November 15, 2008
Two years, Four months, and Eighteen days Later
Here is what I want to remember:
I don’t sleep very well. When I hear Peyton—or is it, Lucy? —cry out and say, “Daaoown” at about 7:15 am, I feel as if the night has not yet passed, as if I haven’t really been to sleep yet. I get up. Vanessa does too, right away, and both of us quickly out of bed, a sign that today is not a usual day.
We give the kids frozen waffles, and drag their booster seats into the kitchen so they don’t mess up the table spread we set up carefully the night before while they slept. Flowers, tablecloth, place settings—all waiting for when we come back from the ceremony. We get the kids dressed, Vanessa has chosen their outfits, naturally, then we dress ourselves and brush our teeth and hair with little ones clinging to our legs like they sense our excitement.
My mom and dad call us at one point, they are on the road. We leave the house in plenty of time, pile out in the parking garage and see other families with kids dressed up, excited, all heading to the courthouse on a Saturday. It’s grand. The day is warm and windy, feels like a post-hurricane day, a fitting metaphor if ever there was one.
I love going to the courthouse. It’s pretty new, and maybe I should have been a lawyer, I really like the officialness and formality of it all. The security guards send everyone through a metal detector, but they are jollier than normal today. I think to myself that maybe it was worth waiting so that we got all this ceremony. I won’t believe it’s real though until I see that signed paper. I see my mom and dad waiting inside, Vanessa has found them, and they take the kids. I walk to the sign-in table where Rekita is standing. Can you believe this day is finally here? she asks me, smiling. I hug her and the tears well up in my eyes, and she fusses at me, telling me not to get her started. She meets my mother and father, wipes her eyes, and says that this is what makes her job a good one. I know we’re a special family for her, we’ve been with her from the start, through her own movement from foster care to adoption worker. She sends me to the next table to fill out the official stuff.
I sign in, see the woman look through a stack of certificates, and I feel like my heart is beating out of my chest and God, I can’t believe that this day is here. It bothers me too that Vanessa is not my other half on paper, even though she is in the ways that matter most. When the lady passing out flowers gives me one, I ask if I can have one for my partner. She asks if her name is on the petition, and I explain, already teary, that it’s North Carolina and she can’t be, and the lady says she’s sorry, but they only have enough for all the people adopting. And I unleash the floodgates. Not on purpose, it just happens, it’s just that A. It’s so unfair and isn’t right that we’re there as a family and I’m the only one on the certificate and the flower is just a stupid symbol and B. It’s an emotional day and I’m feeling it for the tidal wave that it is. My mother witnesses the whole thing, and I feel her taking in my pain. But turns out, V and I had gotten two little roses for the kids to wear which we couldn’t really figure out how to pin to the kids anyways and as fate would have it they look almost identical to the flowers Youth and Family Services is handing out, a white rose with baby’s breath, so we just pull one of those out and pin it to Vanessa. Then we go in search of another gay couple who needs an extra flower.
The kids participate in making a picture frame and do handprints for a quilt that will hang in the courthouse. All of this is happening across the street from the county jail, where their birthmother sits. We cry for her too.
They have Starbucks, free books, and little stuffed bears for the kids. My sister Laura and her husband Ed show up, and the kids are delighted to see all their favorite people in one place, and balloons to boot. At nine there is a press conference. I can hardly hear a word of it, partly because I can’t concentrate and partly because there are so many people talking and kids whapping balloons and making racket. The judge who is performing the ceremony today, Lisa Bell, is re-adopting her own daughter who she adopted internationally eight years ago. There are forty-something adoptions happening today. We are two of that forty-something.
Around ten-thirty they herd us all into the courtroom for the official proceedings. By the time we get in there, the only seating left is on the front row. The ceremony begins and it’s long. Every adoption is special and meaningful and beautiful, but it is long. Especially with two squirmy, sleepy, and hungry toddlers. Each family comes to the front and gets to say a few words, which is nice, but of course, time-consuming. Peyton is crawling up and down the aisle chasing a balloon and the camera woman asks to get a shot of him which we’ll see later on the news. We’re giving Lucy paper to draw on, feeding the kids Annie’s Wheat Bunnies until the deputy comes to tell us there’s no eating in the courtroom. Really? Even today? I actually think it was just because Vanessa started eating some of the wheat bunnies.
We sit through the alphabet, and when they get to the M’s, they don’t call us. I get a little worried. But I see the clerks shuffling papers, and when they finish the Ys (no Zees getting adopted that day), they start calling out an A, a G, so I figure we’re okay. I can’t imagine what I would do if I got this far and for some reason, there was a glitch. I’m sitting almost directly across from the judge who sat on our case, Judge Lewis.
Finally, they call us. Everyone heads up to the front except Ed who must be feeling shy. I’ve had to pee the whole ceremony, but I’ve had a minute to think of what I wanted to say. We are the first (well, possibly the second) gay family to come up to the front. I introduce myself, I think I introduce the kids, and I introduce Vanessa as my partner. I also introduce and thank my mom and dad, Laura and Ed, and all the people who have been part of the process. I would like to say more, speak about what Vanessa is to these kids (though it may go without saying), and thank Rekita specifically, but I can barely get through my two sentences without breaking down completely. Everyone clasps, we get out certificates and go back to our seats. “Now if I’m not mistaken,” the judge says smiling, looking right at me, “You’ve been crying since you got here.” There are other adoptions, and even two more gay couples who also introduce their partners, and then finally, it is done.
That afternoon dear friends (and adoptees!) Katharine and Bri and Emily arrive, and that night we all go out to Frankies, a nice Italian (obviously) restaurant, and celebrate, really pushing the kids’ public outings for a single day. If anyone glares at us for bringing five kids under five to a fancy restaurant, we don’t notice, and surely, they take it back when they hear us singing Happy Adoption to You. We have a cake we’ve gotten from a Latino bakery that reads, “Happy Adoption, Lucy Y Peyton” which seems just right for my El Salvadorian daughter and Brazilian son, finally on paper what I knew to be true in my heart all along.