Sunday, October 2, 2016

"What If" is a Fool's Game: An Adoption Vignette

It rained today; after a sunny and warm week, the rain came in on Saturday morning.  The weather was forecasted; the happenings of the afternoon were not.  Emotional forecast:  Unknown.   This is somehow beginning to sound like the classic suspense story beginning of, “it was a dark and stormy night,” but it’s not… I wish it were.
After a leisurely Saturday morning domestic puttering alone, enjoying the Grover’s sleep-in after letting him stay up as late as he wanted the night before; he finally woke and we enjoyed brunch of fresh fruit and yogurt in front of an episode of the “Power Puff Girls,” not his favorite, but he humors me.

“Hey Ma?”

“Yeah?  Hey, there’s yogurt on your chin.”  I dabbed it away with my finger, dripping yogurt from my own spoon onto his shirt.


“Sorry!”  I giggled.  Exasperated, he swiped at his own chin (though yogurt-free) and took another bite, chewed a couple of times and spoke around his mouthful.

“You said we’d play basketball at the school today.”

I didn’t bother to point out the yogurt and cantaloupe juice that dripped from his lip onto his shirt; pretty sure he wasn’t in the mood.  I inwardly groaned, instantly taking stock of my pain level and balance; cancer is a bitch, by the way.

“I did; we will.”  I looked furtively out the living room window; sideways rain was spitting against it with a ‘tick, tick, ticking’ sound.  “As soon as the rain lets up just a bit we’ll go.”

It was a couple of hours later before we arrived at the grammar school down the hill, equipped with high hopes and a freshly pumped ball; we had the whole playground to ourselves.  We started dribbling lazily, both of us shooting each other with the cell phone camera before we ditched technology and started to play for real (okay, ‘for real’ simply meant better than we could with a phone in-hand… which actually looked tragically similar).  It didn’t take long for us to become sweaty and out of breath (me) and frustrated (him); we retired to the picnic table for a silent and brooding drink.

“‘Sup, Grove; you did well, remember, you’re more of a runner than a baller; we’re just having fun.”

“I suck at sports; doesn’t matter, I don’t really care.”

“Well, you did better than I did.”

“You’re old; I’m 13.”

“Wow… well, there is that.  Anyway, we’re just here to have fun; are you having fun?”

“Not really.”


He shuffled his feet in the wood chips, still orange from being new, by the end of the school year they would be gray like molding straw after Halloween.  He rested his chin on the basketball in his lap.  I looked at the school up the hill and supposed, out loud,

“Maybe I should have transferred you here after second-grade.”

“Why?”  He asked, sitting up and looking at me, annoyed.

“Well, when we moved over here, you hadn’t met Bailey yet; what if he had never been a part of your life?  What if he never bullied you; sometimes I think about what it may have been like for you if I’d transferred you instead of staying.”

“That’s idiotic, Mom.”  He was annoyed bordering on angry then.

“Start over.”  I said, stern, but curious.

“My life would be completely different.”  He was angry with me now; his ears turning red.

“All I’m saying, Grove, is that I wish you hadn’t been bullied; I wish I could have done better for you.”

I was trying hard to keep the annoyance out of my own voice.  I know how sensitive to change he is, and I could see he was making my supposition a reality in his head; I needed to derail that train of thought.  I nudged the toe of my sneaker closer to his, tapped the side of his shoe with mine and said,

“I’m proud of who you are, Grove; you’ve gone through a lot, and I’m so glad you’re exactly who you are.”

He didn’t respond verbally, but I watched the red fade slightly from the tips of his ears.  His ears are always the sign of his level of anxiety; I remember noting that when he was so small, but so anxious all the time.

“Maybe it would be different; maybe I would be different.  I have friends I wouldn’t have if I transferred; I’m fine, it would have made my anxiety worse from moving, than from being bullied.”

I couldn’t argue with that, even though I wasn’t sure I agreed with him, I was thankful for his words, thankful that he was articulating feelings… suddenly, I was just so thankful for… him.  I bit the inside of my cheek, trying so hard not to let my own feelings out.  I tasted blood inside my cheek, and felt a tear on the outside of it.

“I’m sorry, Grove.”  I choked out the words and willed him not to turn around; I didn’t want him to see me crying.  “I’m sorry you were bullied; I’m sorry I didn’t do better; I’m so sorry I didn’t protect you.”

“Mom... it’s fine.”

He was looking at me then; the red returned to his ears and prompted more tears in me.  I was angry, not at him, but at me… angry and sorry for so much.  So much all at once.

“I wanted so much better for you, Grove.”

I couldn’t stop the tears anymore, and I couldn’t stop the words, either.  Everything in me screamed at me to shut the fuck up, but I couldn’t, it was a Louisiana floodgate overwhelmed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t leave [him] when you were a baby; he never would have hurt you then.  I’m sorry I haven’t provided more for you; I never thought, when I adopted a tiny baby, when you became mine, that I wouldn’t be able to provide more than a basement apartment for us, and a closet, I never looked at your precious face and thought you would be thirteen and living in a walk-in closet.  I’m just so sorry.”

I stopped; I sat and sobbed across a picnic table at a grammar school while my 13-year-old son sat silent and suddenly appeared so small.

“I want a PS4.”  He said; he was chewing his own lip then.

“What?  A PlayStation 4?  I’m talking about… you’re thinking about a video game?!?”

