Monday, May 31, 2010

The visit

On Sunday I visited my mom. She's moving into the later stages of Alzheimers; she lives in the locked dementia unit of an assisted living facility. I tried to bring a kid or two with me - while they can be hard to corral inside the ward, at least they give us something to focus on. And the old people, whether they know the kids or not, most always love to see them.

But the kids were more interested in the park and their cousins. I couldn't blame them. So I drove over on my own. Generally, I savor any minute I get to myself, especially in the car. Maybe because it feels so contained and I can fill it with whatever I want - NPR, decaf coffee, chocolate, all those vices of the aging liberal. But yesterday, I actually wished for company. Seeing my mom isn't easy. It's upsetting, actually. I always feel sad ("Where's my mommy?"), angry ("Where's my mommy?!?") and/or numb ("This is my mommy?").

I used the electronic key and entered the dementia ward. I could hear the wavering voices of the residents singing. As I walked down the hall, I passed a surprisingly beautiful and understandably furious elderly woman. She glared at me and said, "It's Grand Central Station in here today." I smiled uncertainly as I passed, pretending she was making a delightful joke.

As I entered the living room, they were singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean". I spotted my mom on a couch in the corner, reading obediently from a song sheet she held in quavering hands. I got the first hit of sad. When I was in preschool, I had a friend named Bonnie. The one time we convinced Bonnie, who was quite attached to her mother, to come home with us to play, my mom whimsically sang her that song. Bonnie reacted, rather inexplicably, with outrage and insisted on being taken home immediately. We didn't get her back to our house until middle school.

I fought the tears, the merged memory of my poised forty-something-year-old mother with the reality of her now, stooped, confused and childlike. I let them finish the song before I approached her, trying to compose myself. She was, as always, so delighted to see me. "Oh," she said, gazing at me as I gaze at my children after an absence, brimming with joy and satisfaction, "It's you."

We sat ourselves down at an empty table in the dining area. As is her practice, she spent the first ten minutes telling me how very much she loves me, how beautiful I am, how I've always been so kind, even when I was small. And though I know to expect it, though she speaks these praises in a repeating loop, though sometimes I'm not even certain it's me she's talking about, I am touched. I believe her.

Next I do my bit. I ask her, as I always do, how she's been. She says she's been well. I ask her if she likes where she lives. She says that it's very nice there. She gestures towards the draped curtains and says, "Isn't that nice, how they did that, with the swirls?" I agree that it's nice.

Then, per usual, the conversation lapses. We listened, for a while, to the singers, even joining in here or there, fudging the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or "Daisy, Daisy" and giggling at our mistakes. Though it's a bit awkward, the Filipino caregivers eyeing me with suspicion as I sing, at least we're engaging with each other, something that doesn't happen at every visit. I find myself feeling grateful that I have yet to feel the rising anger, the frustration and disappointment that she just won't snap out of it, or maybe snap into it, and be the mother I miss.

When it's time for me to go, I walked her back to her spot on the couch. I told her that I had to pick up my kids at the park.

"They're at the park?" she asked, her hand resting on my arm as we walked.

"Yes," I said, "the park."

"By themselves?" she asked politely, but a bit concerned.

"No," I assured her. "They're with Ben."

She looked at me blankly.

Let it be said here, that my mother has adored Ben, revered him, thought him the funniest and most gracious man on the planet, next to my brother, anyway. I've been waiting for this day, but it was still surprising that she could forget him. Kind of like forgetting the sun.

"My husband," I said, casually. Again, I found myself impressed that my patience hadn't yet deserted me.

"Oh!" she said, delighted and perhaps relieved that I had managed to snare a man. "Your husband!"

She paused, stopping mid-stride and gazing intently into my face, not wanting to miss a bit of news. "What's your husband's name?"

"Ben," I said.

"Ben!", she cried, thrilled. She bent towards me as if wanting in on a secret. "What's his last name?"

"Capron," I said, by now feeling a little delighted myself. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

"Oh!" she said, "Capron!"

