This morning I met with a couple who are trying to adopt a child. It’s a rigorous application process, so they asked me to help write a “family biography” about their background, values, and hopes for their future child.
Two things struck me about the conversation: First, how carefully they’d considered their decision to adopt. A lot of biological parents weigh the responsibility of having a child, of course. But adoption requires an extra layer of sacrifice — and commitment — from both the birth mother and the adoptive parents.
The second thing that struck me was how much they had to offer. The youngster who is placed with this family will be very lucky indeed to grow up with an appreciation of music and art, and with a deep reverence for nature and for his extended family.
During my drive home I thought about my own parents.
I didn’t know I was adopted until my early teens, when my father gave me a yellowed, typewritten letter. It explained that I’d been adopted even before I was born, that I’d flown to my new home in Britain when I was only three weeks old.
Friends often ask me if I ever think of trying to track down my birth mother. And I do sometimes, if only to say two words: Thank you.
I can’t imagine the strength it must have taken for her to give me up. But I’m deeply grateful for her unselfish decision. I wish there were a way to tell her what a rich, full, wonderful life she gave me …
The letter is signed simply “Mommy and Daddy, your parents.”
“Mommy” was Dorothy, my father’s first wife. She was as intelligent and intrepid as she was kind. (She was a private pilot!) She had a natural grace, I’m told, and she made friends wherever she went.
I have fleeting memories of her face and her voice. But my last memories of Dorothy are from Mexico, where she died of asthma when I was five. I’ll never know exactly how Dorothy shaped me during those early years, but I do know I felt deeply loved.
One year after Dorothy’s death, my dad remarried. The wonderful woman I know as Mamá adopted me, and with her two daughters, we joined to form a blended family.
I had a difficult time adjusting at first: I now had three sisters, instead of just one. But my new Mamá — Carolina — reached out to me patiently. She talked with me as she drove me to my ballet classes. She helped me practice my long division. And over the years she showed me consistently that she loved me, in a thousand different ways.
I called her as I drove home today to offer my (utterly inadequate) thanks for all of these sacrifices — and many more. But it wasn’t until after I’d hung up that I began to think of her gifts. Perhaps the greatest of these was Spanish.
I used to get annoyed when she’d insist that I speak Spanish, or when she’d reply to my emails with grammatical and orthographical corrections. But it’s only because of her gentle tutelage that last November I was able to converse with a Venezuelan street musician and ask him to dedicate a song to Doña Caro.
So … aquí te va, Mamá. Tu serenata del Día de las Madres, cortesía de Tomás de Aquino.
From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU to the three women who sacrificed so much — and who gave me the gift of such a wonderful life.
Happy Mother’s Day.