Somewhere around the time Phin, our second child, turned 2, the sky became bluer, the air cleaner, my step surer, and connections in my brain sharper.
The same thing happened around the time Asher, our third, turned two years old as well.
It’s not that I walked around in a damp dark world post-pregnancies, but at two years out — there was a marked difference between what it felt like as a new mom trying to figure out a ‘new normal.’
For some mothers, this shift happens at month 6. Or 12. Or 15.
For me, it takes 2 whole years.
Two years ago today, Chris, myself, and our two oldest kids walked the streets of Guiyang, China, passing open-air ground level storefronts with women making noodles, street vendors selling baked sweet potatoes and carts full of the world’s stinkiest cheese. We were killing time until the hour the bus would take us to meet our new daughter.
Back in the hotel room, we set up stacking cups, books, balloons, and other things for her. How do you make a child feel safe and welcome?
My heart beat lightly all morning, as if afraid thumping with any conviction would take away from the attention due to this big day.
The bus drove downtown and we entered a skyrise building with our group — taking two trips in the small elevator up to the floor where we’d all become new parents.
And then we waited.
One by one, the children arrived with their nannies or foster parents.
Finally, this tiny little peanut with jet black hair and a red and blue plaid coat walked in. Just feet away from us, she stopped short, then was scooted along with both an encouraging word and a firm hand by the woman behind her.
Our daughter was hesitant. Unsure.
Knowing her now, knowing how she reacts to fear, I don’t think she was outright scared. (That came later.) She just didn’t know what to do with the faces she’d seen only in pictures that were now in real life.
We gave her gifts and tried to make her laugh, all the while she looked back at the woman who brought her in the room, the woman she trusted and listened to, the woman we’d find out right before we had to leave, was her foster mom for the last 3 years.
Today is the day two years ago our daughter became ours.
Today is the day, two years ago, when she started to laugh in Chris’ arms and danced on a table to Chinese kid songs while we signed papers and watched her – overwhelmed with both awe and unknowing – as if we were becoming parents for the very first time.
Today is the day, two years ago, she said goodbye to the woman who loved her since she was a baby, as if she were her own.
Today is the day, two years ago, when she fell asleep in my arms on the ride back to the hotel, waking sweaty and groggy, and we peeled layer after layer of clothing from her tiny body (a traditional Chinese way of dressing young kids). We offered her the toys we’d set our earlier, and she played with balloons and a beach ball, naming the colors in Chinese (words we didn’t know, but assumed, since she’d point to the yellow, blue, red, white and each word ended with the same sound: sè 色). She played with her new siblings and let us feed her rice for dinner. She screamed through a shower and we both cried, but then she fell asleep with ease.
These two years have been so similar to that first day. Most of it: wonderful. Some of it: heartbreakingly hard.
Yet as this two-year mark approached, I’ve again felt a familiar shift that I had with my other kids — from a mindset of trying to adjust to the ‘new normal’ into what now simply is our normal life.
A life we can’t imagine without her.