Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood


A few weeks ago, a long, rumbling earthquake shook our area. As soon as the shaking began, I jumped up and ran to a doorway. Usually, by the time I get to the alleged "safe place," the quake is long over. But this time it went on and on, an unsettling reminder that the ground I walk on is not as stable as I like to think.

Meanwhile, our family structure is feeling tremors as well. Things are shaking up as it looks fairly certain that our older daughter will moving 2,086 miles away (according to Google Maps) in less than nine months. So little time left.

And while part of me is intensely proud and thrilled for her, to be following her dream of being on a national-championship rowing team, at a fantastic university in a beautiful town, well, other parts of me are just... freaking out.

I've been having ideas lately. Potentially crazy ideas. Part of it has to do with huge media blitz that is National Adoption Awareness Month. I must have clicked on every link, read every blog and watched every one of those cheesy Hallmark adoption specials. And I'm sucked right in; I'm thinking, yes, teenagers. Teenagers who need a home! And a family. Teenagers, who are on the Least Likely To Be Adopted List, who are not blank-slate infants or cuddly toddlers. And I'm thinking more than one. If we did this, I'd want a sibling group, so that an adopted child in our family wouldn't be outnumbered and would have a biological and familial link to at least one other person.

Of course it does not take Freud or a rocket scientist to understand that this sudden (well, incrementally sudden, it's been building for years) desire to add older children to our family has something to do with my impending half-empty nest. But actually, I've wanted to be an adoptive mother for a very, very long time In fact, my husband and I were just completing our homestudy for adoption when I became pregnant with our daughter. We'll adopt later, we said, and four years later, our second daughter came along. Now it's much later, but the idea hasn't gone away.

I compulsively read articles about teenagers in foster care, in danger of "aging out" alone at eighteen, and it breaks my heart open. Our children have had every opportunity in the world, and then some. I want to balance things out more, and offer the very basics - a home, a family, the chance for siblings to live together - to those who have not been, by any fault of their own, so blessed.

I've been influenced, too, by the experience of one of my closest friends. When her eldest of three children moved away to college, she added two sisters, aged 10 and 12, to their family. It's been deeply moving to watch this family stretch, to see that it can work, and work beautifully. "Do it!" she encourages me, emailing me links to photo-listings of waiting children.

My fingers hover over the "Find out more" button.

I bring up the idea with the family. My husband gives me a pained expression. "I'm old," he says. My mother shares the same sentiment. "If you do that, I'm moving out," she threatens.

Our younger daughter, who is not at all thrilled with the prospect of being an only child, likes the idea of having more siblings. Our older daughter says, "Even though I wouldn't know them really well, I'm sure I would love them."

My fingers are actually beginning to twitch.

On a completely opposite side of the spectrum from adding more children to our family, I made an impulsive move the other night: I applied for a teaching job on the other side of the country, at the very college where I got my undergraduate degree. I have pined for that place (the town, not the college) since the day I left, decades ago, and before I could think, my fingers were downloading my CV and clicking the link, "Apply for this job online!"

What was I thinking? I have no idea, but I'm moving ahead. I'm signing up for an interview at a conference where I just happen to be presenting in January. Maybe they'll let me commute, or just teach one semester a year. The chances of my getting hired are most likely ridiculously slim, but suddenly the world is breaking open, breaking apart, in a new and unfamiliar way, or a way that I felt only in my early twenties when adulthood was unfolding and everything seemed possible.

Back then, the week after I graduated from college, I packed my meager belongings into my Toyota hatchback and took off for a cross-country adventure with my best friend. We didn't know where we were going or how long we would be gone. She ended up returning to New York after our summer odyssey, but I stayed in California, for a twenty-five year pit stop. After my mother let me go and waved goodbye, we eventually, decades later, ended up together again, this time Mom moving in with me.

I don't know what lies ahead. I don't know if we'll ever have more than two daughters, or if we'll live anywhere beside this house, or if I'll find new work in a new place clear across the country. After many years of following my children's predictable stages with their prescribed parameters for me, it's unsettling to feel so open-ended. I'm about to graduate to a new stage of life, and I've got the parents' version of senioritis: the future is out there, and it has me so restless that I don't know what to do with myself. It's unsettling and maddening and thrilling. Everything is shifting, and I don't know whether to dive under a piece of furniture or dance on the trembling ground.

Susan Ito has served Literary Mama as a Fiction Editor, CNF editor, and columnist of “Life in the Sandwich.” She edited the literary anthology, A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. She is the author of the SheBook, The Mouse Room. Her work has appeared in CHOICE, Hip Mama, the Bellevue Literary Review,, Making More Waves, Growing Up Asian American, the Kartika Review, and elsewhere. She is a former Fiction Editor, Columnist, and Creative Nonfiction Editor for Literary Mama.

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Wow. This is great. A reminder that when a slice of bread is removed from the sandwich, it's time to live life "open-faced." Thank you.
Tremors - yeah - they just don't stop coming, do they? The world is changing and we're in it-- yikes! Thank you for reminding me we're all in it together, Susan... I find that very comforting. xoxo L.
Oh Susan! So many exciting thoughts- regardless of what happens it sure is fun to think that way sometimes. Is this conference at all near NJ- I would love to see you!
Susan, I just read novembersand all can say is 'dance on the trembling ground.' Micky
wonderful piece, yet once more, Susan. I'm very moved by your openness to change. You show such courage. I can't wait to discover your discoveries!
Susan, As always, you amaze me with your energy and desire to try new things AND keep doing everything that you already love to do (not to mention the things that just have to get done). This column made me laugh when I read the comments of your husband and mother. I can just picture that scenario. As much as I know exactly what you mean about change coming, I can't imagine doing what you are thinking of doing. I wish you luck with all of this.
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