I remember the day of my Madeira graduation. I woke early, carefully dressed, then came downstairs in my pearl button, cream colored dress with matching shoes. “Good morning graduate!” my father called as he flipped pancakes - indulging the family in a special commemorative breakfast in my honor. Graduate. I rolled the word around on my tongue. Graduate. I like the way it sounded. Today felt different. Today felt like a new beginning. After this would be my journey into college, and then a career, and then... the possibilities were endless.
Then came the day a decade and a half later. Like some parallel dream, I woke early, carefully dressed (though this time with some help) and came downstairs in my ivory dress with accent white applique flowers and matching sparkling shoes. Again my father greeted me, "Good morning bride!" Today was my wedding day. In just a few short hours I would be a wife. I rolled the word around on my tongue. Wife. I like the way it sounded. Today was no ordinary day. Today felt like the start of a new chapter, a new beginning.
That's the power of a noun. In one moment you can go from student to graduate from single to married. In that one small simple word exists a hundred and one decisions that led to this particular moment - leaving you transformed.
But then there was the day I walked into the office of a nondescript Chinese government building. I sat down on the couch next to a small child and with a few brief strokes of a pen I became "mother." I rolled the word around on my tongue. Mother. I had heard so many stories of adoptive parents meeting their children for the first time. In every scenario it seemed the scene played like a long lost reunion from a Spielberg flick. The mother instantly connects to the child she knew was waiting for her half a world away. They dive into each other's arms - both utterly complete.
I look my son up and down. He seems nice enough. Actually, he looks terrified. His lower lip begins to quiver. I understand how he feels. This whole situation is utterly surreal. I take hold of his small hand, "we'll get through this together," I whisper. He stares at me blankly. It dawns on me, this is the first time he's ever heard English.
In the ensuing days I get to know my son more. I comfort myself by rationalizing that in some cultures men and women don't meet until their wedding day. It is only months, or years later, that the couple recounts their meeting as "being written in the stars." This is a bit like that, I reason. It will just take time.
When we return home it feels like everyone I encounter - from family, to friends, to post office clerks, and bag boys at Safeway - asks me, "How is it being a mother? Don't you just love it?!?" Each time I smile broadly, "Absolutely!" I say. But inside? Inside I still feel like I am on some crazy, international, prolonged babysitting gig. It just doesn't feel real.
Then one night, after we have been home for about a month, my husband and I go out for a date night. It's our first time away since returning home with our son, Jack. We spend the evening playing mini golf and lingering over sushi. We laugh and catch up and it feels like old times.
But when we return home no sooner do we open the door than - "AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!" There is Jack, screaming with glee. He drops his trains and trucks and rushes towards me. "Mama! Mama! Mama!" he chants. "Up! Up! Up!" I gather him into my arms and in that moment it absolutely hits me. Mother. Suddenly I feel it. So acutely, so all encompassing, it takes my breath away. This is my son. Jack lays his head on my shoulder and for the first time in a long while I think "I am home."