The Fox at Dawn

8.18.19 The Night Before
August 18, 2019, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,

Cleaning out the attic eave storage space this summer, after the possum frat party that had been raging there all winter, I found many treasures I had stowed away. Some that still cause pain, some that are bittersweet, but many many that are simply sweet. I’ve set some sweet ones on my desk to look over when I need them, like tonight as my daughter is downstairs packing her things to leave for college for the first time.

This is her “Where I’m From” Poem, written in Ms. Sorise’s middle school language arts class. It is based on a famous template by the Kentucky writer George Ella Lyon, who has become both a treasured friend and a teacher of mine.

I found that poem again. It has been pinned to my bulletin board above my desk. And I found again the words I wrote for her baptisms, for she did indeed have more than one. The first took place in the church I grew up in, Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky. The second was in my Chicago church home- Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ.

From the Kentucky baptism:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  I did not know what to pray for, what to hope for.  I tried to live with the idea of never having a child of my own and I found I could not.  But I did not know what path to take or what path to make.  I didn’t even know who to ask.  Then between projects, I took on work as a nanny through a service.  My very first job I walked into an apartment to find Katie, a 2 1/2 year old girl adopted from an orphanage in China.  I became dizzy, the ground moved under me and I quite literally saw a curtain open in front of me and I heard the words, I really really did, “This is your future”. 

See, the miracle is not that the bush burned without being consumed, the miracle is that instead of running away from a brush fire, Moses stopped long enough to notice that fact. The miracle is that absorbed as I was by my own fears, my own despair, my own feeling of being abandoned, I was able to look at Katie and see that curtain open. I was going to adopt a daughter. There was an answer to my wordless prayer, and I was the answer to hers. A motherless child and a childless mother, and now we are we. 

And from the Chicago baptism:

Three years ago on this day I was a couple of months away from my epiphany, still grappling with myself, wrestling the angel to the ground to demand my blessing. Two years ago I had gathered my demand for a blessing into a dossier that then sat on a pile of such demands in some Chinese official’s In basket. A year ago today I held the little photo of the blessing in my hand and today my arms and heart are full of blessings, full of her, my daughter, my gift from God.
            Her name came to me long before she did. At a time in my life when I was particularly alive to everything around me, especially the natural world, I was struck by the name of Jessamine County, Kentucky. It was early spring and I was driving through it a couple of times a week, commuting to Eastern Kentucky and those blessed mountains. Jessamine. And then from somewhere another word attached itself- kindred, one of the most beautiful words I know. Jessamine Kindred, the daughter I dreamt about, my secret child whose name I wrote in places that no one else would ever see. And now that name appears beside mine on a piece of paper that says we belong to each other, and on her very own Social Security card, and on this church bulletin. My eyes still can’t quite believe it. The daughter I dreamt of. The name that she was given when brought to the orphanage was Meng Ai. It means “Dreaming of Love”. 

We both dream of love still, conjure it everyday, make mistakes, try again. “I am from those moments where my mom and I walked hand in hand looking for new adventures”. Now it’s time for her to walk on her own and it’s breaking both our hearts, but golly I’m grateful. She’s healthier, she’s ready, it’s time.

April 1, 2019

The first glimpse I had of my daughter came with the letter informing me that I had been matched with this baby, if I chose to accept her. Two small photographs of Chang Meng Ai at six months of age, a deeply worried baby whose name, given by the orphanage, means ‘dreaming of love’. No baby should look so worried. I’m sure the photographer was even trying to make her smile, after all, these photos were to advertise her as a good candidate for adoption. Smile baby, smile, no one wants a sad baby.

She had that worried look seven months later when the elevator door opened to release into the hotel lobby all the orphaned girls held by their caregivers. They stepped out, names were called, and one at a time we rushed up to receive our girl- which is mine? Is that her? It’s her, my daughter. That very first embrace. I can still smell her sweet fragrance in that blue onesie with the ghost bib. I cried, she cried. I was crying with happiness and overwhelming love. Perhaps she was crying from fear. She was thirteen months old and had passed through many arms. I wanted more than anything to let her know that mine would not let go.

All these years later, I find I am still trying to convince her. Failure is not exactly the word I feel. Daunted. Helpless. Seventeen years of loving her with all my might, putting her first in every consideration, protecting and nurturing and teaching her in every way I can is not enough to stop up that chasm inside her. Fear rises up through it like a sea monster spewing poison- you are not lovable, you don’t fit in, you are different, you are not beautiful, you are fat, your body needs to be thinner, only then will your boyfriend love you, only then will you not be left behind, your life is worthless, your mother would be happier without you. So cruel, those lies. And there are moments, almost whole days, when she knows them to be lies but then the sun goes down, or her boyfriend doesn’t respond or her mother is sick and nothing on earth seems more true to her. Drama, wild swings of happiness and wretchedness, self harm, anger, ugliness, tears.

Borderline Personality Disorder is the new name of the beast she is trying to learn to ride. Her eating disorder is an outgrowth of it, a lovely little perk you get along with it. She begins work with a new doctor soon. Meanwhile it is life on The Scrambler, for her, for me, for anyone who loves her. Dreaming of love, it is the hardest thing to love oneself.