Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Lover

Mihiretu has been in a cast for close to a month. And while this period has had its inconveniences (don’t even get me started about the wheelchair in the rain, let alone trying to catch his pee in a disposable coffee cup in the wheelchair in the rain), it’s largely been excellent.

Mihiretu is, confoundingly, perfectly happy laying around, soaking up our attention. While I get plenty of sympathy from people imagining that he’d be going crazy with restlessness, given how active he is, the truth is he’s more peaceful than I’ve ever seen him. I’m always up for a pity party but in this case it’s not party time.

I wrote here a while back that this injury has contained him, something we’ve never experienced. We didn’t know him as a baby, only as a terrible two. This time is giving us the opportunity to make up for that. We carry him from room to room, from house to car, from car to wheelchair. We hold him over the toilet when he needs to poop. We spoon cereal in his mouth as he watches Avatar on the IPad. We take him on long, meandering, treat-fueled walks in the jogger stroller. We sleep next to him. We wake up, uncomplaining, in a puddle of his urine. We sponge him clean. We brush his teeth. We meet his every need and he is delighted.

The other night Ben and the girls went out to a friend’s. I stayed home with Mihiretu. At first he was very upset that his dad was leaving without him, that he was missing the party. But when I told him that I really wanted special time with him, the tears stopped on a dime.

I was lying with my head at the opposite end of his bed so that my feet were near his face. He reached out and poked my bare calf, making the lax muscle waggle.

“What is dis fat fing?” he asked. To which, of course, I laughed, my calf being one of the lone bodies parts on which I don’t obsess.

Egged on, he continued, caressing my leg. “I yuv you, you fat fing.”

I put “Toy Story” in the DVD player and snuggled up next to him, “Downton Abbey” playing on my laptop. He held my hand, every once in a while leaned in and whispered, “I yuv you, Mama.” He even told me, offhandedly, that his penis was hard. All in all, it was an excellent date. Just Mihiretu, me and the good Dr. Freud.

Mihiretu, for his out-sized personality, doesn’t want to look different. I guess we brought him home to the wrong county – sorry, kid. But for now it’s not his skin color he’s noticing. It’s his giant orange cast. Whenever we’re out and about, he requires that a blanket cover his lap in the wheelchair, completely hiding his leg. If we weren’t conspicuous before - white mom, loud brown child - now with me hunched over his teeny wheelchair, we make quite an impression. It was weeks before I realized that people were imagining him to be permanently disabled. When my friend, Elizabeth, walked him and the girls down the street for ice cream, she felt impelled to break the tension. “Broken leg, coming through,” she sang cheerfully and watched people sigh with relief. Maybe it’s all these years of people not knowing what to make of our family, but I’m not letting anyone off the hook. There’s a certain passive aggression in me, something that makes me think “I’m not going to put you at ease. I’m tired of putting you at ease.” Mostly, really, I’m just too busy trying to get from Point A to Point B. And so strangers think me some kind of surly saint. Not only do I adopt a black child, but a handicapped one at that. You can almost see my halo if you squint.

And so we wheel on, me and my gorgeous, slightly broken son, him saying, karate hands flying “You wanna piece o’ me?” And more mysteriously, “You wanna piece o’ uncle?”

And: “Mama, I wanna tell you sum-tin. Mama? Mama?”

“Yes, Mihiretu?”

“When yo’ buthday comin’ up?” This is his big pick-up line, when he wants to demonstrate that he’s thinking of me, that he’s fond.

“June, honey.”

Then, reliably, “I yuv you, Mama.” If you had told me three years ago that this boy would be so devoted, this small tornado who glared at me and called me “Poopoomama”, I would have been shocked. And relieved beyond words.

“I love you, too, buddy,” I say, nesting one hand in his curls. “ Like crazy.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

All Apologies

I published something here a few weeks ago (that I’ve since unpublished) in which, I’m now realizing, I made a blunder.

