When Love is a Choice

There is something magical that happens when you hold a tiny infant. This is the reason that, after growing our family to four children and one dog, I forbade my wife from holding other people’s babies. To paraphrase Karl Marx, “Sleeping babies are the opiate of mothers.” The temptation to rationalize “just one more baby” has subsided (we are tired), and I think we’re done having babies – I should probably check with my wife to verify that.

Speaking of tiny babies, I missed my oldest daughter’s birth. I didn’t even get to hold her during those precious and formative, first days of her life. The first time I held her was in March of 2002, and I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I gently picked her up as she slept. At 32 pounds, 7 ounces of dead weight, she felt more like a sack of concrete than a little girl. But I held her with all of the care I could muster.

Not wanting to wake her, I held her in my right arm as I grasped my son’s hand with my left hand, and we proceeded through the terminal. Holding my daughter for the first time wasn’t the experience I imagined at all – it exceeded my expectations by far.

Arrival in America – c. 2002

It’s a magical thing when you get your kids at five years old (yes, we adopted from a far-away place). They can hug, pout, smile, laugh, bite and they can talk to you. But when your adopted child loves you, not because you gave birth to them, but because they choose to love you, it’s enough to overshadow any struggles that you might need to overcome.

The time since March of 2002 was full of ups and downs, joys and struggles. When your children are taught from the earliest age that to trust adults would lead to unimaginable hurt, relationships are hard. Ours was no different. As my “little vibrant” 5-year-old pushed through to adolescence, that fear and distrust ingrained in her by people I will never meet now characterized so many aspects of our fragile relationship. There wasn’t yelling. We didn’t hate each other, but it was so very hard for such a long time. It still is very hard, and I love my daughter so much more now than I did that day that she first melted my heart.

My daughter (now an adult) had a baby of her own last year, and when her baby was born, my daughter (living more than a thousand miles away) said on the phone, “We’re not ready for visitors just yet, and we don’t know when we will be. We’ll let you know.”

I knew that my daughter wanted space, and I could give that to her. “Let us know when you are ready for a visit,” I replied. Yesterday, eleven months later, was that day.

I thought through every scenario, but I kept asking myself, “What if she rejects me?”

As I made the drive toward my daughter’s house, my stomach was in knots.  I arrived in town 20 minutes earlier than anticipated, and I made an unnecessary trip to a Starbucks. I know my daughter loves me, sometimes she loves me “in spite of me,” but here I was again, going to meet a little girl that didn’t know me and had no reason to love me. I thought through every scenario, but I kept asking myself, “What if she rejects me?”

But I finally got to hold my granddaughter yesterday, and that moment was special as well.

So once again, I missed the “first days” of a little girl’s life. There was something oddly familiar about meeting her for the first time – no longer a helpless, tiny, pre-verbal, infant, but a vibrant, joyful and affectionate little girl who was capable of reciprocating affection, but she was also capable of rejecting me, and that was what I feared most.

When I picked up my 11-month-old granddaughter for the first time, I didn’t want to put her down. I held on to her at the park as she slept with her tiny head on my drool-drenched-shoulder. I held her as we watched the ducks. I held her as she greeted a passing dog. I held her for at least two of the three hours I spent with my daughter’s family, and it was just as special as those first moments I shared with her mother.

I don’t know what lies ahead, but I am grateful for what I have now, which is beautiful family with all of our bumps, bruises and flaws, and that’s okay. I have a beautiful daughter, a very kind son-in-law and now I have a granddaughter who loved me because she chose to love me. She also reminded me why it was so important for my wife and I to fly across the globe 17 years ago to invite her mother into our family.

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