The Greatest Gift

This past Saturday, my boy turned eight.  Eight!

Where has my little one gone?  I looked away for just a moment and years slipped away.

I’m melancholy for days of a tiny boy dressed in onesies and blue jeans, small white sneakers on feet not yet walking.  A bald head, so smooth to touch, bright eyes and a smile.

My pal, my little man, who went everywhere with me.  Graciously listening to my ramble from his car seat, greeting me every morning with a smile and at night, a snuggle, while reading Good Night, Moon and Big Red Barn.  Those books, now tossed by the wayside, making room for Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

What a beautiful baby you were.  Happy, curious, never once bothered by two strangers whisking you away from all that was familiar in a northern Russian baby house to a new home far across the sea.

I think you knew we belonged to you, as much as we believed, you belonged to us.

I ponder your birthday…the day you were born and how I wasn’t there to greet you as you emerged into the world.

Who welcomed you?  Who was first to hold you?

Those thoughts used to break my heart, distraught I’d let you down by not being there in your first moments, your first weeks, as I’ve been everyday since you were six months old.

I’m better about it now.  I understand you were in good hands until you were in mine.

This year, your birthday and Mother’s Day collided on the same weekend.  I wasn’t a mother until you.  Motherhood was out of my hands until a woman I never met made it possible.  I owe so much to a stranger somewhere on this planet, maybe still Russia, maybe not, for giving me the greatest gift of my life.

You.

And I wonder, does she think of you?  Of where you might be, if you’re safe?  If you’re happy?

I hope somehow, she knows…You are.  For that is the only gift I can give her.

I see you now, my eight year old.  So grown up, in such a hurry to rush headfirst into being a teenager.  Before your time.

Before I’m ready to let go of my little one.

Slow down, please.

Happy birthday to my beautiful boy.

An Ordinary Day

It’s closing in on October, or I should say, Pinktober, and I have the makings of a blog post sitting next to me, but it’s not ready.  I’m still wading through the conflicting emotions I have toward the whole pink thing, so instead of pushing through, I’m pushing it aside for the moment and focusing on a question asked by the lovely Marie at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.

It’s an intriguing question.  One, I haven’t been able to let go since reading it several weeks ago.

If I could relive any day in my life, which would I choose?

Thinking about this brought on it’s own questions.

Could I choose to relive it using the knowledge and perspective gained with time?  Is that cheating or simply the answer to a very different question?

Assuming I couldn’t change anything, which day would I choose?  Would it be about cancer? Some sort of milestone day?  My wedding?  My children’s adoption days?  Maybe a day with my mom, when we were both young and breast cancer had yet to invade our lives?

Nothing I reminisced about seemed right — special enough.  Or even ordinary enough…For this gift.  Because that’s what it is.  The gift of reliving one day.  A precious gift given once, to be used once and then gone.

As I pondered, the weather changed.  Fall moved in and brought to mind one very ordinary day, during one ordinary September.

I was married, living nicely with my husband and big dog in a small house.  I had given up my job in the city about four years prior, right after my mother died, and was going to graduate school to study education.  For a job with more sunlight and laughter as opposed to dark edit rooms and stressed out clients.

On this particular day, I was working in a private school, heading their after-school program and subbing in the Kindergarten.  I had just been asked to teach the Kindergarten for the entire year since the teacher was taking an unexpected, extended maternity leave.

It was an amazing opportunity.  One, that validated my decision to leave video post-production after so many years.  It would all work out…except I knew I wouldn’t be able to accept it.  There was something I had to do.  I just didn’t know when.

The weather that evening was beautiful.  Perfect autumn in New York.  The leaves were changing color.  Jackets weren’t yet required.

After dinner my husband took our dog outside to keep him company while he mowed the lawn in the late day sunlight.

I was sitting in our living room when the phone rang and in that instant, I wondered if it might be the call we were waiting months to receive.  It was something about the time.  It was still dinner time and unusual for most people to call.

When I said hello and heard the start of an unfamiliar voice — I held my breath and hoped.

“There’s a baby,” the man from our adoption agency said.  Born, only four months ago.

“Yes, yes, yes.”  Was my answer to all his questions.  An email with a photo and some sparse information was on its way.  I could hear my husband still mowing outside.  I was about to make his day.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  In a way, I am reliving it.  The sun was getting low, as I went out to the yard.

“The agency called.  There’s a boy.”