I felt my own ears become hot then; I felt anger rising, and then pushed it back down.  Asperger’s, I thought, this is just an Asperger’s thing, he’s probably not even been hearing me, he’s thinking about a video game, this could be a good thing, I tried to convince myself (not very successfully, however, all I kept hearing in my head was, “he wants a PS4?  I’m pouring my heart out and he wants a fucking game console???).  I remained silent, but the morning clouds had quietly returned, and there was suddenly the “tick, tick, ticking” of tiny raindrops on the tabletop.

“Mom; I want a PS4, I’m not asking for one, I’m just saying that’s what I want.  I don’t want a different school, or a different place to live, or any family different than what I have.  Where we are is enough.  We’re enough.  Besides, you said that if nothing ever happens to you, you can’t know how to like what you have.  Being bullied happened, and I’m mostly okay.  [He} happened and you’re okay; we’re okay… mostly, but, I mean, you are crying at a playground.”  He smiled then, just a little, but it was a smile.

“I love you so much, Grove.”

He came to my side of the table then, sat next to me, letting the ball roll down the hill; I wrapped my arms around his chest and pulled him close to me, his back rested against my chest and we breathed together and we watched the ball as it rolled across the blacktop like the earth making orbit from one to thirteen in the flash of a moment, and it was okay, and we were enough.


“I didn’t give you the gift of life, but in my heart I know, the love I feel is deep and real, as if it had been so for us to have one another is like a dream come true.  No, I didn’t give you the gift of life; life gave me the gift of you.”  ~Unknown

Saturday, May 21, 2016

This is meant to be your baby

I’m cramming fistfuls of papers into my binder that has just exploded in the campus commons. Squatting on the cement floor, I struggle to stay semi-erect as my backpack hangs heavily to one side, my biology text book (which cost two-thirds of my book budget for the semester, and is threatening to be the reason for lifelong chiropractic care) digs into my back as a silent but painful reminder that I’m about a minute and a half from being late to class, and I’m at least two and a half minutes from the science building a dead sprint. I struggle to my feet, backpack leaning, half of a lukewarm latte in one hand, and the offending binder in the other. I lumber in awkward determination in the direction of biology when my cell phone vibrates deep in my jeans pocket.
Tucking the binder under my arm and transferring the coffee cup to the binder hand, I dig in my right, back pocket with my left hand, fellow students are eyeing me in this strange, hokey-pokey move as though I’ve just grown a third arm (which, quite frankly, would come in SO handy right now). Just as I poke the answer button the binder begins a slow but steady slide out from under my arm; backwards. In a valiant attempt at saving the binder from explosion number two in as many minutes, I clamp my arm down hard, but being an ever-so-helpful hand, my right had clamps down, too. The lid of the coffee cup pops off as the cup semi-crushes, and suddenly my arm is more interested in thrusting the splattering coffee away from my body, so the binder escapes in a cascade of paper behind me.
“Shit!” The phone in my left hand starts saying my name in my mom’s tiny, far away voice. I stare at it for a second before lifting it to my ear.
“Hello? No I’m not swearing at you; I… sneezed. Hi mom.” I slowly turn to survey the binder shrapnel behind me, the dripping cup still grasped too firmly in my hand, now dripping on the aftermath.
“Becky, there is a girl in my home; she’s pregnant and giving her baby up for adoption; this is meant to be your baby.”
I never did make it to biology that day.
It was mid-May, 2003 the day I got that call from my mom, Jan (my former foster parent, but my forever Ma). I was 26-years-old, a full-time college student and full-time nanny. Though I wasn’t married any longer, I had already had three miscarriages, the final one with my ex-husband had really been the undoing of the short marriage. I wasn’t thinking about adopting; I wasn’t thinking about anything other than surviving the last few weeks of the semester, which had been the toughest yet. (Thanks, biology.)
A few days later, on May 21st, 2003, I met her. A young girl with blond hair, blue eyes, the sweetest smile; and the biggest tummy I had ever seen on a 14-year-old; inside this beautiful, girl interrupted was my precious son, Grover.
I won’t talk about how she was already eight-months pregnant and how her being a foster youth meant there were hoops within hoops within flaming hoops to jump through and nearly no time or money to jump that high or that far. I won’t talk about the adoption agency who turned me down cold as a single woman (and “poor” in their eyes). And I certainly don’t need to recount the ups and downs of being “chosen” and yet living in daily fear that she would, at the last minute, change her mind.
I will fast-forward to July 23rd, 2003, to the part where, after God, family, and friends joined together to help get all of the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, I caught my son as he entered into this world. I held seven pounds and three ounces of squirming baby boy in my shaking hands; he was warm and slippery, pink and… perfect. I could hardly make out his tiny, squished-bug face through tears of joy that filled my eyes. The doctor clamped the cord and asked me,
“Are you his Auntie?”
“I’m his. I’m his. He’s my son.” I choked through sobs.
She handed me the scissors then, and I cut the cord between this precious gift and the selfless giver of his life, and in so many ways, of mine, too.
On this day, May 21st, 2016, the day we celebrate the miracle of my life wonderfully connecting to his, I say to Grover, my son, “Happy Adoption Day!”
To my mom, rest her soul, I say, “Thank you, Ma; you gave me the gift of having a mother, and then helped me become one.”
To all the friends and family who came together to make it happen, I say, “Thank you for your belief in me.”
To the brave and precious girl who made this day possible, I say, “Thank you. With all that I am and all that I have; thank you.”
~Rebecca Reece
May 21, 2016