Category: International Adoption, Ethiopia, Single Adoption

Changing the Morning Mix

“Mommy, is it time to get up yet?” Julia yodeled from her room.

“No,” I yelled and lowered my sleeping mask back into position. The sky had just began its morning blush over the grey shadow of trees in the park. But I knew it was brutally early without checking the time. Julia wakes up the birds up that wake up the rest of us.

After thirty minutes more of listening to her sing and converse with herself, I pealed back the silky mask and rechecked the horizon. It held a slit of sunlight. The air pushing through the window smelled like hope. The clock read 6:33.

I jumped out of bed, and headed into Julia’s room. “Pick up your room and get dressed, We’re going running.”

“Whatttttttt? I’m not going to school?”

“Sure, after we run.”

I jumped into my clothes and then jumped her into hers.

“But I’m hungry Mommy,” she said as I slid the first sneaker onto her foot.

“I’ll get you a banana. Eat it on the way,” I said determined as MacArthur was to take Normandy.

One of the great challenges to motherhood has been maintain my running. All my life I’ve lived to run, high school track and 5Ks and 8Ks in adulthood. When one of my best friends, Beryl, gave me a Bob’s Revolution Jogging Stroller for my baby shower, I choked back tears when the beast arrived in the mail.

” Of course I bought that for you, ” she said, “you’re one of my oldest friends.”

The beast cost $450 bucks. The stroller known among the mommy set as the SUV of strollers was one large, expensive piece of equipment, one that I didn’t mind taking up room in the apartment.

And that stroller saved me mentally, for the first few years. But by the age of three, when Julia would announce “ Mommy why did you stop running?” every time I took a break on a rocky hill, or at a red light, or when I paused to change the song on my iPod, she sounded more and more like Coach Smith, my high school track taskmaster. So, I decided it was time to let go of the stroller. Besides, at 42 pounds it was getting to be a tight fit for Julia.

After that I ran sporadically and hated myself for it. I grabbed a sitter here and there and did a half-ass job of maintaining my running through the fall. Then the Snownado of 2015 hit the eastern seaboard.Then my life revolved around red wine, pasta Bolognese, and Babar books. During the last weeks March and the first signs of Spring were even more welcoming, more alluring. By mid April just the sight of a jogger either brought envy to my heart, or tears to my eyes.

“ Just take her with you,” Beryl said at dinner a week later. “I used to go ice skating with my mom and I loved it.”

“ I really prefer to run alone,” I said, “ but I guess running with Julia is better than not running at all. Two weeks ago, she and I did a loop of the bridle path in Central Park, me on my legs, she on her scooter. But because of the rocky parts and inclines she produced more tears than scooting time.”

“Try it again,” she said.” Without the scooter.”

I ached to run. So on Thursday April 30th I decided to put an end to the ache.

*

Julia and I exited our building. The air was cool and silky. I love the smell of sunlight in the morning. I’d forgotten how beautiful the world looks before you start hustling through your day. We crossed the street and strolled into Central Park. Julia munched her starter breakfast, while looking around puzzled at the emptiness of the typically bustling playground we favored, at the massive number of adults running and biking.

“Why are there so many grown ups in the park and no kids?” she asked.

“This is the time adults play, before work.”

An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.
An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir, which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.

And with that, she finished off her banana and tossed the peal in the trash receptacle. We headed up the bridle path toward the loop of the reservoir. A quarter of the way around the 1.6 miles, Julia, a child who runs like freed slave every time she hits New York City pavement, lodged her first complaint.

“Mommy. my legs are tired,” she moaned.

“Okay, let’s take a rest and headed into walking,” I answered somewhat annoyed.

When I started jogging again. She seemed pleased. Then Julia kicked up her heels and zoomed past me. Surprisingly. I liked it.

A mid thirties woman jogging towards us looked down at Julia and then yelled out, “She’s fast!”

“Did you hear that Mommy?!” Julia said. “She said I was fast! Then she kicked into another gear.

I studied Julia striding beside and in front of me, her long yet tiny legs,  her Ethiopian-ness in full view. Images of the last top ten finishers of the NYC Marathon, a healthy mix of Ethiopians present danced in my head. For a moment I could see my daugher crossing the finish line, the tape breaking across her chest, me there, waiting and cheering, bathed in tears. She would take a bow, a victory lap then head back to her studies at Yale Medical School.

