"Pre-Parenthood: Surviving the Home Study"

Do I need to be Martha Stewart to pass my home study?

Many parents think their home needs to be perfect and cozy for a homestudy

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 now I’m thinking I should bake bread instead. Or 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 “home study,” step one in the adoption procedure.

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

There’s a lot you can do before you commit. Lots of paperwork you can get behind you. So this is what we are doing. This is our way of deciding, of tiptoeing, of cracking open the door to the unknown.

“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 get all the way back to the family room?” 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 clearly, definitively, when I am losing my marbles.

I’m nervous. I’ve never had a home study 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. “Welcome to the ugliest day on our farm,” I imagine saying to her when she pulls up. But then she might think I mean it’s ugly because she’s here, so, no, I’d better not go there.

I’m nervous. I want this to go right. I’m peeling apples. I’m wiping the counters again and again to show off what a good counter wiper I am. 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 home study? 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.

Which, of course, is only half the story. Life seems unfair only when it’s throwing curves. But what about when it’s sending out those equally rare perfect pitches: a good job, a good husband, a happy home, a supportive family, a baby who needs a mom. In China, we’re told, that would be a girl.

Okay, here comes a car. A white car. Make that a muddy white car. Oh, dear. I should have prepared her. 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. I am biting my nails. I am pacing. “Just be yourself,” Alex says. He has an umbrella. He is going outside to her.

“Brilliant idea!” I say. “Bring her an umbrella! Blind her with chivalry!”

“It’s raining,” he says.

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. For the way the cat sleeps on the satellite dish receiver despite the fact that I have provided him with a perfectly good cat bed.

“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.

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