The Small Thing That Mattered Big

By Marlene Samuels

“She wants a photo of the two of you together.” Richard, our adoption counselor tells us. Concern is spreading across his already serious-looking face. “It’s the one thing of true importance still missing from your file.” My husband Larry and I are sitting in Richard’s office at Family Resource Center reviewing our application folder.

“Gee, I’m not even sure we have such a thing. I’m always the one taking the photos so we’re never in them together that is, unless I manage to rope someone else into snapping one of us.” I explain. “Anyhow, why is this so important?”

“Birth-mom wants proof that you’re an established couple and feels that a photo of the two of you together will put her at ease.”

“You know what, now that I’m thinking about it, I do have one. There is a problem, though. It’s kind of small and at least seven years old but if you think that’ll work, I’ll try to find it as soon as I get home.”

“Of course it’ll work. In fact, it’s perfect. Besides, I’ll bet anything that you haven’t changed a bit and look exactly the way you did then!” Richard says, winking.

Throughout our adoption process, my husband and I are concerned about our anonymity but we’re more concerned that without that photo, birth-mom will reject us. After the baby is born, birth-mom Vicki asks Richard to arrange a conference-call among the four of us. It’s an unanticipated hurdle that increases my anxiety.

Richard tries to comfort me. “Don’t worry about it, it’s pretty standard. Besides, I’ll be monitoring the call.”

“If I do place my baby for adoption,” she says, “You’re my first choice to become his parents. I know you’ll raise him up right and he’ll even be getting a brother!”  Later that night, Richard calls to tell us that she’s decided on us to be Michael’s adoptive parents. Our ecstasy is short-lived because two minutes after we all hang up, Richard calls right back.

“She wants all of us to meet tomorrow, early in the evening.” He announces. “How about I arrange something, say six p.m.? We’ll go to her favorite Mexican restaurant. Call you back in a few to work out the details, okay?”

“Well, it’s not exactly what we expected.” I say, trying not to sound uncooperative.  Another unanticipated hurdle, and one that’s increasing my anxiety way more than did the idea of a conference call with birth-mom. Worries about meeting her overwhelm me; what if we seem ancient to her? Could our ages cause her to change her mind? What if our four-year old son blurts out personal information to her, like our address or phone number which we’ve drilled into him from the moment he could speak?

The phone rings and I’m startled out of my worry. I grab for it. The moment I  say hello, I hear a very excited Vicki. “Richard just told me the good news that you’ve agreed to meet. It’s so excellent!” She says. “I’m super excited and you’ll be sure to bring David, okay? Of course I want to meet my baby’s new parents but I definitely want to meet the new big brother!”

The following night, the six of us gather around a table at Vicki’s favorite spot.  Amidst tears, hugs and kisses, she signs legal documents. “We’re so lucky we found each other! I’m so happy my baby will grow up having you for his parents and in the kind of family I can’t give him now, maybe never!” She says, tears fill her eyes. “There’s no way I’m ever going to have a harder decision to make in my whole life! I know I’ll think about him forever.”

Dinner is over and we head toward the door. All of us but David are shedding tears. She gives each of us a big hug then bends down to kiss David on each of his cheeks. “You’re going to be a wonderful big brother, I just know it!” And then she turns to Larry and me, “By the way, your home — it’s so, so beautiful, really amazing! It looks big enough so that the baby can even get his own room, too” 

Larry, David, and I walk back to our car. I glance at Larry and notice a look of deep worry on his face. His eyebrows are scrunched together, his lips have become a tight slit below his nose, and his shoulders droop forward. We’re in the quiet of our car and David is in back buckled into his booster-seat. I turn to my husband. “Wanna tell me what’s going on with you?” I ask, trying to control my irritation. “You’re acting weirder than weird!”

He mumbles, making me feel more irritated. “Nothing really except that I’ve been thinking about Birth-mom’s last remarks.”

“Okay, what about them? She had many in case you don’t remember.” I snap.

“Yes she did and I have to tell you there was one in particular that’s really bothering me.” I say nothing and wait for him to elaborate. “Didn’t we agreed that we’d maintain total anonymity? I mean, like no information about where we live, our last names, or anything else that might make it possible for her to find us while Michael’s still a baby, right?”

“Of course we did and I did maintain total anonymity. You don’t know what you’re talking about!” I’m feeling intense agitation with my husband. “So just what’s the problem?” I ask in a voice testier than I’d intended.

“Alright, then if we agreed on anonymity, may I ask why in the world you would have given her a photo of our house? Are you nuts? And in case you forgot, our address is right there in the leaded glass window above the front door?” He’s ready for an argument but so am I.

 “Duh, it’s not our house, Genius!” I say, now resisting the urge to really say something I’m sure to regret. He looks at me quizzically, awaiting my explanation. I provide it.

“You goof! It’s the picture of us from seven years ago. It’s from the time we stayed at the Greenway Manor in the British Cotswolds. Don’t you remember that? Jack McKinney, the owner, insisted on taking a photo of us on the manor’s front patio?”

Greenway Manor

Postscript:  

Was it the English manor house that helped close the deal with Birth-mom Vicki? Was it the fact that the baby she birthed — who became our son Michael, would gain an older brother? We never can know but, in the big scheme of life, all that really matters is that we definitely were privileged to have become his parents.  

© 2022 Marlene Samuels

Marlene holds a Ph.D., from University of Chicago. A research sociologist by training, she writes creative non-fiction by preference. Currently, she is completing her book entitled, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story.


 She is coauthor of The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival and author of When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers. Her essays and stories have been published widely in anthologies, journals and online.  (www.marlenesamuels.com)

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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