On a sunny, perfect blue-sky day, Mitike and I are perched on the top of Gold Ridge, eating apple slices and “talking each other”, as TK would phrase it. We lean back on the pillows of our coats and stretch our feet toward a heather-covered precipice that would make TK’s nana nervous. The wind is warm on our faces, and we are both contentedly tired from the arduous hike up here (Mommy may be the most weary, since TK only walked about a third of the way).
And then, suddenly: “Mommy, I wish I grew in your tummy!” and she is sobbing. Great, heaving sobs – tears running down her face. I reach for her and pull her close, my own tears welling in my eyes.
“Oh, but TK, you grew in my heart!”
That used to work. Now, TK just cries harder and holds up her little fist: “But a heart is only THIS big! That’s not enough ROOM!” I immediately regret the science lesson of days ago.
Soon, I distract her with a lollipop I’d hidden in a pocket of my backpack, and she is on my lap, cuddled close. A juvenile eagle banks close to us, his broad brown wings spread in the wind, and TK points, laughing with joy. But my own fist-sized heart still hurts.
Days before, on the two-year anniversary of TK’s arrival home from Ethiopia, I swept her up in my arms and said, “Remember last year we had a party to celebrate your coming-home day? Everyone brought African food. Want to do it again?” And she burst into tears, sobbing, “I’ve ALWAYS been home! I’ve ALWAYS been here!”
We decided together not to have the party. It’s not about Ethiopia. TK’s proud to have been born in Ethiopia – she tells her friends about it often, and she loves to proclaim that Obama’s daddy was born “in the Kenya country next to Ethiopia”. She loves to read about Ethiopia, to practice the Amharic words we learned at Ethiopian Heritage Camp last summer in Wisconsin, to listen to Ethiopian music. But she wants simultaneously to have been with me every second of her life and to be from Ethiopia.
And I can’t give that to her (or to myself).
Know that, normally, my sweet child is the happiest, most spirited little girl imaginable. She is inquisitive and silly, serious and playful, empathetic and loving. She picks a blue and yellow “forgive-me-not” and runs to me, grinning, in love with a world that makes such perfect little flowers. She claps her hands with joy when “hand-sizer” (hand sanitizer) comes out in foam on her little hands. “Swing me higher!” she yells on the playground. “Mommy, Mommy, isn’t it GOOD to work time-part?” she asks me as we walk together in the woods on one of our new “stay-at-home” days. She laughs when her friend Nicky shows her a slimy stick on the beach. She swings her hips and claps her hands in time to her older sister Katie’s hiphop music.
She’s a happy girl – and a girl who carries sadness and longing deep in her little heart. What can I do, other than hold her close and remind her we’re together now? What can I do, other than stand with her on the mountaintop and be glad we’ve reached THIS place, hand in hand?