The Matchbook Diaries

February 29, 2024 Shanghai Day of Grace with my Leapling

Mom and her daughter Fran, my Chamorro sister and
godmother to my boy who is sitting between them.

We did not have children in the first decade of our marriage.

After 9/11 in New York we moved overseas – first to the little island of Rota. It’s a tiny place.  Rota sits on the deepest ocean trench in the world; it is home to 3000 native people.  There are only 12 miles of land there total.  It is my favourite place on the planet.

The Chamorro man for whom my husband worked, Melvin, invited us to his mother-in-law’s house that first week for dinner.  We played Texas hold-em that night for the first time and didn’t stop until 5am, at which point Uncle Odie, one of the patriarchs of the family, fried us up some Spam for breakfast.  We never learnt names except from Melvin, who was, at the time, my husband’s boss.  So his mother-in-law became Mom to us, his aunts and uncles ours, his sisters, brothers, ours.  We never really did anything all the years on that island that we did not do with that family.  We still talk to them every single day.

A few years into it on my birthday at Mom’s she looked at me and said, “I can make you pregnant.”  Mom, or Auntie Tita as everyone else called her, was by then everything to me.  It got to where they’d leave the empty chair beside Mom for me at gatherings.  She was the holiest person I ever met, a woman for whom miracles were routine, and if I had a million pages I could write about those.  But, as she was the island medicine woman, she was telling me she could make me pregnant at 39.

So that week she had one of her sons – she raised 6 children – take her into the jungle where she spoke to the plants, got their permission, harvested certain leaves, and compounded them into a little ball which was then wrapped in gauze.  I was to insert it.  I felt like the Michelin Man  – I was puffy and fertile.  Then it fell out as it was meant to. I was pregnant within 2 weeks.  They gave me gigantic surprise baby showers on two islands.  I lived on the big island at Mom’s daughter’s house right before the birth as the little island was dangerous for an older woman to have a baby.

So I had my boy on the 29th of February, all the members of the Chamorro family sitting outside the room for 22 hours wondering why white girls are too weak to get out a baby.  Later that day we were all back at the house playing poker, passing my newborn hand to hand.  He is named for his father, making him the fifth, in the Southern tradition, but we gave him a Chamorro nickname, Singko, which means 5 in their language – and my baby has never gone by any other name.

When we brought him home to Rota, with his blue eyes and blonde hair, Papa was very disappointed that Singko was white- he took him gently from me and said, “But Aimee, this is a white baby!”   In the end Papa Tony adopted me officially as a daughter of their clan and completely embraced Singko as his own.  Singko was the first white child ever made with Chamorro native medicine.

He has 17 sets of godparents on Rota – 1600 people came to his christening.  Mom came to our place every day and sat with me hour after after until she was sure I was OK with my new baby as it was obvious I was terrified.

So indeed, February 29 is a day of grace.  My baby turned 16 today, his 4th real birthday.