Something Like Family

South Lake Union Docks

Every year in June, one block south on Midvale Avenue, the parents throw a big birthday bash for their little boy. This year it was a mariachi bouncy castle. Latino children streamed down the street for hours, in twos and threes, black hair bobbed in bowl cuts, their mothers close behind, arms swinging, dressed in shorts and flip-flops, sometimes a thermos of coffee for the long evening ahead.

I stood in my kitchen grilling a cheese sandwich and giggled. Children toppled out of the bouncy castle, which jolted with the beat of the mariachi band playing in the parking lot. One little boy—I imagined his name was Geraldo—made a grand act of launching himself out of the castle and then seating himself demurely on the edge of the bouncy platform, one ankle propped on his knee, his arms folded in the manner of adults, making a show of carrying on a dignified conversation while he bounced up and down with the music. I laughed and laughed.

But then I got quiet.

I stood for a long time at the window. I watched the mothers waddle down the road in their flip-flops, chattering in Spanish, as their children scurried down the gravel shoulder toward the castle. Dusk settled in over the clouds, streaked with power lines like behind my grandparents’ house in Kennewick. My sandwich burned. I scraped it out of the pan and sliced it and ate.

The children bounded in and out of the castle, up and down the road, gleeful. Unaware of their parents’ mortgages and minimum wage jobs and credit card debt, their visa status. The women poked their heads through the castle gate and waved dishrags at their children, receded and clustered around the parking lot talking.

I wondered if they know how lucky they are.

How incredibly lucky. To watch children grow older, year by year, to know their names and not have to invent them, to look after them and pour them glasses of milk and settle disputes over bicycles and then one day, to stand by and shade the eyes and watch them fly.

One woman in a tank top pregnant. She had not been pregnant last year. All the women eyeing their children, hands flitting through silver air, grounded by their denim capris and ponytails, always coming to the same house. Year after year, returning. With the same names. Shared names. The same weight of love on those rolled, tired shoulders.

Do they know how lucky—how goddamn lucky—they are.

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