Friday, September 11, 2009

Belated Reflections on My Sweet Little Pain-in-the-Bum

I've been meaning to sit down and write about August 29, the one-year anniversary of TK's homecoming to Juneau -- but I haven't gotten to it until now. I had planned to write a sentimental, moving reflection on our sweet connection, on her generous and open spirit -- but on August 29, she happened to be a pain-in-the-bum (we don't say "butt" in our house) toddler: tantrums about nothing, screams of "NO!" at every juncture, refusals to apologize, grabbing, etc., etc. I don't even remember now, two weeks later, what we fought our small battles over that day, but at the end of the day, which included a party in which all our friends and their kids came to our house to celebrate Tk with a potluck, I was GLAD when she fell asleep. Most days, I feel a twinge of sadness -- the sense that we don't have enough hours together in the day. Not that day. Monster TK forced Monster Mama to emerge, regardless of the fact that it was the first anniversary of her homecoming from Ethiopia.

It wasn't until a week later, when our family went to Labor Day family camp out in Echo Cove, that I sat down to write after TK had fallen asleep in the cabin. It was evening, and the ocean's gentle rhythm soothed me as I thought about the day. TK had been fully herself, no monster in sight -- it had been a day of her giggling and snuggling with me while we read books on the couch (our Saturday morning ritual), of her traipsing along the path at Twin Lakes and then shouting "THE RED SWING IS STILL HERE!", of her kicking her legs with glee while we ran around the playground chasing Tim and Katie, of her sweet "Find me, Mommy!" in the clothing store, of her absolute joy at the pink milk I made her for naptime. She donned x-Tra Tuffs for our walk out to this cabin -- 2.5 miles -- but rode in the baby carrier most of the way ("Because I need you, Mommy!"). When I handed a grape fruit leather back to her mid-walk, she clapped her hands and exclaimed, "For me? Thank you, Mommy!" That night, at the campfire with the other kids at family camp, she roasted a marshmallow though her eyes looked exhausted, and now she was sweetly asleep, nestled beneath my sleeping bag, dreaming. THIS was my sweet little girl -- the pain-in-the-bum tucked away again.

Does she ever dream of Ethiopia? Of the tukul in which she was born? Of the orphanage? Of the cacophony of sound in the early morning? Of the gentle mist above the rounded green mountains? I dream of our long plane ride to Juneau a year and a week ago, the two of us facing each other in the cramped plane seat, trying to understand each other, inspecting each other. She learned to say "Yay!" first in English because I responded with that word most often when we played together. I learned before the plane landed in Rome that I wanted to hear her laugh again and again and again, my whole life. I never knew a mother-daughter story could be a love story.

What will I tell her about that journey from her birth country to her adoptive country, which my mom (who I cannot thank enough for accompanying me on that journey) and I talk about and talk about, trying to understand it? We stood in line for over an hour at customs in D.C., and I was exhausted -- she clung to me. In a rush before the next line, I knelt on the floor to change her diaper and -- naked -- she peed an impressive arc of liquid straight up into the air and all over my pants. We caught each other's eyes and then laughed until we both cried.

Ali met us just past customs, a purple iris clutched in her hand. TK knew she'd love her other mommy almost immediately -- two or three games of hide-and-seek behind Mommy's shoulder and she was convinced. Later, she'd bang the iris happily on the window until it disintegrated into pieces. She chanted happy syllables that sounded strange to us -- and were probably unintelligible even to an Amharic speaker.

Ali captured TK's actual arrival in Juneau -- August 29, 2008 -- on film: TK in brown pajamas, happily exploring her new house, a Barbie ball (way go go, diversity-sensitive mamas!) clutched in her little hands. What the camera missed was TK's first reaction to the house, the way she scrambled to get down from my arms when we walked through the door (though she'd clung to me for two straight days). Somehow, she knew this was her home.

The truth is, I can't process how much I love this little person, or how lucky I know I am to have her in my life. In a strange way, I appreciated her stinker-face-ness on her homecoming day -- it kept me from dissolving into tears all day, from gathering her close to me and just hugging her, not letting go. How did all of this wonderfulness HAPPEN? How did I receive such a beautiful life? I ask myself that often -- and not just about Mitike.

I had to actually raise my voice at TK on August 29, something that would have horrified the glowing new mommy who held the baby-toddler a year ago on the Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Adaba to Rome to D.C. But that glowing mother was still new; she didn't know more than a glimmer about who sat on her lap during that flight. I know her fully now. Every once in awhile, she's a little monster -- a little pain-in-the-bum -- but MOSTLY, she is an amazing little person, full of laughter, silliness, empathy, generosity, intuition, curiosity, and full deep love. This mommy -- a year and two weeks later -- knows what she's in for. . . and I'm so entirely grateful.