Monday, May 23, 2011

Gotcha Day

Sunday was the second anniversary of the day we met Mihiretu. In adoption circles, that's sometimes known as "Gotcha Day".

We started the day with a birthday party for Mihiretu's friend, Ephraim. I met Ephraim - and his mom, Chrissy - one September day on the playground of Mae's school. I'd recently been struck with baby fever but instead of fantasies of a growing belly or tiny pink fingers and toes, this time it had crystalized in an image of an African baby boy strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn. Somehow, on that fall day, the universe sent me Chrissy, with Ephraim strapped to her chest in a Baby Bjorn. The rest, I'd guess you'd say, is history.

Even though there was over a year and a half between Ephraim's homecoming and Mihiretu's, the boys ended up being just about the same age, Mihiretu actually six months Ephraim's senior. Now that they're to the stage of actually engaging with peers instead of just parallel play, their friendship has deepened. They see a lot of each other, those two. I imagine that when strangers see us at tumbling class or the park or the ice cream shop, they think that Chrissy and I are a couple and these two boys fraternal twins. Lately, we've been spending so much time together that that's almost the case.

Ephraim's party started at 10:30 but somehow the breezy spring weather, the jumpy-house, the good company and the continuing flow of food conspired to keep us (and many other guests) hanging around until well past three. The kids were all pretty strung-out on cupcakes and hours of jumping but we, along with Ephraim's family, decided to keep the party rocking. We climbed in two cars, children alternately wailing, and headed over to an Ethiopian restaurant in Berkeley to fete the Gotcha and Birthday Boys.

It was a new restaurant for us, one that had been recommended by an Ethiopian dance teacher I recently met. The place was packed. Along the window wall, there was a long table of at least thirty Ethiopians, also, it turns out, celebrating a birthday. Ethiopians, in my experience, both here and in Ethiopia itself, are initially reticent, at least to non-Ethiopians. Once, however, you can engage them in the smallest way, I've found them, for the most part, to be incredibly warm. Virtually every time we've gone to an Ethiopian restaurant with Mihiretu, and we've been to a lot of them, we end up in conversation with an employee or a patron. Often we leave with a phone number or a scrawled post-it detailing an upcoming Ethiopian festival. We've yet to meet an Ethiopian who resents our adoption, though, in situations like Sunday's, I find myself conscious of the state of Mihiretu's hair and skin. If we've got any nap or ash happening, I worry they think we don't know how to care for him. If, like yesterday, he's crawling around under the table and screeching, however joyfully, I worry they doubt our parenting skills. As we settled ourselves at the table yesterday, I felt eyes on us, friendly or unfriendly, I couldn't tell.

The food arrived and finally the reeling children settled in to eat. It was, it goes without saying, delicious. Mihiretu, as he does with Ethiopian food, was putting it away. Perhaps there's some visceral memory for him, some part of him that recalls eating this food when he was little and remembers there not being enough of it. Maybe it's just the combination of spices that spells scrumptious for him, speaks home. Whatever the reason, when we put a platter of injera in front of him, small piles of stewed lamb, pureed lentils and collard greens arranged artfully atop it, he goes to town.

Mihiretu was seated next to me and I was keeping a constant supply of ripped injera in front of him, occasionally scooping some delicacy on it for him, though mostly he helped himself. He had just swallowed an enormous mouthful when I scooped a spicy chicken stew onto the bread and put it to his mouth. He promptly spit it out.

"Dat one yucky," he proclaimed. "Weally yucky."

Then, a perplexed expression on his face, he said, "I gotta trow up."

He gagged and then a gusher of mashed food came out of his mouth like water from a fire-hose. The girls said later that it looked like someone had simply taken the beautiful food in front of us and put it in a Cuisinart. Thinking fast, I cupped my hands broadly in front of his mouth. The vomit just kept coming but somehow, as if I was wearing catcher's mitts, a reservoir of Ethiopian soup grew in my palms. Later, Eric, Ephraim's dad, eyeing my hands curiously, asked how big they were exactly. I held them up, large for a girl but no where near big enough to explain it. Whatever saint guards parents of young children was working overtime.

In quick succession, Chrissy threw napkins on Mihiretu and on the table, I dumped my goopy load on top, folded it quickly and threw it in a waiting trash can. Ben, meanwhile, had spirited Mihiretu out of his seat and been shepherded to Chrissy's car, where they found spare clothes of Ephraim's and some very convenient plastic bags for Mihiretu's soiled garments. Before I knew it, I had swiped Mihiretu's chair clean and he was once again in it, tucking in to more food. The girls, on Eric's advice, "changed the topic" and animatedly discussed their favorite cookies. In total, the crisis lasted no more than five minutes. I do believe, even with our prominent otherness, the diners surrounding us and even the wait-staff had no idea anything had happened.

Mihiretu wasn't actually ill. I'd seen this happen before, in the early days when he would gorge himself to sickness unless we took him away from the dinner table. I had thought he was past this remnant of malnourishment, but apparently not.

Later, in the car on the way home, Lana tried to spell "barf" out loud. Mae sang "B-A-R-F, B-A-R-F" as Lana howled that she, Lana, was spelling barf, not Mae. Mihiretu got into the act, shouting, "B-A" but then sputtered out not knowing how to finish.

It wasn't picture perfect, our Gotcha Day. It was, in fact, unequivocally disgusting. If you'd told me before that fateful autumn day in the schoolyard that I'd be catching the projectile vomit of a small brown boy, I'm not sure I would have believed you. But, in a way, it was exactly right. I am this boy's mother. With every passing day, I love him more deeply, more firmly. And I've got some giant hands to prove it.


  1. I never tire of reading about your adventures with your family and the love you have for your Mom. I love the way you write and always look forward to the next entry in your blog. You have a wonderful gift for storytelling and a beautiful family. My best friend adopted two amazing sisters from Ethiopa a couple of years ago and she is the one who turned me on to your blog. I owe her a big thank you for that. Take care and please keep writing!

  2. Happycat, whoever you are, you just made my day. I was just struggling with a new post and feeling uninspired and you turned it around. Thank you so much!!!