Little Lejla

She was much smaller than her age indicated. Glancing again at her file to be sure I had the right girl, then back at her before calling out “Sta ima, bona?” Her little head bobbed up from the coloring book upon which she was focused. She jumped up and bounced over with her light up shoes glowing at her feet. “Wow! Those are pretty shoes, Lejla! My name is Ms. Rhonda.” She grinned sticking one glittery sneaker out for me to admire. I instantly became attached to her, this precious little one who had just arrived to Phoenix from a refugee facility in Germany. Originally from Sarajevo, a thriving metropolitan city of Bosnia Herzegovina- Lejla and her mother with her gorgeous olive skin fled Bosnia in the middle of the civil war. They crept on the hillsides with other refugees hiding among the trees in the cold until they found it safe enough to travel further. Her mother was Bosnian. Her father was Croatian. Their marriage, which had been celebrated several years earlier with a joyous ceremony and a feast, had later become filthy and despised. Sadly in the course of terror that overtook the city, Lejla’s father was taken and killed. Her uncles and older male cousins had been separated from the family and forced into camps. Fortunately they survived and were reunited in Germany before coming to Phoenix.

Lejla’s eyes resembled big, dark marbles…the kind that have a hint of shimmer in the center but only visible when luminated just so.  She had short dark hair that highlighted the large round eyes underneath. Her front teeth were silver due to lack of proper nutrition during the siege. Her laugh- a raucous phlegm filled laugh- tickled my funny bone and never failed to make me laugh too, not for its sweetness but because such a laugh could come from a tiny being. She, however, was sweet. Over the course of my visits, I gave her a nickname- miš mali. Little mouse. She was just that- cute and small, curious and observant, quiet…except for her laugh.

Starting over again in the United States is not easy, especially as a single parent; especially after seeing all they had seen, feeling all they had felt- the tremendous heartbreak and loss. Lejla was frightened by loud sounds. Miš mali. She slept in her mother’s bed at night because every time she heard a helicopter overhead she would tremble. Once at school a few of the other girls made fun of her speech, her boyish hair and her teeth to the point that Lejla cried. After school, the heartbroken little mouse cuddled up to her mother for consolation.

Even still, among her fears and adversity were bright moments of happiness. Happiness so dazzling you could see a shimmer in the darkest of marbles. I still remember when she learned to swim. Her thin arms swinging as she ran towards me blurting out all at once, “MsRhondaMsRhondaIcanswim!” It was a delight to share with her a love of reading. Her pale cheeks would practically glow with joy at learning a new word. I would bring her books, some of my childhood favorites or an occasional stuffed toy. In return I received a much sweeter gift- a big hug from her twiggy arms. 

In time, Lejla made friends. She learned English much faster than anyone else in the family and loved correcting her mother. She grew taller. The silver baby teeth fell and shiny pearls took their place.  Her mother found work as a maid; a lower position than she held in her country, but it was work. They found an apartment to maintain on their own. No longer did they need to live with other family members. Lejla made the honor roll in school, time and time again. Her mother later remarried and not to a Bosnian. She proclaimed early on that she would never marry a Bosnian, nor a Croat. No, she would marry an American. It wasn’t for papers as refugees are given green cards shortly after entry to the U.S. She wanted to marry an American because she now was American. She wanted no memory of the sorrow she left behind. She moved away from the Bosnian filled neighborhood and surrounded Lejla with American friends. She was determined to make a new life for her little mouse.

As she grew, Lejla learned to dance. Silky slippers replaced her sparkling sneakers. She would glide across the stage, her arms now strong, her legs muscular, her dark hair long and thick flowing with every whirl and leap…her eyes gleaming as bright as any of the stage lights. She had earned a new nickname. Not ready yet to let go of the little girl, I renamed her mala ptica. Little bird. ❤



