Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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I am perched on the side of the hotel room bed, my armpits prickling with sweat. Excitement and nervousness shiver through me. There is a knock at the door. My son runs to it. I hang back. This is it, this is it! The foster mom, unsmiling, is holding her in the doorway. Then there she is, my daughter. She is so familiar, is it just from the photos? No, I think there is something: her nose, her forehead, something that looks like us, that belongs with us. She is alert, curious, yet shy. I start to reach my arms out to her, then remember the advice of the bonding experts. I ask the foster mom in Spanish, "Could you please hand her to me?"

Ah, that shimmering caesura when Daddy Sparta and I first meet our adopted baby girl. When we hold her, smell her skin. For months, anticipating the ending of this column, I've planned to leave my readers basking in that moment. Our family finally complete -- that seemed like the right time to end. While I focused on the new baby, I'd give other writers a chance to write for Literary Mama. Then when things got settled, I'd get to work on my book.

But things are not turning out quite as I'd expected.

"There was a slight problem with one of the documents," said Anna at the adoption agency about six weeks ago. "They have to get it re-signed on Tuesday, and you'll be submitted to the final court on Wednesday." But for various reasons, Wednesday turned into Monday, then Friday, and so on for five weeks. Instead of April, we now hope we can bring our daughter home in June.

Daily I feel despair fluttering in my chest, but I push it away, pretend nothing's happening. The adoption process is so intangible. There's no pregnancy, no growing body to watch. Now I use the unreality as a cloak against my disappointment. I focus on tangible issues, like getting construction re-started on our basement addition, which has been abandoned since the death of the contractor five months ago.

I stop by the building department to clarify a phone message. Stay calm, I coach myself, stay positive. Maybe if you are friendlier, they'll be friendlier. I force a smile on my face.

"Let me explain again," says Poindexter behind the counter. "We don't have a procedure for expediting permits."

"Is that your way of saying you can't do it?"

"I'm saying we don't have a procedure."

"Procedure? You send an email asking people to approve the permits quickly. There. Now you have a procedure."

Poindexter taps a pen on the counter, leans away from me and purses his lips. I feel he is moving in slow motion to taunt me. "You know," he says languidly, "you're not the only person whose family member is being deployed to Iraq."

I audibly exhale and say, "Oh really? And had their contractor commit suicide in the middle of their construction project?"

He shrugs.

"And are expecting an adopted baby?"

His lip curls slightly, and he shrugs again, this time emitting a little squeak, "Enh."

My vision closes in on his bespectacled face. I mean to use a measured tone, but my words rush out, "I can't believe the way you are talking to me. You don't even care! Even if you can't do anything, you could be saying, 'Hey, I'm really sorry to hear about your situation. That your house is on jacks! That you have no heat! I wish we could help.' But you don't say that--"

At this point I become vaguely aware of another man who has emerged from the warren of cubicles to look at me.

"--I just don't get it. I can't believe the indifference and downright antagonism you have treated me with. I've lived in this town for fifteen years and I come down here and all I get is suspicion and hostility."

The other man is back, now with a petite woman beside him. I am hyperventilating.
She says, "Hello, I'm Sylvia Lopez, the Director of Planning."

I can't stop quite yet, "--not for one minute, have you shown even one i-o-ta of compassion!"

"I would be happy to listen to your situation. Would you like to come into my office?" Ms. Lopez offers.

"Oh-okay," I gasp, "thank you." I take a deep breath in, then release it, "that would be great."

Ms. Lopez "fast tracks" our permits. (So there is a procedure for expediting.) With the rage gone, I feel weak, trembly. On my way home, some neighbors stop me. "Have you heard about Angie?" they dish, "she's pregnant with their second!" I sigh. We should have our baby girl by now. We should have a bigger house, and it should be full -- with a complete family. They should be talking about us.

I slide into bed that night body-weary, but mind whirring. What is it, I wonder, what is it about me? Am I just not meant to have a second child? I mean, why is it so hard for us to get our house ready? Why doesn't the adoption ever come through? We've been trying to make this all happen for three years

Daddy Sparta is sleeping beside me. Once I let the first few tears slide out, it's not long before I am sobbing. Sparta starts to stir. "Are you okay?" he mumbles.

I wail, "I've never wanted a fancy house, fancy things. All's I've really ever wanted, is a family and spending happy time together. Is that too much to ask?"

Sparta points out sleepily, "Well you also want to be famous."

I stop, mid-rant, "What? Have I ever said that?"

"No," he yawns, "but it's obvious."

I think about this. I've never admitted it, certainly never expected it, but I do have a repressed dream of writerly triumph.

I start again, "Okay all's I've ever really wanted -- aside from being a famous writer -- is -- is --" I can't help it. I start to laugh.

The next day two packages arrive in the mail, copies of anthologies that include my writing. I get several invitations to read at local bookstores. I show the books to everyone I see, paging over to where my name appears in print.

In this last column, I'd expected to tie things up neatly for my readers. I've had to accept that my life is not cooperating with my expectations. I don't know when my darn house will get finished, when my baby will arrive, how we'll manage when Sparta is deployed next year. We will continue our Peloponnesian adventure, as a couple and a growing family. And I will continue as its chronicler, not-so-secretly hoping for fame.

By way of parting maxims, Daddy Sparta would say, "Keep your pecker hard and your powder dry." As for Mommy Athens, I'll wish for all of you what I wish for myself -- amidst all the things that don't turn out as we expect, as well as those amazing things that come our way when we don't even dare hope --


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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