"That's my last name, too," I said, deciding to offer her more tidbits. "You know, because we're married."

"You're married?" she gasped and gripped my hand more firmly, almost like a handshake. "Congratulations!"

"Well," I said, seating her next to a dozing but rather dapper older gentleman, "Thanks. We've been married for ten years but I'll take all the encouragement I can get."

She threw her head back in laughter. I did, too. We were all but slapping our knees.

As I left, she was elbowing her napping neighbor and telling him that I was her daughter and that I was married and that I had children and that I was so kind. I could still hear her as I walked past the wary beauty queen in the hall.

"Well, was it or wasn't it?" she asked me gruffly.

"It was." I told her with a smile.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

And So It Goes

We're packing up. The contents of the kitchen is in boxes in the back of the minivan. The canoe's strapped on the roof. Tomorrow we carry the first load home to San Anselmo.

All the rites of the end of school are mixing with our goodbyes to this place. The end of the year picnic for Lana's Girl Scout troop. A glass (or two or three) of wine with some of the girlfriends I've made. Next week kindergarten wraps up with a little ceremony. Today we had a yard sale to dispose of the last items we don't want to move one more time. Tonight was a block party on the culdesac in our honor. And as, like everyone else, we've said goodbye for the summer and as, like no one else, we've said goodbye for good, as I've packed away china, pie pans, and canned soup, I've quietly ticked down the list of everything and everyone I'll miss. My increasingly easy friendships, the beauty and function of the Eichlers, the deep relationships my kids are forming with their peers.

Maybe it's the unseasonably rainy weather, maybe it's my allergy medication, maybe, perhaps, could it be, it's the change happening around me, but I've been feeling blue the last few weeks. Sleepy, uncharacteristically sluggish. Really I just want to crawl in bed with a book.

Tonight, after the block party, Sonja, my treasured next door neighbor, presented us with a photo album of our time here. There were our six kids in the culdesac with cupcakes for Mihiretu's birthday, then sitting deep in a pile of autumn leaves, playing Red Rover, Mae and Emily, Sonja's eldest daughter, swinging "spider-way" (Mae sitting on the swing in the regular way and Emily sitting backwards on her lap) and proudly displaying their hands bright blue from dyeing Easter eggs. She had even surreptitiously gathered critical neighbors for portraits.

As I was getting the kids ready for bed tonight, trying to sort through my feelings, unplug my numbness, a song ran through my head. And, okay, it was a Billy Joel song.

The song is called "And So It Goes". When I was in college, a very close friend, a male friend - and the biggest Billy Joel fan ever - proclaimed his love. He knew, I think, that I'd reject him. He was a lovely guy - thoughtful, funny, bright - but I needed years more maturity before I would have what it'd take to accept that kind of love. After I turned him down, he confided that every time he heard "And So It Goes" he thought of me. Ever since when I hear that song, I think of him.

Tonight, though, when that song played softly in the recesses of my brain, I thought of my people here. My San Jose people. It's a song about offering your love to someone even when you know it's probably fruitless. About allowing someone into that room in your heart, that sacred space, that envelope of vulnerability. And as I heard the song "So I will share this room with you and you can have this heart to break", I thought of those gorgeous open faces in the photo album. These people who stood and smiled as Sonja took their picture. Smiled at us, smiled for us, even though they knew that we'd be leaving. Who offered their love to us, themselves to us. And Sonja, behind the camera, giving more time, more heart as she created this memorial. Sonja, who will feel our absence the most, offering up one more gesture.

Goodbyes fucking suck. What can I say? This has been a very difficult year but these people, these people who didn't know us ten months ago, have loved us, have helped us, have risked themselves with us. And, damn it, I'll miss them. Maybe the numbness of these last weeks, this vague depression, has been my heart trying to close the door to that room so I won't feel the pain when I'm alone in it. And that, of course, as these beautiful folks have shown me, is no way to live.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicken House

When we bought our house in San Anselmo five years ago, we, as a family, referred to it as "The Wild Turkey House". Virtually every time we visited during escrow, there was a flock of turkeys wandering about, pecking the dirt and gobbling. Mae and Lana, who were almost three and almost one at the time, were impressed.

