? Perhaps a better approach would have been for me to teach you about inner beauty, and let you feel good about yourself for a bit before I rushed to help you cover your short hair.

Well, now we have had that talk about inner beauty--about a kind heart, and a ready smile. You cried, and it occurred to me that you had probably never had anyone tell you that before. You wore a scarf over your head for a week, but we have since found some cute hairstyles for your short hair, and pointed out many beautiful women with short hair. To their credit, Ruby and Jasper have made a big deal about your lovely short hair. I keep telling you—honestly—that I prefer it. Your delicate neck and jaw, the graceful features which first made me see you as a Queen of Africa, are now visible, not hidden by fake braids.

You and Ruby are both suffering in the self-esteem department right now. But we’ll fix that. We’ll borrow some from Willa, who’s self-contentedness is ever effulgent, and before you know it you’ll be two supremely confident sistas.


Emily said...

It is beautiful how you approach each child with dignity and love. Every child should have a mother like you. It's quite the journey you take us, looking through Saffron's eyes.

Big Bahama Mama said...

I'm glad you didn't name her Cather. Or Fyodor. Willa and Saffron are beautiful names and fit perfectly.

Melissa said...

I like the names too but was one of the people calling it SaffrOn in my head.
From now on it'll be SaffrEn in my head.
I think it's every mother's goal to get their daughters and sons feeling good about themselves on the inside.
Yet I tell Yuki, once her ribbon is in, how beautiful she looks.
I need to work on inner more than outter.

Screensiren said...

I sure hope that Saffron and sisters will cook for us in Orlando...maybe they can all teach Lydia a thing or to.

Charlotte said...

What a beautiful post, Emily. I love that Willa is telling you more about their life in Ethiopia. It makes sense that Saffron does not always know how to play. She seems like such an old soul.