Feeding Vanessa the Kudu breakfast


One of the tribe

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Gladys, my aya (nanny), has taken to calling my son Mr. Boy. It seems a perfectly proper nickname for Tiger who, in the throes of the terrible twos, often vascillates between being a petulant Russian prince (his birth parents were from Russia) and what the Irish call a typically playful and popular boy-o. (I almost get a kick out Tiger’s tantrums, SO hard not to laugh, they are SO cartoonish in execution – the stamping of the feet, the flailing of the limbs, the darkening of his sea-green eyes to a stormy, steel gray, the coming of tears as plump as grapes. His histrionics are oft accompanied by “Mine!”, “This one!”, “My car!” and the universal “NO!”.)

Most of the time, my son is something to be around. He wants to collect every dudu or insect on the porch. He climbs all over Sandy, the Rhodesian Ridgeback who lives next door (well, now she lives mostly with us) as if she were a jungle gym. He chases the big yellow ball around the backyard, possessed with possessing it. He drapes himself over Gladys as she teaches him words in Swahili. He wants the keys to the Land Rover so he can just sit there and drive into two-year-old territory. He climbs fences, about to swing a leg over but not quite yet. He hides from the pikis, the mini-motorbikes that my neighbors’ teenagers roar around the compound in. He likes popsicles in every flavor, and peanut butter on baby bananas. He follows John all over the garden, carrying a rake with a purpose and passion I long to feel consistently myself. He hangs over the edge of the water tank where two giant goldfish live and points them out to me. He eats Cheerios and “gogurt” (yogurt) with relish every morning. He sneaks back to the staff quarters to hang with Ben and Phillip and Naomi and Elizabeth, putting wash buckets on his head and stomping to some secret music. He colors on my grocery lists, usually with my pens. And at the end of the day, when you come home or resurface from your own silly world, he runs to you with a smile that spells happiness in every alphabet you can dream of.

Today, Mr. Boy had a big surprise. Santa was not only coming to town but, because one of his reindeer had a cold, he arrived at Stepping Stones by a most exciting one-horse sleigh: a helicopter. “Plane!” Tiger shouted. Still, he followed the other boys and girls hesitantly toward welcoming Father Christmas, and I wondered a bit if he would always be one to hold back, or if this was just a moment of curiosity mixed with caution.

It seemed he was determined not to be part of the crowd, my independent-minded, self-sufficient child who rarely clings to me, having made his own way for 11 months in a Kazakhstan orphanage. Instead, once inside the chopper and in the front seat no less, he will not come out. He will not follow Santa to the conference hut like everyone else. He will not come out of the neon orange plastic car that’s ready to be driven into two-year-old territory. He will not sit with the others on Masaai blankets while presents are being handed out. He will not.

But he will watch and listen and laugh. He will hold his package up to me and crawl into my lap and ask me “What dat?” about all the decorations on the silvery wrapping paper, Santas and snowmen and red-nosed reindeer and polar bears. He will turn my face to him so that I pay attention. He will suck his thumb and put his head against my chest and sigh. He will open his books with a glee bordering on the startling. He will turn to me, his almond-shaped eyes that Irish sea-green again, with a smile that spells happiness in every alphabet you can dream of.

Mr. Boy, he will.

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