Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Pool

The weather turned warm today after a couple days of rain. Why it's pouring at the end of June is a disturbing question. Our poor, confused Mother Earth.

Ben's out of town and the girls aren't in camp (Mihiretu's in half-day camps all summer - I'm not a total masochist). While they're mostly a pleasure, the constant picking of fights and pleading for treats is starting to get me down. We've hit that point in the summer where the delicious sense of freedom has worn off and the whining begins. For them and for me. I've been feeling starved for adult interaction - inundated by children - so I sent out an email early this afternoon rallying some of my favorite pals to meet at the community pool.

We hit the pool when it opened at one. Hour after hour went by and no friends appeared. Mae was irate, threatening, between mouthfuls of nori, to walk the mile home. Lana, too, decided that she was bored. For girls that don't want to go to camp, their boredom threshold is awfully low. I told them we had to stay until four, then we could throw in the towel, so to speak. I can't ever remember being bored with the pool when I was a kid but then again my mother's entire day wasn't centered around me so hours of swimming was unheard of.

At four o'clock, on cue, our friends began trickling in. The girls were already in the shower and though I tried to tempt them back to the pool, ticking off beloved names on my fingers, they weren't into it. We worked out a deal. They would walk home together and I'd drive with Mihiretu later and meet them there.

Mihiretu was in the shallow end, splashing happily with Ephraim (the other Ethiopian adoptee in these parts, you'd be impressed how much they're mistaken for each other). I seated myself pool-side, so happily chatting (okay, bitching) with my friends, Elizabeth and Chrissy. My extrovert tank was slowly refilling.

Then Elizabeth turned to me and said, "Mihiretu just threw up in the pool."

I looked past her and, indeed, Mihiretu was standing knee deep in water on the pool step, surveying a spreading blob of vomit.

I dropped my sarong and leaped in after him, madly scooping nori-ish puke onto the pool deck. Chrissy and Elizabeth were laughing, searching for some kind of scooping mechanism, warning kids to back away from the stairs.

A teenage lifeguard approached cautiously.

"My kid puked in the pool," I said, skimming bile off the surface of the water.

"Oh," he said, stumped, picking at a pimple on his chin. "I'll have to talk to my supervisor about that." He skittered away.

I managed to lift Mihiretu from the pool. I was reaching for a towel when Elizabeth sidled up to me.

"They're closing the pool," she said, stifling giggles. Sure enough, a whistle sounded and forty-some people swam for the ladders.

I wrapped Mihiretu in his towel and led him to the showers, passing clumps of dripping teenagers, moms, and kids murmuring that some kid puked in the pool.

I apologized to the lifeguard, explaining that Mihiretu isn't sick, he just has a hair-trigger gag reflex. He said sweetly, "It's no problem. Don't be embarrassed."

The funny thing was, I wasn't really embarrassed. I'm so used to standing out at this point, as the mother of this child, that puke in the pool seemed like no biggie. He hadn't screamed "Fucka-my-butt" or thrown a spectacular tantrum. He hadn't growled menacingly at another kid or firmly told a lady that he wasn't sorry he had slapped her on the bottom. This was just run-of-the-mill, it could happen to anyone.

Except. There's something about Mihiretu, beyond his tragic beginnings and his transplantation from rural Ethiopia to ultra-wealthy Marin County, beyond the fact that his skin is a different color than his family's, that's unique. He is a kid who lives large. He screeches unreachable high notes, he performs rapid, joyous karate on any near victim, he rides his bike out of the saddle all the way to school, faster than I ever could, like it was the last stage of the Tour de France, he cheerfully wrestles me to the blanket at the farmer's market and manages to pin me, a person who is three times his body weight. He pukes in the pool and he just keeps trucking.

We edged into the communal shower with the crowd and then quickly dressed. I said nothing to these relative strangers that the reason for the disruption of our hot afternoon pleasure was this little naked boy now playing delightedly with his penis. I did pass my friend, Nicole, on the way out, however, and we quietly laughed that I had invited her to join me at the pool only to have my son promptly shut it down.

As we were getting in the car to go home, Chrissy asked if Mihiretu could come to their house for dinner. He enthusiastically nodded his head and unbuckled his seat-belt. I gave him a kiss and gratefully watched him walk away with Chrissy, hand in hand. If I had puked in the pool, I probably wouldn't be accepting dinner invitations, either out of shame or sickness. But Mihiretu is Mihiretu, a force to be reckoned with. Especially if you swim too close.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Bridge

We went camping last weekend with a bunch of friends. It was cold and foggy but perfection all the same. Communal meals over a campfire, kids running as a pack for all their waking hours, parents sitting around sipping coffee or wine, depending on the clock, chatting, reading magazines. When do I get a chance to read a magazine?

