Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You're One of Us

Several years ago I visited an elderly great uncle and his wife in California. Uncle Frank was one of my grandfather's 4 brothers. Being with my uncle was as close to being with my grandfather as I'd ever been. Or at least as close as I could remember. My grandfather and grandmother had died along with other family members in a plane crash before my second birthday. Uncle Frank looked like an older version of the pictures I'd seen of my grandfather. I'm sure I'd met Uncle Frank when I was a young girl and lived in California, but it had been many, many years. When Uncle Frank opened the door to the adult woman who'd come to visit, he stood looking at me for just a moment, and then while giving me a warm hug said in my ear, "Oh, sweetheart. I'd have picked you out of a line-up as Glenn's granddaughter. You look just like a Kelley."

Hearing him say that gave me a feeling of happy pride. The pride didn't come because the Kelley's are known for their stunning good looks, and as a matter of fact the largish nose was probably the distinguishing characteristic, but I felt connected to people who I'd never known and felt part of a larger picture. It was weirdly similar to the feeling I had when I got my first varsity tennis team uniform. I put it on and it was obvious to everyone that I was now part of that group. As Uncle Frank said, in a line-up he would have picked me out. He would have said, "Yep, that's one of ours."

When we were in the waiting phase of our adoption I probably saw hundreds of referral pictures, the tiny mug shots that accompany a child's file. Each time I'd think, Could I look at that baby and say, Yep, she's mine? When we finally got our referral, Lyle and I first read through all of the written information that had been e-mailed to us. We knew that her pictures would be at the bottom and I wanted to kind of sneak up on them, casually take her in starting with the tip of her head and then I could work my way down, stopping to process each bit of information. Somehow I scrolled too fast and suddenly there she was--a round-faced, healthy-looking 6 month old, sitting in a walker, jauntily kicking up one little bare foot into the air.

She literally took our breath away. I knew her. It was like looking at the face of a long-lost friend. I would have picked her out of a line-up, I know it. I noticed her beautiful Chinese features, but I also thought she looked like her siblings. I put our 4 kids' baby pictures together and made friends and family humor me by saying that they could see the resemblance too. She so belongs with this group.

Once Maya was told by a little girl in Kinko's that I was NOT her Mommy. The little girl's father was obviously mortified and kept telling her, "No, honey. That is that little girl's Mommy." But his daughter could not be swayed. "No, I KNOW that's not her Mommy." Maya's chin quivered and she pointed to me and said, "Dat my Mommy right dare." For a good week afterward, Maya would tell complete strangers, even before they had a chance to say hello, "Dis is MY Mommy. MY Mommy." She wanted to make sure they knew from the get-go, just in case they didn't happen to notice.

I hope that as she grows older, she'll always feel like she belongs exactly where she is and that she can always find something of herself in the faces around her. It may not be the same stunning effect as the parent/child dental students, but I think Abby said it best when she was in Costco and was told that she didn't look very much like her sister. Abby looked confused and just shrugged her shoulders and answered, "Well, I said we're sisters, not twins."


Lisa said...

Love it, Eileen. Love it. You pulled at my heartstrings. i even teared up a bit when I pictured your little Maya all chin quivery, saying, "Dat my Mommy right dare." Loved it.

Jen Bay said...

I HAVE a twin, and we don't even look related... I find it facinating what people are willing to say outloud to someone else...

Whitney said...

I love your writing, Eileen! Maya is so cute. We miss you and the ward!