When we arrived at the Addis Ababa airport to begin our journey home, we were disappointed to see that our flight had been significantly delayed. Instantly, we knew that we would miss every single one of our connections back home. We also saw that we would be hanging around the airport for 10 hours before we ever departed. Talk about getting there in plenty of time. As hour after hour ticked by, we hung around in the airport chairs, walked the corridor, changed baby’s diapers, and I started to fret about the delay’s impact on the number of diapers we had and the amount of formula we had with us. We boarded the plane at midnight for our four hour flight to Dubai. Neither of the big people slept. Baby was out. Once in Dubai, we found a quiet area to change baby and then made our way to a ticket counter in hopes of safely being rerouted for the one daytime flight to JFK airport. Along the way, a lovely female Emirates employee stopped us, taken by our boy and struck, I am sure, by the fact that he didn’t look like either of us. We talked a bit about the adoption, about being parents, about Ethiopia, etc and then we turned to make our way to the counter where we could get our new tickets.
“Don’t worry,” she called out to us. “Now, you’ll get pregnant. I just know it.”
People are inspired to adopt for many different reasons– and only sometimes does one of those reasons have to do with infertility. Infertility, in fact, had nothing to do with our decision. Adoption was our first and only choice in how we envisioned our family coming together. And when our little guy came to us so serendiptiously, like a woman learning that she is unexpectedly pregnant, we saw even more clearly that our family was coming together just the way that it was intended. Now, as people get to know our boy, they see us in him. It might just be a coincidence; in fact, it likely is. But these details are the tapestry of our family, and we cherish them.
“Of course he’s your son,” a friend recently said. “He has your sparkle.”
“He looks just like your dad,” people tell me.
“Don’t think I am crazy,” one of my closest friends told me, “but he looks so much like you.”
“He has BF’s rosy cheeked grin,” another friend shared.
Even without those comments and observations, he is perfectly, absolutely our boy. He was the little guy we were meant to parent. We are the people he was put here to teach. We are the loves of each other’s lives.
“Did she just say what I think she said?” BF asked after the sweet airline employee had shouted her reassurances after us.
“Yeah,” I shrugged if off, shifting baby to my other hip.
“Oh wow,” he said and shook his head. But what she said, seriously, had nothing on what a relative of my brother-in-law’s said to me at my nephew’s baptism a few years ago. There I was holding my nephew, minding my own business, when my sister’s sister-in-law asked if she could hold the baby.
“Absolutely,” I said and handed the little guy to her.
“Oh, don’t take that baby from Rosie,” My brother-in-law’s relative interjected. “She clearly needs to hold onto him a little longer so that the baby bug will bite her.”
As you might imagine, I walked into the kitchen and cleaned the meatball dish because it was better than standing around and making conversation with someone who would say that to a woman she’s only met once and who she knew nothing about. I bit my tongue while I scrapped crusty meatball sauce with my nails. What I wanted to say, though, swirled around my head no problem. Later, I told my sister what happened and how I bit my tongue. “Oh, I wish you hadn’t felt like you needed to bite your tongue because of us. Sometimes, people only learn what NOT TO SAY by saying it and stepping in it.” The truth is I didn’t have the nerve to say what I wanted to say to the random relative, to teach her that there are some things that you just don’t ever say. Period. But I wish had. Not so much for me because I didn’t really care what she thought, but for the next woman she would go on to offend because she didn’t know better (or knew better but did it anyway).
It’s a funny thing we do to each other– especially to girls and young women. We force a certain storyline on them, and we start at a young age. We call our girls princesses and have them play brides from the youngest of ages. But the princess rarely saves herself in the story, and the bride is always waiting for her groom. We don’t ask or force boys to play in the same way. When a girl comes home from kindergarten, we ask her if she has a boyfriend– not whether or not she’s kicking that ball far in recess or if she’s doing great with her numbers or letters. We don’t ask the girlfriend question to a little boy with the same regularlity, vigor, teasing, expectation. When a high school girl has a boyfriend, we wonder– often aloud– if that’s her husband to be. Again, we don’t do the same thing with our boys. When a young woman is dating a young man, we ask if he’s the one, might they get engaged, when, when, when. Most young men are given room around that question. Once a couple is married, people begin questioning the wife fairly frequently about kids. And once the first kid comes, when are you going to start working on number two?
I asked BF sometime last year, before our family plans were concrete, if he was asked all that often about having a family. “Never,” he answered. “Why would someone ask,” he continued. “That’s a pretty personal question. I mean, what if we couldn’t get pregnant or something. Isn’t the person who asks just asking for it?” Why, yes, BF, they are, and, yet, it didn’t keep people who I hardly knew from frequently asking me and then couching the appropriateness of the question in, “I just ask because you both would be such great parents.”
In my body image seminar, we talked recently about the storylines we give our boys and girls and how those storylines affect their self-image, body-image, and choices. What I want more than anything in the world for our young people (and us adults) is the gift of room– the ability to make the choices and decisions they want and need to make without the weight of the world’s expectations on them. As a parent, I hope to be even more cognizant of it. I want our boy— and any other children we may one day have– to have the room to do what he wants at any time he wants it. I want him to not worry about being a writer because his ema writes or being a rugby player because his daddy was. I want him to own who is every day without the weight of the world and what it expects from him on him. I want him, every day, to just proudly, meaningfully, playfully be. If we give that to our children what they really receive is the world and all of its wonder placed gently in the palm of their hands.