By Jon Melegrito
A few weeks ago days before President Obama announced to the world that bin Laden is dead our four-year-old grand daughter, Maya, shared a “secret” with her Lolo and Lola. “I’m going to be a big sister,” she whispered on the phone. “Really?” I played along with what I thought was a make-believe story. “I’m serious, Lolo, I’m going to be a big sister,” she insisted. “Don’t tell Lola, okay? I will tell her myself.”
We wanted to believe her of course, despite our initial doubts. Our daughter, Desiree, later confirmed that she’s three months on the way. And Maya had been “prepped” about what it all means. But she couldn’t wait to spill the beans.
I remember the first time Desiree told us she was pregnant with Maya. It was Mother’s Day 2006, more than three years after she got married three years too long waiting for news about a grand child. We had stopped asking, or looking for hints. We figured if we kept quiet, the baby will come. And finally it happened. “There’s a birth,” the nurse at the hospital declared eight months later.
The news of a second child arriving was no less a pleasant surprise. It also reminded us that Maya isn’t a baby anymore. In fact, she seems a lot more mature for her age: fiercely independent, with a keen sense of what is bad, or scary or dangerous; stylish in her own fashion, wearing her Sunday best on our last visit to the Zoo because “I want to look beautiful to the animals.” She’s also at that stage where she thinks she knows if you’re being real, or just making stuff up. I have come to realize this when she would come back to me with a rather un-childlike retort each time I make a declarative sentence. Like when I told her about Easter Eggs at the White House for kids to hunt. “Are you serious?” she wanted to know. Yes, and President Obama will be there too. “Are you serious?” she wanted to make sure I wasn’t making it up.
Maybe she was not challenging my credibility or authority. I guess I’m just not used to four-year-olds not taking my word for it. Like when I’d say, “Put on your jacket, Maya, it’s cold outside.” And she’d have the temerity to respond with. “I don’t need it.” Yes, of course, you do, young lady. I know better what’s good for you.
And so it goes. A 67-year-old battling wits with a four-year-old.
To prove I wasn’t making up stuff about Easter Eggs in the White House, I got tickets for the April 25 annual event. We “borrowed” her from her parents for a weeklong visit. That Monday morning, we all got up early, all eager and excited to see President Obama, the First Lady and the two daughters. But before driving off, we kept telling Maya to go potty because there will be long waits at the White House and it would be better to go now than have an “accident” later. “No, I don’t have to,” she insisted.
Everything went well inside the White House grounds, including the weather. I had her nestled on my shoulders as we jostled with hundreds of screaming kids. We were positioned as close as we possibly could to where the President of the United States (POTUS) and the First Lady (FLOTUS) would appear, hoping for a close-up view, possibly even a picture. But soon as POTUS appeared and opened with “How is everybody?” Maya responded with “I need to go potty!”
“Are you serious?” I said, not meaning to mock her. “Yes, I am. I can’t hold it anymore.”
Okay, I said. We just missed our POTUS moment all because she wanted to go potty. And so we ran. But by the time we got back, the Obamas were gone.
Spending time with Maya for a whole week means going with her flow and rearranging the furniture in the living room so she can romp and be roudy. It means being tuned in to her every word, keeping up with her every move, always saying “careful, careful” as she climbs and jumps and slides and runs. It means looking at the world from her pair of eyes, almost from ground level where looking up means a full view of nothing but big people or bright blue skies. She loves running barefoot on the grass, making bubbles, picking up wild flowers and blowing off their spores.
But there’s also danger and bad people and scary stuff and you can sense she’s afraid when she clings to you tightly and closes her eyes.
The day before we “returned” Maya to her parents, we told her how much we’re going to miss her. And we’ll have no one to read bedtime stories to or play with in the park. “But I will leave you my heart,” she said, as she scrawled on a piece of paper now bleeding red with magic marker shapes. I looked at her Lola to make sure she heard the same thing. We were stunned.
Maya went back to her parents the same weekend President Obama announced that bin Laden was dead. In six months, Maya will become Big Sister to a baby brother. Or sister. There will be another birth.
The promise of a new life coming into this world that’s still threatened with terrors gives us pause. But it’s also a validation that life goes on, that hope and faith will prevail over death and despair.
I wanted to tell Maya that bin Laden is dead, that I feel a little safer riding the Metro Train to work. “Are you serious, Lolo?” she will most certainly ask. Of course, I will reassure her. Yes, ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. And the munchkins will be freed.
But we know better. It’s a “secret” I will have to share with Maya someday.
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