Eighteen years ago tonight was a normal Sunday night for me. I don’t remember a single thing about it. But I remember everything–absolutely everything–about the next afternoon. Because on Monday, May 21, 2001, I found out I had a son.
For almost 4 years, I had dreamed about this moment. I had dreamed about everything. The first meeting of cousins. The phone calls to grandparents. The first sighting. Laying around and reading classic literature together for hours.
I had a lot of dreams.
Most of them were 100% false and just as insane.
I’m not sure who I thought I’d become once I had a child. Somewhere in my broken brain, I had dreamed up that when you become a mother, you transform. Suddenly. Into something much better than you were before. To be fair, there are transformations that occur. No one can warn you about the enormous love you suddenly feel for someone that would pluck your eye out accidentally or throw up down your favorite shirt. You learn to run on fumes. You develop willingnesses you never imagined. I cultivated a weird liking for stinky feet. I mean it. I loved the smell. It was embarrassing.
But you–even as a mother who loves exponentially–are still you.
And I was still me. Sometimes unfortunately so.
One thing I wanted to become, couldn’t become, and wasn’t smart enough to stop myself from public appearances during my attempts to become, was a birthday cake maker and party planner. I wanted to give Andrew THE PERFECT PARTY. I wanted to be that mom.
I faked my way through the first few, because he was young and not in school. No one told me I was bad at it. But on his 8th birthday, in 2nd grade, no one had to tell me. I knew.
The first of that day’s fiascos had begun at 10:40 p.m. the previous night, when I attempted to pick out a cake. For the sake of time, here’s a bullet list of the mistakes that followed.
Mistake #1 – Choosing a cake over individual cupcakes. Mistake #2 – Buying a gallon of vanilla ice cream instead of the little cups with the wooden spoons. Mistake #3 – Waiting until 10:40 on a Wednesday night to go cake shopping. Mistake #4 – Deciding to buy yellow frosting to write his name on the cake myself but not deciding to buy Betty Crocker cake piping tips to give myself half a chance of not looking like a sloppy drunk wielding an icing gun. Mistake #5 – Filling a ziplock with icing and thinking I could write Happy Birthday, AG on a round cake at 11:30 at night. There is no day or time of day when I could have pulled this off. But certainly my chances narrowed the closer to midnight it got. That there isn’t a picture of this catastrophic gesture is one of the greater tragedies of my life. And Andrew’s. Mistake #6 – Not getting a babysitter the morning of my attempt to cart the previous mistakes to school for his party. Mistake #7-Loading the cake in the back of the stroller but not using a 5-point harness. Mistake #8 – Curb over ramp. Taking a short cut over the curb, when a perfectly smooth handicap ramp was 20 feet away. Mistake #9-Slow reaction time when the cake fell off the stroller and flopped onto its head. It was 91 degrees outside, the top of the cake actually stayed stuck to the box after I turned it back over. But no one could see how badly my “Happy Birthday, AG” looked anymore. #silverlinings Mistake #10 – Forgetting utensils. Nothing to cut the “cake” with. Nothing to scoop the ice cream with. Nothing for anyone to eat any of it with. I had to send my son into the cafeteria to beg for 20 sets of those cheap forks and napkins that come with Wednesday’s baked chicken and mashed potatoes.
Later that afternoon, I attempted to hold yet another celebration for the boy at my parents’ house. He and three of his friends, their moms and sisters, and my family were present. It all seemed to be going well and the curse lifted until I stood up, smacked a hanging, potted plant with my head, knocked it off it’s roost, and watched as the soil and water poured down into the seams of the pizza box and onto the Meat Lover’s Pizza. Bad news for Meat Lovers. That round went to the Fern.
I learned something about myself that day that I never forgot. From that point forward, I brought cupcakes and baby Bluebell ice creams. I learned I would never be a baker, or a decorator, or a caterer, or an event planner. I learned that to get to mediocrity, I was going to have to first slog through ruination. And I learned that 8-year-olds will eat a cake that looks like compost and pizza that has compost in it.
Eighteen years ago tonight, I didn’t know he was mine. Ten years ago tonight, I was reliving my failures of the day. Tonight, I’m just soaking it all in. The mistakes are just memories. The dreams are up and coming.
Tonight, I am no longer dreaming the dreams for me. I am dreaming them for him.