Worthy of Friendship

In the last few days, the social media newsfeed has shown numerous posts reflecting upon creating our circles, and choosing friends wisely. It’s left me with this thought. We teach our children to choose their friends carefully, curating relationships based upon outward actions, reputation, behavior, and other attributes that we can see with the eye. This is understandable. We don’t wish ill will or difficulty to come to our little ones as they learn and grow. We don’t wish their reputations before being fully formed, to be tarnished. We don’t want them to be on the receiving end of cruelty or ridicule by other students, and honestly, by other parents. We teach them to select friends from whom they will benefit by matter of character. We use these same principles when selecting our own circle of friends and colleagues. It’s said, “choose your tribe”, “select those who will help you soar”, “be around those who benefit you and challenge you”. This has merit. Yet, I ask, upon what is this based? The majority of the time it is based solely on outward presentation. When first meeting someone we have no other knowledge from which to draw a conclusion. It seems to me, rather than draw a conclusion of any kind, rather than selecting myself who I want to associate with, rather than picking and choosing based upon reputation, the focus should be inward. Am I someone that others would want to be around? Am I someone that helps uplift others? Am I someone that has depth of character and compassion to be a good friend, a good human to any and all or only to those who fit a certain mold? It saddens me to read things about discerning the character of others based solely on reputation, especially so when the person is young. I knew a girl in high school who had a poor reputation. She was referred to by many as “trashy”. Yet, few knew the details of repeated abuse that stole her value. She truly had not even “slept around”, as it was said. All it took was one or two foul mouthed male students who took from her something and then by their actions made her daily life hell. Freshman year, my second school already, and being the new girl with few friends, I was fortunate to have made a friend in her. She was real. She was honest. She was smart. She was significantly more than anything ever repeated about her.

Sophomore year brought another change of schools and a student who was decidedly cruel to me was waiting there. I never understood why. She would call me names in Spanish that would be inappropriate to repeat. She whispered to other girls about me. She occasionally pushed too hard walking past me, but not hard enough to be considered hitting. There was no reason, of course, so on most days, I shrugged it off. Somehow, in my 16 year old jolly optimism, I decided to do the opposite of what I wanted to do. She did frighten me because of her tough persona. Yet, nearly every time I saw her, I said, “Hi Angelina,” as if she was my best friend or on lesser days, I would at least smile. She wouldn’t talk other than to ridicule me. Other times, on days when I couldn’t handle it, I did steer away. Flash forward to graduation night after all the diplomas were passed out. There before me in white cap and gown with black mascara streaks down her face stood Angelina. She looked much smaller that night than when encountered in the halls. She said she never understood why I was always nice to her even though she didn’t return the treatment. Then she thanked me. What?! This girl, this bossy mean girl was thanking me? She then briefly told me of a rough life, of not having much, of not even having one true friend. She apologized to me for the nearly three years of whispers and hallway jabs. There was nothing to apologize for and standing there on the field in 100+ degree heat of late spring Phoenix weather, we hugged a long, earnest hug. We never saw another again. We didn’t exchange numbers. Yet, to this day I am changed by that moment with that girl of bad reputation and mean outward behavior. I can only hope she was changed too. Rather than focus on those who we perceive as worthy of spending our time with and worthy of befriending, it seems to me, we should focus on being worthy ourselves by not giving attention to outward representation shown to us by others, but instead on the inward reality of ourselves. Show love, give love, be love. This is what changes lives. 💓

Cry, Little Sister

Mornings arrive and many nights pass,

Memories of her forever last.


Childhood laughter and tear streaked faces,

Echo in my thoughts and leave faint traces.


A familiar face in the children she bore,

Although her smoky voice will be heard no more. 


Long, wavy locks that floated as she danced

Hips swaying to music, lost in a trance.


She knew things some could never understand,

Sometimes a foe, eternally a friend.


Shared experiences led her to a painful journey,

A life cruelly stolen, a mother taken too early.


Each day I am gifted is truly a treasure.

This life brings to me fulfillment beyond measure.


Still sorrow waits in misty morn and sun-kissed mixture,

Love and joy do not lessen the loss of a sister. 

Honesty Manifest

honesty-herb-jordanThere is a lump in my throat,
That I feel with each swallow.
My heart beats in my ears,
as if I were hollow.

Under furrowed brow,
tear stained cheeks glisten.
Shaded eyes conceal hurt,
along with confusion.

Pictures of him run through my mind,
whose captions I will never know.
How damning is a certain lie,
when whispered through lips of a beau.

Experience has made me rich,
giving strength through life’s transitions.
Vulnerable but without blench,
I choose Love over demission.

