"What Will This Baby Be Like?"

A mother shares the "new, unexpected, and amazing" attributes of her adopted son, of which no one talked about at the start of their adoption journey.

Trust and Fear of the Unknown in Adoption

Matthew’s preschool teacher approached me. “I was watching Matthew play soccer at recess today,” she said. “He’s phenomenal! I mean, truly, phenomenal.”

He is phenomenal. He can dribble a soccer ball, darting and faking across the field, before rocketing the ball into the goal. He can throw a football in a perfect spiral. He can hit a baseball over our fence and into the neighbor’s yard. He also plays tennis, basketball, and hockey. He is a natural athlete, but he didn’t get it from me.

In gym class, week after week, I stood quavering in my polyester shorts as teams were chosen. One by one, my classmates jogged over to stand behind their captain until I was left standing with Jeanette, the only girl shorter and less popular than I was. The real question was whether I would be picked last or next to last.

My parents tried to involve me in sports. I played soccer for a season, my parents watching from folding chairs on the sideline as I picked dandelions. “If you score a goal,” my dad pleaded, “I’ll buy you brand-new soccer cleats!” I remember clearly considering this offer and thinking, Ehh, not worth it. T-ball was no better, although I liked my fetching green uniform. Sports just weren’t my thing.

My husband, David, was not as inept as I was. He played–actually played–on soccer and baseball teams throughout his youth. But he would tell you he fell squarely in the category of “competent,” not “star athlete.” In high school and college, he was on the football field every weekend–playing his clarinet in the marching band.

When I was pregnant with my first child, everyone was eager to talk about the good things we would be passing along to the baby. Oh, this baby would be cute and smart and funny! This baby would have big blue eyes! This baby would have chubby cheeks!

Even the less-than-desirable seemed sweet when applied to our soon-to-be child. This baby would be a picky eater. This baby would hate the heat. Watch out, because this baby would be a terrible sleeper. No one whispered, “But what if this baby is the last one chosen in gym class?”

When Cameron was born, we delighted in claiming each part of him. My nose, his daddy’s chin, Grandpa’s hairline. We watched him grow, relishing his familiarity. As he pored over his boardbooks, I’d smile. He’s just like me, a gift straight off my wish list, everything I had ever wanted.

When we announced to our family and friends that we had started the adoption process, no one talked of the attributes our second child would inherit. Instead, there were quietly voiced fears. Cameron was a bright, friendly, fantastic little boy! What if we adopted a child who…wasn’t? This baby was to be born of a stranger, and who knew what that could mean? Did we know what we were getting ourselves into? No one wondered if these strangers had talents we did not.

And when Matthew was born, he didn’t have my nose. But his nose? The most adorable nose there ever was. His eyes were so dark you couldn’t see the pupils, and his skin was the color of cinnamon. Cameron had been bald, but Matthew looked as if he were wearing a shiny, black toupee. Our friends and family melted when they met Matthew. He was irresistible.

And as we watched him grow, we found the familiar. He loved to snuggle, as I did, burrowing his head into my shoulder and reaching up to turn my face, so that our cheeks touched. He was a talker, like his brother, although Cameron opined about Thomas the Tank Engine, while Matthew was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

But there was much about Matthew that was new, unexpected, and amazing. As we waited for him, no one ever said, “This baby will have a gravelly voice,” but he does. And it is adorable. No one said, “This baby will dance in the kitchen. This baby will love noodles. This baby will be every child’s favorite friend.” No one had said, “This baby will make a preschool teacher’s mouth drop when he kicks a soccer ball.”

Every child is a gift. But what is often forgotten in the unknowns of adoption is the fun of getting a surprise package.


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