There's no story my daughter and I love more than how we became a family through adoption. My 9-year-old, Willa, asks me to recite the details over and over again. Josey, my 4-year old, listens intently to her story and makes me go back and start over if I leave anything out. Willa is so amused by a certain part of her story that she once asked me to come to her kindergarten classroom to tell it: how her father, Steve, and I, about to meet her for the very first time, found ourselves racing around our tiny hotel room in Nanchang, China, trying on and taking off some combination of the three outfits we had each brought along. We'd look at ourselves in the mirror, nod disapproval at our reflection, and bump into each other racing back to the closet for a more suitable option.
"I look like I'm going out dancing!" my husband said.
"All I have is black pants," I moaned. "Kids like color!"
"Just wear a bright top," my husband said. "Do you think she'll notice I'm losing my hair?"
"You look great," I replied, perkily applying lipstick from the credit card–size makeup palette I had packed in lieu of my normal arsenal of beauty supplies. "Oh, damn it!" I said.
My husband looked at me and burst out laughing. "Honey, your lips are blue."
"I put eyeshadow on them!"
"You're just nervous!"
"Well, obviously I'm nervous!" I said, scrubbing my mouth with soap and water. I looked over at my husband, who had finished shaving with a trembling hand and was now applying tissue to the multiple bloody nicks he'd inflicted upon himself. "And you cannot meet our daughter with toilet paper all over your face!"
Our costume drama served to distract us from the enormous affect welling in our throats. We had spent a solid year and a half preparing to become Willa's parents—months of paperwork, shopping for every imaginable baby item, getting fingerprinted to prove we weren't wanted criminals, and a lot of staring at the ceiling at 3 A.M., wondering if the little baby daughter we called Willa, whom we already madly loved but knew only from a health report and two black-and-white photographs, was safe and sound. One of the very last bits of advice our adoption agency gave us as we set out on our 18-hour plane trip to China was, "No matter what, when you meet your child, do not cry. You'll scare your daughter if you cry." So here we were, doing everything possible to keep our minds off the emotion beating like a tom-tom in our chests.
When the phone rang and Mrs. Chen, head of Willa's children's home, told us our baby daughter was waiting in a hospitality suite, we held each other for 20 quiet seconds, then screamed for joy, jumped up and down on the bed on the way to the door, and ran for the elevator. We knew it was the best day of our lives so far, and when Willa hears her story, she knows it, too. "Tell the part again where Daddy had toilet paper on his face! Tell the part where you jumped on the bed and almost broke it! Tell the part where you looked into my eyes and felt like you had known me forever, and you reached for me and held me, and I pointed to my nose because I was sick and I wanted you to know. Tell the part where you were afraid that you were going to cry but then you didn't because you were too happy."