When people ask how my life has changed since adopting 3 children from Ethiopia two years ago, I tell them it has changed in every way. Now in my 40s, with a 3-, 5-, and 10-year old, I am enrolled in Motherhood 101: the accelerated course. While most of my friends are staring at an empty nest, I am cultivating motherhood. Mastering three developmental stages simultaneously is rife with moments of epiphany, fierce doubt, hard knocks, and waves of revelation. But catch a glimpse of me when my 3-year old wakes from her nap, crawls into my lap, and coos, “I missed you all day, mamma”. I become a puddle in her tiny hands. My late-blooming life has blossomed in ways I never saw coming. Motherhood has forced me to become young.
Most days, I move through life with a child hanging off my hip, a lollipop stuck in my hair, and a bevy of children’s doctor’s appointments to get to on time. No longer defined by my breezy white sundresses, my all-night writing stints, and my pocket purse, in my 40s, I have learned how to do a handstand, how to cook Ethiopian food, how to canoe three children against a river’s current like it’s nobody’s business, and how to put together the puzzles of a life despite its missing pieces. I have learned that self-care takes hard work, that my child’s behavior is a better reflection of me than my mirror, and there’s no grander feeling than catching my eldest hugging my toddler and saying, “You are perfect and beautiful exactly how you are.” I have learned that if I sing it, I can get my children to agree to almost anything. Some other things I’ve learned? How to make cornrow braids, to kiss away boo boos, to unmask night terrors, and how many songs it takes to sing a toddler to sleep. I have learned that a trip to the grocery store is as exciting as Disneyland to children who are familiar with the feeling of hunger.
I have learned some things that they don’t tell you in Motherhood 101, like how to let a child grieve her past while firmly holding onto her future, and why it is vital to sleep outside an adopted child’s bedroom for the first six months. I have learned that sometimes a 95-pound child needs to be rocked to sleep as if she were a newborn, that a two-year old only looks you in the eye when she’s ready, and that the waves of bliss that ripple through the universe the first time a 4-year old calls you ‘mom’ are a bit like falling in love. I now understand the wisdom of buying clothing two sizes too big, and the myriad techniques used to make miracles out of sand, water, and bubbles. Most importantly, I have learned that I can make mistakes and be okay. And that somehow, for reasons that baffle me still, so will my children. I have learned to be grateful when friends let me gush about my children because it doesn’t have everything to do with me—genetically, at least.
Something else I’ve learned? That children are like unknown flowers, unfolding at their own pace; that love is, indeed, a thing that grows; that you can never predict how fearlessly you can love someone and how little (or how much) time that can take. I have learned that as hard as you pray for things to happen they will happen when you are not praying. Mostly I have learned that it takes longer for some people, for reasons they may never know. And that sometimes, if you are exceptionally patient and lucky, it will happen all at once.