I knew I’d finally won him over when we were singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in the car. We were taking turns filling in the blanks:
And on that farm he had a….
We’d run through the standard cow, horse, pig, chicken, duck, dog, cat. It was Musse’s turn to pick.
And on that farm he had a….
“Karen!” he shouted, then erupted into gleeful giggles, unaware that his moment of inspiration had me almost in tears.
I was midway through my Saturday adventure with the two older deGuzman kids — 4-year-old Jesmina and 3-year-old Musse — and I finally knew I’d been accepted by the always affectionate but sometimes reticent Musse. This moment was huge.
I first met Jesmina and Musse on the playground at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in the spring of 2009, when they posed with their mom and dad for a photo that appeared in our May 2009 magazine. That morning changed my life forever. As the kids played in the sand with their dad, cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, I talked with their mom, Keri, a former pediatric intensive care nurse, who shared the story of how these two Ethiopia-born children had come to be part of their family. Keri told me she and Brian had applied to adopt two more children from Ethiopia, a largely impoverished country on horn of Africa, where millions of children are orphans.
Before we left the park that day, Keri invited me to join them when they traveled to Ethiopia to bring home the two babies. Sixteen months later, in July 2010, I met the two youngest deGuzman children for the first time in a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was a deeply moving experience that left me feeling forever bonded to two beautiful babies who are now rambunctious toddlers, brimming with energy, personality and smiles.
In the 15 months since we all returned to Phoenix, I have visited the babies periodically, always interested in their growth and development, unwilling to sever my connection to their extraordinary family. Because my visits typically happened in the morning, on my way to work, I’d often miss Jesmina and Musse, who were off at school. As honorary “auntie” (thanks to Keri’s generous insistence), I’d been looking for an opportunity to spend some time with them, too.
So on Saturday, I took Jesmina and Musse to see the Valley Youth Theatre production of “Dora’s Pirate Adventure.” When I arrived to pick them up, Jesmina greeted me with excitement, a warm hug and a picture she’d drawn to thank me.
Musse was in double character as both Superman and a pirate. He wore the pirate hat throughout our five hours together, which included the (very cute and enjoyable) play, a pizza lunch, a long walk at the mall and, just before we headed home, a frozen yogurt treat.
At one point in “Dora’s Pirate Adventure,” Dora and gang encounter a character called The Singing Bridge, who is struggling to remember the correct words to “Old MacDonald.”
For me, that song will now forever be associated with two laughing children in the backseat of my car — and a tenuous connection made lasting and real in the joyful exuberance of a 3-year-old’s sense of humor.