My dear Jovie,
It’s just like you to get me to indulge in this kind of stuff… who still writes Valentine’s letters? But a bet’s a bet – even though God and all the angels saw you cheat- I’ll live up to my word cos that’s the kind of man you married.
Where do I begin? I miss you immensely.
Don’t give me your withering “I told you so” smirk, this is serious. I did some calculations and this is the longest time since Zaake was born that I’ve done this on my own. You’ve been away before so it’s not that I was unprepared for his boundless energy, uncontainable daring or the underlying pang of worry that grips me when he’s sleeping until I hear the reassuring sound of his little pig snore that lets me know he’s still breathing. You know that “snrrkkk snkrrrkkk” he does when the dream’s really hitting and his curled up fists tug at the Spider-man duvet Ronnie brought him back from London.
It’s that I’m just now realizing that he’s experiencing life for the very first time and suddenly I’m terrified that I’m totally fucking it up for him!
It’s different when you and I are doing this together because there’s backup; we can play good cop, bad cop. Zaake won’t touch his greens at dinner? “Daddy says no TV before bed.” Kid’s climbing up the shaky sideboard in the living room despite REPEATED warnings? “Mama’s coming with sapatu! Eh eh!”
But on my own? Let me tell you what your son did… On Tuesday he came home with a Red Face in his homework folder and when I asked him why Teacher Mary wasn’t happy, his gaze dropped to the floor as he quietly mumbled something about getting in a fight with Gabriel. I told him fighting’s not the answer and we talked about bad feelings and angry feelings and taking a step back, just like Daniel Tiger taught us.
Wednesday he came home with another Red Face and announced through burning hot tears that he was done with Baby Class cos he’s not a baby! I felt a dizzying mix of sympathy and laughter but chose the former and took him in my arms. Later I reminded him that fighting doesn’t solve anything. Bad feelings. Angry feelings. Step back. Daniel Tiger. As I tucked him in, I asked what he and Gabriel were fighting about and he said Gabriel didn’t want to be his friend on Friday. I told him sometimes that’s just the way it goes and you can’t make people feel how you want them to. Zaake drowsily informed me that things would turn around once he gave Gabriel the card he’d made the next day at school.
That’s your son.
Next morning I told Kasemere I’d be getting into the office a little late and walked Zaake to class when I dropped him off. I needed to see this Gabriel kid who had decided he was too cool for our son, to the degree that they’d come to kiddie-fists over it! Teacher Mary greeted me at the door and as she rapidly briefed me on what had transpired in class that week, very polite and apologetic almost as if she blamed herself, I witnessed our 4-year-old march over to the group of kids huddled on the floor by a wall of handmade love hearts taped to a pinboard. In slow motion, our boy reached into his bookbag to extract his own flimsy cardboard cutout and courageously extended it towards this mousy little girl with beaded braids and suddenly I realized I’d missed something that had been staring me right in the face.
“Gabriel” was Gabrielle.
“I thought it would be fun to get them involved in Valentine’s Day, “Teacher Mary was explaining, “but maybe my approach needs refining because I didn’t fully consider how they would handle rejection. I’m happy to see Zaake and Gabrielle getting along again now that he’s trying a less disruptive method that doesn’t involve supercharged emotions. Those two are usually inseparable”
“He didn’t put his hands on anyone, did he?” I heard myself faintly asking.
“No, no, no, nothing like that,” Mary reassured. “He just got a little loud, repeatedly talking over the other kids when it was time for feedback and then shutting down entirely when I gave him a stern warning. He’ll be fine…”
That was a big one to miss; you would have caught that from the get-go cos you insist on doing FBI-level background checks on each of his friends. But bigger than that is it crystallizing that he’s never been rejected by someone before. Hell, he’s probably never even been interested in anyone before this week! Never put himself out there, nor had to deal with it going one way or another. Every move he makes, it’s for the first time and on us to ensure he’s equipped to handle it in a way he can look back on and not feel ashamed of himself. That’s OUR job, today and every day for the rest of his life.
Needless to say, we had a talk about consent when I got home that evening; I did my best to keep it at a 4-year-old level but obviously you and I will have to figure out a clearer way to talk to him about this stuff.
You know something? I was proud of him too. Jovia I wish you’d seen the bravery on this boy’s face as he offered Gabrielle that Valentine’s Day Card, like a battle-tested warrior presenting trophies of his numerous conquests. The kid didn’t blink, didn’t flinch, arm steady and the poise of a statue. Reminded me entirely of his mom, the gazelle that has never backed down from a challenge. I look at Zaake sometimes and marvel at this living breathing monument to the love between us, this physical reminder that the best parts of me are the ones you’ve brought out into this world and there’s still so much to discover and learn and grow and experience.
For the first time, every day a new day.
I miss you, I’m exhausted and Z can’t wait til you’re back either, but we both know how important this trip was for you and your team, so I don’t want you to worry about us for even a second. I have no doubt you’re absolutely crushing your pitch. Can’t wait to celebrate your imminent victory once you’re back. Our victory!
I’ll even get Zaake to help me make a card. Love you, my rascal. Happy Valentine’s Day.