What’s that saying, “not my first rodeo?” This is not my first time to Korea, not my first long plane ride with young children. There are no firsts for this go-around. There is a full itinerary, there is a plan. So, what’s the apprehension? Why still the butterflies?
I have been going back and forth with my Umma about our pending trip. There is nothing new about it particularly and yet thinking about seeing her makes me anxious. Being with her has all the potential to make me feel euphoric and unfulfilled all at once. Our last conversation was so ordinary in the way one talks to a parent as we planned and stated our thoughts on how much time we will get together. While I can bask in the simplicity of how ordinary this phone call was, it always feels like a first. Every time there is movement closer to each other and every hang up makes me sigh in apprehension that nothing will go as I hope…one step forward, two steps back.
Me – So, you will come to the airport?
Umma – Yes.
Me – So, you will come to the hotel on Monday and stay with us till Thursday?
Umma – No. I will go home. Your brother needs dinner.
(Pause. Insert eye roll and thoughts of, my brother is a grown man, I am SURE he can figure dinner out for himself.)
Me – What? Your home is so far from Seoul, that will be way too hard for you!
Umma – It’s ok. I will be fine. I am healthy and strong and it will not be so hard.
Me – But, I got the biggest room for us at the hotel, there is a separate bed for you too. You must stay with us. I don’t know when I will be in Korea again. I thought we would see a lot of each other this time.
Umma – We will talk about it when we are together, ok?
“We will talk about it when we are together…” Makes sense. We will see each other and we will hash this out. So ordinary. What every parent would say in a situation like this. I just need to be in the same air space and all will be sorted. Of course, there are many other grown children who have moved far from home and are petulant when they realize that those who remained are the primary thought.
There is nothing ordinary about this. Because underneath it all is my inference that I am, yet again, the third wheel, the one who is not part of the family. Never mind that it is taking everything I have to make this trip possible. Of course, I have a right to demand her time! Or do I? The seesaw goes back and forth. I am not worthy of her time. I am the one who disappeared. I am just a visitor in her life. I can’t trump my brother. He is her rock, her stability, her priority, her family.
The head starts to rationalize. I know it is absolutely bizarre for Umma to want to be in the company of me and several hundred other adoptees in a hotel room. There is no way she wants to meet other birthmothers, see other women walking with their adopted children. She has no interest in being in the company of these other women. My work in adoption and my identification with the adoptee community is wildly uncomfortable for her. She does not want to hear about my plans to visit the orphanage. I am not an orphan to her. She is not an intrusive person, so it just makes sense she wants us to have our alone time and rest without her. Further rationality ensues when I know I will probably be grateful she isn’t on top of me. Our room will be a safe cool haven for the long hot days that I will be out and about. Jetlag has no predictable pattern so my kids will be up at all weird hours. I will want to walk around in my pajamas and not have to worry about her comfort.
The heart is not so rational. It starts to worry and mild panic begins. This may be the last time I see her. The next time I go to Korea will be when she is sick or dying or dead. I am not typically a pessimist, just haven’t figured out how to turn my skin right side out so the tougher part is shielding my heart from disappointment, rejection, silence, apathy and so little time to cultivate a happy memory of her. I am anticipating the end before I have begun. What if this is the last time I see her? The little girl has not caught up with this grown woman. Almost twenty years in reunion and I am still stuck in a time warp.
This will all go by so fast. May my feet stay on the ground long enough to keep me tethered to the present.