He held out his little arm like he was a long-lost member of the Supremes, performing Stop! In the Name of Love.
“Not you, Mama. He pronounced it “muh-muh,” and closed the curtain in his mother’s face.
I can still hear the “shoosk” as the curtain rings slid on the pole.
He was about five or six then. In November, he turned 16. Where does the time go?
“He” would be my nephew-son Magnus or Maddus, as I like to call him. Years before he drew the curtain in his mother’s face, barring her entry to join us in the M&M’s World photobooth, he was a young toddler learning how to identify objects by pointing at them or naming them when adults pointed to them. One afternoon while administering such a quiz, I asked him his name.
“Maddus,” he replied with all the confidence in the world.
“No,” I chuckled. “Mag-nus.”
“Mad-dus,” he repeated with emphasis, as if I were in the wrong.
“Magnus,” I urged.
“Maddus,” he growled. I sensed a pending tantrum, amusing me to no end, but I knew better than to get into an argument with a stubborn toddler. This was the same kid who called the “remote” the “namote.” I’d have to let it be until he saw the error of his ways. In the meantime, he’d branded himself with his own nickname. His mother, my cousin Rose doesn’t bat an eye when I ask for him referring to him as Maddus.
Just as I don’t bat an eye when she refers to him as my nephew-son. We stole the phrase from the UPN show Girlfriends. William, the male lead, was asked to be the sperm donor for his sister and her partner. He obliged and referred to the child as his nephew-son.
Rose and I bond over TV shows quite a bit. She’s the only cousin I call with cousin before their name. We thought it was strange that the Cosby children called their cousin “Cousin Pam” on The Cosby Show. Of course, we address our aunts and uncles with their titles, but they’re our elders. Rose is my only single syllabic named cousin, so it was easy to give her the moniker without it seeming clunky, among several others I have for her. She and Magnus are programmed in my phone as Cousin Rose and Maddus, respectively. Nephew-son and Maddus will follow this kid into his manhood.
Several years ago, Cousin Rose and Maddus were visiting me from Boston. Of course, we had to hit the touristy spots, namely Times Square. First up: the now-gone Toys R Us. We took a spin on the huge indoor Ferris wheel. I regret not purchasing the overpriced $30-something souvenir photo. I remember that my skin and melanin were poppin’ that summer day!
As we strolled through Times Square hypnotized by the flashing lights, we moseyed to M&M’s World for the main purpose of us jumping into the photobooth. Long before they had become popular rentals at birthday parties and weddings, they were a rare find. I’ve never met a photobooth I didn’t like and didn’t return to for repeat sessions. In the early years of living in New York, almost every time a family member visited, I insisted that we make our way to the M&M store on the outskirts of Times Square so we could flick it up. I went often enough to notice when they made the switch from giving a strip of 3-4 photos to single 4×6 photos.
After walking the floors observing overpriced candy, toys, clothes, and other paraphernalia, we finally came upon the photobooth. I climbed in first, followed by little Magnus. I turned to grab him and put him on my lap so there would be room for his mother.
Much to my surprise—and pleasure—he denied his mother entry into the booth.
I was beyond shocked, but at the same time couldn’t contain my laughter. The feral child in me even felt an emotional lump in her throat. He had chosen me over his mother. He wanted this moment to be between just him and me, his aunt-mom.
On the other side of the curtain, Rose grumbled, “Gee thanks, Magnus.”
I asked him if he was sure that he didn’t want his mother to join us. He insisted it be just the two of us. I let him choose the background. He selected the one with the American flag as a border with the Green M&M dressed as the Statue of Liberty on the right, and M&M’s World graphic in the left corner, just below his chin. Who knew we had such a Patriot on our hands?
His little head barely makes it into the photo. It looks like it’s floating. Our eyes are looking upwards, no doubt glancing at our faces in the preview screen. My locs are styled into a flat-twists leading to a low bun. I look bald. I have no idea where those dangly earrings just centimeters from my clavicle are anymore or the last time I wore them. The glasses I’m wearing have been retired from public wear and relegated for use during at-home workouts. They prescriptions are so expired I would never wear them outside of my apartment. The coating on the lenses is scratched and frames are faded, so I’d be too embarrassed to wear them in public anyway. I can tell by the small peak of spaghetti strap that I’m wearing an orange and white Maxi dress that I still wear every summer.
We’re both smiling, showing almost all our top row teeth.
To this day, it’s one of my favorite photos of us. To this day, I still chuckle at the story behind it. It’s framed and displayed on my bookcase.
Little Maddus isn’t little anymore. He’s head and shoulders taller than I am now. He calls me Auntie Sher. He gives the best and warmest hugs, and the sloppiest kisses, still.
Still living this story years later
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