the moon and the stars

August 22, 2021

Dear Ethan,

I didn’t write last week. Maybe I didn’t write the week before. I’ve been cozy and content and couldn’t bother with my laptop. 

What’s been keeping me content? Big stacks of middle-grade readers, which always end on a happy note. This has been a year of re-reading, and the old favorites never disappoint. My mother-in-law recently gave me her newish Kindle, and my anime eyes said, “Oh, so now I can read when I’m supposed to be sleeping?” 

I’ve been watching squirrels eat all the bird feeder seeds, squishing the soft underside of my cat’s belly, checking out huge stacks of books from the library, eating my lunch at work on a picnic table outside my office, buying batches of ultraripe peaches and enjoying them three at a time. 

School starts soon after a long hiatus. I haven’t taught in person since 2019. I think we’re all going to be shifty and suspicious of each other, which makes me sad, which is why each of us is going to keep a journal dedicated to noticing each other and the world around us, even if it feels at an arm’s reach. 

A part of me wonders if I even want to be in charge of 30-50 bodies throughout the course of a semester for so little pay. The part of me that values learning and authenticity tells me that yes, that sometimes to create change and perhaps even spark something in even one student, involves putting yourself out there. The growth and development of young minds don’t stop because we choose to be absent. I feel I owe it to the students to provide a space that feels comforting and dynamic, especially after the way we’ve served them the last few semesters. So, I’ll be there, patiently seeing how the whole thing unfolds. I don’t exactly feel the same way about sending you off to school. Praying for the best over here. 


You were supposed to go to Cape May this weekend with your dad and boat with Grampy, eat lobster rolls, and play in the water hose with your favorite cousin. Instead, we’re hunkered down at home waiting for the hurricane to blow through New England. Your dad is testing out elaborate recipes we’ve been tasting out of his test kitchen. We took you to the Connecticut Science Center on Friday, which was six floors of entertainment. Your favorite exhibit? The Lego racers, probably, followed by the water table that looked like a tornado.

Recently, my uncle passed away, and you were the only one there to help me process the loss. You saw that I was sad, and you encouraged me to play with your play-doh. It actually did help, pressing and molding something out of nothing.

“Can I see a picture of Tio Rene?” you asked. 

“I don’t have one,” I said, eyes welling with tears. 

“Oh,” you said. “When my fish die I so sad. Daddy put fishy in box outside. I so sad.” 

I had no idea you knew what was going on when ya’ll buried Beatrice, but obviously, you held a room for her in your heart. 

We looked at pictures of Beatrice instead on my phone. I tried to show you a stock image of a half-moon betta, but you seemed to know it wasn’t her. We finally found a picture of the real her, and you knew right away. 

It was around eight at night, and we decided to go outside. The air was cool and smooth, and we could hear the buzzing and humming of the menagerie of insects that live in our backyard. You held my hand as if you were looking for something. Finally, you found it. 

“Mommy, maybe Tio Rene up there,” you said, pointing at the moon. “Or the stars.”

This was startling to me. I’ve never talked to you about heaven, or the afterlife, or where souls go when they die. It was such a beautiful moment to watch you extend life on earth to life outside of it, and it gave me peace. 

 I wasn’t sad because I knew my uncle. In fact, I was sad that I knew the last time I saw him that we would never get to know each other, because the immigrant experience involves certain exile. I am most sad for my mother, who lost her precious brother.

Your Tio Rene was a doctor in a town in Mexico called San Luis Potosi. I remember he took me and my sisters to visit his clinic once, as well as his second enterprise, which was a barbecue pit on the ground floor of the clinic. He was a doctor of a small town and revered in the community. My mom remembers him buying her a bicycle and teaching her to be brave among her peers, who had much more than her family did. She was afraid to ride her bike on Mexico City streets, so they would practice riding in loops until one day, he let her go–to the world of traffic and honking and street peddlers. She really flew that day, her brother cheering her on and running after her. 

Your Nini’s family lived in abject poverty—but in this lack, they each became courageous, persistent, intelligent, resourceful individuals. One of my mom’s clearer memories is wandering the streets of Mexico City with her brothers, gathering bits of copper wire and glass and paper to resell to buy Tio Rene his medical school textbooks. “He was my hero,” she said. “He taught me to read and to love reading, and I taught you this as well.” 

Every family that lives a hard life needs someone to remind them that they were able to rise above their circumstances and be respected and respectful. For my mother, my Tio Rene was this, and for me, she is this person. 

                                                            To the moon and back, 

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