Idara crawls into Oren’s crib just after he’s woken up. She says to him, “I have to tell you a secret.” She leans in, cups her hands around his ear, and says “I love you.”
Idara asks if Rachael and I are done talking yet and I say, “Go play with Oren.” She says he’s boring, and I say, “You better get used to him because he’s going to be around for awhile.” She asks what I mean and I say, “Someday you’ll be 100 years old and we’ll be long gone, but you’ll still have Oren.” Idara can’t read books, but she can read between the lines. She asks, “You mean someday you’ll die?” “Someday, but you’ll still have Oren. That’s why Uncle Forrest and Auntie Kjerstine are so important to me.” “Because they’re your parents?” “Because they’re my brother and sister and they knew me when I was little and they’ll know me when I’m old.”
Idara asks, “Who are your parents?” Surely she knows this, but I answer, “Mimi Dawn and Pepe Ricky.” “Are they married?” she asks. “Not anymore,” I say. She stares back at me. “How can someone get unmarried?” I have to choose my words carefully now. “They just decided. It was better that way.” She looks at Rachael and me. The wheels are turning now, but I can’t tell how fast or in which direction. “I’m going to go play with Oren.”
I pick Idara up from school and she pulls down her mask and says, “Kiss!” She puckers her lips and opens her eyes wide to make sure I’ll reciprocate. Before we walk to the car she says it again. “Kiss!” And again as I’m buckling her into her carseat.
It reminds me of when I used to kiss my parents on the lips. If I remember that, maybe someday she’ll remember, too. I also remember realizing that I was too old for this. Someday Idara will stop, too. It will start as a sliver of light between us and grow into a blinding sun.
Idara is asking why I tax her candy. “I tax you because you tax me.” She asks me how long she’ll have to pay taxes for. I tell her that I’m still paying taxes to my dad. She asks, “So how long?” “A long time,” I say. Later I learn that the tradition started with my grandpa, who’s well on his way to ninety and likes to tell me, sarcastically, how fun it is getting old. But he never complains about the taxes.
I kiss my four-year-old goodnight for the last time. Rachael and I hang a “Happy Birthday” sign on the wall of the kitchen, tape balloons to her chair, and tie a fake disco ball to the ceiling fan. We thought she might like pancakes or waffles for breakfast but instead she has requested Froot Loops, which we packed in a suitcase for our return to Azerbaijan.
Five years old is as good as birthdays get. She doesn’t have much for gifts (a bow and arrow, a sketch book, a few other little things). And the decorations are all slightly-worn hand-me-downs. And she couldn’t be more excited.
I was worried, for a moment, that her excitement would keep her awake. But when we checked on her a couple minutes after saying goodnight she was in the same position: head propped at the edge of the bed, hand holding aside the pink curtain that hangs from the ceiling, and sound asleep at four years old, for one last time.
On a walk outside of Gebela in northern Azerbaijan.
Sometimes Idara gives me a look and I think, ‘This is what you’re going to look like when you’re older.’
Or maybe this is what Idara is going to look like when she’s older.
She still can’t get enough of princesses, dresses, and pink. But I can.
Smelling a flower at Baku’s Botanical Garden.
On a walk in Lahic at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains.
A final portrait with her good friends during the last few months of our first year in Azerbaijan. Amie and Nattie.
We found Idara some bunk beads so she turned the bottom bunk into a reading nook with curtains (made from sheets and blankets) and a lamp.
Walking in the grass in Zaqatala in western Azerbaijan.
At the school garden in Baku which we helped plant in the spring.
Capturing laughter makes for the best photographs. Even more special was that I managed it on film with a $20 manual focus camera.
Reading to Oren.
Digging in the dirt along the Metolius River in Central Oregon.
Kidnapped by Pepe, the Tickle Monster.
Don’t mess with Idara.
Not the best picture, but what it captures can’t be beat: Idara laying down with me in the oh-so-cold Metolius River.
With her cousin Josie. I asked them to make serious faces.
Celebrating her birthday a few weeks early during our summer vacation in Oregon.
With our friends Jake and Bethany and their kids Holland and Elsie during the last few days of our summer vacation. For some reason Idara has decided that this is her pose. I’m trying to make it mine, too.
Idara’s first day of P2 (preschool for four-year-olds).