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The house is mostly darkened, though not quiet, for Renee has her slide whistle in bed, and McKinley has his ukulele. Renee has figured out how to hum into the slide whistle, kazoo-style, and McKinley is singing whilst strumming–first an improv lullaby, and then “batman’s comin to town.” All this couldn’t make me happier.

Except maybe this: McKinley knocking at the door, and coming in with his uke in its little cardboard box. “Look at this, Mom,” he says, and he pulls off the cover to reveal the uke nestled in a baby quilt. “I need one of those cases, Mom, like Rae has for her violin. We need to get one tomorrow, OK?”
This is actually a tactic children use with their mothers whereby they charm them with their
inventiveness, or some other delightful quality, and once charmed into this hypnotic state, they suggest all sorts of things to their poor unknowing mothers.

“Oh, yes, McKinley, you do need a case for your ukulele,” I say.

“Let’s look for one on the internet right now, Mom!”

“Oh yes, McKinley, what a good idea!” And we search for cases, first at Lark In the Morning, where I ordered his ukulele from, and then at other sites. His great grandparents sent him twenty-five dollars, so he could spend that money for a case if he wants.

“I want one with a strap, Mom, so I can carry it on my back, like Sean,” he says, looking at me intently to make sure the charm doesn’t break. Sean is his uncle, my baby brother, who has offered to give him ukulele lessons. In my mind I see the two of them together, striding into the world of music, instruments slung across their backs.

Oh, the bliss of it all. “Oh, yeah, look here’s some like that right here. They’re called gig bags. What a good idea, McKinley.”

“So we’ll order it tomorrow and it will be here in like two days, right, Mom?”

I laugh. Something like that, McKinley.

Renee had a ballerina Christmas, and spent most of the day on her tippy toes twirling and leaping about. Part of her ballerina package included a short ballet lesson DVD, and this afternoon she sat down in front of the screen and followed the stretches, positions and leaps with great intent, three times. First she just watched it, then she practiced with the ballerinas in the video–in her Angelina Ballerina outfit, and then in a fairy outfit. She was completely and totally adorable as she did the stretches–on her hands and knees, kicking her feet into the air, her pink tights with white hearts, pink leotard, and pink tutu showcasing her precious, pinchable bottom. And when she wasn’t dancing, she was cradling one or both of her twin dolls, whom she named after her twin cousins, who are now beyond adorable at seven months old.

And there were other gems of the day: Rae’s exuberance over her violin, and then watching her make breakfast in her bitchin’ handmade apron–black with sugar skulls, a black velvet ribbon, and a black tulle ruffle. Alex’s genuine appreciation for her gifts, especially the chain necklace that I just knew she would love. Bert’s open heart and gratitude for his gifts. Rae, Bert, and Andrew going into the woods to play paintball, rolling through the door later with laughter and welts.

At the end of the day, at dinner (which Andrew made because I’ve been achy and icky with a cold most of the day), there was some disturbance, caused by the friction of my older three’s relationships with their birth mother. Alex and Rae are very negative about her, which is, all in all, rather realistic, and Rae wants as little to do with her as possible, without being unkind. Alex will talk cheerfully with her for hours on the phone (she loves an audience), but then will hug me long and sad, saying how happy she is that I’m her mother. And Bert holds no grudge against her, as he has a fantasy about how wonderful it will be to be together again (something he’s never told me, but that I’m quite certain is the case–and I think it’s only natural). She left them ten years ago, and hasn’t seen them since. Anyway, Alex and Rae were speaking angrily about some of the things she said, and Bert got angry about that. “Why don’t you just let it go!” he had said, and Rae burst into tears. “How can I just let that go?” she cried, “when I was just a little kid and she left me like that! And then she says she loves me like that is actually supposed to mean something!” She got up from the table and went to her room in tears.

I do not envy their position at all. They’ve been dealt a hard hand, though now they are old enough to begin to understand that they got lucky, too. But I try my best to guide them through this tangle of abandonment as best I can, and tonight I tell them that they each must respect how the other siblings feel about their birth mother. If Bert is offended by this negative talk about her, then respect that, and don’t talk about her like that in front of him. If Rae doesn’t want to talk to her on the phone, then don’t hand her the phone when Anita is on the other line, because Rae won’t be able to say no to that. And in the end I say, “All of you, I love you so much, I am so proud to be your mother, even if I didn’t birth you. I was struck by your beauty from the moment I first laid eyes on you.”

And that is the truth. I can remember that moment so clearly now: Bert swinging from the awning, Rae and Alex telling me how to improve the landscape I was painting. (“Paint some deer there,” Rae commanded.) The light that glinted bright in their eyes. Did I know at that moment, on some level, that they were part of my path? That we would join hands and walk together as a family? Sometimes, when I think back on it, I wonder if maybe I did know, that I might have sensed that we were bound for each other. But nothing, nothing, nothing could have described such joy to me as I feel tonight, nothing could have foretold this heart of mine, bursting with love, this circle of seven, woven together with scraps into this quilt of radiance. I am so blessed by my children, all five, all five.


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