I hate that these two years of your life aren’t being recorded for permanent safekeeping in that little noggin of yours. The most this experience will likely ever be to you is a fun fact you keep tucked away in your pocket to pull out for those “tell us one thing we wouldn’t guess about you” sort of games at summer camp or your first week of college.
Benin? I imagine your new friends asking incredulously. Where in the world is that?
Then again, if we stick with this lifestyle and you spend all your formulative years in far corners of the world, you’ll likely have even more interesting facts tucked away in those pockets, and maybe Benin won’t ever come out at all. That’s even more sad.
Though you won’t remember your time here, I firmly believe it’s shaping you into the person you will one day be. I believe that loving and being loved by all sorts of people of varying backgrounds and skin shades will allow you to respect and value everyone equally in your adult life.
I believe that hearing and starting to speak a handful of languages is flexing your brain muscles in a way that will be evident long after your knowledge of these specific languages fades away.
And I believe that eating anything and everything and rolling around on the ground who knows where is helping you build the finest immune system a little American boy could possibly have, you lucky son of a gun.
Because you won’t remember Benin yourself, I’ve decided to take a moment to collect some memories on your behalf and scatter them here on the interwebs for you to hopefully discover at some point in your future.
Flynn, I wish you could remember your great fortune of living a fraction of a mile from an international airport. Being a boy, you are naturally obsessed with all things that go. You know, before I had kids, I thought these sort of stereotypical gender preferences were forced upon little ones by their parents, but I assure you that you were demanding cars and trucks and planes before I bought you a single toy rendition.
Luckily you get to watch a dozen or two airplanes take off each and every day. You run to the window and sometimes out to the front porch at the sound of them, wave your finger up to the sky and say, “Airplane! Airplane?” You turn to me with wide eyes, like you’re questioning whether it could it really be so, whether you could really be so lucky as to see yet another real live airplane right above your very head.
And then of course there is the dilapidated airplane a few blocks from our house, abandoned as the result of some sort of customs dispute, as the story goes. You constantly ask to take walks to see it, and when I tell you no, sometimes you try to sneak out the gate and bolt down the street to go yourself. Luckily I’m still bigger and faster than you.
Flynn, I wish you could remember living by the ocean. Your dad first dipped your toes in it several days after we arrived, and since then it’s been a huge part of your little life.
Your bedroom window opens to the sea, and as you get your diaper changed you look out and tell us about the boats or the sand or the waves. Although you still call the ocean a swimming pool, you talk incessantly about the beach and sand in both English and French, probably because you visit it bucket and shovel in tow multiple times a day.
Sometimes when your dad and I get home from work and you are nowhere to be found, your dad points his telescope out the window and finds you and your nanny playing a little ways down the shore. The undertow by our house is too strong for you, but on weekends we drive a bit outside of town and let you splash around in the water. You run as fast as you can into the waves until they knock you down, and then giggle.
Flynn, more than anything else I wish you could remember your nanny Marie. At first I was jealous and nervous about how much time she got to spend with you. I feared you’d love her more than me and your dad. But somehow everything worked out. She never took our places. You love Mom. You love Dad. You love Marie too, and she loves you as if you’re her own. In fact, she refused to take paid time off when your grandparents came to visit until she spent a week getting to know them and finally decided they could be trusted with you.
Marie carries you in the traditional African way, tied up on her back in bright cloth, and this is your very favorite place in the world. Even now at two years old you hate to fall asleep anywhere other than au dos.
You spend your days with Marie going on walks, coloring, dancing, singing, playing; I am constantly amazed by the unlimited amount of energy she seems to have to make your life fun. You light up at the sight of her, but you probably light up even more at the sight of her son and daughter, who I’m fairly certain you think are your brother and sister. They build block towers for you to knock over, teach you how to kick a soccer fall, and let you climb on their backs for horsie rides. You speak beautiful French with them all, and when they try to say something to you in English you just laugh. You know that French is the special secret language you all share.
Marie told me once that after we leave she might try to find a housekeeper rather than a nanny job, because it’s just too hard to grow to love a child and then say goodbye. I get it. To be honest with you, the thing I’m dreading most about leaving Benin is your last à tout à l‘heure with Marie.
There’s more, of course. The goats and horses you greet on your walks around town. Your play dates with kids from all over the world. The mosquito net that you get in and out of more seamlessly than your dad and I are able. The giant lizards you chase through our yard. The guards who come find you for a high five when reporting for duty. The ladies at the nearby bakery who all greet you by name.
You’ve had a good life here, Flynn. This country has been kind to you. Though you won’t actually remember it, I hope in the future your time here means something to you.