Feeding Vanessa the Kudu breakfast


One of the tribe

Friday, October 9, 2009


“He’s such a gorgeous, gorgeous boy,” says Patricia in her heavily Polish-accented English, spoken softly. “Tiger Boots. We like him very much, he’s serene (she pronounces it seren), happy all the time, and I can see the two of you, the hand of God brought you together.”

We are at One of a Kind, the pre-Montessori neighborhood school where my son spends three afternoons a week, and Patricia, who resembles a beautiful young gypsy with her long black curly hair, is his favorite teacher. Upon listening to her, I’m on the verge of crocodile tears as I gather up the object of our affection, a young Russian prince, for our walk home on a shy summer evening.

I don’t really know how much to believe in fate or destiny, but odds are that, yes, something divine did have a hand in Tiger and I finding each other, late in my life and early in his. Who could have guessed or imagined or designed such a fit between us? Me, a single, 51-year-old, frowzy and frisky blonde Irish-American writer with ample attitude and adventuresomeness; he, a wary, blue-eyed, nine-month old child of unemployed, unmarried, Russian teenager-parents who’d relinquished him at birth to Baby House No. 2, one of three orphanages in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Only magic accounts for this match of mother and son…and a welcome surrender to the elements. Earth, wind, fire, stars, water, sky, sun -- all the glory be’s to which our passionate and pagan selves are indebted. Tiger is that elemental to me now, a two-year-old boy who takes on sunrise with cheer and chat, gleefully conversing with Coco and Spencer (his monkey and teddy) as he throws them at my bed. Who loves Cheerios and gogurt (yogurt) and coloring and perfumed lotion and Wellies. Who never leaves the house without a ball and book in tow. Who considers apples his most precious companion -- in a pocket, in the stroller, in the car, on the move.

Joy, joy, joy, that’s what Tiger lives and breathes. I am lying on the couch; he comes over to me, opens my hand and puts his cheek into it so that I am cupping his face. He nestles into me, sighing and giggling. He never gives up on me.

But I nearly panicked the first time Tiger came at me; I had never been party to anything like it. We’re in February; my son is 16 months old. He’s been attending One of a Kind for a little over a month and, although accustomed to crowds of kids from his orphanage days, is suffering a bit from separation anxiety whenever I drop him off. Squeaks, some hot tears, but nothing too heart rending.

The first Dublin snow is on the ground; the evening is dry and crisp and stirring. Having just arrived at the school to pick Tiger up, he sees me from another room, shrieks like some creature being drawn and quartered, limb by limb. He cries and claws his way to me, nearly clambering over the child gate. Patricia tries to lift him over and he cries even harder.

I am standing in the hallway, maybe 50 yards from Tiger, and I freeze. It’s a hot-and-bothered freeze; I am flushed and melting and sweaty. I can’t seem to move, for all of a sudden, my heart has literally dropped through the school floor into the basement. I want to run away and run to him; I need to be right there and anywhere but here. No one has ever needed me like this and I am aghast…and in awe. It is horrifying and heavenly; frightening and fantastic. And when we reach each other, my heart is back up where it belongs, ticking and humming, no longer underfoot. I hold Tiger close.

As for being a mother and beloving a son, I have since, and quickly, let go of any squeamishness, but not at all my sense of the sublime. Sweet surrender.