The dream set, I got back to the job at hand. That morning my goal was to get back to a sport I love, at the time of day I love, by any means necessary. What I had not planned on was the pride I’d feel watching my daughter run in the sun beside me, and how each moment she passed me, her legs pumping away, her heels high, that joy grew and speed, and broke, to begin again. How I’d wear the glowing smiles that other runners cast other at us like garland throughout the day. That I would watch my daughter dash under the sun, taking the bend of the track just above the dark stones where the white cranes nest during their season, and box turtles sun themselves, and think this is how a love affair begins.

 

 

The Real Nannies of Manhattan

Writer’s Note: After the last post, three subscribers wrote to suggest I not use the names of the nannies in my essays. After some reflection, I agree. Therefore, from this day forth I will use the terms, old nanny and current nanny, ( C.N.) in my writings. JSH

After fifteen plus years of working through enough ad agencies that have rendered AMCs Mad Men unwatchable for me—finding too much fact in their fiction—I was certain I had seen much of the drama there was to see in the world. Then I learned that right in the heart of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a new Mafia had out a stake in the ground: The Nanny Mafia.

“Well, I was on the playground with Julia,” my current nanny said as she fed my daughter sliced bananas, “and Julia was busy chasing her ball—the one with the lady bugs printed on it—when I looked up and saw three women, coming straight toward me.”

“What happened”?

“ They pointing to Julia and asked me, ““Are you her nanny?”’ “I’m thinking, of course I am who else would I be. But I just said yes. Then they asked me, ‘How’d you get this job…?’”

And with that I about spit out my coffee. My C.N. (current nanny) now had my full attention. I’d heard stories from other moms about the territorial natural of some city nannies.

I’d read And Nanny Makes Three: Mothers and Nannies Tell The Truth About   Work, Love, Money, And Each Other by Jessika Auerbach a full discourse on the nutty stuff that happens between New York City nannies, working moms and stay at home moms, but a playground front off? This was epic.

“I told them, I applied,” C.N. said. “That’s how I got the job.”

“Then she asked me, ‘How much you make?’” “I didn’t tell them my pay. That’s none of their business.”

I didn’t tell my C.N. that I’d other moms had shared that rogue nannies would sometimes watch you with your kid, observe your natures and, if you seem pleasant enough, inquire about the family’s pay scale, offer their services, and if need be under cut the family’s current nanny, if they had one. After all, for nanny’s seeking out a new job could put your current gig in jeopardy. A slight of hand was needed. But I sensed, this was a different game.

“Then, the tall brown skinned one, she looked at Julia and said, “‘They live around here?’”

“ Yeah,” I said, “110th street, to throw them off. I’d never say where you live. Then they asked “‘what her parents do for a living.””

My eyes widened. A blast of heat radiated from my forehead. “And?”

“I told them I didn’t know, something to do with writing. Then they asked “”what the dad did,”’ and I said Julia didn’t have a dad right now. She’s adopted.”

I nodded and slipped my now cold coffee. I wasn’t angry that she had told strangers Julia’s adopted. It’s an open fact. What pissed me off was the level of integration these women were leveling at my C.N.

“Then they went really crazy, ‘She’s a single mom and she lives around here…’” Then the light brown one asked me ‘is her mom white?’”

Now I was official shocked.

“So, told them, ‘no her Mom’s African American.’”

“She’s black!” The shorter one said.

“No, she African American,” C.N. said, her shoulders level and straight. “ She wasn’t using the right term. And she’s suppose to, right?”

A whole lot wasn’t right about this information shake down. But what fell into the positive column: C.N. had held her own. Although she stands at only 5’2”, a tiny woman that even wears an even tinier shoe, size five but she’s feisty with good instincts.

Thank God.

About three weeks after the playground information shake down, last Tuesday, C.N. texted me at work. Nothing-unusual there. Happens a few times a day. But the content of her text? That was off the charts.

The library was fine.

 But we saw Julia’s ex, there, at the reading.

Julia’s Ex? Wait, Julia has an ex? She’s not even out of diapers. Then it came to me. I stopped crafting ad copy and lunged for the phone.“She was there!”

