As with most things in life, I was rarely the first kid to dawn the latest styles, relying mostly on a thrifty mom whose concern for the budget was greater than her concern for my vanity. We had many privileges, no doubt, but coolness did not factor in the order of priorities. So it was that as my friends were showing off their Cabbage Patch Dolls, both the official brand versions and the homemade sewn-together kind, I watched with envy, wondering when my day would come. Then one day, my mom who was prone to springing the occasional surprise, sent me up to my closet to look and see what she’d brought home for me. Stepping into the walk-in closet, there he was, perfectly-packaged and straight from the Cabbage Patch itself, my very first brown-skinned boy, complete with birth certificate, named Adam Vaughn. He was perfect.
Subscribing as I do to the belief that God is the author of my life, I think of this fondly now as one of those moments of divine foreshadowing. Today, I am the adoptive mom of two amazing, bright-eyed and beautiful kids from Ethiopia.
What feels like a lifetime ago, I once wondered when, if, how I would become a mom. I kept my grief to myself. Those kids, the ones you hold in your mind’s eye before you even know who you’ll have them with, the ones that share your eye color and your quirky disposition–I would never know them. They would never be. One day while watching the movie “Julie and Julia,” alone in a theater, I sobbed over a scene where Julia learns that her sister is pregnant. The childless Julia cries as she reads a letter from her sister with the news. My grief occasionally caught me by surprise; my own tears startled me. I had celebrated the pregnancies and births of several friends’ children by then and kept relatively quiet about my own disappointment at not getting pregnant myself. I’d also experienced the joy of bringing home my daughter just a year earlier. Thinking back on this, I now understand that this is what we humans do when things don’t go according to plan. We grieve.
Then, just as I was beginning to emerge from the fog of early parenthood, and that grief had all but diminished, my world fell apart. The life I’d known and the man with whom I’d created that life with were lost to me. During what was a bewildering season, my marriage dissolved in a matter of months, and I found myself alone on what was only my fourth Mother’s Day. Instead of a shiny new necklace, I wore grief around my neck that day. My kids may well have been the only thing I got up for in the morning, but that was enough because, for one thing, I am still here.
What is left of that sadness is now mostly about me making peace with my past than any deficiency in my kids’ lives. I cannot relate to their divorced-parent reality, to having a stepmom and step-siblings or living between two homes. They, however, don’t know anything different. Their home is not broken in their eyes; it is different than what I had hoped for them. There’s less room these days for pining for what was because now is looking pretty darn good.
What I have learned is that healing is work; striving to live well and rise above my circumstances has been the best gift I could give my kids. For when my own heart is full, it overflows into creating a sense of well being for my kids too. When I am well, my kids are well. Holidays still knock me off kilter sometimes, no matter how loving my support system is. So this year, I ordered my own Mother’s Day gift, a pair of red Tom’s and a necklace set to arrive on Saturday, not for lack of love from anyone but, rather, as an act of caring for myself.
Most of my life as a parent has been as a single mom. It’s not what I expected, and it came about with great price to my dreams and expectations. But grief is being crowded out by joy, and I know this is a sign that I am letting go. Being a mom is being a mom, no matter how you come by it. Motherhood is perhaps less about being an actual “mom” and, instead, about the heart of the matter: love, unwavering love. That love has helped me heal. New dreams, new hopes, new adventures await, but my prayer for my kids will always remain: that they will know in their bones how deeply they are loved.
I love you Pooka-doo and Benjiddly. So much.