Month: March 2011

Eight Days and Counting

Monday arrived all grey and gloomy. Sight unseen, my bedroom curtains still closed, yet I knew it was a rain-soaked day. The swish and swirl of droplets coaxed from the streets by the groves of speeding rubber tires on to the bumpers of yellow taxis and passenger cars—the former prowling the streets in search of a fare, the latter hunting for a legal parking space—served as my alarm clock today.

I lay in a snug, personal hearth that was born from the knowledge that there was no need to leap from my bed and into the office on this morning. Although I have other priorities, I could stay snuggled in the eight-hour warmth, here, under the covers, until baby Julia awoke.

Just as that thought slid from my brain’s frontal lobe a soft bah, bah, BAH, lifted into the air, from next door, the first flair of Julia’s dawning awakened state. Typically, the chirping served as my revelry call. But today I stayed put, just a little longer, in bed.

Today was the eighth day. The countdown clock loomed larger.

Next week, the 29th of March, I return to work.

If anyone had told me before my daughter arrived, that I’d love being at home taking care of Julia—diapering, feeding, bathing— as a way of life, to this degree, I would have, under my breath, called them a barefaced liar. I love the act of caring for my daughter. It saddens me to lose the daily connection. Julia has worked in herself into my bones.

For the first time in my working life, I have scaled down so, I hardly recognize myself. In my old life, the PBJ life, I was one of the main reasons why the Metropolitan Transit Authority considered back in the fall the absurd idea to cap 30-day Unlimited MetroCards at ninety rides. (Why call them Unlimited for God sakes?) Between my grad school needs and my foodie fixes, I hoarded my lunch hour, to hop the train to procure a book or a beef roast, depending on the day, the need, or my mood. I pimped out my transit card like no one else I knew. Now, in the past seven weeks, I’ve agonized over buying a one week unlimited card for feared it wouldn’t get much use. I’ve stayed close to home because all I needed was there.

This gloomy Monday reminded me; in eight days, the cocoon that Julia and I have woven will clasp. The timer set a long way back. Soon the nanny will come, because it is her job to come, because I have to return to my job.

To be sure, in some ways, I welcome it. I miss the undisturbed moments when my fingers can sweep over my computer keys—completing a thought or a clean sentence—rather than allowing Julia’s feeding schedule to take precedence. I welcome the return of adult conversation (devoid of Charlie Sheen or the Royal Wedding, please) rather than the lengthy ones I’ve held regarding Thomas the Train, and a Very Hungry Caterpillar that sprung from the fertile mind of Eric Carle. I’ll again welcome free reading time during my subterranean commute rather than keeping watch to insure Julia’s tiny, ever exploring hands haven’t made contact with the subway pole, the seat, the window, stray pieces of paper, old gum, or the leather clad surface of a stranger’s arm. But I will miss her more.

Only eight more days. Seven, if I’m honest, as I check the clock on the upper left hand corner of my laptop. So for now, I’ll stay here, in the weld of this moment, mentally rolling around in the hours like a dog in fresh-cut August grass, here with my daughter and my books. In our solitude. I’ll pull the cashmere of cocoon a little more tightly about us. Set the extra lock on the front door, keeping world outside for as long as the calendar says that I can.

The Earthquake Before the Earthquake

On Friday, the 11th of March, news reports began streaming across the airwaves of a cracked, broken, and mud-mauled Japan. The world witnessed the sight of millions of lives floating away on a sea of debris and destruction from our flat screen TVs, computers and smart phones.

The country’s Prime Minster called the 9.0 earthquake and the subsequent 23-foot tsunami the worst threat to his nation since the Second World War——a one, two punch that even Hollywood screenwriters wouldn’t have set together in a disaster film out of fear critics would call it hack hyperbole. Anyone who saw the images on news broadcasts, You Tube, and the front page of most newspapers now know a new level of epic, mind-mumbling destruction: cities entombed in mud, homes pummeled. Thousands dead. 500,000 homeless. And the counting and the collecting of bodies goes on.

But a few days before another earthquake struck a smaller municipality, yet one whose boarders reached around the globe. The shifting of foundations and earth left the same destruction across this land, its citizens frightened and angry.

On the 7th of March the Joint Council on international children’s services and the U.S. State Department released a statement. The Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs had announced a reduction in intercountry adoptions by 90%. Effective March 10th.

That’s right nine, zero.

And it wasn’t a typo.

The new goal is to process “five adoption cases per work day,” reduced from more than “4,000 adoptions per year to less than 500.”

One might wonder, why, since I’ve brought my daughter home, would I care? Why I have lost sleep? Why have I sled tears rarely wept for my child and myself while we waited and waited?

Like a coal miner once trapped in a cave-in, although I and my daughter now breathe the same cool, clean air, I remember the hell of waiting. Waiting for the sunlight to reach us. To be dug out and given free passage to our new, conjoined lives.

If I weren’t a spiritual woman before I set out to become a mother, achieving parenthood, I believe, would have made me so. For two years I tried to conceive. The follicle sat, at first and goal, ready. The sperm was present at the exact, perfect moment. Yet, conception didn’t happen. In time I accepted that it wasn’t up to me, or Tom, or the Upper East Side fertility doctor. Or even Dr. M’s fancy, high-tech sonogram machine. God had the final say.

After I set out to adopt from Ethiopia the waiting time for a child stretched from nine months to twelve, to eighteen, and finally a whopping twenty-four months. My faith fortunately grew, instead of a clinical depression that loitered in the wings of my subconscious.

