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Day 365: One Year of TrippingOnWords Later, We Still Need Mom

Submitted by Claire on June 9, 2009 – 8:29 amComments
At Tumaini Children’s Center in Kenya, I have a small son who is eight years old and named after a dictator. He is not mine, of course, but likes to pretend so, and thus calls me Mom.

“Tell that one he is Mom,” he is fond of saying triumphantly, when he feels like breaking my heart.

Although I love this child and could not possibly find him more adorable even if he did not always wear his token turquoise green Capri stretch pants and black velour knit top, I cannot in good faith allow such a nickname to continue. And so, daily, I try very non-forcefully to make it stop. Lara, who has been deigned “Aunt”, does the same. We do this because we think we are supposed to.

Clearly, the implications of such a nickname are far deeper and more serious than the rest of the Tumaini children simply calling me “Black Crayon.” More than a year ago, the little dictator and his brilliant but attention starved older sister were left at the front gate by their mother, who said she was coming right back. She did not, clearly. Now, like the other children here, he suffers from what must be one of the worst of all childhood ills: being someone who is Nobody’s Number One.

Lara and I talk frequently about this fact. About how, despite the stubborn Capricorns we were growing up (both our first words were “No!”), we each knew, most of the time, that some delusional mother or father thought we were their world. Even at the charming age of 14, when Lara and I hated our mothers for being the annoying beasts of people they were, we could always fundamentally count on them to think that we were pretty, or smart, or worth of making Varsity even if the Freshman Water Polo was legitimately concerned we might drown.

When your mother leaves you at the gate, though, it is very hard to remember these kinds of things.

And so, most kids at Tumaini lack that one person who always thinks they are Number One, the adult who acts as life cheerleader and tells any child or adolescent to go and get what the world is offering. And in an orphanage so efficient where only three full time staff members care for 175 children, a new girl who thinks your velour shirt is funny is a rare commodity, and a good choice to be your number one.

But it’s not an entirely smart one, because I, too, am transitional, and will only be in this child’s life full time for five more months. Since I never forget this fact, every time the little dictator jumps on me, or begs to take our kitchen scraps to the cows, or breaks my heart with anything he does, I try to say, very, very clearly:

“I am not your Mom. I am Black Crayon.”

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