On my 61st birthday, the morning after relocation from Atlanta to Bogota, I found myself awake in a three-bedroom apartment with seven (was it eight?) people.
Welcome to a new world, explorer.
As the sun crowned over the Andes, my new nuclear family—sometimes nuclear in all senses of that word—appeared one by one from their bedrooms.
Beautiful Adela, my fiancée, escorted sleepy little Ana Maria, nicknamed Anama, her seven-year-old, to the bathroom. Anama has Cri du Chat Syndrome. She often stares into the air, watching something none of the rest of us can see. Angels, maybe.
Adela’s robust 10-year-old son, Juan Manuel, sat at the dining room table, snapping together a new Lego creation. Juanma knows more about Lego creations than Mr. Lego. Or whoever.
Visiting aunt Loren from Valledupar sat in the window and coughed, the distinct cloth-ripping sound of a smoker with a nasty cold. Her son-in-law emerged dripping-fresh from the shower. A light-skinned fellow even by Colombian standards, he insisted I call him by his nickname: Negro.
I come from Alabama. I flinched every time.
A nanny, Alba, helped with the kids. She comes from some little town lost to time out in the country. Her sister, Ayda, may or may not have stayed the night. This household can barely keep up with its regular crew, never mind the stowaways.
Did I mention a rambunctious 40-pound golden retriever? Lola desperately pleads with every human in the house for a morning walk. In the nearby park, she pulls the leash, all four paws on the ground. With that traction, she could plow a field.
Adela prepares four separate breakfasts, served in turn from a small—make that intimate—kitchen. The house fills four times with the smell of eggs cooked Peruvian-style: bacon crisped in a pan, onions and sweet bell peppers softened in the oil, all this served under perfect soft-yolked eggs.
School buses arrive, one for Anama, one for Juanma. The aunt and … ah … Negro head for the airport. The nanny … or nannies … disappear. Adela goes off to be an ophthalmologist, putting on a sexy white lab coat, instantly professional.
Alone, the dog and I look at one another. In a TV show, the music would swell at this point, and Lola and her master would reach some great unspoken understanding. The man would tousle golden fur on the dog’s noble head. Lola would gratefully lick the hand that feeds her.
Cut to a commercial for Kleenex. My modern family, Colombian style, completes another episode.