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. I have 3 biological children that came as gargantuan surprises 3, 5, and 7 years after the adoption that changed my world. In all three of those kids, there is no mistaking the apple, the flaws of the apple, and the exact tree it fell from. Andrew needed to see his tree.
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 an answer.
“Soon,” I replied. I didn’t have specifics. “I’ll see what I can do.”
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 every parenting decision I made 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 that Saturday meeting 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. The birth mother, Audrey, 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, 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, Andrew’s half sister took him 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 my daughter 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 Audrey 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.
Maybe every day is a good day to be me.