In the years since, we've grown used to the turkeys and they fail to elicit much of a reaction. They are funny creatures, certainly. They can't fly very well so this particular flock climbs the hill behind our house at dusk and glides down to the rather spindly pine tree they call their bedroom. They take off one by one and soar uncertainly past our deck before smashing into the poor little pine. With every flight, I doubt the landing but I have yet to see a turkey plop onto the ground.

During mating season, the males battle outside our living-room windows. They wrap their long necks around each other and peck furiously at their opponents' eyes. The other turkeys stand around and watch, nervously moving in and backing up as the war wages. I half expect them to yell, "Fight, fight" like we used to in middle school.

The turkeys also have a predilection for shiny cars. When our friend and neighbor, Lee, bought a new Passat, he walked down his steps to go to work one morning and found a turkey eyeing his reflection in the sheen of the car door. Before Lee knew it, that big dumb bird had decided that this mirror turkey was bad news. He reared back and came at it with his beak. He seemed confused by the feel of this new turkey, very hard and cold, but shook it off and launched another assault. It took a lot of screaming on Lee's part before the turkey finally ceded the battle. After that the Passat had a cozy cover at night. We never had an issue with the turkeys attacking our cars because our cars were never shiny.

In the spring, when we see the fawn and the baby quail, we also spot fuzzy, awkward, baby turkeys, following their mama along the driveway in a wobbly line. Why is it that anything and everything is cute when it's a baby? These babies are cute-ugly, kind of like sexy-ugly, that pull that some manage to have despite, or maybe in part because, of their off-beat looks. I'm thinking Lyle Lovett, Alan Rickman, Mick Jagger.

This year, as we prepare to move back to that house, it has a new identity. Mihiretu has named it "The Chicken House" because, well, we have chickens there. He only lived in the house for two months between coming home from Ethiopia and moving to San Jose but, probably because we've visited since, he remembers those chickens. And he was quite the chicken farmer last summer, helping me feed them and clean the coop, even collecting (and dropping) eggs.

Because he's titled the house, it makes it easier to explain to him that we're moving. We're going to the chicken house, not now, in a few weeks and we're going to sleep there. We're not going to sleep in this house anymore. He's very excited. Every time we get in the car he says, "Hare go, Mama? Shicken how?" And I say, no, not today, but soon. And he says, "Shicken how. No dis how", and shakes his hand in front of him, his head shaking with it, a gesture he's had as long as we've known him, an expression that I think of, maybe wrongly, as Ethiopian.

Friday, May 21, 2010


We met Mihiretu a year ago tomorrow. Anniversaries always work on me. Even the quality of light at a particular time of year has the power to bring me precisely to the day in question. Intellectually and subconsciously, I hash over that time and what's passed since. My dad was diagosed with cancer in the fall all those years ago and at some point every September, still, usually when the Blue Angels fly overhead during Fleet Week (my dad was an Air Force pilot and loved all things plane), I find myself feeling melancholy. And by melancholy, I don't mean depressed. I mean melancholy, that sweet spot between sadness and, what is it, nostalgia?

And so, for the last few weeks, I've found myself in Africa. Hearing the calls to prayer, the moos and bleets of cattle, the lilt of Amharic voices, smelling the heady Ethiopian concoction of berbere, paprika, and ginger drifting from kitchens, the scent of burning animal flesh wafting from fields, seeing the rubble and chaos of that developing world, the people brown and lean and, given the slightest opportunity, smiling. I miss it. I crave it.

And as I wander through the rural South and the teeming capitol, I come again to a little boy. His hair is freshly shaved for our arrival, revealing giant ears, the lobes pendulous and luscious. He stands uncertainly in the orphanage play yard and when we greet him for the first time, he is overwhelmed. His eyes are glazed, his left arm is held limply against his side as if atrophied, his mouth is open and a drop of saliva rolls down his chin.

