Beginning the adoption process can be exhilarating. Sometimes though, you get a bit of a reality check when it comes to the joys of "parenting" before you even begin.
Before my husband John and I began adoption proceedings, joining my family and their kids on a trip to an apple orchard with their beautiful children would have meant a painful day bound to the perpetual green-eyed monster of the infertile. That is, if I'd ever been INVITED. Seems I'd always ring up one of my five fertile sisters after the fact. Any one I reached would rave to me about the bushels of juicy Macintosh collected and the smell of simmering pies. Each year I politely listened to a lengthy description of how the smallest child dragged home the biggest pumpkin.
Mom and my siblings, whose procreative headcount at the time was two dozen, just couldn't understand the heartache of being childfree. They seemed to mistake my plight for that of carefree.
Every year, at the end of these phone conversations I'd say, "Maybe I'll go next year," sure a snicker was being suppressed on the other end while one of them pictured me muttering over a broken nail and a smoking dessert in my oven.
Another Autumn would arrive and we'd all forget--them about inviting me, and me about what time of year it was. I always reasoned I had no one to burst through my door clutching hand-traced paper turkeys and glitter-scattering cards to remind me of upcoming holidays. What was their excuse?
But the year of our adoption was going to be different. I not only remembered the orchard outing, but couldn't wait to tag along because by spring I'd have my own child! By the time the Easter egg hunts were in full swing, I would be in maternal heaven. My bundle of joy would be dressed like a bunny while I beamed down on her. And since our agency required a photo album to send to our baby's birthmother, our trip would be perfect for a photo op of my admirable mothering skills in action!
Me, my mother, sister, sister-in-law and the kids piled out of the cars. Samantha, six, spotted a wagon pulled by a tractor and begged for her first ever hayride. I gladly obliged. My nephews clamored to go too. I insisted to their skeptical mothers that I was perfectly capable of taking a couple of kids for a ride around the orchard. After brief shrugs, the adults made haste to the nearby country store, probably in search of baking ingredients.
We bought our tickets and got on line. There was but one tractor with wagon to accommodate the beautiful day's crowd.
"No cutting," I said about five times to groups of kids that attempted to sneak ahead of us in line. I made my niece and nephews pose for pictures with me until they whined for me to stop.
The boys busied themselves with graphic comparisons of exploding rotten pumpkins and how many apples each of them could ingest before vomiting. So, I tried conversing with Samantha who offered me a few mono-syllabic responses. I attempted silly pantomime to make her laugh. She began giggling. This is good, I thought.
Acting foolish is thirsty work. Handing James twenty dollars, I asked the boys to get drinks. Immediately they became a blur of pummeling legs. After what felt like a long time, they returned to where we hadn't moved but a couple of inches on line. Ryan handed me change.
Confused, I stared at two small bottles of spring water James held. He offered me one.
"Ryan and me are gonna share this other one."
"Did they run out?" I asked.
"No, there was a whole bunch," he answered.
"Oh, Okay," I said. I was too thirsty to pursue ten-year-old logic of sharing twelve ounces of water between four people. Sam's hand reached up.
"I want some," she said.
"Of course," I answered, just short of taking my first sip. I frowned at my childless instinct to try and quench my own thirst first. I handed the precious few ounces over to Sam.
Sam's mouth covered half the bottle neck as she guzzled. In my mental debate between germs and dehydration, my parched throat made a more convincing case. But I had to wonder if I'd get any water at all as she continued gulping. Finally satiated or just breathless, she handed the bottle back to me while panting. There was but an inch of water remaining.
Yipes, backwash, I realized. I handed it back.
"I'm not thirsty anymore," I fibbed. "Finish it."
"Okay," Head tossed back, she did.
"It's hot and we've already waited an hour," I said, hoping the kids would give up on the hayride, but six round eyes just stared back at me.
I decided to be more direct, "Let's just forget the hayride," I suggested.
"I don't care." Yes. Thank you amiable James, I thought.
"Me neither," Ryan agreed. Two down.
"Noooooo," Sam jerked her upper body back and forth. Her dimpled knees bent, then dramatically snapped straight. "I wanna GO!"
"Okay!" I said. The boys rolled their eyes, passing the other water bottle back and forth. They seemed perfectly happy swapping germs.
