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It's Homestudy Day...

...and I’m not perfect yet! Do I need an inner Martha Stewart to prove my parental potential?

by Jeanne Marie Laskas

The social worker is due in a few hours. We’re basically ready. I mean, we’ve cleaned this house like nobody’s business. And we’ve put rock salt all over the driveway so she won’t slip. I was going to make applesauce so the house would have the warm, welcoming smell of cinnamon. But how about a fire in the fireplace? The smell of a fire definitely says: Home.

But what is the smell of Parent? More specifically, what is the smell of Good Parent Material? The social worker is coming to consider us. She’s coming to our house today to do a homestudy, step one in the adoption procedure.

Alex and I have decided to adopt a baby. Well, we haven’t decided decided, but we’re deep in the decision process. The deeper you go, the more your heart starts pounding.

“Do you think we should have the smell of baking bread wafting through the house?” I ask Alex.

“Might be a little contrived,” he says. “We never bake bread.”

“Okay, applesauce.”

“We don’t make that either,” he says.

“I made it in seventh grade,” I point out. “It was the first thing we cooked in home ec."

“All right,” he says. He knows to surrender when I am being driven by stress.

“But will the smell fill the house?” I ask. “Should we bring a fan in here or something and aim the aroma toward the back of the house?”

“No,” he says. “No-we-should-not.” He knows to speak definitively when I am losing my marbles.

I’m nervous. I’ve never had a homestudy before. I’ve never had to put my domestic self out for review. It is not my most developed self. My inner Martha Stewart is not what you’d call a fully actualized identity.

It doesn’t help that it’s raining. That the ice outside is slowly giving way to a yard that looks like soup. I’m nervous. I want this to go right. I’m peeling apples. I’m wiping the counters again and again. I am sprinkling cinnamon on the apples, lots of it, to make sure the aroma of my own domesticity, of my promise as a mother, is unmistakable.

I could, of course, be insulted. I mean, maybe that’s the more empowering emotional direction to go in right now. The outrage! A homestudy? Why should I have to prove my parental potential to a complete stranger? Any wacko with the right plumbing can make himself or herself a parent. No forms to fill out. No history to reveal. No how-do-you-handle-conflict essay questions to answer. Why me? Poor me. It’s not fair. Life isn’t fair.

Okay, here comes a car. A white car. Make that a muddy white car. Oh, dear. She pulls up the driveway, sits there for a few minutes. She’s flipping through papers, writing things down. She’s giving us bad marks for mud. I can just tell.

When she gets in the house, I begin my apologies. For the rain. For the gray sky. For the ruts on Wilson Road. For the way the kitchen is not yet renovated. For the light bulb that is out on the porch.

“You seem nervous,” she says, smiling. “Please don’t be. This is not an investigation. This is a…warm-and-fuzzy. You know? I’m just here to help you bring your daughter home.”

My…what? Excuse me? This is the first time I have ever heard that word used that way. That is one big word. “Daughter.” “My daughter.” “Our daughter.” That has a ring to it, all right. Alex looks at me. He is smiling. I am smiling. The social worker is smiling. Three people enjoying the same music. Decisions are like music. New songs you try out. The more beautiful the sound, the more your heart starts pounding.

Copyright ©1999 by Jeanne Marie Laskas; originally published in the Washington Post Magazine. Jeanne Marie Laskas is the author of Growing Girls: The Mother of All Adventures.

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