For My Daughter

In your eyes, I see the future, not in that wispy, fanciful way of others but a calm,
supposed belief that all you know and all you will see melts into one being
so perfectly and completely that it isn’t what may be as much as what will be.
You often have a distant look as if you can see the day after next, skipping past tomorrow.
You retreat into yourself for that is more comfortable and familiar than opening up to others.
Yet in those moments…the few chances you give them to see you,
your wit and charm are realized much more than you or they anticipated.
At times I feel like I have not been your mother as much as an observer-
lucky enough to be there, watching as you grew in knowledge and height.
You never really needed me as much as wanted me by your side, just in case.
Or maybe it was more that you knew I needed to be by your side.
It seems, I never had to convince you that you could
because you were already so confident that you would.
You are beautiful.
You speak with a soul more experienced than your age implies.
Even so, you move forward with caution…
never with the reckless disregard that youth often acts.
You are bright and I respect your intelligence that seems to come so effortlessly.
Just as you are close to the depths of great emotion,

I sense you closing yourself off, hesitantly taking a step back.
I wish for you to touch the sky, swim in every sea,
breathe from thin mountain air and explore underground tunnels.
I wish for you to know love…to be loved and give love…
so much so that oxygen feels removed from your lungs when your lover is gone.
Not because I wish for you pain, but I wish for you understanding.
I wish for you to never fear the night and always cherish morning light.
I wish for you to allow yourself to feel the world around you, deeply-
to comprehend compassion as much as scientific reasoning.
I wish for you to never doubt the unmistakable, incredible being that is
the sensational, fantastic, brilliant- You.

Wherever you may go, whether near or far,

whatever you touch, create or live through,

I will be with you, in love and in spirit.


A New Life

Neena was shivering from both pain and fear. She had never been away from home before; never without her mother. Yet here, some 12000 km from the woman who held her hand and wiped her tears for 20 years, she was. Due to the war in her country, she arrived to Houston just one week before. As she lay in the hospital bed, nurses poking and prodding in areas where she had rarely been touched, I held her hand and spoke to her about what would happen next and what the doctor would ask of her. Once the Pitocin has been administered, the waves of pain came upon her quickly, her body convulsing and crying out against the frame of the small birthing bed. She cried. She wanted her husband. She wanted her mother. When the time was right, the Anesthesiologist came in and helped her into position to receive the epidural. At sight of the needle, Neena refused the dose. With some cajoling and a lot of comforting after another contraction took over her body, she gave in and leaned against her pillow in an upright position. According to the nurse, she was ready. They would be back soon with the doctor. The epidural calmed Neena and I encouraged her to close her eyes and try to relax then went to the waiting room to speak to her husband. He only a kid himself, had a look of nausea and uneasiness that made me a little nervous. I couldn’t watch over him and be there for his bride. He sipped some juice and listened as I gave him an update. Neena was doing fine. She was resting and not in as much pain but she was scared and needed him. In his country the men do not stand bedside as their wives squeezed out bundles of joy wrapped in fluid and mucus. He shook his head defiantly. It wasn’t going to happen. His friends would laugh at him. I convinced him to come in and visit Neena to at least wish her well.

Within a few minutes of arriving in the room, the doctor came in and confirmed that Neena was in fact ready to begin. She was more worried about her husband seeing the wonders of the female body than pushing the baby out. He was a bit trapped and couldn’t really leave unless the doctor stepped aside so I asked him to just stay at the head of the bed and hold her hand. Just then Neena squeezed his hand causing his face to wince. As I held her hand and told her good job and that she was doing great, her young husband lay his hand on her forehead. There it was! The tenderness she needed in that moment caused her to smile and they looked so full of hope.

Quicker than I expected, their new little baby girl had welcomed the world with a loud cry and was laid on mommy’s stomach for her to marvel. Neena looked away in uncertainty. She hadn’t gone through proper prenatal care and had not been given books by adoring friends, colleagues and neighbors. She didn’t know what to expect while she was expecting. The baby- wrinkled, bloody, bright red from exhaustion looked foreign to her inexperienced eyes. Neena looked at me asking what was wrong with her baby. I told her she was perfect and a beautiful baby girl. The nurses took baby J away and brought her back looking much more like her young mother expected. As Neena cradled the sweet pink baby with a wave of black hair, she kissed the scrunched-up tiny forehead much like I’m sure her mother had done to her the first time she was cradled. ❤