My 2-year-old niece, 3 next month, alternates between “I Want” and “Mine.” She has mastered the fine and necessary art of finding the adult who will grant her wishes. If “tata” and “unco” refuse, “cucu” is always willing. Based on whether or not one grants her wishes, one gains access to her, “Come Here,” or is discarded, “Don’t Come Here,” or, my favorite, “Don’t Talk To Me.”
I will admit that I often yearn for the “I’m Not Talking To You!” which is followed by blissful silence. It compensates for the games of hopscotch played very loudly at 6 in the morning—she sleeps at 8 pm, I sleep at 3 am, we are temporally disjunct. And I am told that I missed the “worst of it.”
I remain fascinated by her as she is the youngest in the house. As the kehinganda I have no younger siblings and my screen memories are still very much screened.
I wonder if, like her, I tore off my clothes and ran through the house happily naked; if I had the easy knack of dying white clothes brown by simply living in them; if I yelled at the dog and then tried to play with it; if I echoed what others said, was cajoled into saying certain things, if I grew impatient with my elders and said “NO!”
Much of this still sounds like me.
* * *
My niece has a very strong Gikuyu accent—we don’t know where it came from. Ontogeny and phylogeny and what recapitulates what float through my head. For now, we, or I, have fun.
“Say fried rice.”
It’s easy to entertain myself.
* * *
Many years ago, I told my best friend that the problem with people in new relationships and those with children is that they believe the quotidian exploits of their loved ones are endlessly fascinating. So far, I have been spared the worst of mommy talk.
But I find it odd that I’m tempted to engage in, well, mommy talk. That I have written many many pages on my nieces, can write many many more. That I have recognized mommy talk as a dangerous disease that catches one unaware. That I have the good sense or the bad internet connection (getting better) which means I can withhold most of the many pages.
* * *
I continue to wonder what it means to be a queer uncle.
How to negotiate one’s embedding and embeddedness.
My nieces know my brother, have an idea of what an uncle is, and I’m told my physical resemblance to him is startling. I begin to wonder what attaches, how one attaches, how one structures and re-structures attachment, how one’s daily habits shape one’s social world.
* * *
When my niece fake-cries, I fake-cry. We negotiate how to perform our roles. When she looks at me and says “mama” in English, I respond. I tell her that one looks at the people one addresses. It is a game now. I am “mama,” my sister “mama,” the chair “mama.”
Is this how one queers relationality?
To queer is to multiply one’s attachments, to experience and seek after the ambivalent pleasures of the social. I would prefer that my niece not grow up with Gikuyu privilege, that sure arrogance we wield so clumsily even as we disavow it; I would prefer that she not learn the distinctions between intra and inter, that, instead, she look around her multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi school and always know a world where one’s attachments multiply and extend, always.
This is as close as I can come to prayer.