Your life is just getting started, boy. Grab a cupcake and go get it.
There are days when it is not good to be me. Like Friday
night when I was tasked with rolling the 4-ton, top-heavy, PTA popcorn machine
200 yards from the carnival site to the PTA closet. Twice the rubber stopper
came off one leg and I had to backpedal and lean down to retrieve it without
losing my grip or my balance. Twice the machine almost went over on its
glass-doored head. The second time, it was a done deal. A lost battle. A gory
defeat. It was past the halfway point and I wasn’t going to be able to prevent
it. It careened forward in slow motion on its deceptively stable-looking wheels
and I was already writing the reimbursement check in my head as I threw my body
into stopping it from hitting the ground and shattering.
It didn’t hit the ground.
My knees are tender and the color of a a suitcase full of Muppets.
It wasn’t a good day to be me.
But Saturday everything changed.
On Saturday, I wouldn’t have traded with anyone on earth. Not a millionaire. Not a Size 4 skinny jeans model. Not a New York Times best-selling author. Not a New York Times best-selling author with a sweet apartment in Greenwich Village.
Because on Saturday, I was a mother. A mother with all 4 babies in one van, who drove 2 hours to meet another mother. This meeting had been coming for 17 years, 11 months, and 14 days. I had been waiting for this meeting for 6556 days.
On Saturday, we met with Andrew’s birth mother for the first time since he was 2 days old. We met her family for the first time ever.
When you adopt a child, this day is always in your mind. I
managed to keep it toward the back of my mind most of the time. It wasn’t a
thing of dread. It wasn’t a thing of joyful anticipation. It was simply a thing
of mystery. I knew it was coming. I knew I wouldn’t fight it when it arrived. I
didn’t know when or how the event would unfold and present itself.
Andrew has always known he was adopted. I believe he has never felt strange about it. It is part of his history. It is as much a part of him as his hair color or his gnarly toe-fingers. (Todd says they are finger toes, but we agreed to disagree.) He has never wondered if he was loved. But he has always wondered where exactly he came from.
“I can look at Brady and see that he has neurotic tendencies of both you and Dad,” Andrew said to me 2 weeks ago. “I want to see why I’m NOT neurotic. I want to see why I’m this way.” He was half joking, but right about everything.
One afternoon in early April, he shut the back door behind him as he came home from school and walked through the family room on his way to his room. He usually keeps his message simple and nods and waves. I usually ask questions he doesn’t prefer to answer. This day, he paused.
“So when can I meet my birth family?” he asked. I looked up.
This wasn’t a hypothetical or rhetorical question. It deserved my attention and
“Soon,” I replied. I didn’t have specifics. “I’ll see what I
That answer was enough for him for the moment and he moved on. I did, too. I might have been tempted to file my “soon” answer in the same place where this event has always been. But that evening of that same day, I checked my email and saw that his birth mother had written. Out of the blue. She didn’t ask about a meeting. She has never asked about a meeting. But she asked about him. About us. And the timing was a little too coincidental. Soon was sitting in my lap.
When I finally emailed her an update on us a few days later,
I threw out a fat pitch. She hit it over the fence. May 4 was chosen as a day
to get together.
It’s difficult to articulate everything that went into planning
that one meeting. There was no catering to figure out. No outfits to coordinate.
It seemed like a simple thing to set up. But it was one of the hardest,
most-complicated things I’ve ever done.
By Monday of last week, I began to sleep fitfully and have vivid, inescapable nightmares. In almost every dream, I was looking for something crucial. In one dream, I spent the entire time searching for my cell phone. In another, I had a son named Seth that I let out on a highway and drove away from and could no longer find him when I went back to search. My fears were running rampant as I tried to sleep. I was afraid. I was afraid that if I opened this new door to let the birth family in, Andrew would walk out and not come back. And I would spend the rest of my life looking for him while I second-guessed everything I did for 17 years. I was afraid that he would meet her and no longer need me. And maybe I would know that wasn’t true. But would he think it was?
I knew those were irrational fears. But I couldn’t convince
myself of that when I fell asleep at night.
