The third baby put me face to face with the concept of overreach.

I’d started thinking about adopting another boy minutes after the first one landed in Milwaukee. Adoption is addictive in the extreme. If one orphan is good, two or three or four or five are even better. Why stop now?

It’s game show adrenaline. What’s behind Door #3? A new relative.

This boy was sick and covered with scabies. I rubbed him down with halved lemons like my friend told me. Lemons will kill the scabies, she told me at a picnic soon after he came. The other parents moved away when they heard her advice. They were adoptive parents, too, so they’d seen a lot. But nobody likes scabies. It makes their skin crawl.

After the scabies, the asthma came. And then the steroids. He developed the thick neck of a doping athlete. He was unhappy most of the time. And, as it happens with unhappy people, the world started to revolve around him.

I knew this was happening but didn’t know how to stop it. Driving with the boys in the backseat, I’d watch in the rear view mirror. Was his breathing right? Was his chest heaving? Meanwhile, the first boy played with his truck and looked out the window. Nothing was ever wrong with him so I didn’t have to look.

I’d feel the third baby’s sweaty forehead in the middle of the night and study his face. Were his nostrils flaring? Or were they normal? I wanted to measure his nostrils, have data, create a chart to put on the wall. What was normal? What was abnormal? Should we be going to the ER? I’d heard of kids dying from asthma. And I believed it would only be my vigilance that would keep this kid from dying. It could happen any minute.

But then, as it happens, the worrying became addictive. And it went on for years, this extra concern, the hovering, even after we’d gotten control of his asthma. It took a long time to let him not be sick. But by then he was nested and protected by all of us. And he thrived there. He was happy and unassuming. He acted like he thought everyone grew up being in the center.