the day i met my son

He was waiting for us at the door. I imagine he had been there for days, from the moment his foster parents told him we were coming. With his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button, he had a smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth. I suspected his bags were already packed, tucked discreetly behind the door, in anticipation of our arrival. He would have come home with us in that moment had we let him. He would have gone anywhere with us in that moment. Us, the parents he had been waiting a lifetime to meet.

It had been six weeks since the decision. Some faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future and creating our family. From the start all we had been given was a basic narrative and a photo. It’s the photo that gets you. It’s the photo that dares you to imagine a lifetime of birthdays and Christmases and bedtime hugs. It’s the photo that teases you with a tomorrow that may never happen.

That photo. It invades your dreams. It speaks to you. It sometimes calls you Dad.

I had that photo, his photo, on my computer, but I tried not to look at it, afraid that I would go even further down the rabbit hole. Without the photo he was just a collection of words; a story with a beginning, middle and a distant end. Without the photo, I could close the book, put it back on the shelf. Without the photo he was not real.

Except he was real and I had already imagined all of the birthdays and the Christmases and the lifetime of hugs. I heard his voice call me Dad. I pictured a future with him, my son — this boy I’d never met. And that was dangerous. Because the faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future might have hated us. They could have chosen another family, a better match.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. They chose us.

We traveled backward through four time zones, arriving in Oregon shortly after we had left Pittsburgh. It was a few miles from the hotel to his foster home and as we drove I remember looking over at my husband and thinking, This is the last time it will be just the two of us. In a few minutes, for the rest of our lives, it would now be the three of us (at least).

I closed the car door and rounded the corner to the house. Everything changed.

In the movies and in books when writers employ that laziest of clichés love at first sight, I always roll my eyes and silently chastise the author for condescending to his audience with weak plot devices. “Show, don’t tell!” I want to scream as I throw the book across the room. “This isn’t real life!” I say as I shake my fists in protest at the movie screen.

People do not fall in love at first sight. Except for parents. Parents fall in love at first sight. From the moment they see their child they are in love. And it does not matter if they are seeing a newborn or a seven year old, that love is immediate and unconditional and eternal.

The moment I saw my son standing at that door — with his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button and his smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth — I was in love. We may have lived in two different worlds for the first seven years of his life, but he was my son as sure as if I had made him. Looking at him I realized that every moment in my life before this moment had been nothing more than an audition.

Curtain up.

He opened the door, offering his hand to me in greeting. It had been a rehearsed bit meant to show respect, but also a subtle wink from his foster parents to let me know that they had done their job, that he had manners. He shook with his left hand. I shook with my right hand. It was very awkward, less of a hand shake and more of a hand embrace. Just another reason to love him.

He had decided that I would be called Dad and Todd would be Papa. “I’m Christopher,” he said. 

My son, Christopher. And me, his Dad. Was I really someone’s Dad?

We made our way to the living room and sat on the couch, my husband on the left and me on the right with our son between us as if he had always been there. A camera appeared, immortalizing our first moments as a family. The picture captures two smiling grown men, wide-eyed and deliriously happy, and a young boy, home at last. The photo sits in my son’s room. Sometimes I find myself staring at that photo and suddenly I am inside the picture, living a memory as if today were yesterday and yesterday were now.

I hear my son reading to us. I can’t remember the name of the book, just the sound of his voice. The voice I first imagined before there was a voice, when all I had was a photo and a collection of words. Christopher, Chris, sits across from me, his face buried in his book as he reads with tentative confidence. I close my eyes and his voice takes me out of the room, out of the house, past the hotel, past tomorrow, fast forwarding me through a life that has yet to happen. We are on the plane, back in Pittsburgh, at our home. He is eight, nine, eighteen, twenty-seven years old. There are birthdays and Christmases and a lifetime of hugs. No longer a child, now a man. From the beginning of our story to the end of mine. He reads and I see it all.

In July of 2013, my husband and I traveled to Oregon to meet our son for the first time. It was the beginning of a life-changing adventure. Five days later when we boarded a plane back to Pittsburgh with our soon-to-be-adopted then-seven year old son in tow, we were a family. Sometimes everything just falls into place. Sometimes love at first sight transcends cliché. Sometimes only a stale platitude will do: it was meant to be.

on the verge (or, the future is now)

We dropped Chris off at a friend’s birthday party and then, like all long-term married couples who find themselves with an afternoon free of children, we went grocery shopping.  After a lengthy debate on which cereals to buy — oh, the things that pass for passion once you’ve seen each other naked for more than a decade — we found ourselves in the checkout line.  As I put the much-debated cereals on the scanner, the clerk, a high school student who was maybe 17 years old, asked, “Are you two partners?”  I, of course, assumed he was awkwardly attempting to hit on me because, well, I assume everyone is hitting on me while Todd worried that the kid had decided to use us as parental surrogates and was about to practice his coming out speech.  We were both wrong.

The clerk said he was asking because he had two Dads.  He then went on to tell us that his Dads had adopted him…from Oregon (like Chris)…when he was about eight years old (like Chris).  He told us how he had spent those first few years of his life in a small town outside of Portland (like Chris) living with his grandparents (like Chris) before being placed in foster care (again, like Chris) and then at last being adopted by two gay guys from Pittsburgh (like, well, you get the point).  The similarities were stunning.

But what struck more than the similarities, more than these coincidences, were the odds that we had found ourselves at this particular Giant Eagle on this particular day in this particular line being waited on by this particular clerk who then, for whatever reason, felt a connection to us which prompted him to share his story, which in many ways was, is, our son’s story.  It was as if the universe was opening a door and saying, “This is the future.”

In that moment I wanted to meet his Dads.  I wanted to shake their hands and to thank them for coming before me.  For blazing the trail.  For giving this young man a home and a future that included reassuring hugs, and goodnight kisses, and evenings playing board games, and extravagant Christmas mornings, and love, and happiness, and a million other things I hope to give my son.

As the clerk handed me my receipt and thanked us for shopping at Giant Eagle I found myself asking him if he was happy.  It was an odd question, invasive really, and I silently judged myself for being so forward.  But he seemed to think nothing of it and replied, “Yes.  I’m very happy.”  And for some reason that made me very happy.