I’m coming to grips with the sad reality that summer is over — and my early September melancholy will soon give way to reveling in the Norman Rockwell autumns we have in New England. It was a good summer, punctuated of course by Mtuseni’s visit, something we had been working to make happen for three years.
Although the extent of his culture shock and reactions to it — and the twists and turns of teenage moods — caught me off guard, it was amazing to have Mtuseni here. The speed bumps we encountered only provided more insights that will help me guide him through new experiences and challenges as he transitions into the post-school real world. As a friend told me, courtesy of John Steinbeck, “What good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?”
Indeed it was a very sweet trip. So herewith a random sampling of moments and memories of Mtuseni’s visit that make me smile:
Watching Mtuseni’s post-15-hour flight jet lag begin to lift as we walked into Times Square and he began to realize, “I’m in New York!” The first of many times I heard, “Take my picture!”
Dinner at an outdoor cafe after our first day in Boston — where he had to buy a “B” cap so he could fit in. A Facebook post gloating to friends enduring the SA winter.
Biking along the Charles River — watching him speed off and do tricks to “impress” me (and being thankful that I forced him to wear a helmet when he pushed the limits a few times).
Sitting with my radio student at the Public Garden fountain where my professor held our radio class on a warm September afternoon — shortly after Marconi invented the technology. A circle I had wanted to complete for some time once I knew Mtuseni would study media in college like I had.
Watching Mtuseni become an excited kid at the aquarium, just like when we were in Cape Town. He loves penguins (and sharks). In another life maybe he should have been a marine biologist, though we need to get him over his fear of the sea.
Having Mtuseni meet and connect with good friends — who were excited to meet him and who know his story and have celebrated with and supported me through the ups and downs of my four years with him.
Taking him to the top of the Pru and pointing out all the places we had been to. You forget how amazing it is to be in a skyscraper for the first time.
Watching the Fourth of July fireworks along the Esplanade on a perfect summer night, tinged with an atmosphere of healing and strength and pride as the first large event following the marathon bombings.
Taking Mtuseni to the gym and watching him try to bulk up his skinny self in two weeks — followed by his ongoing quest to try every crazy energy drink flavor not sold in South Africa.
Bowing to his obsession and taking him to a huge classic car show — and pointing out the ’75 Camaro that was the joy of my early 20s and the ’66 Impala that took our family to the beach…
…and his crazy thrill at seeing a Bugatti parked outside the Mandarin Oriental hotel. This one went on his Facebook immediately (where he claimed the car was his!)
Taking a Fenway Park tour and watching the obsessed Kaizer Chiefs soccer fan listen intently to the guide’s stories of “the Curse” and other Red Sox lore…
…and seeing this hopeful radio announcer and budding journalist experience sitting in the press box high above home plate.
As when we were in Cape Town, watching Mtuseni’s love-hate game with the ocean. Some day I’ll get him fully in. If not for cell phones in our pockets, I would have thrown him in — it was 98 degrees!
Aside from these “events” — some of my favorite times during Mtuseni’s visit were just simple things. Indeed, when I asked him a couple weeks ago what he missed about being in the US, one thing he said was “having breakfast with you.”
The things that resonated for me are taking him clothes shopping to create the new “grown up” look he wants. His daily ironing (because at home the iron is a plain metal one that heats up on the stove). Hearing his laugh and squeaky “excited” voice over Sheldon’s antics on The Big Bang Theory (“That guy is crazy, man!”) Seeing how much a guy his age can eat (and knowing that anytime access to food doesn’t happen at home). Untangling the mess that he made of his laptop and lecturing him about it (and him actually listening!). And watching him sleep in the morning — marveling that this kid from Africa who I encountered online by chance through a nonprofit is in my house…and at the center of my heart and mind at all times. Crazy how the world works sometimes.
So yes, in the final analysis Mtuseni’s visit was amazing — a blend of fun and frustration, laughter and anger, closeness and conflict that is a microcosm of real-life parenthood. And yes, with his visitor visa in place for the next ten years, I’m already figuring out how to get him here next year.
Chillaxing on a boat in Newburyport Harbor.
Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!