Saturday, May 23, 2009

A letter to Mitike, home for 9 months

And then, like time does, our days and weeks blur, moving too fast. It's been a month and a half since I stopped to write, since I paused to breathe. But don't read these gaps in my recordings as times I didn't think about you, Mitike -- instead, read them as times when I jumped on the "jumpoline" with you or wandered the sidewalk's edge searching for dandelions with you or waded in Twin Lakes "with naked feet" with you or watched you zip down the bright yellow slide or created a new colorful mosaic of chalk on the driveway with you or went on "an adventure" with you through the forest. When it's sunny in southeast Alaska, which it's been for weeks, no one has time to sit at a computer and record life; we're all too busy soaking it in, our faces upturned to the sky.

TK. We walked to a ballet performance downtown tonight -- our family and two other families. You ran most of the way, determined to prove to me that I didn't need to carry you in the backpack. I watched you, amused at your persistent stubbornness, which is also perseverance. You, running your toddler-waddle run in the scuffed pink slip-on shoes you call your "fancy shoes", clutching a handful of green maple leaves you'd decided to give to everyone when we got to the show. At a stop sign, you reached up to pat your new "ponytails" -- your short hair pulled into two tiny puffs -- and then you grinned up at me. "Uppy?" You'd proved your point; now you knew you'd be able to keep up with everyone if you had the speed of Mommy's long legs.

As of this weekend, you've been home with us for exactly nine months. That seems impossible. I'm sure I've known you your whole life. I'm sure I've always known the freckle above the bridge of your nose, the deep expression in your wide eyes, your wonderful overjoyed giggle, the way you stick out your tongue when you're happy. You're sure of all of this, too. You're sure I'm your mommy. You recognize the ways we're similar: both of us leaders (or both of us bossy, depending who you ask), both of us over-cautious (when it comes to high slides, big steps, etc.) but also confident (watch us both welcome the people around us), both of us over-serious rule-followers (the purple scissors go in that box, and it's annoying when we find them on the table) but also silly (witness our shouted rendition of "The Wheels on the Bus" tonight while we zigzagged home). You call for me when you're scared in the middle of the night; you pitter-patter your way to me in the morning.

But we had our first difficult adoption talk last night. You won't remember, so I'll record it here for you. We opened a new book together -- "The Cool Song," which is set in eastern Africa -- and we found a watercolor picture of a cluster of tukuls, the thatched round huts similar to the one in which you were born. You've heard me say "You were born in Ethiopia!" and we've read adoption books together; we've looked at the map of the world and you've heard me explain that I came to Ethiopia to get you and then we came to Juneau in the airplane together. I know you're only two and a half, but I want you to be accustomed to these conversations -- I want you to grow up comfortable with your story, as I grew up comfortable with the story of my mom bringing me home from a hospital. You don't know what "born" means yet, but you know about airplanes and home and Mommy.

Back to the story. I pointed at the tukuls in the book and I said, "TK! You were born in a place like that!"

Your eyes widened and you nodded, and then you looked up at me. "Mommy, you born in a place like that?"

I shook my head. "No, I was born in Iowa. I lived in a white house."

And then, without warning, your eyes welled with tears. "I want born in Iowa!" You hit the picture of tukuls. "I don't like that! I want born where Mommy is!"

Oh. A reminder: someday, we will have these difficult, sad conversations. Someday, your toddler innocence, your 2-year-old total acceptance of the fact that Mommy and TK have different colors of skin, your beautiful embrace of me as Mommy will waver. I know this moment was probably more about being 2 -- you will spit out your gum if I do, you will fall asleep if I pretend to, you will eat your lasagna if I eat mine. I know you don't know what it means to be born, that you just want everything about you to be the same as Mommy. But I also glimpsed what our future conversations hold.

Tonight, you picked that book again at bedtime. When we opened it, you pointed to the picture of the world and said, "Mommy, you come get me?" You remembered what I'd said about traveling to Ethiopia in the airplane to get you, to bring you home. But when I turned the page to the tukuls, you hit them again and told them you didn't like them. Here will be your struggle with adoption: your intelligent, logical acceptance of facts crashing into your deeply-felt emotions, your longings. Mommy's that way, too, TK.

Mostly right now, though, you are beautifully, fully two and a half -- chanting the ABCs ("A, B, C, D, G!!!"), counting your fingers ("1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 20!"), singing ("The wheels on the bus go all around the TOWN!"), asking questions ("But why?" "Why not?"), crying one moment because I told you you needed to finish your dinner before you have gum and then laughing the next moment because I've made a silly face at you. But you are more than just a toddler. You understand each of us: you read with me, color with me, sing silly songs with me; you laugh hard with Aye-Ay, share treats with her, plant in the garden with her, let her push you beyond your many comfort zones; you go on adventures with Tim -- hide-and-seek, jump-o-line tag, bubble-blowing; you cuddle up to Katie when she reads to you, you let her show you how to button your coat, teach you how to push your dolly in the stroller. None of us can imagine our lives without you. Look: you're in the backpack now, waving at Aye-Ay, Tim, and Katie, who have all turned around to wait for you. They're smiling. "Hi, guys!" you shout, and being born in tukuls or hospitals, Ethiopia or Iowa, doesn't matter -- not right now -- as much as catching up to your family, as much as diving into the fast-flowing stream of this beautiful together time.

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