I had a dream about Cricket the other night. It was a few years in the future—he was five or six—Ruth was in the hospital, and Nora was out of the picture. Ruth had asked us to look after Cricket while she was hospitalized, and the whole dream was just practical details and awfulness; we took him to visit his mom every day, but people who saw us assumed that he was ours. And even though we didn’t want to explain a dozen times every day, we had to, because he was right there, paying attention. I felt like a freak, and so stressed out, and I caught myself wondering why Ruth had sent him to us instead of to her best friend (and adoptive mother of four). We had to take him to the hospital every day, because his mom was sick and that’s scary and he needed to see her—but I dreaded having to run the gauntlet of well-meaning questions every damn day. At one point, Cricket started to cry, but in fact it was Joey, and I woke up.
This is maybe the least mysterious dream I have ever had. I worry about what the future holds for Cricket; I dread having any adoption-related conversations with him, and they are inevitable. And yet, as straightforward as it was, I still find it upsetting to remember or think about that dream. So I’m writing about it. Even in the dream, I was incredibly self-conscious about having Cricket and Joey attending to my explanations and evasions. Happily, the Possum was still too little to care.
I’ve started toying with the idea of emailing Ruth—not soon, because I’ve got years before this will come up (right?)—and saying “Listen, when Cricket starts asking when he was placed and you think he might want to ask me, I need a heads up ahead of time. I think we should talk together about what I might tell him, because I’m not comfortable just bluntly telling Cricket; I’d rather not talk about it until he’s an adult, but I know that isn’t fair to him. But it’s not an easy thing for an adopted kid to hear, I think, and I’d like to work it out with you ahead of time.” My strong preference would be to leave the answering of that question to Ruth, but I know that isn’t fair to Cricket. We’ll work something out.
I like babies, and I love little kids. They thing is, I’ve spent most of my life assuming that everybody else likes them more than me: that I—by comparison—don’t like babies etc. Too, I grew up being matter-of-fact around babies; I was helping with babies as soon as I could safely hold them, taking care of my siblings and volunteering in the church nursery while I was still in elementary school. I thought that helplessness around babies was something that only existed in screwball comedies.
When I was in California for my sister’s wedding, my mom gave me an unsolicited parenthood pep talk. (At the time, I’m pretty sure that she thought I was secretly pregnant, but I believe she’s over it now.) She told me that she’s never liked babies or little kids—which makes me wonder why she had four and wanted more, but that’s neither here nor there. She said that I should hurry up and become a mom because I’ll enjoy it in a way that she never did. She was talking, I think, about the fact that I would be happy to fingerpaint or build pillow forts or help a toddler help me make pie. I’m tolerant of untidiness—probably a bit too much so, but we’re none of us perfect—and I’m not frantic about routine. (These are all qualities that my mother does not share.) Lord knows when I’ll be an honest-to-God, for-real mother (I have hopes to be pregnant by Christmas, but we’ll see), but I feel a deep and quiet happiness when I think about it.
I worry about jinxing myself here. I also already worry about being a terrible mother, about having sobbing meltdowns because futurekid won’t stop screaming. But it’s true that there are things I don’t worry about. When I was a teenager, I worried that I’d be abusive if I became a parent—I was abused, albeit not grotesquely, and my incomplete understanding of how these things play out led me to assume that I’d kid my unlikely theoretical future kids. After a great deal of therapy and a little introspection, I realized that I’ve always turned those feelings inward, and while self-flagellation is less than ideal, it certainly makes me a safer caretaker than my mother was. I worry about not being able to figure out what a baby needs or wants—I mean, I can certainly run down a list of obvious picks like milk or a diaper change or, I don’t know, I’m already out of ideas. Maybe this theoretical kid is bored? Or gassy? I am getting anxious just writing this. I don’t want to break the baby. But I imagine I’ll keep telling myself what I kept telling myself about childbirth the last time around: stupider and less worthwhile women have made it through this just fine, so I’m going to make it too.