After dark on Saturday night, the guitars came out. I would dearly love to have the ability to play the guitar and/or have a confident singing voice. Tragically, I have neither. But I'll happily hum along in the background while others take center stage.

Our friends, June and RJ, are musicians. It seems like I've known them for decades, they're that kind of people. In fact, I met them at a costume fundraiser for the elementary school a couple years ago. I recommend starting a friendship in costume, it lends a certain intimacy and light-heartedness. The theme was "British Invasion". Ben and RJ had matching Beatle wigs. June and I had some serious mod going. In real, non-fundraiser life, RJ shaves his head. Whenever I see him, in some back corner of my brain I wonder where that mop of hair went. That cheap wig was my first impression of him and it seems like it should always be there. Dude, where's your hamster-colored plastic hair?

RJ and June have proved to be full A-Team. They are funny, they are wise, they are more positive than I could ever hope to be. They are so cool they have a band together. At the campfire, they sang some of their songs. The music was beautiful, their sons would jump in on harmonies, it was plenty impressive.

At one point, they played a song called "The Bridge". It went a little something like this:

"Just drove over the bridge
Thank god I can't see
The city from my rear view mirror
Just the car in front of me

I'm going to miss you
I'm going to say your name a lot
Every day"

When we moved to San Jose two years ago, the kids and I drove across the Golden Gate. I had Julie Andrews belting "I Have Confidence" (because I had little), the kids were killing each other in the back seat of the Prius, I was reaching behind me to pull Mae's nails out of Lana's arm, Mihiretu was shrieking. As I crossed the Marin-San Francisco border, right in the middle of the bridge, I white-knuckled the wheel and stared ahead intently. I couldn't look behind me, I couldn't think about what I was losing. I was driving out of my life, into oblivion, but at that point, all I could do was go forward and hope for the best.

My friend, Jan, had said that sirens would go off when we crossed that border, it was so against nature for us to leave Marin. Our beloved, weathered, yellow happy face antenna ball jumped ship at some point on that journey. I have an image of him saying, "Screw you guys, I'm outta here," and leaping to his death off the bridge, a fading "Good luck with thaaaaaaat" as he fell.

I spent a year saying my friends names a lot, my wonderful collection of people, handpicked over years - curated, really - for their grace, their depth, their humor. I'm sure my few, hard-won San Jose friends were tired of hearing about these people they'd never met. And then, one year ago Monday, we drove back across that bridge. Every single day of this past year, I've had at least one moment of pure joy, so so happy to be here, among my people, in my place.

That thing about how you can't go home again is bullshit, I'm here to say. I've crossed that bridge, over that dangerous water, into a foreign land and been able to cross back again. And home is all the sweeter for it. Gazing around the campfire last weekend, the golden glow lighting the faces of the sleepy kids, many of whom I've known since the pregnancy test, the grinning adults, I knew exactly how good I have it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mihiretu Speak

At the beginning of the year, Mihiretu wasn't all that popular at preschool. In fact, kids would run the other way when they saw Mihiretu coming through the gate. On more than one occasion, one small ringleted girl or another would approach me and say shyly, "Mihiretu hit me yesterday." Or "Mihiretu growls at me." I'd kneel down, finger a glossy curl and apologize.

Around this time, Mihiretu met Luke, another high-energy, irascible, adorable pre-schooler. For months, they circled each other warily, two alpha dogs sensing a rival. Mihiretu would tell me, apropos of nothing, "Luke no my fen."

Then sometime around January, things shifted in the dust of that schoolyard. As Mihiretu softened at home (he is forever softening, like a pound of butter taken from deep-freeze and left at room temperature), he must have eased up at school, too. His peers began to sense his movie-star allure.

Now when he comes through the gate, it's like Norm walking into that bar in Boston.

"Mihiretu's here!" one tow-headed boy will crow, running to tell his friends. A tide of children will cascade past me, headed for my boy.

As we walk to and from school, kids, often kids I don't know, will lean out of car windows, waving madly and yelling "Mihiretu! Hey, Mihiretu!"

Things also changed with Luke, that elusive tough guy. Maybe they bonded over glitter or more likely, kicking a soccer ball, but Mihiretu and Luke suddenly and magically became inseparable. They wind their arms around each other as a welcome. They roll on the floor, reveling in each other's company.

