“No presents!” Nancy says. “But please stop over and celebrate. We have been waiting for this moment for so long.”
I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s the day Nancy and Jack’s son becomes, officially, Nancy and Jack’s son. It’s Baby Benjamin’s Adoption Day. He’s almost a year old now; he was placed in Nancy’s arms just minutes after birth. For adoptive parents, especially those who adopt domestically, there is always this holding-of-the-breath period.
There is paperwork. There are parental rights to terminate. There are lawyers and there are clerks and there are forms and there are fees. Depending on the level of cooperation of all the people involved, the limbo can carry you well beyond the limits of your own personal sanity zone.
We never worried that this day wouldn’t come for Nancy and Jack and Benjamin. Not really, anyway. It’s not something you allow yourself to think, let alone say. The more we got to know Benjamin, and the more we got used to the sight of him occupying his rightful spot on Nancy’s left hip, the more each of us knew, privately, that there was nothing we wouldn’t do to keep this family intact. Look out, lawyers. Look out, judges. Don’t mess with us. Oh, we were prepared to take bullets.
Nancy tells me that Beth has offered to bring her signature lasagna. The same lasagna she made when we gathered to paint the nursery awaiting Benjamin. The same lasagna she made, as a matter of fact, when we all painted the nursery awaiting my daughter. Mind you, Beth’s repertoire extends several light-years beyond lasagna, but somehow she has made this dish our traditional meal of baby welcoming.
I tell Nancy I’ll bring the salad. She says B.K. has offered to bring champagne, and that Ellen plans to stop at a bakery to pick up a fancy dessert.
When we arrive at Nancy’s, we all marvel, yet again, at how huge Baby Benjamin has gotten. My Lord! Has he grown since last week? He’s an 11-month-old baby in size 2T clothes. He’s the jolliest little boy you’re likely to see.
He’s here on Nancy’s hip, and Jack is one step behind, and the two of them are going on and on about what happened this morning in family court, about what the judge said, about the way the cop in the courtroom stepped out from behind his serious cop-face, actually got teary-eyed and said, “Congratulations!” as he handed Benjamin a toy sheriff’s star.
It’s choking us all up, hearing this story. It’s just exactly as we imagined it, only better. And Benjamin, he’s wriggled down from Nancy’s hip and crawled into the adjoining room, where my daughter has hold of his toy lawn mower. Pretty soon we settle into chairs, and Jack and my husband head off to play with the toy lawn mower, or maybe something else, and the subject of conversation switches away from Benjamin and onto more mundane matters of movies to see and vacations to take and even, quietly, whispers of boyfriend possibilities for B.K.
“Hey,” says Nancy, looking around. “This is like a Girls Night Out, except with kids and men in the background.”
She’s right. And that isn’t right. This is supposed to be Baby Benjamin’s Adoption Day!
Then again, maybe it’s exactly right. The anticlimax is as fitting as it is magnificent. Baby Benjamin’s Adoption Day, as it turns out, is just another day. Because he’s one of us. Just another one of us. We don’t need a judge to proclaim it. I mean, it’s nice that he did. But this child has been one of us since the day he was born.
“So let’s eat,” says Beth. She’s heated up the lasagna and is now standing before us, her hands protected by thick, cheerful potholders. It’s funny to see how Beth, the one among us who has stated that she never wants children, has become our group’s mom.
How did that happen? It’s funny, too, to see how Nancy and I, the only moms of our group, remain the somewhat scatterbrained children. And B.K., always observing, is the wise middle child with a philosophy brewing in her head. And Ellen, flitting in and flitting out, leaving us for 18 months at a time, is like the big sister off at college, always out there, always exploring, and always coming home.
How did this family happen? No two people in this room share a biological brother or aunt or even a distant cousin. And yet we’ve been a family for well over a decade now.
Talk about adoption. Maybe we should get a lawyer. Maybe we should fill out forms and pay fees to a nice judge who can make it official. Then again, maybe we should just skip all of that and have some of Beth’s lasagna.
“Happy Adoption Day,” we say, at various times during the evening, until pretty soon we’re all upstairs in Benjamin’s sky-blue room. Hanging on a wall is a quilt we made. It has pockets. Before Benjamin was born, we each tucked notes into the pockets, prayers and good wishes for the life ahead of him. And how about that? So far, it appears they’re working just fine.