On September 12th, Kim and I were on a plane to Brussels. Nine years earlier we’d been on our way to China to become parents. This time we had a couple of hours in the Newark airport. We walked around and looked in the shops and wondered if anyone buys a $400 designer purse in an airport. We’d learned to travel pretty light. I carried only my laptop, a book for Kim to read, and a travel guide to Belgium. We would have carried our toothbrushes and some toothpaste but these are currently banned.
That trip nine years ago was our first trip together out of the U.S.. We travelled pretty light then as well. I didn’t have a laptop yet. I carried our papers, a couple of books, and toothbrushes and toothpaste. The government hadn’t seen dental hygiene as a potential threat to security.
We also carried the one picture we had of Maggie. We’d made color copies at Kinkos for our families. We’d made extra copies for ourselves so we could wear the copies out and not worry. We were three days away from being parents and we had no idea what was coming.
That’s the thing.
People can tell you as many stories as they want about what to expect. You think, armed with their stories, that you know. You don’t. I’d heard about being married, being a parent, and losing a loved one. I didn’t understand any of these until I lived them.
Before I was a dad, a baby’s cry sounded very different to me than it does now. Before I was a dad, I didn’t think the change would have been as profound as it was.
We changed planes in Tokyo and landed in Hong Kong twenty hours after we had left Cleveland. We got to the hotel tired but not yet ready to sleep. Some of the other people in our group had arrived on the same plane. This became clear as we were all checking in. It was already dark in Hong Kong but not yet that late. Kim announced that we were heading down to the bar if anyone wanted to join us.
It was a small hotel bar with just a couple of locals entertaining each other with karaoke. Laurie and Colleen joined us along with their sister’s Mary and Ellen. Three days later we would be sitting together in another bar a thousand miles away at another hotel with three strollers and our new babies.
Nine years ago, September 15th Maggie Rose was placed in my arms for the first time. I love that I held both of my girls first. We were told very little about Maggie other than she loved to eat everything. It’s hard to believe now that her diet consists of salami, hot dogs, rice, and junk food – but when we got her she loved vegetables and almost everything we offered to her.
She was the youngest of the nine girls and the second largest. When we were at the medical facility a week later they needed a special scale to weigh her. I look at her now – so tall and thin and long limbed and can barely remember that rolly little thing I held in my arms.
It was a transcendent bit of magic. She was placed in my arms and I was turned into a father. I have never been the same. People used to tell us how lucky Maggie was that we adopted her. Kim would say that we were pretty lucky too.
I remember most of all not being able to take my eyes off of her. It’s nine years later and I haven’t stopped looking.
Yesterday I read a homework assignment that Maggie had written and brought home from school. I couldn’t believe her voice. She’s just ten and yet her writing captured me and moved me along. I now know the danger in saying it, but I can’t wait to see the person she is yet to become.
Last Friday was my birthday. Not a day I celebrate much. Particularly this year. But it is also the ninth anniversary of the day we brought Maggie into our home. What a wonderful month of memories.
It’s been nine years of being a dad.