Three weeks before, my mother had died suddenly in London, and during her memorial service, the planes hit the twin towers in New York. The adoption agency was calling to tell me that my baby, so long sought for, was ready and waiting for me. As much as I tried not to link the two events – a death and a “birth” of sorts – it became clear that we could not go back to the US, so we went the rest of the way around the world to bring her home.
In adoption circles, this day is sometimes called a “gotcha” day. I got her, caught her right up in my arms. She had, and still has, beautiful luminous eyes and a happy smile for all. She practiced standing by bouncing off my knee, while I, tearful, tried to understand instructions about formula preparation and sleeping schedules.
That’s how I became a mom and at the same time lost my mom. It was a mind-blowing time, obviously, for everyone. But my world got very focused very fast. It became all about learning to deal with sleep deprivation (my charming girl did not sleep worth a darn), handling upset tummies (the cure was to bounce her strongly along my forearm which terrified me), and getting used to having a permanent appendage. She was very unhappy whenever I left her, even for something like a shower, and like any new mother, when she cried, my gut turned to acid and I cried too.
In that weepy, exhausted atmosphere infused with personal and national grief, I began to understand that parenthood, something that everyone can warn you about but no one can prepare you for, was a ride that I couldn’t get off, not for a minute, not for 20 years.
I had never been that committed to anything or anyone, not even myself, if I’m honest. And little B needed the whole enchilada from me. I sank into the commitment aspect of parenthood like it was one-part bubble bath, one-part boiling oil. My head was reeling from din of the new, endless, mental soundtrack that was always saying “Where’s my baby? How’s she doing? Is she ok? Is EVERYTHING ok?!”
Ten years later and the soundtrack is fainter. The girls are generally ok, and they can talk to me more, which helps me know whether everything is ok. And my overwhelming sense of responsibility – how it was all UP TO ME to make their whole lives perfect, has been buoyed by enough successes to help me relax. And honestly, my parenting has also been battered by enough failures to learn there’s only so much I can do, no matter how I feel about it. They’re alive. They’re growing. They say thank you occasionally. That’s pretty good.
Formula, onesies, booties strewn across the floor, being whacked in the face all night long, vomit on planes, operatic concerts from the rear-facing car seat; mud, bubbles, and paint; the trauma of leaving her at pre-school. Suddenly, she’s standing on the verge of teeny-bopperhood.
I carried B in a front carrier with her facing me for as long as I could to build a strong elemental connection. And during the first months, she was charming but bemused as she adapted to her new home. During a mountain walk several months into our new partnership, we paused in bright sun. She looked up at me and grinned, her wonderful eyes, beautifully illuminated beaming right into me. It was then I felt we were really finally here together. And we still are.