For a little over eight years, I have been the mother of an only child. I have loved everything about having one, having this particular one. Because I’ve never had to divide my attention, I’ve never felt guilty about not giving him enough. Because I’ve never had to kiss anyone else good-night, he’s always had as many bedtime stories as he’s wanted. And because I’ve never had to pay for anyone else’s camp or swim lessons or ice cream cones, he’s gotten plenty of ice cream, and he’s an ace swimmer.
Of course, being an only child has had its downsides: my son is a strange combination of too young and too old. He gets a nightly bath and lots of tickles, but also, since I don’t have anyone else to talk to at breakfast, I expect him to have smart things to say about Congress. If I read something interesting in the Times I make him read it too, so I have someone to discuss it with. My kid knows more about global warming, Mitch McConnell, and the border wall than any eight year old should. I try not to worry too much in front of him, but like a lot of only children – maybe like a lot of children, period— he’s pretty tuned in to my pet obsessions. Or maybe I’m just terrible at hiding them.
Yet as much as I’ve enjoyed having only one, the urge to keep going came upon us, and soon, my only child will be a big brother. We’ve been working on adopting a child for almost two years, and we can see the finish line ahead—if all goes well (pish pish), we’ll be picking up our daughter in Beijing in June.
My husband, my son and I all spend a lot of time wondering what it will mean to be a family of four. Will we need a bigger car? How will I get her to daycare and my son to school at the same time? When will I find time to get all the laundry done?
I know that, to more experienced parents, these questions are ridiculous. Almost all of my friends have had more than one child, and often in quick succession. They say things like: you’ll figure it out! They say things like: you’ll stop caring if your kitchen is clean! They say things like: somehow the laundry just gets done!
But I know, from years of experience, that the laundry never just gets done.
Yet we three wait for our daughter with the same impatience with which my husband and awaited our son eight years ago. We have photos of her playing a toy piano or pushing around a toy lawn mower, or crawling across a colorful mat. She seems very serious, but she has a lovely smile. She seems cuddly and squeezable and small enough that my son will probably be able to carry her without a problem.
We talk about her endlessly, as though she were someone we already knew.
And listen, when I say that we’ve worked hard to bring this child home, I am not kidding. Adopting a child from China is like applying for a mortgage while also going through the tenure process at a major university while at the same time filing for a green card and earning a doctorate in something obscure. I have never had to organize so much paperwork or submit to so much intrusive questioning about my finances, my childhood, my negotiating style, my bodily health, my mental health, or my marriage. I have never had to pay so much money for things that seem like they should be so inexpensive. Paper copies of birth certificates. Fingerprints.
I have never had to think so deeply about what it means to fall in love with a child who remains, essentially, a mystery. Because for some reason I do love this child I’ve never met. And I cannot wait to hold her in my arms.
Still, I find myself starting to mourn, ever so slightly, my days of having an only child. Because my husband works long hours, my son and I have spent an awful lot of time as a twosome. Together, alone, we’ve traveled to Idaho and Portugal, Montana and France. Together, we’ve read “Harry Potter” and “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” Together we’ve gone to professional soccer games and picked out the family dog. He has been a friend to me in a way that I sometimes find confusing, because I firmly believe that your child should be your child, not your friend. But he’s such a wonderful companion, some of the best company I’ve ever known. I feel unsettled about sharing him. I feel unsettled knowing that now he will have to share me.
He asked me, when we talked about going to Beijing to pick up his sister, whether we might get one last mother-son trip out of the whole thing. I mean, he said, as long as we’re going to Beijing, maybe we could stop somewhere on the way? Meet Daddy once we get to China? I told him that maybe we could, if the timing worked, and the money. And I also told him that it wouldn’t be our last chance for mother-son adventures. We’d always find a way.
He shook his head. It won’t be the same. Not worse, he said, but different. Probably better, even. But different.
I told you he was kind of a grown up kid, right? I have no idea what it will mean to be a family of four, and I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the car situation. How will we do two bedtimes? How will we pay for college? So many unanswerable questions. But I do know the most important thing: my son’s future sister is a lucky girl indeed.