Friday, April 16, 2010
We were shopping, shopping for a kid. We looked through books, huge, heavy books filled with pictures of smiling kids. Under the pictures were labels. Each label had all of the ingredients that went into making each “product”. We checked each picture and each label against our list, our shopping list.
That’s how it felt with our third adoption. With our first two adoptions we were the product. We put together marketing campaigns. Those campaigns were distributed to the shoppers and the shoppers made decisions based on our ingredients, our nutritional value and our expiration dates. I think it was easier for us to be the product and not the shopper.
We already had kids, seven all together, so we went about making a list of what we thought we wanted. It was like choosing fruit it seemed to me. “Do I want the green grapes, or the purple grapes? Seeded or unseeded? Organic or not?” We thought we had a simple list: girl under the age of three living in Washington or Oregon. That was it. We looked at hundreds of pictures of girls under three living in the Pacific Northwest that that were free for adoption and not just a “maybe”. How could we choose? The more we looked the more confused we became.
We had tunnel vision. We were shopping for the child that would fit into our lives. We weren’t searching for the child whose life we would fit into. Quite by accident we saw a profile of a child that didn’t match our list. Yes, it was a girl. Yes she lived in Washington. Yes she was free for adoption, parental rights had been terminated. She was six years old, three years over what we wanted. Jeff and I exchanged uncertain glances. To be polite we agreed to look at the picture.
We stared at the smiling face in the school photograph. We turned and stared at each other. We were looking at our daughter. I’m not sure how we knew, we just did. The “label” didn’t matter. It had all sorts of warning signs listed in bold print:
Fetal Alcohol Effects
The list went on. We were shown police records of the people whose rights had been terminated. We were shown the hospital records of our daughter. The phrases that stood out were “smells like brewery”, “positive for cocaine”, “three pounds”, “fragile preemie”. None of that mattered. Our list didn’t matter. What mattered was bringing our daughter home as soon as we humanly could.
A week later we sat in a Burger King waiting to meet our daughter. The caseworker was late. We kept checking our watches, looking out of the windows, and pacing waiting for our daughter to be delivered. The minutes crept by, each one longer than the last. I had to get to a phone. I had to see if there was a problem.
I had just left a frantic voice mail for the caseworker when this little sprite of a child burst through the door. She was in white tights, a white turtleneck and a blue jumper. Her ebony hair had been pulled into many braids. Her braids had been secured with hair ties that had brightly colored balls attached. She bolted through the fast food joint. She was screaming “My Daddy, my Daddy, my new Daddy!” Every head turned, every face smiled. Every one there watched a child meet her Daddy for the very first time.
When she got to where Jeff was standing she leapt off of the floor and into his arms nearly knocking him over. She touched his tear stained face and traced the path of his emotion with her little brown hand. Then she threw her skinny little arms around his neck and pressed her cheek against his.
Suddenly she maneuvered herself around in his arms and yelled “Where’s my mommy?” Then she saw me. Our eyes locked and I saw a smile, a smile bigger than I’ve ever seen on such a small child. In an instant she was out of Jeff’s protective arms and into mine. “You’re my new mommy!”
“Yes, I am your mommy.”
She burrowed her head into my neck and giggled. She reached out for her daddy. He put his strong arms around us both. Jeff and I cried, she giggled. Time stood still. Our daughter was with us at last.
That was fourteen years ago. This past March Nikki turned 20. She graduated high school last May at the top of her class. She will begin college this fall studying Criminal Justice and Art History. I can’t imagine our lives had we stubbornly stuck to our list. I can’t imagine our lives without our daughter. I don’t want to imagine what would have happened had we heeded the warnings boldly posted on her “label”.