I think back on that boy now, that boy whom we didn't know what to make of in the moment. And I know that he was retreating inside himself, the only place he had to go. He was protecting himself from another change, another heartbreak. And now that I know that boy, now that I love that boy, I can barely stand the memory.

When I think of him now, facing his mother's death and his placement in an orphanage essentially alone, making his way through those long months until he again had a family, it's hard to bear. To imagine that boy, that gorgeous, spirited boy, in the big world without a mother or father to shelter him, without someone loving him, it kills me. Much more now that I truly know him than it did when I first met him.

He and I were laying in the reclining chairs in the backyard yesterday, enjoying the temperamental spring sun, listening to the sound of bagpipes drifting from a neighbor's house. We decided that we'd like a drink to enhance our experience. I chose kombucha, he chose orange juice. We returned to our chairs and chatted a little, about the music, about our impending move back home to, as he calls it, "the chicken house" (we have chickens there). We were sitting in the sun, he and I, talking, laughing, but mostly just sitting side by side sipping our drinks and it became so clear to me how far we've come in a year. Yes, we have farther to go before his trust is complete but we're darn close. And all my days of doubt and darkness, wondering why the hell I embarked on this project in the first place, seem to be behind me.

He is my son, that boy. And I am his mother.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Truth in Advertising

There was a Volkswagen commercial running when the girls were babies. I think it was an ad for a Passat wagon.

While groovy music (probably something by Nick Drake) played, we saw a young couple looking back at their baby, who was gurgling happily, strapped into her car-seat. Cut to the same parents looking back at a two -year-old girl and a new baby in a car-seat. Finally, they were looking back at their six-year-old girl, their four-year-old boy and a baby, gurgling happily, strapped into his car-seat.

I don't watch much TV but for whatever reason, this commercial captured me. Maybe because I always imagined myself having three kids. In my family, I was that third baby in the commercial. But also because in the endless debate in my mind between two kids and three, this commercial somehow pushed me towards three (not, ironically, towards buying a Passat).

Here's the kicker. The family was African-American. So, in the end, I took the commercial literally. A year ago, I looked into the backseat of my Prius and saw a seven-year-old girl, a five-year-old girl and a little guy in a car-seat between them. Brown, just like I pictured. And no, he wasn't gurgling happily, he was scratching Lana's cheek with one hand, pulling Mae's pig-tail with the other and shrieking at the top of his lungs.

Maybe I shouldn't watch TV.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Mihiretu has taken to wearing a purple tutu. The rightful owner is Lana. It was a present for her fifth birthday. But it's Mihiretu who's the avid fan. He has worn other rather girly things over the past year, managing somehow to look very punk rock, but the tutu is an all-time fave. He wears it anytime that both Lana and I permit it (and Lana is the harder sell). That has included the daycare at the gym, meandering around the neighborhood and dropping off Lana at school. What everyone makes of this little brown boy in this very full and luxurious tutu, I don't know.

I often feel that, by virtue of our transracial adoption, we are always verging on circus sideshow, at least in the eyes of the general public. Add to that a purple tutu, say, or Mihiretu on the back of the rather unusual utility bike or the two of us getting down to "Isn't She Lovely" as we wait in line at Old Navy to buy his new pink flip-flops ("fop-fops" in Mihiretu lingo) and we've got a spectacle on our hands. Not that I care. Clearly I don't if I'm allowing him out of the house in his tutu, if I'm buying him pink fop-fops, if I've adopted an African child to begin with. But sometimes I'm aware of the picture we make and it makes me giggle a little. On the inside. On the outside I'm an extremely somber woman grooving publicly to Stevie Wonder.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Ben and Lana were chatting last night before she went to sleep, as they are wont to do. Lana's been sleeping on the futon in the playroom since we cleared out a lot of our stuff to stage the house for sale. Ben commented that he thought it was cool that Lana was using the bed on which she was born. And, indeed, in the middle of a rainstorm two houses ago, Lana did come into the world on that very futon. And yes, we had a plastic sheet on it. And yes, we planned to have a home-birth.