“ Only I knew who she was, because you told me what she looks like. She walked over to us, after the reading was over and just stared at us for a long time then said. ‘Julia you’re getting sooooo big. She looked up from Julia, right at me and said, ‘I use to be her nanny.”’

“What did Julia do.”? I said, then held my breath, silently praying.

“ Julia, she just stared at her.”

“She didn’t… go to her?”

“No, she stayed by me.”

Thank God. Again.

I knew the old nanny’s game. She wanted to shame the current nanny, make her feel she had lost control of her charge.  Her status. That Julia was still connected to her.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Me, I’m fine. Julia’s Ex doesn’t bother me.”

I blurt out a four-letter word that sounds best in triplets, thanked her and said my good-byes, I slammed down the receiver and stared out of my office window, to the northern sky, thinking about the randomness of life, thinking of my Dad. One of his favorite quotes in life was “ Every good-bye ain’t gone.”

“What’s wrong,” Yvonne, my office mate, said from behind her massive black computer monitor.

“My old nanny confronted the new nanny at the library reading hour. She tried to get Julia to come to her.”

A silence landed in the office, collapsing all the oxygen. “Did she?” Yvonne asked.

“Thank God, no.”

“Man, who knew nannies were so complicated,” Yvonne said over the click of her computer keyboard.”

Who knew indeed?

All I did know was this: when life puts more than two people together, complications can arise. From bad breakups to intimate working relationships that derail to office meltdowns— social schisms were a fact of life. What I hadn’t counted on was the rage I’d feel when it came to Julia, and our C.N., how I needed to know no harm would come to either one of them. I know the world can be a cruel place. What I didn’t know was how deep The Nanny Wars went.

“You kind of scared me on the phone today, I never heard you mad before,” C.N. said as she slid on her jacket, at days end.

“Well, that’s more of my work side. Besides I don’t like bullies.”

After all the show is called Mad Men for a reason.

The Play Date, Date

Sunday afternoon, Julia had a sort of combo play-date-get-together with Theo, my friend Collette’s ( another single baby mama) son. Her beautiful little man, adopted from the same orphanage as Miss JT. The children were born, roughly, six weeks apart, a little over a year ago. After an introduction, followed by a few minutes of butt scooting and crawling across the wooden floor, murmuring between the two babies started up. Then they stopped. Julia and Theo slowly faced one another on the polished-parquet floor, each leaned forward from the waist, and kissed. On the lips.

Two old friends reconnect and share tales only they understand.

After the lip-lock, Theo and Julia moved on to more important activities—sorting through the toys littering the area rug in the living room, multitudes of stuffed animals, trucks, dolls of every size, weight and color then they set out to  chase Molly the dog’s long, hairy tail, flipping-flopping across the surface of the thick, carpet patterned in soft watercolor-like light blues, pinks and purples.

Collette and I sat puddled on either side of the large rug, staring at one another, sharing a God smacked moment of silence.

“Ummm,” Collette mumbled, “do you think they remember each other?”

I moved my head around in a whirl of confusion that mirrored the calculations ripping across my brain. First to the left and right, no they couldn’t have recalled that they started life in the same place, the same Hossana orphanage, on the same play mat. No. No way. Then my head moved up and down, this time more defined, as I watched our children move and play in their connected bubble of bliss.

For the balance of the afternoon, I couldn’t help thinking of the essayist’s Robert Lynd, thoughts on coincidence, the perfect truth for this perfect moment. “It is only in literature that coincidences seem unnatural.”

And playdates.

Happy Birthday to Miss J.

Sunday was Julia’s first birthday. We didn’t spend the day the way some would have, with colorful streamers, bright balloons, a fluffy frosted cake and cheering friends. Well, we did met with friends, the Fabulous Bozoma and the Lady L. The adults held chilled flutes of champers and had a small toast to Julia’s birth then enjoyed a long, leisurely afternoon catch-up chat over some baked branzino prepared Senegalese style, with fried plantains and onions, that we’d ordered in. Julia dined on organic peas and turkey, the Lady Lael, a bit of rice and fish. After the meal and playtime as Bozoma’s daughter headed to a nap into the late afternoon, Julia and I headed for home.

