Isn't it amazing that the entire balance of the universe can shift ... and we can be caught unawares? I ponder this every year as my littlest boys' birthdays loom. They were born, took their first breaths. They were weighed, measured, given their first feedings. Yet nothing in my heart grew. Nothing tugged at my soul.
I had no idea.
Tomorrow, Manolin will turn two. Yes. Tiny, sweet, precocious little Mani. The same baby boy who single-handedly won over every member of our family in mere moments with his infectious grin, his irresistible giggle, and his silly antics. Our amazing, miraculous Manolin will blow out two candles, celebrate two years on the earth, and walk forward towards his preschool years.
I missed so little with Manolin that truly, I have rarely paused during this journey to consider that he was not born of my own body. There was never a tinge of foreignness to him; I did not learn this child so much as I knew him. From the very first time I took him in my arms, he fit against me perfectly. His weight was familiar. His scent was almost known. He burrowed into my neck with a sense of calm relief that made me see that he, too, felt our connection. Within days of his joining our family, it was as if he had been there since the beginning.
There are small reminders of his life prior to joining us. I strain, sometimes, to remember where I bought his beloved "ni-ni" blanket only to recall that his first foster mother gave it to him. I dab at the small white scar in the right-hand corner of his mouth at wince at the knowledge that it was either a ventilator tube or a feeding tube--either left in place just a little too long or taped to skin too fragile to withstand such irritation--that has left its permanent mark there. I see a small box in my closet every morning labeled, "Mani--X-rays" and know that this is the place where the memories of his pain are stored, for now.
But by and large, Manolin is Blandings through and through. Not biologically, of course. But his nurture ... well, in his nearly 112 weeks of life, less than 20 have been spent elsewhere. Since he was placed with us, he has had no contact from his biological family whatsoever. It's easy to understand why he looks exactly like Jo when he smiles, and has the same sense of humor as Atticus. It's hard not to understand why we forget sometimes why he was bottlefed and not nursed, why we can't put our finger on his weight at birth, why we stop and try to picture him as a six week-old and can't quite bring a picture into focus.
We don't for an instant deny the unique and purposeful path that God designed for bringing Manolin into the world. We are forever grateful that, no matter what his birthmom's poor choices were after his birth, she still made the sacrifice of carrying him to term and giving him the gift of life. We celebrate his beautiful Latino culture, which our genes could never have given him. We delight in his black curls and big brown eyes, we are thrilled that he inherited dimples and elf-like ears. Manolin will never have the same DNA as Mr. Blandings and I, but there is never a moment of grieving that. He is exactly who God made him to be. We are honored to be his parents.
And yet ... June 3rd feels like a strangely unremarkable day to celebrate him. Yes, yes ... we will have balloons and streamers and a cake. We will sing and give him presents. June 3rd is the day we thank God for making Mani. We will rejoice in his health, his growth, his beauty, his joy.
But June 3rd is not really the day I feel the full weight of the blessing that is Manolin. After all, June 3, 2008, was like any other day for me. I had no idea that, less than 30 miles away, my son was emerging into the world. As I have said, my heart did not grow large enough to include Mani that day. For me, that day will always be October 31, 2008--the day a social worker came to my door with a little boy in a car seat carrier and handed him over to me there, on my front steps. The day I unfastened the straps with shaking fingers and looked into his trusting brown eyes and said, "Welcome home, little man."
That's the day my heart grew. Not his birthday ... but his familyday. And thanks to the amazing blessing of adoption ... I get to celebrate both.