Modern Family

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Raising Danny

Rick Hodes has been designated Danny's legal decision maker and Danny has taken Hodes as his last name. (With D.H. as his initials, Berger notes, he can use Don Hewitt's monogrammed possessions.) Under Ethiopian law, Berger is considered too old to legally adopt the boy, who is believed to be 8 and is now in second grade. But he will live with Berger -- permanently. "Danny is still in my life," Hodes explains. "But Marilyn is able to give him such opportunities. I could give him half a mattress. He's in a different world now."

Indeed, Berger took Danny skiing this winter in Aspen and later on a trip to Los Angeles, where he attended a private screening of How to Train Your Dragon and he played with Julia Roberts's twins. "I tried to tell him American people don't all live this way," says Berger, "but there he was in a plush screening room eating frozen custard."

A small, lively boy, Danny is grumpy this afternoon when Berger retrieves him from school. His teacher has just chastised him for being too boisterous during a baseball game in Central Park. He loves baseball so much that he has been sleeping with his mitt under his pillow. Berger hugs and comforts him and Danny takes her hand while crossing the street. Soon he is mischievously kicking a ball down the sidewalk. If he bears psychic wounds from his traumatic past, they are not visible. "He never asks, 'What if I had been left there?'" says Berger. "I've offered to take him back to Ethiopia to visit, but he says he wants to stay here."

Berger is keenly aware that Danny came along at a time when she would otherwise be bereft. "I read somewhere that mourning comes in waves," she says. "I have a feeling it's still coming -- sometimes I'll see Don's keys, his eyeglasses. We'll be having dinner and I'll think, without Danny I'd be having dinner alone."

Yet life with Danny astonishes her every day with moments of joy. "I am blissed out," says Berger, who transformed Hewitt's old office into a bright bedroom adorned with a Spider-Man comforter and matching rug. "Danny said he wants to call me mom. I told him I can't replace his mother, but I can be his American mother."

Formerly a late sleeper, Berger is now up at 7:30 a.m. to wake Danny. Afternoons find her supervising his piano lessons or playing catch in the park. And rather than go to the opera at night with widowed friends, she's at his bedside reading out loud. She shows me the book of jokes they have been giggling over of late. Her face turns incandescent when she talks about Danny. "Danny is a little Don," she says, "a very large personality even if he is a tiny figure. He does as much for me as I do for him. They say I saved his life, but he has also saved mine."

Berger is the author of This Is a Soul, a book about Rick Hodes that was published this past April by William Morrow.


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