The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

November 19, 2011

Traffic patterns changing

I never realized this before, but November is a month in which good things tend to happen in my life. It’s the month in which we moved to Chicago 10 years ago. It’s the month I was hired in my current job, which I love, and the month in which we mailed off our application to adopt from Korea. (Of course, it’s the month of Thanksgiving, too, a time of gratitude and family and lots of good food.)

On Thursday, November 10, around 10:30 in the morning, I retrieved my phone from the closet in my office to text our dogwalker. I then placed it on my desk, thinking absentmindedly that one of these days, hopefully, hopefully, our social worker would call with our referral, and I’d want to make sure I picked up right away.

Less than three minutes later, it rang, and it was her.

“I’ve received a package with a referral for you,” she said.

Then I was standing, facing away from my open office door, my eyes full, hands shaking, heart beating so hard I could feel it hitting against my chest.

It’s a boy, she told me. He’s healthy. He was born on November 1, 2010. We could come in that afternoon to read his files and see his face.

See his face.

I called John, still shaking, breathless. I think he was shocked to the point where he could barely register what was happening, that it was actually happening. He would pick me up at 2:30 for the drive to the agency.

I called my parents. I told my boss and cried when she hugged me. I pretended to do work for three hours. My stomach somersaulted; I had no appetite for lunch. I tried to remember what we’d been doing on November 1 in 2010. It was a Monday, the day after Halloween. We’d run a 10K on Halloween morning and met up with new friends whose adopted toddler son is Korean. I remembered John and I walking around the neighborhood that night, looking at all the trick-or-treaters, talking about how much our child would love being part of it someday, musing about costume ideas. He was born the next day.

The drive was slow, surreal. We listened to Andrew Bird. We passed the Korean Air warehouse by the airport. I saw a construction sign alongside the highway: “Week of Nov. 7: Traffic patterns changing.”

Our social worker apologized for wearing jeans; she hadn’t expected to meet with clients that day. We sat in her office and she started handing us document after document, so much information about his birthmother, his birth, his medical history, his foster family. And then, oh, then, three pages of typed information from his foster mother: his likes and dislikes, his personality, his schedule, what he eats (and what he spits out—yogurt!). He is curious and likes riding outside in his carriage. He can sometimes be short-tempered. He can find a hidden toy. He likes baths. He laughs. He likes meeting other babies. He dances when his foster mother sings. He cries when his foster father leaves for work. He’s already pulling himself up. He says two words. He has four teeth.

His birthmother gave him the name Jiho. It means “clear wisdom.”

The Korean social worker wrote in the paperwork, “Jiho is a smart, cute-looking baby boy. He babbles well and gives a laugh if you play with him. He is growing up healthy and being loved in the special care of his foster family. We hope that Jiho will meet a good adoptive family as soon as possible. We also hope his adoptive parents will enjoy a happier life as well with him.”

And then, then, the photos. We were given the gift of more than 25 of them, some taken when he was six months old and some just a few weeks ago, at 12 months. He is adorable. He is beautiful. He has big eyes and lots of hair and the smoothest skin. He’s wearing a little hoodie. He’s standing up and holding onto a toy lawnmower. He’s clutching a rattle, then a phone. He’s sitting with his smiling foster mother. He’s propped up between two huge teddy bears.

We took the papers and the photos and we drove home in a daze, in the late-afternoon darkness, straining to look at his face again and again as we passed under the streetlights. When we got home, we spread all the photos out on the counter, a collage of Jiho. We reread his paperwork. That night we slept like the dead, funnily enough; we were just completely drained from the emotion and intensity of the day.

Before formally accepting the referral, we needed to speak with a pediatrician who specializes in internationally adopted children and have him review Jiho’s files. That didn’t happen until Sunday. Friday and Saturday were slow and surreal, spent looking at his photos, talking about him, offering up possible names, just the two of us together, sharing this secret. For the first time since we decided to adopt, John walked into the second bedroom and started talking about what we’d need for the nursery. (He always said he wanted to wait until our referral before doing any real preparation.)

On Sunday afternoon, we spoke with the doctor, who’s raising his family in the city not far from us and will likely be our pediatrician. He said Jiho is healthy and developing well. He told us to “go get him.”

And we are.

We don’t know exactly when that will be. Sometime in the spring, I suspect (and pray). Sometime in the spring we will fly across the world, where there is a baby boy waiting for us, as we’ve been waiting for him. We will meet him and hold him and become a family of three. He is real. This is really happening. For two years—we mailed our first application to adopt on November 12, 2009—this has been our hope and wish and plan, and now it’s actually happened. It’s almost too much to process and grasp, but it’s beginning to feel more normal as each hour of each day passes by. The more I look at his face, the deeper in love I fall with him.

I don’t even know what else to write, or how to talk about this. In the past nine days, I’ve found myself smiling at nothing. Riding on the train, I haven’t been able to focus on my magazine; I just stare out the window. We’ve called our parents and siblings, emailed his photos to the proud new grandparents and aunts and uncles. We’re starting to tell cousins, friends, coworkers. Their tears and sincere joy for us deepens our own. I’ve reflected a lot on what wonderful people we have in our life, and on the miracle of how many people here already love this baby.

I won’t lie, the tears have been coming easily. The moment on Sunday afternoon when we decided to accept, I cried hard, really hard, so overwhelmed by what was happening. And then I gathered myself together, dried my face, pulled my hair back, and went out for my long run, amazed at how different the familiar path and trees and lake looked that miraculous autumn afternoon, on my first run as a mom.

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