As I grow older, and as I write here, I feel closer to my authentic self. I feel less interested in fitting in, less afraid of what others may make of me. I feel braver, more willing to expose my secrets, my shame, my thumping heart. It is liberating, it connects me with people I never imagined connecting with so intimately. But as I grow bolder, more confident, I’m ever more aware that I need to watch those broad strokes. I can speak my truth, the more the better, but I should only speak for me and, unless I have permission, about me.

The post I wrote a few weeks ago was about how I, probably like most people, can silently judge people. In an effort to speak to my own occasional small-mindedness, my covert bitchiness (the irony, the IRONY!) I used as an example a person I had misjudged and in doing so, depicted her in a less than positive light in a public forum. I didn’t name her but frankly, that’s not the point. The point is that I used this woman for my own purposes, never good, and without checking with her, a cardinal rule for me when I mention someone in these pages.

For this transgression, my deepest apologies. I feel pretty terrible about it, truth be told. I’ve written this current post three different times trying to find the right words. The last thing I want to do, for all my sass and bluster, is to hurt feelings. The true irony is that after writing the piece in question I ended up spending an afternoon with the woman whom I had criticized and found her, of course, to be kind and funny. That sound you just heard was my own foot kicking me in the ass. It was tired of being in my mouth, you see.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Break

Last Saturday, under a clear blue March sky, Mihiretu, hopping with his sisters on the trampoline, fell in just the wrong way. Ben and I, both in the yard, me sweeping, Ben picking up debris, heard his bones break. It sounded like a small dry branch snapped for kindling. In fact, it was Mihiretu’s tibia and fibula, breaking clean through. As a friend said later, way to go big or go home.

When Ben picked him up, it looked as if he had grown an extra knee half way up his calf. A knee that, queasily, moved, shifted as if there was something alive under there.

We spent five hours in the emergency room. Because Mihiretu had eaten Cheetos right before his injury (and let me clarify here, lest you think ill of me, Trader Joe’s Cheetos – somehow they must be healthier, right?), because he had food in his stomach, no matter how non-fortifying, he could not have anesthesia for the setting of his leg. He was allowed a shot of morphine (at the sight of the needle he squeaked, so plaintively, “Save me, save me, save me”, gripping Ben with desperate claws). A shot of morphine doesn’t really do the trick when you’re manipulating broken bones, particularly a child’s. He howled, begged, “Be done, be done, be done”.

The before X-ray was completely terrifying, bones splintered and at odd angles. The after X-ray was, confusingly, not that much different. The orthopedist seemed proud of himself but we left the hospital texting our magical friend and pediatrician, Nelson, for a referral for a second opinion.

Today we went to Children’s Hospital Oakland. Mihiretu went under general anesthesia with a rock star of a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and emerged with a much straighter leg and a bright orange cast.

It’s been a long few days. The pain up until now has been considerable, what with those bones rubbing together so Ben and I have been taking two hour shifts at night. I haven’t left the house beyond leg-related appointments and walking the girls to school. It requires both of us to take our Ethiopian prince to the toilet, Ben carrying him like a bride and me holding his feet (“Hold my feet, Mama, hold my feet!”), trailing like a bridesmaid.

But. Within this bundle of extra work and worry, there is a little gem. He’s vulnerable right now, my Mihiretu. We keep joking about how it’s like having a newborn and today it struck me that this is our newborn time with him. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t know him when he was small, defenseless and all sugar. By the time he came to us, at two and a half, he was all motion, noise and sass. They say that adopted kids often need to return to stages they missed with their adoptive parents, to get “re-parented” in the lingo. It seems like maybe that’s what we’re doing right now. He sleeps (when he sleeps) with his arms twined around our necks. He lays on the couch during the day, watching “Beyblades” on the IPad and snuggling into me as I read my novel. Our house has the quiet, purposeful, satisfied feeling it did when the girls were babes. This boy, who will be in a wheelchair for the next four weeks until he graduates to a walking cast (redefining “hell on wheels”), is finally being forced to stay still so we can love him.