By KIMBERLEY McLEOD
“Auntie Kim Kim, may you please help me?!”
I heard a small voice yell from the bathroom upstairs. It was the politest plea for poo assistance anyone could receive. After getting assurance from my godson’s mother that at five, Mali was old enough to go number two on the toilet by himself, I reminded him that he was a big boy and didn’t need me.
After 15 minutes or so, I took up the load of laundry I was finally able to finish folding (a pile he kept jumping on, causing me to refold, and refold, and refold). I quietly peeked into the bathroom to see two tiny legs dangling from the seat.
“Never mind. Never mind,” he repeated as he heard my steps and the creak of the hallway floor. Relieved he didn’t fall in, I chuckled to myself.
It had been a year going on two since I’d last babysat him (about the time I had moved from New York to D.C.). Although he was always advanced for his age, I was amazed by how much Mali had grown. He could talk, write, read, and do math before most kids. And his vocabulary was almost better than mine. Seriously. His resolution two years ago was to “take more initiative” to use the potty.
Mali bounced from the living room sofa to the floor, repeatedly banged the aquarium to frighten the fish he named Scary, and reached for my iPhone or laptop any chance he could get. At his age, he was able to text message his mother, search for free games to download in the App Store, and even teach me how to play (and win) Candy Crush. When he accidentally knocked over a glass of water I had sitting on the floor, he asked me, “Why did you put it there?” And pouted when I made him help me clean it up.
Who was this little guy? Where did he come from?
The son of my longtime friend, I was still in disbelief at the person he was becoming and how quickly. He kept blowing kisses at the women that popped up on my Facebook feed and could remember that one of the tropical fruits in a faux fruit basket sitting on the kitchen table was called a “sugar apple.”
Just a few days before our time together, I attended a recital where Mali defiantly introduced me as his “auntie” when his bestie boldly asked who I was. (Kids these days…) I mentioned us spending a day together sometime before I left town and almost melted when my godson eagerly asked, “Tomorrow?”
This five-year-old bundle of energy, inquisitiveness, genius, and at times destruction had dug a deep hole into my heart from the moment we first met. I was studying abroad in Tanzania, well more accurately, celebrating my 21st birthday in Zanzibar when I got word of his birth.
I remember stumbling back to my bungalow inebriated from exotic beer and way too much Konyagi, still calming down from hallucinations of baboons on the beach. I barely made out a text message from my mother saying my friend had had the baby. I squealed at both the news and mistakenly thinking we would share the same birthday. (I later found out he was born three days prior but brought home from the hospital that celebratory, blur of a night.)
I couldn’t wait to meet the little person I had helped prep for before my departure. With the help of close friends, I coordinated a baby shower equipped with the obligatory baby shower chair, guess-the-size-of-her bump games, and gush-worthy gifts. The whole thing was surreal. This mom-to-be was someone I’d shared lunches with in junior high school and stories of reaching second and third base. I was still figuring out what I wanted to do after college. Here she was ushering a life into this frightening world. A new but very different chapter was beginning for us both.
In anticipation of my return to the States, I had one of the local Tanzanian artisans carve a personalized plaque with my godson’s name engraved under three giraffes. “Malichi” it first read. Shit, I remember thinking, noting that it was misspelled.
“Rafiki yangu, it should say Malachi with an ‘a,’” I pleaded in Swahili trying to convince the carver the mistake was his. He was able to work his magic and fix the spelling error but later, he recovered the piece of paper I had given him, an obvious “i” in the place of the second “a.” Mali still has the plaque hanging on his bedroom door today.
Our entire time together had been delightfully exhausting. And I couldn’t wait for it to end.
When his mother arrived to take him home, I admitted that I had no idea how the hell she does it and manages to get anything else done. She sat on the floor between my legs as I brushed the sides of her thick, loose curls into large sections—the two of us indulging in the black girl ritual. Mali sat still momentarily, hypothesized by Nick, Jr. and slices of an apple. Here we were over a decade later, two completely different people—me swallowing a hard dose of her reality. Motherhood.
After finishing styling my friend’s hair, packing up Mali’s things, and cleaning up the last bit of spills, we said our goodbyes as Mali covered me in kisses.
I know that one day I want to start a family of my own (whether that’s through adoption or biologically is to be determined), but what the heck happens when you can’t give them back?
My guess is that you push through it like my friend does everyday—and remember to celebrate this amazing being you’re helping mold and unleash into the world. One thing’s for certain, I’d take a lifetime full of magical, draining days with my godson over a lifetime with none at all.