Before—in fact, way before— dawn, I woke up as Sherod leaned over me, gave me a quick kiss goodbye and headed out the door. He was going to drive to Atlanta to catch a mid-morning flight to Fort Lauderdale. He’d do a hand-off with BARC staff, receiving María, her duffel bag packed to bursting, and her meds, would then go back through TSA security; this time, she’d be with him. An hour later, the two would board a flight headed back to Atlanta. As I write this, he is driving home with María. I have not seen my girl in almost 6 months and I get to mother her again for a few days.
Last night, Sherod pulled up a video clip of the day María was entrusted to us at Hoger y Futuro, the orphanage in México where she lived during the time we were working on her adoption. I could barely stand to watch it, overwhelmed by the beauty of our daughter, but especially, the bravery of a little kid who knew how to survive in the middle of such desolation with more desolation to come. Once again, she was about to be plucked out of the world she knew, a world composed of exposed brick and cement and about 80 other children who competed with her for adult attention, who sometimes beat her up, who, like she, were often sick and almost always cold in the cold months of the year in México City. I know for a fact, that there were times, especially in the early years, when María would gladly have walked back into all that rather than keep fighting against who and what I thought a child of mine should be.
The video reminds me of what I looked like when I walked with a limp, how in those days my hair was auburn with fake blond highlights, instead of the gray streaked hair of my middle years. I like my hair a lot better now. What a miracle to no longer limp. My ambitions as a mama are also far more modest. I travelled to México to receive María convinced that love would conquer all. What I had read about post-institutionalization and reactive attachment disorder, the knowledge I had of what could be done about developmental delays would be stronger than any obstacles that might get in the way of raising a daughter who would be smart, beautiful, charming and a delight to be around.
The work had to begin immediately. My love would start transforming her with the dress I had brought in my carry-on, the prettiest yellow dress imaginable. I wanted her to wear that dress because my mom had given it to me to give to her and somehow, María wearing it would link the three of us. It would be a transfusion of the determination and strength of the Elliot women who go through life with resolve as strong as Swedish steel.
I wish now, I hadn’t been so keen to change her out of the little outfit she was already wearing, wearing with great pride. I wish I had been able to see her like I could see her in the video last night, rather than as the projection of an idealized motherhood and daughterhood that drove my love for her that day.
Time has stripped me of much of that foolishness, though I am glad I still have both little outfits, can still pull them out from time to time, to touch them, feel both fabrics, one flannel one lawn, each comforting in their own way. I am glad as well that when my girl comes in through the door tonight (ETA is 8:15 so that’s just 2 hours from now), there will not be nostalgia, nor any reason to dwell on what the future holds. With María, the sweetest times do not require a lot more than the feel of her hand in mine, that beautiful black hair and her big brown eyes, how we laugh together.
Many, many years ago, when I read my way through The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, I found myself returning often to a poem she wrote in what I like to imagine was a moment of stillness, when the demons that would ultimately have her die of suicide, had not silenced her love for her daughters. The name of the poem is The Fortress: while taking a nap with Linda. It is a conversation with a very young child, while the two are lying in bed, looking out window.
Darling, life is not in my hands…
I cannot promise very much.
I give you the images I know.
Lie still with me and watch.
A pheasant moves
By like a seal, pulled through the mulch
By his thick white collar. He’s on show
Like a clown. He drags a beige feather that he removed
One time, from an old lady’s hat.
We laugh and we touch.
I promise you love. Time will not take that away.
My love for my daughter carries much less than I had thought it would, is far less capable, powerful, transformative or competent. It is, though, what I have to give her.