Again, I believed God had the final say.

Three years, and three months later, in January 2011, I brought my daughter home.

Now Julia sleeps soundly in her room with bright butterflies and colorful angels, but in the bedroom next to hers I still get down on my knees and thank God for that reality, in gratitude that we are no longer buried in the darkness of waiting.

Now I add a prayer for all the waiting families—friends and strangers— around the world who wait in the growing darkness of international adoption. I double the dose of determination for the thousands of waiting children in orphanages across the towns and cities of Ethiopia, the children I’ve seen first hand who study the faces of their loving caregivers, the doctors, nurses, social workers—any adult who comes close— with wondrous eyes. The children who keep watch for the one— the man, or woman— will stay with them, for life.

To help the Emergency Campaign for Ethiopian Children, please sign the petition to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi at: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43714.html

Thank You.

Secret Confessions of the Single Baby Mama #3

1. I never felt like a super hero until I became an adoptive mom.

Every morning, or after a nap, my daughter Julia greets me with a reception formally bestowed on me  by men when I sported a low-cut evening dress. The gift I give my daughter is consistency. And she gives it right back. What a lovely, lush circle our love forms.

2. The sound of Julia’s breathing is better than a Bach cello suite.

The sound of a baby issuing out the life beat, Julia’s deep sleep coos, oohhhs, and giggles ignites a fireball of emotion in the center of my chest. There’s a peacefulness to her soft chortle, a self-satisfaction, which, I believe, signifies that Julia knows she’s home. No small thing for an eight-month-old who has lived in six places during her brief time on earth.

3. A baby is a warm, wriggling, ball of life lessons.

The sound of my heartbeat never impressed me quite the same way as it did once I held my daughter. Our hearts synced up like a lyrical, throbbing, Muslim call to prayer, the kind I heard from across the hills of Addis Ababa, into our room in the guesthouse. A mystical, magical wonder that makes me believe, and ultimately know, all things are possible.

4. Sometimes, not having to share, can have a plus side.

Every book, pamphlet, website, social worker, therapist and psychologist I encountered during my more than three-year wait foretold the importance of bonding with my adoptive child.  Not once, ever, did I believe being a single baby mama would make the act easier.

I watched in the guesthouse in Ethiopia as couples struggled to connect to their children—each parent in their own way. One 20 month-old cried every time her dad tried to feed her, bathe her, or soothe her.  Every time.

Another mom, who adopted a boy little over four years of age, ached as her son solidly attached to her husband, and only her husband.

“It’s just that I’m use to being the mom, “Heather said, as we watched from the sidelines, while  her husband played soccer with their new son in the sun-soaked courtyard of the guesthouse.

“You’re still the mom, “I said. It’s good that your son has bonded with your husband, more. After all, the boy lost his dad.”

Heather exhaled a long, hard breathe but said nothing.

Sure, my logic made sense. But it was still twenty miles of rough road when the first word that your son , the boy you’ve worked for three years to bring home, a child who only spoke Amharic,  first words in English were, “Da-dd-ee.”

5. As the Arrested Development song goes, “Mama is always on stage.” (And that’s not a bad thing.)

From the single baby mama point of view, a lot of dust-ups between partners—single and married—center on who does what around the house. And for their baby bundle. Who changed the last diaper? Unloaded the dishwasher? Who was last to get  out of the house without the baby in tow?

I can’t have that fight. I have no one to fight with. It’s all me. All the time. I won’t claim it’s easy, (or that I desire the life of a single baby mama all my life, after all there’s a reason why it takes two people to make a baby) but it’s not the challenge I feared. Maybe because I’ve done more than my share of traveling. And hanging out. Or, maybe because I find caring for Julia is a deeply peaceful, an almost meditative act. Most days. I’ve wanted this life for so long, now that I’m living it, I revel in it. It also helps to have a background in advertising, an industry that must have, I truly believe, invented the act of multitasking.

Secondly, the  other source of fights among couples —from what I can tell, other than money—is how much time the baby spends with whose family. At the moment, Julia has one family, mine. So I don’t have a mother-in-law hovering over me, dolling out her childcare creeds whether I want them or not. Sure my mom churns out her share of unsolicited advice but she changed my diapers back in the day, before the invention Pampers, Huggies, and such, so she has home field advantage.

6. People look for ways to help a single baby mama.

Since Julia’s long awaited homecoming, friends have sent over food (an amazing Bolognese sauce, a delicious chicken potpie, bags of breakfast goodies and treats from Barney Greengrass: whitefish salad, nova, chicken soup with matzo balls, and enough bagels to feed an army or a single baby mama with adoptive Jewish roots fresh off a 17-hour flight from Ethiopia.)

Some friends have offered babysitting services, lovely, stylish sweaters, Magnolia Bakery deserts, even a hundred dollar gift card to buy myself a treat. Folks look for ways to help me. If you’re a married mama— at least from what I’ve seen and heard—friends assume you have help, from your husband, which may and may not be true.

7. The sound of silence is changed forever.

There is a special kind of peace, one with a rich, creamy center when Julia falls into a velveteen slumber —legs and arms tossed in their independent course— her grandmother naps near her play yard, on the sofa, her crossword puzzle book tented over her bosom, and the only sound that laces the air of the apartment is the click of computer keys compressed by my fingers; an emptiness that contains nothing and everything, a moment as lovely as a Bach cello suite.