It was 14 days and counting and the first panic attack hit. The imminent arrival of my Umma felt like the anticipation of an alien invasion. I didn’t know what to feed them, how they will really sleep, what their routines were and how much luggage they were planning to bring with them. All I was thinking about were the people not the bags….and for anyone who travels internationally, you know that the bags can be pretty outrageously large!
And then in my son’s joyful glee and demands for a second go on a game, I was hit with the reality. She was not coming for me. It was not about me at all. It was about P and G. P was the age I was in the orphanage and my Umma was a person of my past, someone people kept telling was dead and gone. G was at the age I last saw her. The timing could not be more serendipitous…This is the “second go of it” moment for me and for her. She will see my children and be in their lives and they will never know a moment where they will not know her. Really, isn’t this worth it all? They will know their past.
George, my ever present comic relief, suggested we hire MTV to come and record our situation…as if cameras and any more people could possibly fit into our space! The main issue of concern for him, the bathroom, speaking like a true man. Just how will we all manage with one bathroom! There have been silver linings in all of this. This experience forced me to ask for help from strangers who become friends. We swapped cars for a month so our little entourage could travel about.
The symbolisms were blinding me, I felt like a Dan Brown book. The weeks coming up to their arrival were filled with flashbacks to my 3 and 5 year old self. Up to this point, I was not joyfully looking forward to this visit. Honestly, it was too overwhelming and far too daring to presume happiness. An occupational hazard of being a social worker/therapist was that I kept examining this from the third person. The odds were not in my favor for a long term meaningful relationship with my birthmother…there remain few roles models in this area. So I kept anticipating all the ways this could go wrong. We were really two strangers connected by what is supposed thicker than anything – blood. But will there will love?
I did not allowed myself too many chances to hope, but when I paused for a moment, this was my wish for myself…my deepest wants:
I wanted to hear my birthmother laugh, a true belly laugh, at something completely ridiculous. I wanted to photograph her smiling. I wanted to stand next to her in the kitchen as she cooks to see her little tricks and to find out if she hums while she cooked. Did she taste her food or just serve it without a hint of knowing how it tastes? I wanted to know how she moves – is she comfortable in her skin or does she tread lightly? I wanted to know if she was sarcastic, will I understand it if it’s in Korean? Was she as obsessed with keeping the floor clean as I am? Was she a night person or a day person? Just how religious was she or will she not mind skipping a day of church? What were her absolutes? Does she think before she talks, was she deliberate in her words or does she just say the first thing on her mind? Will my kids like her? Will they relate to her the way they do their other Halmoni (grandmother)? Will there be a space between us or will she feel comfortable being near me? Will I be able to accept her comfort? Will I be willing to be mothered? Will we still like each other at the end of all of this? Will I cry when she leaves? I so want to cry when she leaves, I want to not want her to go but be at peace that I will see her again. Most of all, will we be family?
Ok, heavy I know. I kept saying that this all happened by accident, as if I had no control over how it was she was coming. Truth be told, I have wanted her here for a long time. I have wanted her to see me and my life here. The wish came true without the least provocation.
After a long agonizing hour and a half, we were finally in the same place! My Umma and brother were literally the last two people to come out of customs. Apparently, they were stuck back in immigration for the whole time – my brother’s status as a single male with no job (he quit it to come here) was put into question. As he put it, the man asked him too many questions that required “too much English” for him to try and explain. All he could say was that he was staying with his sister, which from a non-adoption perspective sounds speculative to anyone – a mother and son coming to “stay” for three months in America, just visiting???? Hmmm, where has customs heard that one before?
We all went to eat at a Korean restaurant and did not go to the grocery store as my Umma had in her bag the spices she wanted and she was good to go! They were surprised at our accommodations but insisted this was where they wanted to stay even though I offered my MIL’s house. I am sure they might reconsider once they see the size of their place. Later, I found out that the assumption was we lived in Manhattan on a rather well known street! The expectation was they would be really living high off the hog. I am so glad they had enough class to not show their disappointment.
When asked what they wanted to do here in NY, they only wanted to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Yup, I come from a long line of Catholics. When pushed to make the list longer, my brother said ‘we came to NY to just be together, anything else would be fine with me’. Don’t you just want to hug this guy?
The boys were spectacular, I think P really got the sense that this was something big. I was so stressed from waiting that I simply burst into tears when I saw them. It felt like the first day I met her all over again.