Edwige Charlot didn’t just graduate from college today. She soared. She won more awards than any other student in that auditorium. She was elected by her peers to be the class speaker. She was given a year long scholarship to the Peregrine Press, which has a wait list years long, and will probably be one of the few, and definitely the youngest artist of color, to grace their printing presses with her evocative etchings, and vibrant woodcuts. As I sat in the audience in the middle of a row of her fifteen Haitian family members, looking at her seated on stage, with Sam on my left and Marcel in my lap, I thought to myself, something is right in the world.
We had the honor of sharing in her glory because she is our extended family. One of her former professors introduced us three years ago. A month later Eddie moved into my basement apartment weeks before my second son was born, as a nanny. We needed each others help. She needed an affordable place to live (with us for free in exchange for ten hours help a week) and a family away from home to connect with. A single mother, 39, seven months pregnant with a two year old, and a full time job, I needed HELP, and someone to witness my parenting, so I didn’t go off the deep end in my exhaustion. It is not possible within the scope of this piece to explain the many ways over that Eddie and I saved each other from going over the edge in the months and years that followed. A relationship that did not end when she moved out before the start of her senior year in need of more light, and perhaps a little privacy. A relationship that I may never have forged if it hadn’t been for my children, and my good fortune to meet her when I did.
She is one of those magicians who can make a four course meal for three finicky eaters out of a piece of stale bread, some mustard, and a slice of cucumber. From Friday night dance parties with a CD she just happened to mix for the boys, to helping me figure out how to pump at/return to work, to helping me start my first blog her repertoire was endless. I tried to reciprocate by listening to her frustrations at not being seen in the world, to applauding her choices at self care, to showing her that her relationship with this family was without a doubt one of the most influential ones we would all experience in this lifetime.
So, when she emerged yesterday, after almost three months of non stop working on the seven classes she needed to graduate and told me that thirteen members of her family were arriving in two hours, I said what would they like to eat and drink? I am not known for being spontaneous. Correction, there is not a spontaneous cell in my body. But, for Eddie I would throw a party for a hundred people in three hours, and it would meet all their needs. She put the baby to nap, while Sam and I flew around the aisles of the grocery store, gathering everything she suggested. I convinced myself that no one would care how dirty the floors were. Her mother considers my children her babies. Her aunts and cousins would be too busy stressing out over Eddie’s hair and dress choice to notice that I forgot the dip. Everyone would be too busy celebrating the first child in this family on every side to graduate from college to notice Marcel’s self administered pedicure, or Sam’s less than perfect recent buzz cut by mom.
As the photo shows, the hours we spent together were joyful, easy, and all about the music, the laughter and the children, pink toe polish and all. Sam and Marcel found their role in the dynamic with ease. Uncle and I basked in the collected warmth and jubilation. I was beginning to get an even better picture for Edwige’s resiliency and ceaseless charm. A part of every person in that room would be on that stage with Eddie the next day.
The amount of loss that this aisle of people experienced as a result of the earthquake in Haiti over the last six months was probably more loss than that of everyone in the rest of the auditorium combined. At the same time, Eddie’s village, as she called them, gathered there in all their elegance and strength may have also collectively shared more joy and pride then the rest of the auditorium combined. How fitting that when the slide came up to show the audience a piece of artwork of the graduate’s choosing to the crowd, Eddie’s was the only piece that was not artwork per se, but of her family last summer arm in arm at a cook out laughing full force together. Her mother, sitting next to me, holding the sleeping Marcel strewn across her lap, shrieked in joyful recognition despite herself.
When all was said and done, and the music began and Eddie stood up, my boys started waving furiously. Their Eddie had graduated, whatever that meant, and to them they were all that mattered now. Of course she waved back, big, causing them both to explode; Mommy Eddie is waving at me and Sammy! We are graduated now too Mommy! Eddie this post is dedicated to your family, your mother, and you, the only daughter and person of hue on that stage. The honorary daughter, and surrogate mother/ rock star to me and my children. You are a bold reminder, that this graduation season we have so many young women and men we are honored to witness and celebrate dancing with bold steps on the precipice of adulthood. Thank you for inviting us to watch you capture the world.
To learn more about Eddie, her work, her family, and the collective she started , Dear World Help Haiti, please visit her at Whichprinter.
If you’d like to read more about our family, and how we came together, please see a piece debuting today on Fertile Source, about meeting my son’s birth mother for the first time. Simultaneously I am pleased to share a recent piece published at Adoptive Families Magazine in their living with diversity section on adoptive parenting meets hair care and much more at the black barbershop.