Our boy

Waiting for our old computer to boot up was excruciating, but the email was already there.  Before we could read a word, we were drawn in by a little face.  Our son.

The idea of our baby had become reality. Now, right in front of us.  A face to match our visions.

This day, this moment was the start of our new adventure.  The beginning of our family.

I wouldn’t be able to keep the teaching job much longer.  I had to go to Russia.  Our baby was waiting.

Two and a half years later, we’d get another call, about another baby and it was equally special. Beyond exciting, but nothing compares to those first moments, when our dream of growing our family was finally so real.

It was a happy day.  The promise of a future had never seemed so clear.  In the years since, cancer would cloud our future, but on that day it was brightly laid out for us to see.  It was that day, when all was right in our world and our world was on the verge of great change, that I would relive in a heartbeat.

Seven years later

If given the gift of reliving one day, which would you choose?

Mother’s Day comes to November

Cancer normally rules my posts, but not today.  Today, I will not talk about how life has changed because of it.  I will not talk about seeing life through cancer’s glasses as if life before cancer (BC) didn’t matter as much or was somehow easier or I was somehow less aware of the world around me. I won’t talk about how cancer taught me to enjoy the small moments. Nope, cancer doesn’t get the headline today. It’s been shoved harshly aside because today is the anniversary of my oldest son’s adoption and I don’t need some disease to teach me the importance of that.

Six years ago today, my husband and I stood in front of a judge in northern Russia and became a family of three. It’s a day we celebrate every year, just as we do his birthday.  It might even be a bit more special since we weren’t there at the time of his birth.  He was born to us six months later.

Recently, I read a blog that questioned the moment a woman knows she’s a mother. Is it when a newborn is placed in your arms?  Is it earlier?  What was the signal that switched off self-centered narcissist and switched on caring, loving, nurturer?  That question is clearly meant for myself.  For the blogger, it was the first feeling of a flutter deep within her body.

That got me thinking, wondering how I can answer that question.  I’m a mother, but my babies were adopted.  I didn’t have nine months of a life growing inside me.  My body didn’t change into a physical reminder that, like it or not, I was about to become a mother. It was completely mental for me.

As with all impending arrivals, there was lots of baby talk. Lots of preparing for he or she in ways all parents do, buying clothes, setting up a room, but there were also ways no biological parent would ever know, such as divulging every personal and financial aspect of your life to strangers…in triplicate.  There were many, many months spent sloshing through agency and government red tape, all for the goal of a baby… the idea of my baby.

Still no flutter.  When did I first feel like a mother?  It certainly wasn’t when the judge declared me one, the baby wasn’t even in the building, least of all, my arms.

About a month before that court day, my husband and I were standing in a sunny nursery filled with changing tables and square, wooden playpens large enough for several babies.  This was our first introduction to a Russian orphanage. We were surprised and pleased that it was so cheery.  The ladies taking care of the babies, these caregivers, were genuinely invested in their well-being.  They were loving.  Did they feel like surrogate mothers to these little ones that didn’t have mothers or was it just a job?  Did they realize their actions would lay the foundation of who these children would be? Not my actions, not yet.

Eventually, our interpreter walked us over to a changing table where a lady was undressing a baby.  We were told he was ours. The sweetest boy I’d ever seen was squirming naked on a changing pad.  He looked good. Ten fingers, ten toes, but was this the baby I had been waiting for?  Hard to say.  I was waiting to feel something, a connection that was not biologically grown.

How is one supposed to feel the second they’re given a six month old they’ve never seen before?  Immediate love? Is it instantaneous for those that have given birth? Is it easier to love when the baby’s only moments have been spent with you? When his first six months are not unknown?  Who is this baby and can I love him? A lot of questions.

The caregiver dressed him, picked him up, turned his face to us and handed him over.  As I reached for my son for the very first time, that little face, that baldy-bean, gave me the most beautiful, toothless grin ever given to anyone on the planet in the history of mankind.  I was sure about that and sure of a flutter deep inside.  Here was my baby. It took a journey of more than a year and many thousands of miles to reach him, but he was my baby just the same as any biological mother’s.  Here he was to love, a life to care for, nurture and share.  I was a mother in that moment.  Six years ago.  The best day ever.

PS.  In all honesty, the anniversary of that court date was November 10th, but with my kids off from school and my husband home recuperating from knee surgery, this post is a little late. The sentiment remains the same.