Monday, September 5, 2011

What's Next

An entire day at the zoo, in August. A long walk to the playground, followed by a visit to the ice cream shop. Going to see Santa. It never mattered what the activity was. The one constant was that as soon as the key turned in the lock, as soon as the backpacks and the purses and the sticky bags of leftover cotton candy were laid down, while the shoes were being slipped off and plans were being made for supper and bath, Emma would ask: “What’s Next?” 

There are lifetimes of accusations in those two words. “What else do you have?” was a large portion of the meaning, pointing the way to the inadequacy of what had been offered and rendering the swift judgment that if you thought that was going to be enough to entertain a person of her caliber on a sunny day or a spring break or a Christmas holiday, then you had better reach a little deeper into your bag of tricks, no matter how close it was to bedtime.

The question also signaled the aching desire to be anywhere but here, in this insufficient home with this falling-short family. What’s Next could be across the alley in the Shangri-La of the Brimacomb’s house, or with her boyfriend’s family, or in Beijing. What it most certainly is not, is here. Or now. 

In the years I’ve been her mother, I’ve moved from being an older mom to becoming, in a number of ways, a truly old one. “You looked so pretty,” she would say when we re-watched the video of her arrival day in Wuhan on the Family Anniversary each year. The hardness of that “d,” and the spit of the past tense, would shoot into the conversation like an arrow. Not a pretty mom. Not a young mom. Not enough mom.

With that hard “d” ringing in my head, I did what I could do, day by day. Sometimes, most times, it seemed all I could do to step away from my failings was to step onto my yoga mat. I unrolled it in studio refuges or the grotty basement of the YMCA. I took a deep breath. And then I took one more. I aimed to stop marinating in a woeful past or vividly conjuring an even-worse future. I worked to make peace with my now, the very place she never wanted to be, certainly not as long as it was a now that had me in it. 

I remember buying this house. I remember standing outside and taking photographs of it to attach to the adoption paperwork. I remember trying so hard. It never once occurred to me then that this house would never be the refuge I dreamed it would be for her. If not exactly a prison, then perhaps, more generously, it has been nothing but a launching pad, and one that never seemed to be getting to launch time quickly enough.

She has been thrusting herself into the future as fast as she can, for as long as she can. She reaches out her hands and clutches big fistfuls of time, willing it to move her along, sure that what’s next has got to be better than here. Anywhere but here. Any time but now.

I step onto my mat. I take a deep breath and put my clasped hands on my third eye. I bend forward; I wish her everything, I wish her nothing: “Namaste.”

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