Washing D.C. – Traveling again…this time on the metro. I’m watching a little ethnic boy who’s sitting in a stroller while his mom sits above him, head wrapped in a hijab with her eyes barely open. She looks tired and as though this short ride on a crowded train is the best rest she’s had in weeks. The little boy…while I watch him he’s watching me too. We play a silent game every time someone steps between our eyes, he leans as far as he can to see me…I give him only enough of my eyes to make him smile. Finally our connection is permanently severed by an unwitting crowd. I look out the window and consider that I’ll never see him again. My girls enter my mind. Arlington Cemetery. Next stop Rosslyn.
Last night we took my mom and girls to the Country Club. The place is a little more tolerable for me lately. I’ve been around a few years and have had the chance to develop a couple of relationships, albeit shallow ones. Mostly with the staff. The truth of the matter last night was that I didn’t feel like cooking and thought it would be a nice thing to do with my mom since I had to leave today and won’t get a chance to take her to the airport for her trip home. We had some of the reserve wine from our wine locker…the last bottle actually. It was a Rockaway 2005 cab and is one of the better wines I’ve had in recent times. My mom liked it too and said she’d get some at home. I felt awkward telling her its $80 a bottle. Though I only wanted to let her know that it’s probably not something she can pick up without a little effort, my words sounded snotty and then I was embarrassed, like we were being excessive.
Something heartbreaking happened at dinner. Ava has been in preschool since September. From the get go, she’s known all the other kids’ names, interests and all the in’s and out’s of what they do at school. Nightly, we get updates, too…about all the children and what they’re up to. Funny, my mom said I was the same way when I was Ava’s age. I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point a little boy named William entered the picture during one of her updates. And just as she said his name, she got a little giggly. Rhonda and I were all over it.
“Why are you blushing Bird?”
“Ava! William isn’t your boyfriend is he?!”
“No!!!” she screamed, and then tore out of the room to climb up on her bed and bury her head under the pillows. Maybe once or twice since then there have been similar situations. She’ll inadvertently bring up William’s name and Rhonda or I will just look at her with a smile until she blushes and runs out of the room. It’s funny. Or so we thought.
Tonight while we were eating, Grandma was getting an update and William’s name came up again.
“Who is William?” my mom asked
“I’ll tell you he isn’t. He isn’t Ava’s boyfriend – that’s for sure,” I answered.
My mom feigned her best surprised look.
“Ava! Is William your boyfriend?”
Her usual embarrassment followed though this time she crawled under the table, all the way over to my side, and then hot tailed it out of the eating area and into the atrium while we laughed and explained to my mom the story of “William.”
I leaned back in my chair so I could see her, wondering if she’d return on her own or if I would need to go and coax her back to the table. Ava was standing by the couches and motioned for me to go over to her. I took a swig of wine and pushed my chair out, then walked to where she was.
“Dad, I have to talk to you.”
“Come on Bird. Come finish your food.”
“Come down here.”
I kneeled down so we were on the same level. That’s when I noticed that her mouth was curling at the edge.
“What’s wrong baby?”
“My family makes fun of me all the time…”
Whoa. That took me completely off guard.
“My family just makes fun of me all the time!”
And with that, she burst into sobs. Big ones. I don’t know how long it would take for me to pick the right words to describe how devastated I was at that moment. To know that our silly little joke had my baby feeling teased and that she’d probably been warehousing the torment for months just wrecked me. I wrapped her up in my arms and whispered in her ear.
“I am so, so sorry. We will never make fun of you again Bird. I promise. We don’t want to make you feel bad. We love you and are so sorry.”
She continued to cry. I continued to feel like a parent who thought sending my kid to Michael Jackson’s house for a sleepover was a good idea. Finally she hugged me back. I asked for forgiveness and she obliged.
When we got back into the dining room I made an announcement to the table that we were no longer going to make jokes about William and that we were very sorry for doing it in the first place. Everyone listened intently, Lily too, like I was delivering the State of the Union. They listened, then they looked at Ava. It was obvious that she had been crying. That made my mom cry and then there we were…exposed as irresponsible adults and melted to the core by my little four year old.
Later on in the night I went into the room where my mom was sleeping. Ava was nestled in with her thumb in her mouth and blanket across her face. She was long past the events from dinner. At least I thought she was.
“Goodnight Bird,” I told her.
“You can still say William’s name if you want. I just don’t like when you say he’s my boyfriend.”
We sat there for a second, both thinking.
“I’m really sorry. And I want you to know how proud I am that you felt comfortable enough to tell us that we were hurting your feelings. We don’t want to do that. Do you feel better now that you told us?”
She smiled furiously, thumb in mouth, then closed her eyes, still smiling.
I kissed her on the head but before I could walk out of the room…
“That was in my head for a long, long time.”
“I’m glad it’s out now. Goodnight baby.”
I went straight to the bathroom where no one would be able to tell the difference between the water that runs from the shower and the water that runs from my eyes. I wondered how my little girl got so introspective, so sensitive. Proud, sad, regretful and aware. That’s what I am.