We talked to our adoption agency this week on Tuesday. Our new case worker is amazing–we talked and talked. She answered every question. She was warm, personable and really attentive. She told me we could easily bring our baby home within a year. A YEAR.
I realize I’ve spent a lot of time in the deep end of the pool this week (I did title my Monday post “Entering the Grief,” which Jonathan made complete fun of). So don’t think we’re grieving this whole time–we’re so, so excited to go get our baby girl. We cannot wait to add her to our family. It’s what makes the paper chase worth it. I think the difference is that, for me, this is such a different process than adding our first two babies to our family. Then I always knew where that peanut was and, though I only knew vague things about each of them (from those preggo emails: “This week, your baby is the size of a pear!”), I could put my hands on my belly and feel them flip over or stretch. This time, the unknowns are so many that it’s hard not to dwell on them.
I’m having a little baby boom among my friends–I have several good friends and my sister-in-law who are having babies between April and August. I keep watching them and thinking, my next baby is probably going to be about this age, maybe older. If we get her in a year, that increases the likelihood that she’s already been born. That comment by the adoption case worker put me in a bit of a tail spin.
Wednesday I was listening to the Dixie Chicks CD my husband left in our car with the girls. (Jonathan loves girl folk singers with a little bit of rock–Alison Krauss, The Civil Wars, The Acorn, and Alexi Murdoch [he's a guy, but it's the style], as well as Dixie Chicks, all regular players on our Pandora stations.) We were playing through it and we got to the song, “God Speed, Little Man” and I lost it.
It’s a song about a mother singing to her son from miles away, memories of their good night books and prayers, and the chorus is a prayer over him while she’s gone. I was singing and couldn’t make it through the first chorus. I hadn’t realized that this process would bring up so many painful memories from my past. This isn’t the first baby on another continent I think about all the time.
When we left Brazil in 2003, we were “padrinhos,” or godparents, to two little boys at the Children’s Home our church worked with in a city near Sao Paulo. There were three of them in that family and we took their sister with us most of the time. I’ll call them R, S and T. R was a ten-year-old who looked at the world through large brown eyes that were shy and observant. He was quiet and reserved and so hungry for our love. S was his eight-year-old sister, who cuddled up to anyone who would let her. T was their five-year-old brother, all sass and attitude. He couldn’t speak (his mother had given him pinga, like vodka, in a bottle for most of his baby years to keep him quiet while she worked in a brothel–he had some developmental delays). He communicated with grunts and pointing. Believe me, he could make himself understood. I loved him instantly. He loved me too. I can’t explain the connection, but he was mine from the beginning and he let me love on him the way he let few other people.
They had bounced around from brothel to the street to unsafe houses before landing in the Children’s Home. We met T the first time at a party with all the kids and, being new, he didn’t have a sponsor yet (the local church had families ”adopt” a kid like a big brother/big sister program, so that each child had a family who had a relationship with them–it was a really sweet congregation). We were walking away with T to take him out our first day when Jonathan saw R watching us from the window, his head on his arms, big eyes devouring us. Jonathan stopped and walked back in immediately. Five minutes later, we left with R as well. The next time we took their sister even though she was’t officially “ours.” We loved them and spent time with them as much as we could. Once at McDonald’s in the mall food court, an American man walked up and congratulated us on our adoption. We just thanked him graciously since it seemed too complicated to explain. It felt, for that night at least, like it might have been true.
At the church in Brazil, we worked with the youth group, so there were always people over at our house. We often had those three over to spend the night. They cuddled with me in church every Sunday morning. I can still remember the smell of T’s hair as he slept in my arms while the fans whirred in the small auditorium, a mix of fruity Brazilian shampoo and little-boy sweat. I played with his soft black curls and he slept, completely comfortable with his head in my lap.
I had loved other kids before like this, on short-term campaigns and summer internships, but this time was different. These were children whose lives were intertwined with mine. I knew their moods. I had met their birth mother. I both hated and felt sorry for her. I was young and still full of the sense of injustice. Now I just feel pity for her and the children she birthed from three different, probably unknown, fathers into deep poverty. She was a victim herself, even as she victimized those children.
There were backgrounds to these kids I can’t write about, horrible things they had seen and done that made me wary to adopt them even as it made me love them fiercely. I talked and talked to Jonathan about adopting them. He wisely refused to think about it for a minute. We had absolutely no money. Legally, we couldn’t adopt R because we were too close in age to him (there has to be 16 years difference according to Brazilian law) and we didn’t want to adopt the younger two without him. We had no home to go back to and the years ahead were full of hairpin turns as we moved constantly from one place to another. And, the clencher for me, we could never have let younger children into our home with the things these children faced. The risks were too high. I knew it with my head, but my heart has never gotten on board.
The Sunday before we left Brazil (I can barely write this memory), we ate lunch at the Children’s Home. We played with and cuddled the children till I thought I might crush them with my desire to memorize every curve and curl of their sweet faces. When it was time for us to leave in our red station wagon that had carried dozens of Brazilian children (often at the same time), I gave them each one last kiss. R looked at me with his old-soul eyes and I knew he understood. S cried in the arms of an older kid. But T ran after me, hands held out like he was going to get in the car. I had to get out and hand him to one of the workers and he kept squirming to get in the car with us. The last thing we heard as we pulled away, over the crunch of our tires on the gravel driveway, was him crying for me.
I have never, not once, gotten over that moment. Even now, ten years later, it is one of the most painful memories I have. I carry it with me, full of saudades for those babies I love.
We got two emails from the Children’s Home director about the children. One was two years later–she told us, in a statement that I think is absolutely true, that no one had ever loved those children like we did, and therefore we had to adopt them. She is one of the wisest, most gracious women I know. For her to say that broke my heart. Jonathan and I had to talk through it again. We couldn’t bring them home for all of the many good reasons we’d said. I prayed for them every day anyway. We got another email three years after that–a family had adopted only the oldest son (which breaks my heart for the younger two) and now there was no legal reason we couldn’t bring the other ones home. We had just moved to Austin for me to start grad school. Jonathan was looking for a job. We were living with his family for the summer. With no money and no home and college loans coming due, there was nothing we could do. The timing was awful.
Twice, I said no to those children. It was a wise decision for our marriage and our future family. A year later I got pregnant with Noelle and two years after that with Joy. And I still loved and loved those children from afar. We lost track of them for a few years, but have heard recently from R on google chat and facebook. He seems great in his new family. His sister is married with a baby (she’s still a teenager–sigh). T’s living with an aunt. I wonder if T would recognize or even remember me. He’s fifteen or sixteen now. In some ways it was good to know God had answered my many, many prayers to protect and educate these bright, beautiful children. In another way, I still wish we could have been the ones in their lives.
It was right, but it still hurts.
So when I was listening to the Dixie Chicks song in the car and singing along with my well-loved, well-adjusted, sheltered little girls, I wasn’t singing to them. They have been with me every day. They have never had a need unmet. They have been nothing but adored every day of their life.
I sang along in my heart to little T, now an almost-grown man. “Godspeed, Little Man” might seem silly, but I’ve prayed so often that someone would love him as I might have, that the orphanage director be proved wrong, that we’re not the only one who realized how truly special he and his brother and sister were.
And I sang along along to our next little baby, somewhere in the world right now, a little sister to very ready big sisters who will love her with an intensity that will change all of us. I taught our girls the world “Mei Mei” the other day, one of the few Chinese words I know from adoption blogs–it means little sister. We hit the rewind button to sing the song again at the top of our lungs and changed the words:
Godspeed, Little Mei,
Sweet dreams, Little Mei.
Oh, our love will fly
to you each night
On angels’ wings.