Ben said that even then, that night of her birth, she was very much herself. A person, a personality, already.

Lana said, "But you didn't know what I was going to be like."

Ben agreed. But he said that with every day she has just become more of who she is. And that person is very distinctive. A person with likes and dislikes.

Lana gave this some thought.

"Like I'd never wear overalls," she said.

Mae loves overalls. But Mae is a tree-climbing, bike-racing, chicken-chasing, overall sort of person. Lana, on the other hand, has had at least four pair of overalls in her drawer over the years and never once has she allowed them on her body, even as an infant. She is decidedly not an overall sort of person.

She gave the whole overall concept a moment more thought.

"Unless", she said, "I was a farmer."

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Ben carted off the kids Sunday morning so I could have a few hours alone on Mother's Day. I was making the bed, enjoying the quiet and the unseasonal rain and, as I do in the rare moments I can, I turned on NPR. Morning Edition was doing a piece on mothers. NPR personalities (Karl Castle, the car guys, Susan Stamberg, etc.) talked about their mothers, what they remembered, what they loved, what they were grateful for. And of course it made me cry.

My mom gave me everything she could, particularly when I was small and she had a lot to give. As I grew, she had to return to work and her time and energy were more limited. I think she also dived deeper into her ever-present depression. But the mother that will always live in my heart was so generous, so kind, so beautiful. She'd sing me songs when I'd awake from my naps. Groggily, I'd lay in her lap as she quietly sang, in lullaby tones, "America, the Beautiful" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Her repertoire was small and I know now that her voice was not stellar but at the time it was the most exquisite sound I'd ever heard. When I in fifth grade and she was turning fifty, I quizzed my friends on how old they imagined her to be. They guessed thirty, thirty-five, ages I'm sure close to their mothers. With pride, I declared that she was fifty. I was sure, in that moment, that she was the most gorgeous, youthful creature to have walked the earth. I look back on pictures now from that time and yes, she was certainly a beautiful woman, but by fifty she was in menopause, she had a paunch, she was aging. Not in the eyes of her young daughter.

She had lost her mother at the age of two and spent some time in a depression-era orphanage only to return to her beloved father and a new abusive step-mother. By rights, she should not have been a good mother. And while she may have struggled with my sister, her first child, my brother echoes my memories of her warmth. She claimed to love my company, she seemed to find incredible joy in mothering me, her late and final baby. She would hold my hand as we walked and whisper in my ear, "You're my friend, Elizabeth."

For the last thirty years, my mom has been on a slow downward slide. Her depression crept closer and closer to center stage, finally stealing the light completely when my father died sixteen years ago. From there, the mist of depression gave way to the fog of Alzheimers, two diseases that seem, at least in this case, to go hand in hand.

When Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimers, his daughter wrote an essay in Newsweek about his decline. She called it "The Long Goodbye". It's an apt description of that disease. Every time I see my mom, there's a little less of her there. She'll peek through the fog once in a while, with a laugh or a moment of eye-contact and I'll catch a glimpse of the woman I once knew but for the most part, she is absent.

I think our parents, be they dead or alive, cogent or demented, kind or cruel, always dwell within us. We remember, whether consciously or unconsciously, that first, and maybe deepest, bond of our lives in a way that's elemental. They are a part of us, both in chemistry and in spirit. And so my mom, the mother I remember from my beginning, my beautiful, kind, forty-something mother, the woman with a shy smile, a floral maxi skirt and a plate of lemon squares always on offer, she will always be with me. And I will always love her with a passion, that first, gripping attachment.

And the thing about Mother's Day now is it's dual nature. Yes, it's a day to remember my mom but it's also a day for my kids to honor me. And as I spool that out into the future, I wonder what they'll remember of these action-packed years, what part of me they'll take with them as they grow.

It's been an extraordinarily hard year for me as a mother. Mihiretu came home almost a year ago. This year has shaken me in my image of myself as a mom, which, these days, is my central identity. And I've worked harder than I ever have before in this role. We, as a family, have broken all kinds of new ground. It's kicked my ass, without a doubt, but I also feel like I know more, I'm better educated in what it is to nurture under difficult circumstances.

