Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
If I had a Jackhammer

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I am packing my four-year-old son's swimsuit and fleece pants for our annual trip to Stanford Family Camp when he asks me, "Mommy, what happened that time you were at the hospital?"

I can't hear him very well because workers are jackhammering the foundation of our house just underneath his room.

"Follow me!" I yell. When we get to my bedroom and shut the door, I say "Now, what hospital?"

"Remember that time when you were laying on the table and Daddy read me the Dora book?

Is he talking about what I think he's talking about? That was in Carlisle, way before we moved back to California. It must have been at least six months ago.

"That wasn't a hospital, that was a doctor's office."

"Why were you crying?"

Yes, he is talking about it. "Well, I was hoping there was a baby growing inside me, and I found out there wasn't."

Niko ponders this while sitting on my bed and turning his Scooby Doo flashlight on and off.

I wonder if it's time to tell my son that Daddy Sparta and I are working on adopting a little girl from Guatemala. After two miscarriages, adoption had seemed easier. Hah! Now it's a toss-up. We chip slowly away at the bureaucratic edifice, gathering birth certificates, meeting mobile notaries in sterile offices. At the same time, we've started two big remodeling projects. Suddenly we are in love with construction, the tangibility of it, the promise of something fresh and new.

Niko stops clicking the flashlight and asks, "But are you not sad anymore?"

I say, "Sweetie Pie, what do you think about having a little sister?"

"You mean -- that comes out of your body?"

"No, this one would come a different way, called adoption."

"She'd come from another body?"

"Yes, she'd come from a woman who couldn't take care of her so she'd give her to us, and you'd be her big brother."

Niko tosses the flashlight on the pillows and jumps up and down on the bed, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Let's go get her. Let's go now!"

I can't help but smile at his exuberance, but my shoulders knot and a familiar heat rouges my face. If only it were that easy. I have certain indiscretions in my distant past -- an arrest for a political protest, another for possession of a small amount of marijuana. For me, the adoption process involves repeated fingerprints, written explanations and apologies, evaluations of chemical dependency, therapist reports. I feel naked and judged.

"Can we go get her after this night time?" Niko asks.

"No," I say. "If we get her, which is not certain, we can't go for many night times. We have to go through at least Halloween and Christmas and Easter and probably your birthday."

His brow furrows in concentration.

Often I envy the subterranean workers removing dirt by the truckload. I'd enjoy a turn with the jackhammer, splitting hard concrete into jagged chunks.

The next morning we arrive at the camp on Fallen Leaf Lake. I do a little mental tally of each family I see: two kids, three kids, two kids, four kids. Assholes. I look through the roster for the families with only one child, I find a few but not many. As we walk past the boat dock, a mirage shimmers just out of my reach. There is my adopted baby girl, in my arms at the puppet show. I see Daddy Sparta hiking with her snuggled to his chest, picking his way along the riverbed. Niko shows her the crawdad he has caught. She is giggling.

At our cabin, Sparta and I unpack while Niko casts from the deck with his toy fishing pole. I pull out t-shirts, shorts, warm fleece, sandals. Sparta unloads his black "commando" pack, spilling out his Army Airborne Ranger magazine, a compass, two pairs of army boots, binoculars.

When Niko goes to his Munchkin group, Sparta and I sit watching the sailboats on the lake.

I tell Sparta about my latest visit to the adoption agency. That Terry, our advocate, recently visited several foster families in Guatemala. She said the foster moms get really attached to their babies during the six months that the adoption proceedings take place in the Guatemalan courts. Sitting under a leaky tarp in a circle, they bragged and compared. "My baby will have her own room!" or "Mine eats like ten goats, they will need a farm to feed her!"

Then Terry asked how our construction projects were going and laughed, "Wait till I tell the foster moms you are building a house for your baby! Let them brag about that!"

The sun is warm and it is so quiet; we can hear the Jeffery pines creaking in the breeze.

Sparta asks gently, "And what about the INS approval? How is that coming?"

I dread this question. I tell him I had to get yet another set of fingerprints because of my arrests. It will delay us another four weeks at least. That my medical form certifying I was "free of communicable diseases" was delayed because I once had genital warts.

Sparta says, "So we'll wait four weeks."

I am beginning to shake. I wrap my jacket's lapels tightly across my chest and try to joke, "Yeah, I guess it takes a little longer when you're promiscuous and a criminal."

Sparta reaches for my hand. "We will have another child, Babe, I promise you."

"It's like they don't think I'm a good mother!" I mumble, my vision clouding, "Like I don't deserve another child!"

Sparta takes a deep breath then says, "Honey. We just have to keep marching. We just don't stop until we reach the objective. Do I need to recite the Ranger creed? 'Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor'?"

I hold tight to his hand while my laughter fights my tears.


Sophia Raday is the author of Love In Condition Yellow: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage (Beacon Press, 2009). She lives in Berkeley, California with her Oakland police officer/Army Reserve colonel husband, their two children, a bipartisan dog, and assorted firearms. A founding editor of Literary Mama, Raday’s work has appeared here and in various anthologies, Stanford magazine, and the New York Times.


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