It’s a surreal thing, holding a baby that has the nose of someone you love, and the chin of someone you love, and changes everything about the life of someone you love.
For one short week over Thanksgiving, I got to spend time with Sunshine and Mr. Darling and their sweet little Pumpkin in Latvia. I passed on many of the same things my own mother did when I had my first child:
Yes, it’s okay if she cluster-feeds.
You are totally a superwoman and can rock a shopping trip like a boss.
Restaurants are completely doable with a stroller—I’ll help you figure it out.
I bet it’s gas.
I love the way life is often found in those moments. The way pumping a screaming baby’s legs and hearing a little toot come out bonds two people together. The way you watch relief wash over worried parents’ faces and the way laughter breaks out because farts are always funny. The way you know that these are the things that make a family.
Once again, I was reminded that family isn’t biology, or legal documents, or even speaking the same language. Family is choosing each other, again and again. Family is loving and laughing. Family is being present.
Nothing magical happened. I got to be with my people. We laughed. We cuddled a sweet little girl. We played a lot of Uno and Durak while listening to American rap and dance mixes. We went shopping. We attempted a Thanksgiving dinner. We all slept in the same room and giggled in the dark. We all woke bleary-eyed for 3am feedings.
We lived the moments we were given. And it was wonderful.
One night, around 1am, I heard a whisper in the dark over Mr. Darling’s soft snoring, “Hey…you want some tea and talking?”
You bet I do.
And Sunshine and I sat at her kitchen table, mugs in hand, and communed the way only she and I can. My daughter, my friend, my bright, brilliant, sassy one asked me to explain the hardest of the hard things in life to her. Why do people choose to hurt us? Why do they choose to hurt themselves? Why do they follow their own demons instead of love and relationship?
What do I do with the empty that is left?
And where is God in all of it?
We sat for three hours, tracing the broken things of the world, and the swath of destruction others have ravished across our own stories: alcohol and abuse, mental ailments and abandonment. We wrestled with the complicated way we feel about these things—they hurt, and they scar, and they still sting sometimes…but without them, we would not have found each other, and we would not have been sitting at that table together. We contemplated the way sad and happy mixed together to make us a family.
And then she looked at me and said, “You know, you aren’t my second mother. You aren’t second place in my heart. I feel like you are my mother fully. When I was younger, I had a mother who loved me and took care of me, and made sure I had all the things that I needed. And then she was gone. She is still my mother, and I am glad for the things she gave me, and I love her. But she can’t be my mother now. Now I have you. You are just as much mother. I don’t need a mother to make sure I have clothing or food. I need a mother who cares for my brain and my heart and my soul. I need a mother who listens and understands. And having you here, in my life, means more than anything you could ever buy me or do for me. That is not second. That is everything.”
And maybe that’s where God is, in a cup of tea and a wee hour conversation. In a family that we choose, and in generations connected not by biology or legal documentation, but by love.
That really is everything.