When I was listening to those familiar voices on NPR, I wept for my mom and all that she did for me. I also wept for the idea of my children, these little people that have broken my heart open with love and, simultaneously, pushed me to the edge of reason, the thought of these people growing up and having something nice to say about the experience of being raised by me. Time will tell, I guess. Something to work for.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Religious Preference

Today Mihiretu was rummaging through our dresser and pulled out the little pink satin box that contains my dad's wedding ring and dog tags.

Mae, Mihiretu and I sat on the living-room floor surveying the treasures as I attempted to explain to Mihiretu that Grandpa Paul (who died long before any of the kids were alive) was my daddy.

I'd say, "Mommy's daddy", holding up the ring, and he'd say, trying to fit it on my thumb, "No, my daddy." I couldn't quite convey that I wasn't trying to lay claim to Ben as my father. You don't want to get in the way of Mihiretu and his daddy. The idea that there is more than one daddy in the world is incomprehensible.

Mae was studying the dog tags. Printed on them were my dad's name, social security number, AF for Air Force, his blood type and "no religious preference".

Mae proclaimed triumphantly, "I have a religious preference!"

Inwardly, I groaned. Someone, somewhere, it seemed, had been proselytizing. Ben's parents (they number four when you include steps) are all church-goers. Sometimes the kids go along. Hell, sometimes I go along and their brands of religion, live and let live, inclusive versions, are, for a girl like me who grew up with science revered in the place of god, accessible. I'm often struck teary, which admittedly, isn't a reaction that's very hard to elicit from me. But the gatherings of these people, who sit quietly and search together to answer the questions and needs of their souls, it's touching. Ben's folks aren't into recruiting others into their way of thinking. But there's a whole world out there of people who are passionate about their religion, so who knows what's penetrated my girls' heads.

"What", I asked, dreading the answer, "is your religious preference, Mae?"

Proudly she proclaimed, "Puppy stickers!"

Turned out someone at school was really into puppy stickers and had converted Mae, at least in concept. Mae has no real affinity for puppies or stickers.

"Lana has a religious preference," she informed me.

I carefully returned the ring to the box. "What's that?" I asked.

"She's Christian," she said, twirling the dog-tags nonchalantly.

Somehow that made sense. I fear that Lana might be the Alex Keaton of our household. While the rest of us are loose and lean to the left, Lana loves the rules. Mae quit Daisies, the pre-Brownie Girl Scout program, after two meetings. I, too, flunked out of Brownies as a kid. As much of an overachieving student I was, the rules of that organization (and most organizations) tend to awake the anarchist within me. Lana started Daisies at the beginning of the school year and couldn't be more content. She collects her patches, sells her cookies, recites her pledge. She's all over it. It's not hard to envision her as a sorority girl and even beyond that, a card carrying Republican. I love that girl like crazy and if that's her destiny, so be it. But the fact that she's interested in Christianity without much prompting, with parents who are somewhat profane, is not surprising. A whole set of rules to memorize and repeat? A Lana dream.

"Yeah, well," I said to Mae, telling her nothing new, "I'm probably more of a puppy sticker person than a Christian."

"Hmm, yeah," she mused, carefully placing the dog tags back in the box. Then, dreamily, with a sigh, "Puppy stickers."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bike People

We're a bike family. Ben works for a bike company and, ergo, we're all on wheels.

I wasn't always this way. My parents were busy people and so finally it was my brother that taught me to ride at the late age of eight. But we lived way up on a mountain so the actual riding I did, once I could, was minimal. Hence, when I met Ben, mountain bike champion of the world, I demurred for many years before he finally got me on a bike. Once Mae learned, it was clear that I needed to get off my ass and join her in the great outdoors.

We've now had a number of years on two wheels and the kids and I have our whole set-up. Mae and Lana are each on their own bikes and I have a really excellent utility bike for Mihiretu and I. A utility bike, for you non-bike people, is the station wagon of bicycles. It has a long board over the back tire on which you can stash groceries, children and other paraphernalia.