Recently, we've been experimenting with play-dates. Luke's mom, Kelsey, will pick up both boys at school and take them home to trash her house, or vice versa. I have to say, when it's Kelsey's turn, it's exhilarating to have a few Mihiretu-free hours. I love the kid, but man, does he take a truckload of energy and patience. Working a puzzle quietly in the living-room with the girls without a shrieking brown blur upending our project is a little bit of heaven.

Last week, it was our turn to have Luke. The boys were in the back of the van, chatting away, as we drove home. I heard Mihiretu-talk, this time sounding like, "Batta-batta-booty! Fi-ah-poop!"

Mihiretu isn't the most verbal of kids. His vocabulary is limited, his pronunciation blurry. At first we attributed this to the obvious factors of being orphaned, adopted and ferried thousands of miles away from the only home he knew. Now, with the assistance of a speech pathologist, we're realizing that even if he were still in Ethiopia, still wrapped in his birth-mother's arms, he probably wouldn't be talking much. Eventually, with some therapy, he'll be speaking the King's English with the best of them, but for now, in place of recognized speech, often he chats in a language all his own. It's playful, it's funny, this tongue: it's Mihiretu. It doesn't mean anything, per say, more just that he's feeling happy and playful. It's often accompanied by a goofy grin and a great shaking of tail-feather.

The weird thing was, this time, the voice coming from the back of the van wasn't Mihiretu's. It was Luke.

"Luke-y," I said, adjusting the rear-view mirror so I could meet his eye. "That sounded just like how Mihiretu talks."

"I know," he said, puffing his chest a bit. "He taught me."

As the afternoon progressed, I eavesdropped on the boys as they dumped baskets of toys on the playroom floor, sailed down Ben's homemade zip-line, and chased chickens into the weeds.

"Whah-ka-tooty-booty!" Mihiretu would say, wrestling Luke to the ground.

"Ka-wa-tay!" Luke would respond, arms and legs akimbo in his approximation of karate.

At one point, as they climbed to the very top of the play structure, Luke caught me listening.

"I like Mihiretu's language," he said, the warmest, softest smile on his cherub face. "I think it's cool."

"Yaka-too!" Mihiretu trilled, jumping to the ground.

"Zaka-soo!" Luke answered, jumping and grabbing Mihiretu's hand in one move, the two of them launching themselves up the hill to the rope swing.

Seeing him enveloped and embraced by his own small people, seeing him cherished by others like he is by us Caprons, is a little like watching the sun coming out one misty June day after months of rain.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Circle It

The other day was Lana's teacher's birthday. Marcia Gunnarson is a favorite of ours. She taught Mae first grade as well and, along with being a terrific and inventive teacher, she is a wonderful mix of sweetness and steel. She's in her sixties, she has long iron-hued hair, she's raised four (count 'em, four) kids, she hikes for miles on the weekends and is a bitchin' gardener. All that and she manages to educate twenty six-year-olds, day in and day out. That alone would strike me down.

Lana made a birthday card for Marcia. It read: "Happy birthday Mrs. Gunnarson! [Then, to emphasize her message, in letters ranging in size from big to little] happy BIRTHDAY! Are you turning 63? Yes or no. Circle it." Marcia, of course, was to circle the answer, revealing to all the world, or at least to Lana, her age. Were she someone else, really almost anyone else, I would have censored the card. But Marcia isn't mired in vanity like some people I could mention (okay, me) so I thought she might get a kick out of it.

Ben and I, perusing the missive on the birthday morning, chuckled over our coffee.

"You want some smoothie?" I asked as I pulled the frozen berries from the freezer. "Yes or no?" Then, gritting my teeth and growling, "Circle it!"

It's very Lana, this demanding precision, particularly in combination with a letter of love. If she loves you, watch out, the demands are sure to follow.

Long ago, Ben starting calling me a schnauzer. As in, I'd nudge him and nose him until whatever it was I wanted was achieved. I can have a laser focus when I fix my sights on something, be it a weekend away, or, say, adopting a child from a foreign land. Lana is a baby schnauzer. She, too, when she's excited about something is unstoppable. I've overheard many play-dates that go something like this:

"You're the baby and I'm the momma. I need to go to work and so the babysitter is going to come - she's a teenager and you don't like her. Okay, cry!"

I can imagine her at thirty, laying down the gauntlet for her boyfriend, much as I did with Ben when I was that age.

"Do you want to marry me? Yes or no? Circle it!"