Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Birthday boy

Today is the third birthday of mon filleul ainé, which translates literally as my elder godson but accurately as one of the two boys who is almost mine. Why hasn't our language come up with a word for this? G is the son of my dear friend. To refer to him, though, as my friend's son misses the intimacy of our relationship. He is, quite simply, one of my own, a part of my family and my heart. When he saw me last month for the first time since August, he was in his grandpa's arms. And he reached for me.

I had to put him down after a minute, though, because he's one of the tallest and strongest and biggest and squirmiest three year olds you'll ever come across. G runs a life full tilt. He's spent the balance of his short life in France, and that has meant that we've been lucky to have lots of time together. So here, in honor of his birthday, are my favorite G in France stories.

When G and his mother visited us at La Bastiole for the first time, we mothers went with him down to the piscine. (Every new house in our région is required by law to have a pool; the water is handy for the pompiers in the event of forest fires.) We set G to wander around on the deck, and his mum and I sat at the corner of the pool and dangled our feet in the water while we talked. G walked up and down and around and around, and we cautioned him to stay away from the water's edge. He walked around singing his tuneless toddler song and we talked some more. Then he walked by us and fell in the water. Right between us. We both plunged our hands in, grabbed a body part, and fished him out. Then we laughed: two of us, fully grown, responsible, respectable, and one waterlogged 20 month old.

A few months later, he visited us again with his mother, this time for a week. It was the nadir of his life thus far. He was on the edge of language and profoundly frustrated at not being able to communicate the subtleties of his needs: so he did a fair amount of yelling. That he was sick--one of those full-on snotty colds that only small children get--made matters worse. His mother and I spent the week trying to find something to make him happy, or, if not happy (we gave that up pretty fast), at least not screaming miserable. One morning towards the end of the week we took him to the park. The setting for this park is beautiful: it's between a country lane and a stream, with an old mill on one side and a thousand year old church on the other. Birds were singing, the stream was burbling, and G stood in the middle of the playground, in the shadow of the pirate ship playset, howling, Mommy, No! at the top of his small but powerful lungs. We tried to console him--hugs, the slide, the climbing bars, applesauce for snack, more hugs--and, when he was inconsolable, we retreated to our bench and ate the applesauce ourselves.

A few months, again, and the language has come along and allayed some of his frustration. I am visiting in Paris, and when I come in the door of his apartment, G attaches himself to my leg. We read stories together. He introduces me to his stuffed animals and to his matchbox cars, and I give him his bath and put him to bed. When I think he has fallen asleep and get up to leave his room, he stirs, and says, from that place next door to sleep, Stay with me. I do.

Another visit to the south, and our families have gone for a walk. G and one of my girls fall behind the rest of us. When we turn to look back at them, G has found a walking stick twice as tall as he is, and my daughter is walking beside him, slowing her steps to match his and trying, with partial success, to avoid getting hit by the stick.

And then it is our last visit with G's family in Paris, before they return Stateside. It is our girls' birthday. We have a family birthday dinner all together, and G gets to stay up late. We've finished the meal and the beautiful cake, and C is teaching G how to make scarey faces. C drops his jaw down, rolls up his eyes, sticks out his tongue, and raises his arms over his head. G is suspicious until C returns to normal. Then he laughs. C makes the face again, and G copies him. They waggle their heads at each other, making lurid monster sounds, until G laughs so hard that he falls over.

One more visit to our house, and then they will be gone. G is sitting on his father's shoulders and we are in the lane behind our house. I pick blackberries and give them to him and he fills his mouth, his tongue and lips purple, tshirt, cheeks, father's head--a riot of blackberry juice.

And so, happy birthday, my boy. Bon anniversaire. I can hardly wait to see what you will do next.


  1. These stories are so sweet. I loved them and loved that you paid attention enough to write them down.


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