Are You My Mommy?

Our kids are going to need a lot of branches…

We met with Olivia’s birthmom this past weekend, which was every bit as tender, awkward and exciting as one would expect considering the last time we saw her was shortly before she was discharged from the maternity ward a year ago.

We met in Hyde Park, not only because it was equidistant for all of us, but also because it was where we first met back in May 2011 – in a popular Greek diner hangout for UC-ers. Squeezed into a booth had sat a reticent Mama J and her mother, a gregarious Mama T. After seeing our online profile, they had sent an email, seeking a “loving home for a beautiful baby.” A few tentative emails and nervous phone calls later, here we were – still tentative, still nervous.

“Baby, tell them about yourself…”

Mama J would look up from texting under the table just long enough to give a few words (“I like purple.”) before retreating to her virtual world.

“Oh, that’s cool. I love purple too,” I gushed, trying to draw her back into the conversation. But whatever coping mechanism she needed given the situation, it was stronger than my forced enthusiasm. Mama T would drive the rest of the conversation, reassuring us of Mama J’s pre-natal care and conscientious diet…until Mama J interjected.

“I really like french fries. Eat them all the time.” Ah, so she was the typical teenager, mercurial and mischievous, needing to assert a hint of control in a situation that had spun decidedly out of it. With a whisper of a smile playing on her lips, she knew she was derailing her mother’s non-stop attempt to “sell” us on this baby.

I wanted to tell Mama T that she didn’t have to work so hard – Lori and I were in after the first email. But match meetings are like poker, with significantly higher stakes. The counselors on both sides tell you to play it cool – be interested, but not aggressive. Beneath all of the pregnant (ha!) pauses, both players just want to stop playing the game, lean across the table and reassure one another that everything will work out just fine. That’s all I wanted to do at this first meeting, but we were scared, as were they.

What if they don’t like us? What if they’re crazy? What if they changed their minds? What if…

So many questions racing through our brains and theirs as we plastered smiles on our faces and made small talk. We wrapped with hugs and promises to “keep in touch” as the due date drew closer and watched them get into their car, waving as they headed north on Woodlawn.

“I hope we see them again,” I said, as their tail lights moved farther and farther away from us.

We spent the next hour wandering around campus, dazed yet cautiously optimistic.

“I think we just met our daughter,” Lori said, almost walking into the traffic.
“Yeah,” I agreed, almost walking into the traffic with her.

As we passed Ida Noyes Hall, then Rockerfeller Chapel, my eyes drifted across the Midway to Burton-Judson Hall, the place where, at 16, I thought I was da bomb…until I sat next to a 9 year old in my Soc 101 class. I had been delusional back then, thinking I was mature enough to handle whatever UC threw my way.

Turns out I wasn’t, and I didn’t.

Meeting with Mama J almost 25 years later, I now understood what maturity was. I saw how it was possible to handle life’s curve balls with dignity and grace (Olivia’s middle name). I marveled at how one decision had changed so many lives, had led us to where we were today – seated on a Starbucks patio discussing the many diva tendencies an-almost-one-year-old could have.

“Oh yeah, she’s bitten few teachers on the knee to get their attention.”
“She took some kid’s sippy cup, and when they asked for it back, she shook her head ‘no’ and crawled away with it.”
“She’s gotten really good at throwing herself on the floor in protest. I didn’t think that started till 2.”

“What foods does she like,” Mama J asked as she bounced Olivia on her knee. They made the perfect picture, mother and child.

matching eyes
matching cheekbones
matching smiles

“Oh, pretty much everything,” I answered. “Carrots, chicken, peas – “

“She likes peas?! Ewww nasty! When my mama put them on my plate, I used to hold them in my mouth, then spit them out when she wasn’t looking.”

Olivia, cover your ears!

We created our own little oasis, amidst the madness of Hyde Park, with its non-stop fire trucks along 55th, overheard debates about the polemics of epistemological realism, and stream-of-consciousness rants from the ubiquitous drifters who frequent any coffee shop with a clean bathroom and free WiFi.

I eyed Mama J’s shoulder-length hair. “So when did your hair start to come in?”

“Hmmmm, I think I was bald until about 2.”

Dang! So this frohawk Olivia has is an improvement? Wow, it’s going to be a while before we’re doing the center-part-with- symmetrical-braids look…

The sudden arrival of a bespangled, blond-highlight sporting, Sandra Denton-twin (“Sal sal Salt and Pepa’s here!”), caught us off-guard, until Mama J clarified that her stepmom was picking her up. I extended my hand to this whirlwind of energy, who then swatted it away before pulling me in a suffocating hug.

Head planted firmly in her voluminous bosom, I caught the muffled explanation of “Girl, we family now!” before she released me – oh thank god! I can breathe again! – then swooped Olivia into her arms and showered her with kisses.

“Mmmm, mmmm, mmm, your Granny loves you!”

How blessed this child is, surrounded by so much love.

We ended with Mama J’s plans for the afternoon (shopping), senior year (finishing), and college (applying). And with a final kiss to Olivia (“I love you, baby girl.”) and hugs for me and Lori (“Thank you…just thank you.”), Mama J and her stepmom stepped into their car and drove away, north on Woodlawn.

I watched their tail lights receding in the distance and repeated the words I had said over a year ago –

“I hope we see them again.”

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