Almost five years ago today we flew home with Mae from China. It happened to be my 34th birthday and as we chased my birthday around the world I turned 34 over a seemingly endless day. The night before we left China we went out for a festive dinner. We had so much to celebrate. We had officially adopted Mae and received her visa that morning which meant that the years of chasing paper were over. We sat around a giant round table, me, Colin, the boys, Mae, my parents, my brother and his then-girlfriend, now wife. I remember there were some toasts made, and presents exchanged. My brother, who lived in Beijing, even arranged for a birthday cake and candles to appear. It was a perfect evening.
The thing I remember most clearly about that night was the sense that this is what a family looks like. We had two new additions Mae and Sarabeth both of whom I now cannot imagine our lives without. But that night as I looked around the table, at my parents whose faces and presences are some of my most beloved and familiar, at my sweet boys who were only 3 and 5, at my patient and incredible husband,at my beautiful daughter, at my brother who is also one of my dearest friends and his joyous girlfriend who I knew was the real thing, I was unbelievably happy. The little room with this giant table and all of these people I loved was the only place I wanted to be. We were laughing and eating, and reveling in being together. We had, over the last few weeks, been on an enormous journey. From the moment we boarded the plane in Newark with the fear that if someone on board had swine flu we could all be quarantined, to that moment in the restaurant a lifetime of things had happened.
By that evening, I knew in my heart that Mae had some sort of serious condition. I didn’t know if it was permanent, or what we were up against, but I did know that I loved her with every ounce of me. That night was a celebration of so much, it wasn’t really a celebration of my birthday, or Mae’s adoption, it was a celebration of our family. A family that was in the process of growing and changing as we sat in that very room. A family that had over the course of the previous two weeks experienced every emotion possible. Joy at meeting Mae, sadness at understanding how sick she really was, fear that our paperwork would not come together as planned. We were exhausted, and it was also extremely hot and humid in China which is never a value add for us. But we had made it through the two weeks. We had this incredible new little person in our lives and could not have done it without everyone gathered in that room.
As a family we adopted Mae, as a family we have met her challenges, as a family we have been through a lot since that dinner almost five years ago. We have been reminded that no matter how much you love someone you cannot wave a magic wand and make their pain disappear, and because they are your family you cannot look away either. So much has happened since that night, in five years we have experienced enormous joy and plenty of heartbreak but one thing I absolutely know is true; we are a family with so much to be happy about. This coming weekend we will all be together again. We will gather around a big table, together for the first time in quite awhile. There will be lots of laughter and tall tales and hopefully cake. But the best part is that I will be able to look around the room and know that there is no place else any of us would rather be.