Leeben Lion’s Letter

My Leeben Lion, My Golden Boy, you are now two years old. I’m not sure how well you understand this as  when I informed you on your birthday, you remonstrated loudly, ‘No way!’

You have grown up to be the little boy of my dreams. If I comment on your tendency to shoot a ball straight at the TV or how you sprint at full speed in the grocery store aisle without even looking back to check that I am following, your grandma and others remind me that you’re the Rebash (hyperactive) kid that I always wanted. Perhaps that’s why my patience has yet to run dry – when you finally fall asleep after a full day of running, kicking and a fair amount of floor thumping, I cuddle up very close to your warm, still-small body and fill up with enough love to get through another day.

You are a happy boy! You are easy to get a laugh out of and you’re almost always smiling. Life amazes you, a short walk with you in the neighborhood and seeing the world through your little eyes makes me ridiculously happy. You scream out ‘Ahiya’ and try to collect dusty rocks. Be the man who is easily happy, hold on to this wonderful sense of awe of life.

You are a wild toddler…but no one had told me that the Rebash package includes such a tremendous heart. You are warm and affectionate and you often squeeze me hard with your arms trying to hold all of me in, and when you tell me, ‘soo much’, I fill in the blank. You also substitute ‘I miss you’ for ‘I love you’ and will tell me, after a full afternoon spent together that you indeed miss me. You want your dad to hold you as often and if you find him lying down, you’re likely to cover his face with snotty kisses. Grow up to be the man who can express his affection and don’t let anyone tell you that love is not manly.

You have no problem expressing your needs either. The phrase I hear from you most often is ‘Mama, Ekefign’ – Mama, Hold Me.’ If I leave you in a room alone for even a minute, you announce loudly, ‘Felahu!’ ‘I got scared!’ Too young to have been told that boys don’t cry, you often do. You announce to the world the indignity of scraping your knees or a bump on your forehead. Be the man who is not afraid to admit falling. Good men can cry.

Your sister is certainly not afraid to cry and I have often seen you wipe her tears with your pudgy palms, telling her your version of ‘ayzosh!’ Be the man women can come to with their hurts and their stories, the man who can keep secrets and listen without trying to fix.

You are not only your sister’s confidante and rival, you are also her devout follower. Unfortunately, our resident queen is very much into what’s known among parents as the Princess Phase and it follows that your vocabulary consists mostly of ‘Pinshesh’ and you’re overly familiar with Barbie characters. As long as I’m your Mama, you will be allowed to play with dolls – may they help you grow up to be a nurturer who is not afraid to care for your children, if you choose to have them. You can play with any toy that tickles your curiosity, read the books which call out to your soul, bake a cake or a mud castle as you see fit. I will tell you, like I tell your sister, that all the colors we have are yours to paint with, to wear, to own. Be the man who can laugh off limitations based on something as arbitrary as gender.

Princesses are well and good but what you really love are lions. I overheard a conversation between you and the mirror the other day, ‘Ante Mindineh? Tinish Anbessa Neh?’ ‘What are you? Are you a small lion?’ followed with a small roar fit for a toddler king of the animals. With your tawny skin and tight light brown and curly hair, you have come to remind me of a small lion – not least for your remarkable courage. You love horses as much as you love the idea of lions, and the first time I put you on the back of a horse, I expected at least some apprehension. But you, my fearless son, grabbed the reins and started jumping up and down on the saddle, crying ‘Che Che Che!’ The Ethiopian mother in me fast-forwarded fourteen years to motorcycle racing and bungee-jumping and concluded ‘this is the boy who will give me a heart attack.’ But that is on me, not on you. Don’t let your Mama stop you. Be the man who is unafraid of the unknown. The man who takes chances. The man who travels the world and greets everyday as an adventure.

Like your sister, you’re friendly and tell random older men in restaurants, ‘Abbaba, Bila!’ – ‘Father, Eat!’ It means the world to me that you see everyone. You greet the women moping the floor of the shiny malls and often hang out with the guards of the neighborhood. Be the man who never forgets that everyone has something to offer. A real man looks all women and men in the eye. Your privileges – wider horizons and more languages – have been granted by the lottery of fate, you have not earned them. Be a kind man, my son, because nothing else matters.