Then Sam's doe-like eyes looked up.
"Hold me!" she whined.
I scanned her protruding belly and chubby legs. She looked solid.
"Pleeeeease," she sing-songed.
Stifling a groan I hoisted her up. She placed her head on my shoulder and went limp as noodles in tuna casserole. I staggered back under her dead weight.
The tractor FINALLY appeared. Rosy-cheeked children were gently lowered out of the vehicle. Gratefully, I placed Sam down, rubbing my normally dormant child-heaving muscles.
We boarded the wagon for a well-earned rest into distant golden fields. The only problem was the tractor rested too.
"Something's wrong guys," I said craning my neck forward. Uh-oh, I spotted a tire repair.
"Flat tire," I told them. I rose, motioning for the kids to follow me. Samantha resolutely folded her arms, mouth in an intense pout directed at her tennis shoes. Sighing, I plopped back down to endure the crawling of more monotonous minutes. Other passengers began popping up in the bed of the wagon like pieces of browned toast.
"Okay," I said, wiping the sweat from my brow, "Let's vote, and the majority rules. Stay?" I asked, sighing in exasperation, "Or, GO?" I tried making the word go sound as appealing as pie. In fact I offered them each their own pie in place of the elusive hayride.
"Stay," Ryan nestled his backside deeper in hay.
"Stay!" James was pumped, as if it were halftime of a brutal football game.
"Stay HERE!" Samanta yelled. I heard a whimper, then realized in was coming from me.
How is it I wondered, that I ended up a hungry, dehydrated hostage in a broken piece of farm equipment?
Nearly two hours had passed since I started showing the kids a good time and making memories for the adoption agency album. I'd had enough fun for one day. I stood up and tripped right out of the tractor.
"Let's go!" I commanded.
I thumped down two steps of the tractor expecting a third, but in mid-air realized there were just two, with a long way after the second to solid ground. I quickly threw myself toward a nearby hay bale on which to break my fall. But hay bales, come to find out, are flimsy. Had I previously visited an orchard, I would have known. I landed flat on my back with an oomph as the air was knocked out of me from the force of the impact. A thick cloud of dust swirled up around my spread eagle position. I heard someone exclaim. I lifted my arm to take the hand I was sure was reaching down for me. But alas, my unassisted appendage flapped around like a grounded trout. I heard unmistakable snickering.
"Your middle name Grace?" an ill-mannered child hooted.
I felt my cheeks flushing red hot with humiliation. But worse than that, more painful even than the ache spreading down my back, were the expressions of fright and disappointment on my niece's and nephews' faces. I had let them down. My simple plan to treat them to a hay ride had backfired. Along with my breath and my pride, my idealistic notions of motherhood whooshed out of me like the air in the tractor tire.
And I wasn't terribly happy with the kids for an instant, either--selfish, needy and insensitive as they had been. I couldn't do what I wanted, which was to burst into tears. Standing, I turned towards the kids and tried to make light of things.
"I'm Okay," I lied. "I'll bet you had no idea your aunt could do a mean impression of a monkey slipping on a banana peel with a hay bale!" I slightly exaggerated a limp and everyone laughed.
Thoughtful on the ride home, I realized that despite the discomfort, or perhaps BECAUSE of it, I survived preparations for my future role of mother. Even though I'd been with children lots over the years before planning an adoption, all my infertility struggles and years of yearning for my own baby blinded my perspective on parenting. Within just a few hours I'd received a reality check that there was going to be much more to being a parent than simply HAVING a sweet baby.
The word "parent" has become a very active little verb in recent years, and now I know why. In just one afternoon I played negotiator, comedienne, provider, sacrificer, encourager, leader, demonstrator, sufferer and forgiver. Soon enough, another human being would be fully dependent on me. I would have to deal with forces that would make it sometimes impossible for me to give to and do for my child what I wanted. That made me a little sad, but wiser to understand that just like infertility or adoption, parenting wouldn't be entirely within my control.
As I entered my house under an eggplant-colored sky, my husband greeted me at the door with a dropped jaw. Grass stains streaked my pants. Caked mud filled the crevices of my new boots. The dirt underneat my fingernails hurt.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Oh, just practicing to be a mom," I shrugged.
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