As the baby and I made our way south, we passed the new buildings and old, kids on bikes, forty something men in Spandex working Rollerblades. We crossed at the new French style round about at 110th Street, with the green light, and strolled from east to west, into the Central Park. And as the murky, green water of the Harlem Mere, its broad-football-bodied geese, the summer children, running, playing, skipping, came into view, slowly, I remembered.

How long had it been? Six, seven, eight years ago? I wandering through this ground, clawing my way toward home, so lost, so alone after finding out that I hadn’t ovulated, that the month was a bust, that I couldn’t try to conceive. That day I fled the fertility doctor’s office on east 90th Street, trailing a back wash of misery, so despondent, so crushed by grief and regret. How amazing to know, years later, I stood on same ground born a new. Just another mother and child.

In the evening  as I prepared Julia for bed, removing her purple sundress, I studied her naval, a small star burst of skin sitting within the curve of her belly. Her first portal of connection. Small words of thanks started up in my brain, a spontaneous jester, like, I believe a curtsy would come to a commoner before the Queen Mom. I  thanked the woman who’d given birth to my daughter. The woman who had more courage than I could ever gather. The woman who let Julia go. What was this day like for her? Did she sit with a friend and silently, solemnly, slipping into grief? Did something deep down in her fill up, over flow and crack under the weight of memory and loss.

As I lowered Julia into the soft, cotton candy pink sheets of her bed, I knew why I’d spent Sunday, as I had, why I didn’t want to a big party, a big to-do, to whoop things up for my daughter’s first birthday. For all that I have gained, a couple, somewhere on the other side of the world, has lost more.  I thought of what they’d given away with open arms, a wide open, reinforced heart. They set their tiny daughter on the waters of faith and believed someone would be on the other side to bring her ashore.

I am eternally grateful.

A True Easter

Like the rings of a tree, where and how I’ve observed past Easters, has shaped the woman I am today. I spent my first eighteen Easter Sundays parked on a wooden pew in New Bethel Baptist Church as Rev. C.L. Franklin delivered his healing words of faith. Six of those years, from age four to ten, I rested in a sweaty relief after my Easter speech, a memorized ode, was successfully delivered before the two hundred-member congregation without the fatal flub that I’d feared for weeks.

Since the mid 1990s, as an adult,  I’ve celebrated the resurrection at Unity Church of New York City and as far away as The City of Lights. After being shipped out for a week-long, global marketing meeting for a Procter & Gamble product that—I’d learn in time—would never, ever see a commercial store shelf, Notre Dame served as my consolation prize.

I’ve had an illustrious buona Pascale among the beautiful, green grounds of a walled-home on the isle of Sardinia, my hair damp and curled from backstroking through the cool of Maurizio and Luisanna’s pool, the eye of a golden sun watching overhead. Later, that day I witnessed the arrival of Easter dinner to the communal table through a veil of tears. The view of the Melis’s lovely family—their daughters Marta and Alle, Maurizio’s brother, his wife and his baby daughter, and both Nonna’s, the grandmothers—sharing their al fresco family table with Tom and I, produced an overwhemlming, saturating love.  Later that afternoon, although the sky had clouded over, Tom’s eyes sunned over me—a man I deeply loved and was loved by. At the time.

The morning of Easter 2011 began at half past seven, with a bottle for Julia, a cappuccino for mom, followed by, around nine, a warm rice cereal laced with organic spinach, peas and pears, for baby. As I spooned the mixture into Julia’s bud of a mouth, before church service, she shared a broad, gummy smile with me, the variety that seemed to launch from her toes, gaining traction through her core until
it exploded across her cheeks, nearly extending to her ears.

Nothing new there.

Her grin waned, as grins do. Julia stared, directly, into my eyes, holding the connection for a long while, without blinking, long enough for me to begin weeping silent tears.

This connection— as frail as a flower, yet as strong as a thousand-year-old vine—produces new fruit, a fresh layer of lush love. I love differently because I am a different. On this day of rebirth comes a rich realization.

Then surprisingly, haltingly, Julia laughed. It wasn’t her typical, amused chuckle. Nor one of her, long strong string of giggles. The sound echoed in the air. The city still creaking to a Sunday start. Her laugh was more of an awe shucks guffaw that seemed to say to my ears, “I love you too you, silly mommy. Now feed me.”