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?”
“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.
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.”