I read John Austin in graduate school, and the typical example of a performative speech act was the words of an official presiding at a marriage, where "I now pronounce you...." actually creates the fact of the marriage. Politica and I had a Quaker wedding, which performs the wedding somewhat differently (through our speaking our vows in the presence of the Meeting). Another performative speech act: the judge saying "yes, this adoption is in the best interests of the child." Or something similar, as we were hearing it all in translation, and so nervous that we weren't hearing very well at all!
Four years ago today, we walked into a courthouse as a family of two, and we walked out mothers. Yes, a few legal issues remained to be settled in the US to ensure we all had legal rights, but we were mothers.
Some people call this day "Gotcha Day," a term I've never liked. It's too goofy, for one. More problematically, it makes the adopted child sound like a item snatched away from her first family, now possessed fully by the adopted family. It sounds too triumphant.
Don't get me wrong: I have happy memories of this day, this cold snowy day. But I have memories, too, of all the uncertainty: would she like us? who was she? who were we, now? Curious Girl was so little, so quiet. On the bumpy ride from the orphanage to the train station, she just sat in my lap, looking out, not seeming to mind the jostling. On the train that night, she slept with Politica, then with me, then with Politica, then with me. She slept a lot, waking to feed, then sleeping. We slept a bit too, but kept waking to look at her. What have I done? part of me wondered. How amazing! part of me thought. And so it began: whispered conversations about whether Curious Girl was hungry, how to get her to sleep, whether she needed more clothes or less clothes, a new diaper or a toy.
She became ours that day, and we hers. But she remains a part of her first family--however shrouded in mystery that may be. Does her first mother think of her? Probably, but I don't know for sure. How is she missed? I can't say. I know Curious Girl misses them: in her dreams lately, she tells me, she's had picnics on top of a mountain with S. and J.: her birth father is bald, and her birth mother has long hair, and lives all around the world, and she sits on their laps. I don't think these are real dreams. When I help her back to sleep in the night we plan a dream to share together, and it helps her settle down. So these are stories she imagines to help comfort herself, and I'm glad she can imagine these connections. They will likely get more complicated as she gets older, but she can talk about that.
Still, she is mine, and I hers, fiercely and intensely. All because of words in a courtroom.
The words I treasure most from that day are the unscripted ones. The adoption proceeding is pretty formulaic, as it is in an American courtroom. Various people testified in order; there were a few questions from the judge. She wanted to know what professors do, who would help take care of Curious Girl. But then, at the very end, as she was walking out of the room, she said, "Raise her up to have a good education like you do." That was the moment in the proceeding where it seemed most personal. When I made the courtroom page in our scrapbook, those words form the center of the page.
So it's family day today. We don't have any particular traditions to celebrate--no gifts for Curious Girl--but we remember, and we rejoice. Adoption is complicated, and there is much loss, but there is also joy, and it's important to feel that joy, to celebrate our coming together. Were I coloring the emotions, I'd use a different tone, because the joy is ever mindful of the loss, but today, today is a day I remember the joy of a heart slowly opening to another.