It’s hard to believe looking back like I did today, sorting through hundreds of photos, some so old that they were printed in squares like they were taken with a Brownie camera, so hard to believe that I never took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye and told her, “I couldn’t have done this without you.”
She was a teenager when we adopted two toddler boys. The first was a thin delicate boy, gentle and undemanding, but he needed so much to make up for what he’d lost. He was hungry in all ways but hid it so well; he was patient, unassuming, expecting little from us. He never cried. We marveled at that until we figured out what it meant. Still, we rocked him for hours just out of joy for him coming to us.
The second boy came to us after having laid in his crib day after day looking at the ceiling of the orphanage cabin where he’d lived his whole life next to several adjoining cribs, some of those babies lying on their backs, too, others standing at their crib railing, railing against the boredom, the heat, the people busy with other children and other things. He was silent. Because of his brother, we expected that. But it didn’t last.
He was sick. He threw tantrums. He needed breathing treatments. He took steroids. He was sweaty, sticky all of the time. Holding him was holding a wet, squirming box of heat. Nothing made him happy.
On our first trip to Florida together, he fell and hit his head on a stone bench. This meant that he had stitches on the back of his head in addition to the every four hours breathing treatments, the little machine with the mask and the tubes and the plumes of medicinal air floating up around his ears. Meanwhile there was the other quiet, patient boy needing everything he couldn’t ask for.
It was hell to admit that we were in over our heads. A teenager, then one little boy and then another. But we were. Or we would have been if the teenager hadn’t been the person she was. Able, strong. Not uncomplaining, thank God, because then the story wouldn’t be worth telling. She didn’t complain so much as give us looks that we correctly interpreted as her saying, ‘what did you think this was going to be like?’
She was nobody’s fool.
So now, oh, twenty-five years after the fact, I am saying thank you. I am saying to my daughter what I am maybe just now realizing. I could not have done it without you. We, the two of us, the parents, could not have done it without you. And we might be late, we might have waited a very long time to say this. But we say it anyway.