We need to start with this truth: when I tell Selam we’re going to do something special, she always has the same question: “what can I wear?” So when I told her we were going to go to Hartford to get her American flag, what she really wanted to know is whether or not she could wear her Sunday School shoes.
I can understand. They are very special shoes—brown patent leather (I looked long and hard for those) Mary-Janes with a buckle that has both gold and silver–and a few rhinestones, too! They never go to school (all shoes must have rubber soles for the gym) and we don’t play in them either (might get scratched up.) So we wait all week for their shiny, glossy goodness.
In addition to the shoes, Selam thought she should look like a “flag of America.” A blue and white polka dotted dress (“They look like stars!”) was paired with red tights and a red sweater. She wanted a red striped sweater, but none was to be found. She thought perhaps we could go to the store before school and get one but alas, not only are there no stores open at 7 a.m. that sell red and white striped sweaters in size 4/5, but there’s also the fact that her mother is mean. And cheap.
She was consoled when we found a hair clip that her cousins gave her last Fourth of July that was resplendent with red, white, blue and sparkles.
I sent her to school for a half day, and picked her up at noon for the hour-long drive North. After a few bites of nuggets (special!treat!), she slept for the duration of the ride.
She was still audibly snoring as we pulled onto Main Street. I’d been to USCIS twice before today. The first time I was the crazy lady wearing the collar and bearing 8.5×11 photos of the saddest looking Selam you’ve ever seen. It was Good Friday. My clearance to adopt was extremely overdue. The courts in Ethiopia were rumored to close in June or July and I was desperate to have my application read before closing. I chose the sad photos and held them up to the glass partition as I begged, begged, begged someone to look into my case. Personally, I think I scared them because a week later I got a call that my form had been expedited and was done. Would I like them to mail it to me? Um, no. I left work, got in my car and drove like the proverbial bat up to the state capitol, and waited, trembling, for that precious piece of paper. When it was in hand,I drove directly to the first Staples I could find, and faxed it to Washington state.
Those were crazy days. I spent a lot of time faxing and overnight mailing and getting everything notarized. They recognized me at the local UPS/notarypublic/faxforafee place. Everything was so frantic and rushed and quadrupled back then. All I did was work and adopt.
I had almost forgotten that time period. But as a different Subaru edged its nose to the good parking in the back, my heart started racing again. There was no rush, though; no race to be won, no fax machine to locate. Selam is a citizen already. This was just the very expensive receipt.
My friend had already gone through the Certificate of Citizenship drill last week, so I knew it was going to be a short and painless process. I signed her name four times: Selam Lanalee Adane Olson, by Susan K. Olson, mother. Her name looked funny in my writing. I’ve only ever printed it before. She won’t need this form until she’s an adult. I wonder what she’ll think, then, seeing my signature where hers should go? On her behalf, I signed the Oath of Citizenship, as well. Selam received a handshake and an American flag, which is really all that she wanted. I hesitated on the oath, to be sure. Was it right to renounce her fidelities and allegiances to Ethiopia? I mentally added the words “government of” and let it go. Who knows what allegiances she will truly hold when she’s an adult? For now she’s American, for better or for worse.
I left that building, past the metal detectors and the white haired men with their guns. I turned left to follow the path to the good parking, holding hands with my daughter, the one with the small American flag in her hand. I retraced the path I’d followed with the sad photos, the path I’d run with the single sheet of paper. “We’re done, Selami, no more courthouses. Should we get a treat?” “I want to get a treat.” “What do you want?” “I want to wear my shiny shoes all day.”
I smiled at my fully American, fully habesha daughter. Her shiny shoes flashed on dingy sidewalks as she half-skipped to the car.
At the last minute that morning, she had asked to wear her cross, an Ethiopian cross carried back from her home country by a colleague. We had to run back into the apartment to get it, the cross we wore on special occasions—her baptism, Christmas, church. I was nervous to let her wear it at school, afraid it would end up buried in the sand table, but she was careful. When I got her at school, she loudly announced that “my meskel is still on my heart, Mommy.”
The brilliant silver of that necklace caught the afternoon light . It bounced on her ski jacket, sending flashes of memory and tomorrow upward, toward her face, toward my heart, toward the wide new sky, toward allegiances and fidelities that she will never renounce or abjure.