This morning began as most do. My daughter trod across the hall into my room, peeled back my eyelids with her sticky fingers and breathed “Mommy” into my nostrils with her rancid morning breath. Mommy. On a day like today, I don’t take that word for granted. It came at a price.
She had to lose her first mommy, the one whose heartbeat calmed her and whose steps lulled her to sleep inside a cozy belly. She lost her womb mommy, her heartbeat mommy, her nursing mommy.
And you can’t just flick a switch to make a child start loving you.
I’m her second mommy, but really I’m her sixth or eighth or tenth mommy. After a string of nannies who loved her beautifully, I came along and became the final arms in a long line of arms to hold her.
There is no magic bullet to create a bond.
When she chants “mommy,” screams “mommy,” demands “mommy,” I understand the gift of it, even on the days when my patience is at its ever-loving end. I earned those syllables with every slap of her angry palms, every head butt as she pulled me toward her but pushed me away, as she decided if her little heart could love me. I earned that title with red bite marks on my skin and with cringing ears as I tried to soothe the shrieks and wails and howls that poured out of our conflicted girl.
Today we celebrate two years as a family of four. It’s our daughter’s family day, the day we stepped off the airplane into America and into us. Two years ago today she met her brother, the wide-eyed boy so eager to love her, the big brother who held her hand on the scary car ride home. Two years ago today, she became an Ethiopian American, and we are grateful to both countries and God for allowing us to expand the borders of our family.
It’s been a long, hard, good, sweet, worth it two years. She started today with nose nuzzles and snuggles and “Mommy.” I’m grateful for the privilege and responsibility of that name.
And today, we celebrate the miracle of her here with us. Many adoptive families celebrate the court date, the “gotcha” date, the date when they held their child for the first time, or the date when they legally became a family. All of these are milestones worth celebrating. For us, the road to family was a long, tricky, twisty road filled with unknowns and glitches, and there is only one date that brings out my woo and hoo. The only date that makes me smile is the one when we stepped off that plane and met our friends and family, when I beamed as my kids beheld each other for the first time. Our day of us, our beginning together.
It’s worth cake and frosting and ice cream and woo-hoos. Today, we party like it’s 2011.
Happy Family Day, Dear Daughter. It’s been two years, and we still have forever.
images from Ginny Starr and my mom at the airport