They come out of our bellies or birth from our hearts, messy. Covered in blood and vernix or wrapped in a smell and clothing we have never seen or experienced before. Our birth babies and our adopted babies. They come to us loaded with potential, yet laced with the threat of all that is unexpected and unknown. Who will they be? We cannot tell and only the foolish among us try to plan or organize them towards an expected outcome.
Instead, we birth them and we hold them. We watch them grow and we feed them good foods. We limit their early media exposures. We enroll them in sports and the arts. We give them medicine when needed and we read early and often. In short we do all that we know to nurture these small and succulent plants. But who they are remains mystery to us. A mystery that scares and thrills us all at once.
And so it is that I have daily or monthly or yearly, let go of my expectations and even my hopes for my daughter. I have chosen, instead, to embrace the mystery, the becoming of my little girl. Of course we have shaped her. We shaped her by choosing the military which meant a birth far from extended family and her first move at eight months old. We shaped her by choosing aid work which meant an international life for four of her most formative years. We shaped her by choosing international adoption which has opened her life to all things Asian and to a language that she excels at and loves.
But oh who she has become. At fifteen she is somehow still on the cusp of womanhood. Still half-girl. Still with the goofy grins and the penchant for turning her hoodie into a chicken suit with legs in the armholes. She wakes each morning, tumbled and beautiful, still the baby I remember, the one who hates cold and is sensitive to the feel of everything. The one who demands the very best of care and for whom nurture is an art form. She is expectant for her morning hugs, to be held but on her own terms. Yes, I remember you. The baby who grew me up in a heartbeat. The one who broke my heart and made me whole.
By the time she leaves for school she is carelessly impeccable. Yes, Parisian even, in her casual elegance. Why bother with makeup she says most days. And yet she collects it, passionate about beauty and the art of it all. She experiments with form and shape and color, using her visage as her canvas. Fine fashion attracts her and she shops online, spending her monthly fashion funds carefully, on only the best. But the morning getting-ready involves throwing on a few comfortable favorites and a quick brush-through of her beautifully cut hair. Her daily wardrobe is a carefully curated study in black, flannel and converse – fashion taking second-rung to comfort. After a breakfast of grapefruit with honey and a hurried run to the car, I watch her standing road-side for the bus, wrapped in a long cardigan, jeans and booties – and her unaware beauty takes my breath away.
She excels, of course, at academics. But not too much. Her natural intelligence and incredible memory serve her well and she breezes through much of her schoolwork, choosing courses that challenge her and preferring friends who also try hard. She is inspired by her honors English course (but of course she hates it too), reading her way through the Great Gatsby then choosing to watch the movie for her birthday. She disagrees violently with her social sciences teacher, who appears to be a conservative, challenging him on his view of the developing world and on the U.S. as a police force for the nations.
She makes me laugh. Texting me a half a dozen times from school and referring to me ceaselessly as “man.” “Hey, man, what are we eating for dinner tonight?” Or “thanks man” in response to my congratulations on her essay success.
I watch our connection flex and morph. Her early childhood adoration turned to gentle sarcasm and an easy judgment filled with love. She holds me responsible for my actions. She reprimands me on my lack of self-care. She gives me input on my fashion. She turns to me often for advice and then uses that advice to help her realize that her own opinion is something completely different. Every day she asks me what she should wear. And then wears something else.
And yet I can see too, how I’ve influenced her. I see the way she loves people and the world. The way she asks deep questions and veers from popular opinion. How my simple insistence that people matter has taken form in her. And she watches and observes and studies people. And she learns from them. And she chooses her friends well.
She thinks globally. Coming home from school with questions about nuclear war and the state of Palestine and transgender people. Her heart is open wide and yet she is careful, thoughtful. Attentive to detail but expansive in perspective. She aims towards a career in structural engineering with side hopes to invest in endless travel. She researches colleges. She dreams of a city life. She truly wants the best for others and herself.
The words I have tried so hard to write cannot capture or sum up this girl-woman. I surrender to the knowledge that her essence is incapturable and incomparable. She is grace and beauty, strength and sunlight, wisdom and humor. She is perfect. Better than I could have hoped, dreamed or planned. Better than I ever imagined. She wakes up each morning surprising me with all that she brings to this world. Reminding me to trust the process; that really loving someone is enough, that the hard work of loving and letting go is all worth it.
Today, Naomi turns fifteen. And she is perfection.