"Sometimes I like Christmas, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes Santa doesn't come, because I'm not a good boy."--Malachi
When those words are spoken by a five year-old with the face of an angel, it's enough to break your heart. I've only met Malachi twice: we don't have a particularly close extended family, I see most of my aunts and uncles twice a year around the holidays, and Malachi is under the legal guardianship of one of mother's brothers and his wife. They've taken him in sometime between last Thanksgiving and Christmas and are currently going through the process of legally adopting him.
I can only assume that his life up until now has been less than idyllic. No one can find his biological mother, his father is addicted to drugs and either in jail or on the run from the law.
I first met Malachi last Christmas, the Christmas of oh-one. I remember talking to my mom and she was going on and on about a conversation she'd had with her brother about Malachi--a last-minute addition to the guest list at Christmas, which made my mother less-than-thrilled as she was already in holiday panic mode. "So now I have to go and buy some gift for a four year-old I don't even know!" Between a child and my aunt's huge golden retriever as unexpected guests, her carefully constructed world was on the verge of falling apart.
Despite her initial misgivings, my mom is not a tough sell, especially given her proclivities towards five and six year-olds (she taught first grade for over thirty years), and seeing Malachi walk through the door with his curly blond hair and gi-normous blue eyes and start giving hugs was enough to make her forgive any "inconvenience" that he might have caused in her life. When he opened her gift, a fire truck (with working siren!), his eyes got huge- "I've been wanting this my entire life!"
Both times I've seen Malachi, he's latched on to me. I'm not sure why, this might have to do with the fact that I tend to act as if I'm closer to his age than my own 21 years, or maybe that I'm the second youngest person in the house, or maybe it's that I'm the only one in the physical condition to keep up with (and wear out, I'm proud to say!) a kindergartner after a plate full of turkey and a couple of glasses of wine. After dinner, which he spent going around the table intermittently to give hugs to everyone, I took him outside and realized that this backyard had never ever been played in. We were about to change that-- and boy was I glad that I'd been lifting weights for the past couple of months as I had to catch(!) this boy more than once as he fell out of trees from heights above my head. "You'll catch me, right?" "Sure thing, just let me know when you're about to go..."
I was also in charge of bringing Thanksgiving dinner to my grandparents across town (and what a very little town it is!) who were unable to attend because of my grandmother's recent health problems. I was leaving with a bag full of food when Malachi comes running up, asking if he can go with me. He makes all the appropriate entreaties ("Can I go with Christina? Please?!? Thank you!" and trips as he runs up the stairs.)
It was on the drive over that he said this, about not being a good boy, about Santa not coming. I was at an intersection and watching him in my rearview mirror, and it was all that I could do not to pull over and give him a hug that lasted for five minutes right then and there. Instead, I turned left, and we drove by a park which fascinated him so I promised that after we saw our grandparents, I'd take him there.
Like I said at the start, Malachi is the kind of kid that will break your heart into tiny little pieces. You can do nothing to change the past, and there's no guarantee that life will get better. He's had it tough, much tougher than I could have dreamed, living in the fairy tale world of a nuclear family, and it's left scars. There's no way that it couldn't. You see it in what he said to me, you see it in the way that he craves physical affection more than I've ever seen a boy that age seek it. When we play hide and seek, every time I find him, he turns his face up at me expectantly for a kiss. You know that he's been scarred and you just hope that it doesn't cause problems for him down the road, but you also know that it might be too late.
Five years old, and it might be too late.
The only thing that you can do is give his forehead a big *smooch* as you answer, honestly, "You're my favorite cousin, too." That, and, trite as it sounds, hope.