Now is a time for waiting—a homestudy application has been mailed (and a certain marital blow-out put before me. TJ is out of town, returning—to lots of changes—in a few weeks), and the Tbilisi hiring manager promises a response soon deciding the next job location. This kind of waiting reminds me of the weeks leading up to Puck’s overdue delivery. Bored with the long walks and endless phone calls, I headed to Home Depot and started constructing a table. Now I am running. Ernest, Yoshi and I have signed up for a 5K race in Reston next Saturday, and we’re getting up at 5:15 to practice. I’m trying to live up to my role as the school’s track coach, even though I don’t much care for running. I’m also trying to give the boys a chance to shine by showing them that they can complete an adult race. At 5:15 in the morning, it’s hard to tell whether I am trying to make them happy, or they are trying to make me happy, but we manage to shuffle downstairs and out the door. Concentrating on breathing and bird-chirping is the best way to clear my mind.
Tika has become a scrappy little girl this year, and now she grins with a hole where her front tooth used to be. She is at a perfect moment of sweetness, competitiveness and unguarded exploration. Now she’s an avid rope-jumper who commandeers neighborhood rope-jumping in front of our house, and her turn must be the longest. She’s a reckless tree-climber, who’s long forgotten the past broken elbow and mother’s unheeded warnings. She shakes the branch to let loose any brother trying to make his way up below her.
But Tika also crosses herself when ambulances pass, quietly repeating the Angel of Mercy. When, after much pleading, TJ and I bought her a real-life style baby-doll, she unbundled her from the package, scurried into another room, and proceeded to “deliver” the baby out from under her dress between her legs. She “nursed” that baby all afternoon.
Now Tika is re-reading The Color of Home, the story of a Somali refugee recounting an attack that drove his family to seek refuge in America. I passed her bedroom door, where dollhouse make-believe usually centers on eating and using the bathroom, and now she was pushing the dolls and cats under their dollhouse beds to hide from attacking rebels. She explained matter-of-factly that some of them weren’t going to make it.
Ernest seems to have grown out of the age of certainty and into an awkward awareness of bigger things beyond his control. Chief among them, of course, are school tests, a burden that weighs on him almost as much as his enormous backpack. Each test, he tells me, is a naked examination of his worth, and any little mistake a humiliation. I’m not sure whether I can rationally convince him to loosen up, or should wish for a few B’s to put things in perspective.
But while TJ is away, Ernest has always been my closest substitute to a husband—someone who really listens and always speaks his mind with me. Naturally, Ernie and I have talked many times about orphans and adoption. “I don’t know anything about this kind of thing,” he cautions, “but I guess I’ve gotten used to all the kids.” I had to laugh. It was Ernie, after all, who was carried on top of the big-belly that was Yoshi; Ernie who got booted from his crib; Ernie who rode in the backseat while Mom went into labor (Tika) behind the wheel; Ernie, who, while having his teeth brushed one morning suddenly got his head pressed into the sink and asked knowingly, ‘Are you pregnant again?’ (yes, that was Puck).
In fact, Ernie knows a lot more than he lets on. He thinks about orphans, too, about injustice and violence, about listening to God. We talk about the special need among older kids, kids his age, who are rarely selected for adoption. “I’m totally for this,” he reassures me, “because I know you’ve got a plan for everything.” Oh. That deflates my assurance, but I don’t let on. “Actually, I think about this kind of thing all the time. What is it like to lose everything and everyone, and be completely alone?” He’s a boy given over to worrying. “The worst part is that nobody would ask me what I wanted, and if some random strangers showed up, people wouldn’t ask what I thought of them. People would just look me over and decide whether I was good enough for them.”
The boy who said he didn't know anything has thought the whole thing through. We had a good, long silence, running our feet through cherry blossom petals and watching Tika climb the tree. She shook the branches to rain more petals on top of us.