Do you have a favorite word or phrase? Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn't. But I spent some time with Emily, who will be four years old next month, and that changed. My new favorite phrase is, "Aunt Allison," said in her sweet, questioning voice. If you know me at all, you know I am a sucker for a good story. One of my favorite requests is for someone to "tell me a story," especially at bedtime or when I'm bored.
Soon after my arrival in SoCal, it was time for Emily to eat dinner. While she ate, I entertained her with stories of my puppies (per her request).
(Giant princess helium balloon- and stories- courtesy of yours truly. Feelings of happiness courtesy of Em. Photo courtesy of her mother.)
Emily asked me to repeat the same three or four stories over and over (and over and over and over). Her mom said this was so she could memorize them and retell them after I left. I think it was because I'm such a great storyteller, but we can agree to disagree. At her mom's urging, I changed some key details in order to see how closely she was paying attention. Let me tell you, nothing gets past that girl.
One night after Emily and her little brother Everett had gone to bed, her parents and I had Chinese takeout.
Her father received this not-a-fortune, which I read as sarcastic:
"Lucky you. Get out your party clothes."
I mean, really? What's with the periods instead of exclamation points? That insert is just taunting him.
And then there was my cookie insert:
"Cleaning up the past will always clear up the future!"
Obviously, the exclamation point in our batch of fortune cookies was misplaced.
Nonetheless, it was a timely insert, coming at the very end of my last semester of graduate school.
Fast forward a week: today I filed my doctoral dissertation, "clearing" the path for my "future" (quotation marks intended to refer to the cookie insert). I had Chinese food tonight as well (if you can't guess what my go-to celebration meal is, you haven't been following this blog long enough or closely enough), and this was my insert:
It's half of an insert, clearly. I'm sure it says something about how an apple a day will keep the doctor away, and "So will an onion." But you know what? It says doctor. And I choose to see that as significant.
I could have selected the fortune cookie that held this gem (which Amanda got instead, since I chose first):
"Borrow money from pessimists - they don't expect it back."
That might be good advice, but it's not as applicable to my particular situation.
I've been reflecting on my time with Emily, her younger brother Everett, and her parents (previously featured on the blog here, here, and here). I was only able to spend just over forty-eight hours with them, but we did so many of my (our) favorite things in that time. We spent a day at the beach, ate a lot of hummus, and visited a bookstore/coffeeshop (even if the primary intent was to get coffee, I - or my bank account - deserve a medal for escaping without a new library after the number of times Emily said, "Aunt Allison, I need a new book."). We even survived our first earthquake! And we visited the Newport Pier, as we did on my first trip out to see them soon after their relocation to California almost two years ago.
And I told a lot of stories. I repeated the puppy stories, telling Emily how Penny lost her name tag, what costumes she and The Nickel wear at Halloween and how they act when trick-or-treaters come to the door, and describing all of their various tricks. The night before I left, I read Emily her bedtime story.
Maybe fortune cookie inserts offer us the opportunity to create stories out of future possibilities. Sure, sometimes they're ridiculous and impossible to reconcile with reality, but sometimes - sometimes - they allow us to ponder possibility. In the end, this is the fun of fortune cookie inserts. It's what brings us back to the cookies time and time again, even though we know those little pieces of paper don't hold the answers. They hold the questions, the foundations of any good story.