As Saturday approached, the magnitude of what we were about
to do occurred to all of us in some way. For me, it was sleeplessness and
nightmares. For one or two of the other kids who hoard Saturdays like a winning
lottery ticket, it was the realization that this was going to take the entire
day. They asked for a pass to stay home. This isn’t our deal, they said. You
and Dad just take Andrew and we’ll stay home. We denied that request without a
moment’s consideration. We are Snapps. We are a unit. There would be no way to
honor this event, or Andrew, without all of us present.
With the popcorn machine near-catastrophe behind me and a jumble of thoughts in my head, I put on my jeans with the paint on the butt (because they’re my favorite) and began to herd people toward the garage to leave. Andrew came out wearing his New York Spider-man shirt and flip flops and did not want to shave or comb his hair. We made him shave, because he looked like I imagine Shaggy would look after Scooby Doo had been cancelled and he hadn’t seen daylight or a human for 6 months. We also made him wear actual shoes. Then we all piled into the minivan at 10 a.m.. We loaded up with snacks and drinks for a week. It would take an hour and 49 minutes to get there.
About halfway there, I plugged my phone into the car and played
the music from my Babies playlist. Feels like Home was playing.
“I’m afraid I’m going to do something silly when we see
them, like cry or something,” I said to Todd.
“If you don’t want to cry, I’d stop listening to this song,” he said. He was right. I switched the song immediately to Rush – YYZ and stayed on classic or prog rock for the rest of the journey.
Saturday traffic on I-75 made us 15 minutes late. I hate being late to anything, but I especially hate being late to something big. April and her family were already in the restaurant. She was sitting at a table with her 3-year-old. Her husband and 8-year-old were at the counter ordering. We stood there. None of us knew exactly how to handle this moment. To look as us from across the restaurant, you might think we had chosen not to handle it at all. But soon enough, introductions were made and we were all sitting around a table catching up on a lifetime of two separate worlds.
We had some little things in common. Interests in books and
music. A general dislike for school.
We had one big thing in common.
We all loved Andrew.
We were all there, around that table, because of our common
love for one boy. A boy who started out skinny and had big red lips and long
toes. A boy who sat at a table with two families almost 18 years later, still
skinny with big red lips and long toes. A boy who was the oldest son in my
family, navigating his way with 3 younger siblings. A boy who has 2 half siblings,
the older of whom has longed to meet him since she first heard his name. The younger,
a sweet little blonde with Down syndrome, is just learning to say his name.
The first 60 seconds of awkward melted into an immediate
comfort level that pushed my nightmares of the last week out of my head
forever. We talked and laughed and ate and compared notes for an hour. We were
all happy. But no one more than Andrew.
From that meal, we drove down the road to a bowling alley where the rest of April’s family awaited us. We had gladly agreed to meet her parents, her sister, and her nephew and her niece. We had agreed on the basis that they were not league bowlers. They assured us they were not. They assured us they were bad bowlers.
Their pants caught fire right after the 7th strike.
I found out things on Saturday that I had never known. I learned things about their family and things about the week Andrew was born. I watched this family interact with each other and with Andrew. Toward the end, Amara took Andrew by the arm and asked him to go to the arcade with her. He was more than happy to run off and play video games. They followed that up with a visit to the laser tag room where Jenna and a cousin joined in. The four of them emerged 15 minutes later drenched in sweat and laughing like bad ventilation was the funniest thing on earth. And at that point, it was time to go.
We stood around in the parking lot for a few minutes and Andrew received two very special homemade gifts. He took a few pictures with different groups and gave everyone a hug. Then everyone piled back in their vehicles to return to the life from which they had come. We all returned to the same home we left. But none of us returned the same people.
It has been 3 days now and I’ve slept deeply and peacefully
since. I’ve not had a single nightmare. I’ve put my fears in a drawer with my
shorts that don’t fit and a new life goes on. We are barreling toward the last
day of school at a speed that dries the whites of my eyes. I’ve thought about
Saturday almost non-stop since pulling back into town. During those initial
conversations around the lunch table with his birth mother, something happened.
When Andrew wanted to tell April something about a memory he had or a trait he
wanted to share, he turned to me for the validation. For the details. For the
ending to a sentence that he had started.
She gave him life. But then she gave him to me.
I was his mother.
I am his mother.
For 6556 days, I dreamed about what might be. For 6556 days, I worried about what might lurk under this stone if and when we turned it over. I worried that if I opened this door, even a little, Andrew would use it to escape. But instead, he used it to come home.
