The Other Mother
"For everyone," I say. Our voices are ramped up—both getting nervous. Weeks away: She will be arriving—not our idea of her. Her.
Joanne and Merrel are to fly in late Thursday night and leave Monday morning. Jo and I brainstorm on the phone daily. Friday will be their day: Jo's and Joanne's; husbands, Jo's sons. Saturday morning Robert and the boys will leave for a long-planned Boy Scout overnight. Joanna has planned meticulously, allowing her and Joanne some alone time. "But not too much," she tells me. "Too much would be hard." She's right, of course.
And where do I fit in?
"Mom, I'd like to bring Joanne and Merrel to you on Saturday—just the five of us." She means our weekend house, 45 minutes from where she lives. We've owned it since Jo was 14. "I've told her about the climbing trees, my hammock down in the valley, the porch view." It pops into my mind that this house is also where on Thanksgiving 11 years ago Joanna miscarried the baby that would have been her third. "Dinner, okay?" she asks. I tell her that sounds fine—and mean it.
Friday comes. Jo's on my mind all day. I've contracted with myself to not call, though I could whomp up a few plausible pretexts. At about 10 P.M., the phone rings.
"Hi, Mom. I'm just driving back from their motel."
A heart skid: "Yes??" My impatient sibilant hisses back in my ear.
"Really good. It was easy, you know? They came loaded with quilts: one for each of the boys in his favorite color and some special thing—like music notes quilted into Steven's. Robert came home early and took Merrel around the grounds so I got time with Joanne. She said again how hard it was for her, giving me up." An undertone in her voice confirms that, diverse as the millions of adopted children are, this they have in common: the need to hear and hear again that they were not relinquished easily. "We're so similar in some things—like the way we use our hands when we talk. She noticed that and—"
Before I can stop myself, "Well, so do I use my hands—and Grandma did, and...everyone in New York."
"But she and I do it the same way." Joanna is right to be pissed with me. She's giving me straight-from-the-heart stuff, which I zap in a flash of jealousy.
"So how do you feel when those similarities pop up?" I'm truly penitent, anxious to get back on track. I am her mother, a supporter, not a contestant.
"Weird but good weird. Like putting in a puzzle piece that fits. Kind of..."
Saturday, finally. Antsy is an understatement. Jo said they'll come on the early side, maybe 6. I get everything pre-prepared. Nothing adventurous: broiled chicken, potatoes, light on the salad with Joanne's Crohn's in mind. When I ask Eamon for the fourth time whether we have enough soda, beer, just in case...he says, "Honey, it'll be fine. Why don't you sit on the porch and get lost in a book?" Right!
At five past 4, the phone rings. "Okay if we come in, like, half an hour?" I parse Jo's voice for trouble and hear none—just eagerness. So. Now. My throat lumps up so I can hardly answer.
"Fine, we'll be waiting for you." My voice is steady—with some effort.
Fifteen minutes later, I hear her van crunch the gravel of our long, winding driveway. I stand at the living room window for a moment watching the three of them get out and then dash down the steps to join them.