Cotton Candy Clouds: Magic and Kindness for My Daughter

In my last entry of the pregnancy diary that I kept through the lonely and difficult months of growing my daughter inside my belly, I wrote \”Kahoun jemiro lanchi enoralehu\” – \”From this day forward, I will live for you.\” I addressed it to \’you\’ in the feminine form because although I had asked my midwife to not tell me the gender of my baby, I knew her to be a girl and in my head, she was already called Rekka (Rekha in Sanskrit) which means destiny.

Indeed, I have lived for Rekka since her birth three years ago, and for her brother Leeben who joined her almost a year ago. In many ways, this has meant looking at the world in a fresh light, trying to soften the hard edges while seeking beauty in the most ordinary things. As a full-time mom, I took Rekka everywhere in her first year of life and I introduced her to smells in the spice-market of Shola Gebeya. I told her the name of colors as we walked past flower shrubs on our street, and let her feel different textures of fruits. As the world was opening up to her newly-minted perspective, her wonder was infectious. Her first taste of ice cream made her small eyes light up with unexpected pleasure and she soon developed an intense love for \’coco\’ (chocolate) and for \’sotobi\’ (strawberries). As soon as she tasted cotton candy, she decided that the clouds above must be made of the same sugary stuff and she still hopes that one day, I will be tall enough to pick some of it for her to eat. In her world, the supermarket may as well be Disneyland. All her toes have names (Lomi, Simouni, Buchera, Doka and Centime) and some are apparently very naughty. Her wonderful father plays along and puts cream on her imaginary friend\’s face when Rekka asks him to.

I have had help on the magic front: my mother, the original storyteller who fully collaborated in our imaginary friend-making as children convinced Rekka that fairies braid her hair in her sleep. My mother is also the one who takes her to \’Emama Mariam\’s house\’ on Saturday mornings, her head wrapped in a netela, instilling in Rekka child-friendly spirituality.

It is a cliche to say you learn from your kids but it is also very true. When Rekka, at 18-months old asked me the name of a man we saw sprawled on the sidewalk with a green-stained mouth, matted hair and torn clothes, it was an awakening. I was ashamed because I had seen the man but not really seen him. And it had not occurred to me that he has a name. Because Rekka seemed to think that all of humanity is one big family, and because I didn\’t want to ruin this fantasy too early, I started saying \’Selam\’ to everyone – guards, cleaners at restaurants and salespeople. She would ask me names of children on billboards and I made them up, ensuring diversity.

I re-found my compassion for Rekka and re-started practicing the values I was raised with. Now Rekka explains with heart-breaking sincerity that some people are on \’weeeelchairs\’ because their legs hurt, and she wants me to buy shoes or donate her old ones to every barefoot child we see. She became my shield and my rose-tinted glasses to the world – I haven\’t lost my temper in a long time because I remember how frightened she got when I got upset in front of her almost a year ago. I want to be a good mother to my children but I also want to be good so that I am worthy of the miracles and heavenly gifts that they are. And I find that life is easier this way. More child-like joy is mine when I see things at my kids\’ height-view and I have less angst about the world. In many ways, it\’s like being blessed with a second childhood.

I know that my children won\’t remain children forever and will soon be rolling their eyes when I explain that donkeys and horses are cousins. The end of magic comes sooner than I had anticipated – Rekka looked bewildered a 6-year-old friend informed her, laughing, that the gate to their house opens by remote control and not \’magic.\’ Also, we needed to do some damage-control after a round of \’Aya Jibo\’ at a birthday party resulted in nightmares of mean hyenas coming to get her.

I know I can\’t protect my daughter from everything negative that this complicated world will throw at her but I hope I have a few more years of magic and kindness to cushion life with.