“No.” She kicks again but my hands stop her.
She tries to pull herself up and swats a hand at me. It’s a gentle swat and I know she doesn’t want to do what she is doing.
“Are you finished kicking me?” I ask again.
“No.” Her body contorts as she tries to free herself from me.
I feel frustration rising, kiss my favorite spot on her nose, just between her eyes, and leave. She slides to the floor and mumbles. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to go back to Ethiopia.”
Oh baby. I thought we were past those days.
Are we ever going to be past those days?
“Which way to Ethiopia?” She takes a small bag and, still in her pajamas, slips down the stairs and out the front door. I watch as my daughter drags the duffle up toward the road. I don’t believe that she’s really going to leave. That she would walk off the front porch, but she does.
So little. So strong. So broken. We are both broken.
“Sage,” I call. “Come back.”
She comes up the stairs and stands before me. “I want to go to my mom. She wants me to come home.”
What do I say? We learned all about this in class and I have forgotten.
I stare at her. Her eyes are fixed on the top of the steps where her room is, and the nightstand with the picture of her birthmother and I.
“Sweetie, who will take care of you in Ethiopia?”
“My mom.” She says.
“I am your mom.”
“But I don’t want to be here. I don’t want time out.”
I look at her. I take a deep breath. We have been here before. How do I make her understand? “There is no one to take care of you in Ethiopia. No one to feed you. No one to clothe you. No one to speak to you so that you understand.”
She looks at me. I keep going.
“When you are older, we will return to Ethiopia–to visit–together. But this is your home. We are your family. You aren’t allowed to leave us and we won’t be leaving you.”
My child marches back up the stairs and into bed, she is a five-year-old concoction of anger and sadness. I follow her.
These are the ugly days…
Fifteen minutes pass. She comes to curl up in my lap. “I miss her. I miss my family,” she says.
Does she remember them? They who had to say goodbye three years ago? Perhaps. Perhaps it is the idea of belonging. Of the woman by her bed who looks so much like her.
“They miss you.” I tell her. “They just had to say goodbye. And then I said hello.”
Am I failing?
Did I do it right?
She is hurting. And then her brothers call…and she is off to conquer the ninjas in the woods with her homemade bow and arrows.