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It’s very hard to teach a young child how to tell a small lie or pretend a bit in the name of kindness. We don’t have many occasions in which dissembling is recommended, but the one recurring one is when I take Agotich home from preschool on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Unless Simon is with my mom or Jim and Evie, he is with me and has plans for when I pick him up. Whether it is a trip to the bakery, popping in a new movie, eating a particular snack, or playing with a toy, he knows what he wants. And sitting in a dark apartment* with no boy toys and nothing to watch** while Mommy drinks tea with cardamom pods and chats away is never that plan.

I understand, but I feel bad for Alek, who is home alone all week while Gabriel works two jobs; I know she lives for the weekends when they can be together or go out and visit friends. Once or twice, I’ve coerced Simon into coming up to the apartment with me. On those occasions, he nagged me to leave and was not a good guest in Alek’s home. In fact, I was afraid he might have made Alek feel worse with his brutal preschool honesty.

So after a while, I quit making him join me. On the days I pick up Simon and Agotich, Simon waits in the car while I hand Agotich off to her mother and hurry back down stairs.*** I always feel guilty on these days, and Alek always looks disappointed. To compensate, I always sit down and chat with her on the days Simon is with my mom or Evie after school (at least once a week). Even if I feel time-pressured and plan a quick drop-off, one look at her friendly face is enough to remind me of how hard it is for me to be alone. The coat comes off, tea is served, and I stay for an hour or two. (I should also say I enjoy our chats immensely; it’s good for me, too.)

All of this information is a setup for what happened yesterday. Agotich, per her custom, fell asleep in the car before we got to her house. Actually, she fell asleep before I made it the half mile from her school to Simon’s. Unlike most days, she did not wake up when I took her from her car seat. Her head lolled and she resumed light snoring—total dead weight in my arms. Simon decided to help me by carrying her backpack and walking up the apartment steps with me. I didn’t even have to ask.

Once inside, he was quick to tell me that he was ready to go home. But before he could make for the door, Alek had turned on her new VCR (complements of a preschool teacher) to show The Little Mermaid. Next thing I knew, Simon had shrugged off his coat, tossed off his shoes, and cozied up on Alek’s couch. Minutes later, Alek brought in a tray of cookies and the plan was sealed: Simon wasn’t going anywhere.

Even after Agotich awoke from her nap, Simon stayed involved; he laughed when Agotich began to dance during the musical numbers; joined her at the window when they could hear geese by the creek behind the apartment; and happily babbled away about “little Agotich” and how she was growing. I was thrilled to see him so happy and engaged. Then he slayed me:

“Mommy, I sure do love Agotich and being with her and Ms. Alek. I want to stay here from now on.”

Alek’s smile was a mile wide. She teased Simon about moving in and promised to make him Sudanese cookies for his next birthday. Simon teased back and appeared thrilled with the plans. Not wanting to interrupt the magic, I let him eat an entire plate of cookies. We finally left two and a half hours later. His dinner was ruined; I didn’t care.

I wanted to tell Simon how proud I was of him for being so nice, but couldn’t find the right words. Especially since, in his four-year-old mind, movies + cookies + nice people = party. He had no idea he was being polite.

I’m now thinking about ways to replicate the day’s experience. All gimmicks and treats aside, I realize that the major draw for Simon is his increasing fondness for Agotich and acquaintance with Alek. It occurs to me that just as Agotich is surely benefitting from having me as her Auntie, that Simon could do the same by having Alek as his. For him, you simply can’t have too much family or too many friends. Plus, I doubt it has escaped his notice that Ms. Alek is much younger than Mommy and model beautiful to boot.

*Most Africans I know keep their apartments seasonal-affective-disorder-inducing dark. It’s a holdover from their homeland, where houses are cool and dark respites from African heat and sun.

** Matt and I have plans to get a digital converter box and see if we can get them decent reception. Having the major networks and PBS would be welcome company during the day.

***Just to clarify, the apartment has an outside entrance and I can see Simon the entire time. I’m not taking any risks here.

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