The weather has finally turned and we're riding bikes to school again. After ten minutes of harassing children into socks, shoes, jackets and backpacks, we're on our way by 7:45. The contrast between the high stress of getting out the door and on the bikes and the exhilaration of those first pedal strokes as we exit the cul-de-sac is breathtaking. It's like that last moment of Mae's birth, pushing out that watermelon of a baby and the first moment of holding her in my arms. Hell to heaven.

Our first stop is Lana's school. She goes to the local public school, a half a mile away. And so, on that first leg of the journey, I am watching the road in front of me and the girls behind me. I've learned not to let Lana ride in front because she spends the entire time with her head cranked back in my direction, trying to chat. Lana, like me, is not quite as natural on the bike as the rest of the family. She wobbles, she gets distracted and slows down, falling far behind, then gets competitive and speeds ahead, a bit heedless of traffic stops and automobiles. But she, like me, is proud of her ability to get herself from point A to point B without a car. She arrives at school flushed with success.

Once she's safely deposited, we're on to Mae and Mihiretu's school. They attend a private Montessori school. Long story, but suffice it to say that Mae started at the public school and was so traumatized by her teacher, we had to rescue her.

The ride to the Montessori school is a good mile and a half. Mihiretu spends the majority of that time waving to passersby and shouting, "Hello?" He is running for mayor, apparently. It's rare he gets a wave back. I think people just don't know what to make of him. And so, after almost every attempted greeting, he says, "Mama, guy no wave me." To which I say, "Darn it!" To which he says, "Darn id!"

I encourage him to keep waving because what's life besides making a friendly gesture at the world and hoping for one in return? And so, for miles, he waves, he yells, he says "Darn id!" and rarely, he makes a connection. When that happens, it's very satisfying, all the way around.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The charmer

Along with all the well-documented difficulty that comes with parenting Mihiretu, I have to admit that the kid has a certain magnetism. Star quality, you might say. He's popular at school, it seems. Kids always light up with a "Hi, Mihiretu!" when he walks by. Often we'll be out at the park or running errands and some small child will run up to him with a grin and a greeting. Given what a brute he can be, it's a bit surprising. Maybe he's like the foxy, surly boy in school, the one who mounts his motorcycle with barely a glance at the surrounding throng and consequently sends all the girls atwitter.

I remember Ben's sister, Anne, once saying that when you look at a photograph of a baby, there's no way to predict what they'll look like when they're older. But when you look at the growing child or adult and then back at the baby picture, the person that will one day emerge is all present and accounted for. I could extrapolate that to personality. There are many seeds in a small child. You just don't know which are going to sprout. I find myself, as most parents do, wondering how my kids will mature, who'll they'll be in twenty years. The other day I found myself making those predictions out loud. I told Mae that I thought she'd be preserving endangered species in some far-flung corner of Africa. Lana, I mused, would be a fashion designer in New York City. And Mihiretu, I'm certain, will be a movie star.

He has an extraordinary sense of humor for a three-year-old, I'll give him that. We were at a little league game this weekend and he was spending some quality time with his grandpa. He and Bob, Ben's dad, have really been enjoying each other lately. Mihiretu is sparing with his trust but he's firmly decided that Bob is deserving. Half way through the game, Mihiretu was nestled in Bob's lap, getting soundly tickled. He gazed up into Bob's face and with his customary twinkle, said "Gamma", his pronunciation of Grandma. Bob, thinking he just had his English confused, said, "Oh, no, I'm Papa. I'm your grandpa." And Mihiretu said, "No. Gamma," and laughed. Soon they were engaged in mock battle, Bob saying, "Mihiretu's a little girl," and Mihiretu saying, "No, you Gamma!" They were both in hysterics.

It's a good thing, I guess, his ability to charm. From what I know of the world, good looks and a sense of humor go probably farther than they should. But he's going to have a hard enough time growing up African in white-white-white Marin County, let alone making his way in the world beyond. He needs all the ammunition he can get.