FRESH YARN presents:
I remember how it felt when I discovered outlet malls. I don't mean regular shopping malls. I'm talking about OUTLET malls.
When I first discovered them I thought, Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're telling me there's a place where all of these stores are within close proximity to one another and everything is on sale ALL THE TIME? And the SALE things are even on sale?"
Well, my life was changed forever.
I tell you this to give you some insight into who I am. It seems that almost anything can be a life-changing epiphany to me. My initial response to adopting my daughter was not much different from discovering that J. Crew had an outlet store adjacent to Coach. Until I realized that the maintenance on my daughter would be more extensive than an annual conditioning with leather moisturizer. Or, as my husband Tom says about having a child, "One day you're single, the next day you're in charge of an impulsive quadriplegic." All of this, and more, I experienced in China on July 12th, 2004 when we first met our daughter, Milan.
Tom and I had been through the lengthy and bureaucratic process of adopting a baby from China, which we had decided to do after a series of discussions, and attempts at having a biological child. We felt that we really wanted a little girl from China, and we were very excited.
It had taken us not the normal twelve to eighteen months to complete the process but, rather, over four years, due to some complications along the way, both emotional and financial. I was depressed, our marriage was strained, and we had very little income. We were not the perfect candidates for adopting...anything. Even a highway. But, eventually, we managed through these "speed bumps," as Tom called them -- because he's Swedish and doesn't understand emotion -- and got to the point where we were ready to leave for China.
In some odd display of feeling, Tom said to me several times in the months leading up to our departure, "You won't believe how married we are once we have a baby."
Okay. Was this a tease? A warning? A threat? I had no idea. All I knew was that Tom had already had two children, who are now fairly grown, at 16 and 20. So, whatever he was talking about was based on solid experience. Therefore, I chose to ignore it, and continued to do some last minute shopping at gap.com.
We left Los Angeles after midnight on July 9th and, after a very long flight, but not the longest I'd ever flown -- but the only flight that was delivering me to a baby -- we arrived in Guangzhou, China on Sunday morning, July 11th. The next morning we, along with the other couples in our small group, flew to Nanjing where we were going to get our babies at approximately 2 PM. We then got on our overly air-conditioned bus and drove to a street that looked like any other street, and walked into an underly air-conditioned government building that was barely distinguishable from any other building.
I was numb. I attributed it to the extreme change in air temperature. I didn't want to consider why I was really numb. That was way too big.
When we walked into the building Tom noticed, across the room, two caregivers playing with a couple of babies on a sofa. Tom grabbed my forearm and said, "That's Milan. I think that's Milan."
I couldn't see very clearly without my glasses. "Really?"
"Yeah, I think that's Milan." It was so weird to hear the name we had chosen for a baby we had only seen in a picture being said out loud and in reference to an actual human being sitting in the room.
We waited and sweated for about an hour, and then they began to call the names of the parents to come to take their babies from the caregivers. We were third or fourth to be called. As I watched two babies being handed over to their new parents, my heart started to come back to life. I was no longer numb. I think I was hyperventilating. I had a smile on so wide that I looked like Wal-mart Parent of the Month.
They finally called our names, and we walked over to the caregiver. And there was Milan -- the same Milan from the picture, the same Milan whom Tom had spotted when we walked into the building. She was alive and alert and she looked completely puzzled. I thought, "Exactly," as I took her in my arms and pulled her to me. She whimpered and cried a little. It was downright surreal.
The three of us went back to the hotel and tried to get some rest. When we would lay Milan on her back, she would cry. I mean, scream. She did this all the time. When we would change her diaper, she screamed. And when it was time to go to sleep, the only way that she would drift off was if one of us held her and rocked her to sleep and then, very gingerly, placed her down, and slowly pulled the supporting arm out from under her.
It took two nights for us to become completely and utterly exhausted. At the same time, Tom and several others in our group became violently ill from one of the meals. Guess what we learned about China? They have HORRIBLE Chinese food. Who would have guessed that? I had to go out to buy Tom Gatorade with Chinese writing on the bottle. I was pretty sure it was Gatorade. It was blue liquid, and there was a picture of someone surfing on the bottle. So, I thought it was probably safe.
At that point, however, I didn't really care if it killed him. Tom was in an awful mood and had lost all patience. I remember standing at the window of our hotel room, over twenty floors up, and thinking to myself, "Oh my god. What have I done? We have a baby who won't stop crying, and I hate my husband. I can't believe how married we are. Now the question is: Do I have the physical strength to lift his body and throw him out this window?"
I looked at Milan, who had finally fallen asleep lying next to Tom, who was also sleeping. And I realized that this man, whom I hated, would someday be the man that she hated. And my heart softened. I got into bed next to Milan and passed out.
From that moment on, my life has been so completely different in ways that I never could have anticipated. Every day, there are things I realize I had taken for granted that are now distant memories. Things like showering. Brushing my teeth. Peeing in a room by myself. Going to the movies. Boy, do I miss going to the movies. One night, Tom was away, and I was with Milan, and I wanted to go see Million Dollar Baby, but I couldn't because I had to stay home with Twenty Thousand Dollar baby.
And outlet malls. I really miss the outlet malls. It's close to impossible to shop for bargains with a two-year-old who's wiping her nose on a rack of peasant skirts.
Sometimes it's really hard to have a baby. A lot of the time. Most of the time. All of the time. Do I wonder if I did the right thing? Yes, sometimes. Would I do it again? Yeah, most of the time. Do I know, in my heart, that we're a family? Yes, all of the time. Okay, most of the time.
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