Mihiretu started kindergarten two weeks ago. While it's been something I've been looking forward to for, oh, the last three years, it’s been a bit of a rough road.
On the first day of school, there were nineteen five-year-olds on their bottoms in a circle, sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce (no more "Indian-style", I'm afraid), thirty-eight eyes on the teacher, who was reading a book about the first day of school (kind of like a mirror in a mirror). There was one child, one brown child, the only brown child, alternately clinging to his parents and wandering around the room saying "I see some-ting!"
Finally, we had to go get the principal to hold Mihiretu so Ben and I could escape, to keep him from chasing us all the way home. This was witnessed by a group of newbie kindergarten parents who were watching it all through the window (hadn't they read the back-to-school hand-out, god damn it? No looking through the window?). As Ben and I fled, they shot us comforting looks, reached out hands. I wanted to slap them down, these people I’m sure I’ll know and love by the end of the year. This isn't my first fucking rodeo and you have no idea what you're looking at.
Over the last couple of days it's become clear that Mihiretu is, essentially, bullying his best friend in class. He loves this boy; he's known him since the day he came to the United States, this boy's family is, for all intents and purposes, part of our family. He wants this boy close, this boy is his transitional object. And yet, like with every other person he loves, he tests him. He wraps an arm around his friend and then pokes him. He follows him to recess and then says he's playing a baby game. If this boy goes to the bathroom without him he gets a swift kick. I need you, I love you - will you still love me if I do this? How about this? Will you leave? Will you? Ben and I won't. Mae and Lana won't, at least while Ben and I have anything to say about it. A five-year-old boy, also in his first days of kindergarten? Not as sure a bet.
I have seen inside this child's soul. I have held him just after he's awoken, rubbed his back, run my hands through his soft curls, heard about his dreams. This child, this kid who is disruptive and troubled and, hell, a bit of a bully, he's also so soft way down deep. And so hurt. It's so hard to see him causing hurt, both to others and, ultimately, to himself. It’s so hard to see him struggle.
In the first days that Mihiretu came home to us, I kept thinking, “Am I brave or stupid?” The answer, in the end, is probably both. Maybe not stupid, per say, but terrifically, dangerously optimistic. I’ll adopt a toddler from a poor African country, it’ll be fine. It has not been fine, and this is where the brave part comes in. It has been more than fine, Mihiretu is more everything than almost any other kid I know. More charming, more maddening, more troubled, more heart-wrenching. He is the bravest person I know. I guess I can try to muster up a little bravery myself. I think we’re going to need it.