A year ago, if I wrote every eleven days, I was sticking a gold star on my head and calling it a day. Under my new set of goals, which I have kept more than I have abandoned, writing every 11 days is grounds for a swift kick. Embarrassing. Yet, that’s where we are. Sadder still, this post is going to smell like the bottom of your shoe.
Not that you care, but here’s my problem. When I’m chewing on something big or heavy, whether positive or negative, that thing sits like a boulder between me and a well written paragraph. With the boulder(s) sitting there, I have two options: (1) Write my way over or around the boulder, which is how I process my life, or, (2) Hurdle it, pretend it isn’t there, and write something else. If the boulder is not something I’m ready to discuss or not something I’m even able to discuss, Option 1 is immediately eliminated. I’m finding out that I’m not very good at hurdling and writing about something else. I’ve been on the same paragraph of a story from 1985 for a week now. Clearly my hurdles need some work.
My oldest boy is always on my mind when May rolls around. I’ve been very open about our adoption story and I’ve probably said the same thing 10 different times, changing a few words here or there. This year he’s on my mind more than usual, because he turns 18 this month and has some big things on the horizon. I lay awake at night lately, re-raising my children and worrying that I haven’t done enough. Certainly I haven’t. Usually, as I re-raise them while they sleep, the end result is the same. I don’t think a mulligan would help this time. Even my fantasy self, who runs rampant at 3 a.m., doesn’t parent as well as I want her to.
Two nights ago, I fell asleep at 10:30 and was feeling pretty good about that. I had planned it so that I’d get 7.5 hours of sleep. Unfortunately, my eyes snapped open at 1:59 a.m. and I was immediately thrust into panic mode. It was as if I’d heard a prowler in the house. From that point on, I worried about things as big as saving my children’s souls and as small as having forgotten to thaw the roast for the next night’s dinner. I got up to thaw the roast. That was one thing off the list.
After hours of tossing and turning, I fell back into a tortured sleep and had a dream. It was a stupid, non-sensical dream. In it, I was on a retreat by myself at a rustic campground. There were sections of tents, along with screened in cabins. There was also a strangely exotic shopping district right in the middle of everything. It was like having a sub-section of New York City dropped down into the middle of Cambodia. Of course I went shopping. I didn’t buy anything. And somewhere along the way, within 20 minutes of being on site, I lost my cell phone.
The rest of the dream is me wandering from site to site searching for my cell phone. I’m sure there is a messed up psychological component to this. I don’t want to know what it means. I wandered into the first cabin, which had dirt floors and rickety bunks lining the screen walls.
“Hey, I’m looking for an iPhone 7 plus with a white case,” I said. Only one girl looked up from what she was doing and she tossed a phone off her bunk at me. It landed on the dirt floor at my feet.
“Fine,” she said spitefully. “Just take it.” I picked it up and inspected it. The screen was shattered. My screen wasn’t shattered. Wait a minute. I don’t have a white case on my phone. This isn’t my phone. Some other schmo shattered his screen and left it to die in this cabin. I walked past the shopping district to the next cabin. It looked just like the one I had already searched. When I walked into this one, I took one step and sunk down to my waist in thick mud.
“What the heck?!” I shouted angrily. “Who is causing this mud?” Because that’s a normal question to ask. I tried to crane my neck around as I struggled to pull out of the mud and saw a man in his 40s running around with a garden hose, dousing the dirt floors until they were quick sand. “Stop making mud! I just want to find my phone. It’s an iPhone 7 with a pink and black case on it from Five Below!”
No one even looked at me in Cabin #2, which seemed surprising, given the fact that I was now covered 100% in mud and making a lot of noise about an iPhone. And the mud.
In cabin #3, I pulled back the covers on a stranger’s bunk and there sat my phone. Phew, I thought. I picked it up and took it with me, feeling relieved that the ordeal was over. I started back toward my own cabin to change clothes when I decided to make a call. I pulled the phone out of my front pocket only to discover it was an iPhone 6 with a purple and black case. Oh, good grief. What in the world.
At this point, I began to say to myself within the dream, “Wake up, Missy. Your phone is charging next to you on your nightstand.” But I couldn’t seem to wake myself out of this muddy, phoneless nightmare.
Then my alarm went off.
Better posts coming soon. First I gotta step over a boulder.