Adoption = Allegory (Chapter 5: How to Keep Perspective)
Adoption is a bit like winning a contest…sometimes with unexpected results.
You open the mailbox to a brightly colored letter with the following message: “Congratulations! You have won an all-expense paid trip on our newest ship. Get ready…in twelve weeks, you’ll be cruising along, enjoying the endless view.”
You have always wanted to go on a cruise. Always. And even though you entered contest after “win-a- cruise” contest, your entries have been passed over so many times that winning is beyond unexpected. It is extraordinary. The company even wants to use you in their ad campaign for the new ship. You sign the paperwork and send it off.
The reality of the trip sinks in. You need to pack. Find someone to watch the dog. Pack more. Stop the mail. Pack less. Ask your neighbor to cut the grass. Repack. Lose a few pounds and start a tan. Oh, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to learn to swim…
For twelve weeks, every friend who has been on a cruise is fair game for twenty questions. How did you like it? What was the best part? Were you seasick? How do you avoid being seasick? Is there anything to be concerned about other than icebergs or virus outbreaks?
For twelve weeks, you prepare, prepare, prepare. Lose three pounds a week, check. Take advanced swimming and water treading classes, check. Get a spray tan Jersey Shore gals would kill for, check. Avoid anyone named Jack or Rose, check.
On the departure date, a limo sleeks to the end of your driveway. The chauffeur piles your luggage into the trunk…and the back seat. You wonder, at his raised eyebrow, whether perhaps you’ve over-packed, but it’s a cruise, after all. Doesn’t everyone bring a different swimsuit for each day? Maybe you should leave one home. “I seem to have brought more luggage than I realized. Do you think there will be space?” He pauses, then drawls, “Space? Plenty of space. No worries.” You relax.
“Ready to cruise with the stars?” Blue eyes twinkling, he opens your door. Startled, you ask, “Stars? There will be stars?” As you stare inside the plush limo, you miss his bemused look. He sounds miffed. “There are always many, many stars.” It seemed obvious, but the thought had never occurred to you. Of course famous people take cruises. And this is the maiden voyage of the newest, most advanced ship, so of course they all want to cruise on this ship. Oh, wow. Sandra Bullock? Clooney? Channing? Brangelina? Dangit, you should have tried losing four pounds per week. Too late now. At least the spray tan is only sort of orange. On the bright side, the swimming lessons went well, so if the ship goes down, you can save someone famous and then they’ll be your best friend. Win-win.
The limo purrs along smoothly, lulling you into daydreams. This is going to be amazing. Spectacular. Dining on mouthwatering delicacies. Lounging by the pool. Dancing with the stars. Well, okay…it’s more likely you’ll dance among the stars…but it will still be lovely.
You make your flight to Florida in plenty of time. First class snacks are so much better than the pretzels in coach. The flight attendant looks down his pert nose while bringing you a fourth snack pack and drink. Who cares? He’ll never see you again. This is an event unlikely to repeat in your lifetime; might as well live it up.
The flight is delayed due to bad weather, but the craft flies true through turbulence and lands with minor bumps. Pushing your way through the Hawaiian-shirted, khaki-shorted crowd, you realize that no one here even knows that you are about to embark on the vacation of your life. You consider climbing one of the luggage carousels and shouting with excitement, but reconsider. No need to bring unnecessary attention from the security guard.
You are met by three (three!) company representatives and are ushered to yet another limo. Since your flight arrived late, they say you’ll head straight to the ship. Your luggage took a vacation of its own to Minnesota, so you have only a small carry-on. Your entourage informs you that this is no matter; wardrobe for this trip is provided by the company. Unbelievable! How could this get any better?
You step from the limo, ready to hear ships’ horns, clanging anchors and seagulls. Ahhh, the salty smell of…wait. Fuel? Focusing slowly as the humidity rolls over you, you take in the high gates. The asphalt. The concrete. The…ship.
“All ready? We need to get you in a suit. Right this way. We’re so excited you’ve joined our little crew! Did you receive all the training and prep materials? We never saw a return confirmation, but sometimes that happens, and we’ve stopped following up because, you know, the postal service gets the job done every time. Right? So…you ready?” A petite blonde bounces in step beside you. If she could sparkle, she likely would. You mumble, “training materials?” and wonder if the confetti your dog left on the porch eleven weeks ago might have been more than a stray catalogue.
Blondie stops bouncing. “Um. You didn’t receive the training? Oooohhhh. Well…I’m sure you’ll be fine. The manual was mainly emergency protocol information, but we’ve never had a problem, so I’m sure it will be…great!”
You stare again at the ship. Up at the ship. Way up.
Somehow, you had failed to catch one small, infinitely important detail. Plenty of space. Cruise with the stars on a ship. SPACE. SHIP.
A second staff member slides a door open and Blondie hands you off. “Please come in quickly; your suit is waiting, and others are already aboard.”
“Hey, wait,” you begin, “I didn’t really plan for this. In fact, I lost weight, got a tan, and even learned how to perform water rescues. I’m supposed to be on a cruise. I have ten bathing suits. I had…they’re in Minnesota. I prepared. The letter said CRUISE SHIP!”
The staff member shakes his head. “You didn’t read the flyer, evidently. It said you would be cruising on our newest ship, yes, but did you read the back? We included a detailed description of the entire space flight.” You start to argue, then realize…it’s true. In your excitement, you never read the back of the flyer. “You’ve already signed all the waivers and a contract for being in our advertisements during the trip. I’m sorry, but if you back out now, our legal department will be in touch. This contest cost our company millions.”
Feeling dizzy and a little sick, you allow the staff member and his assistant to help you into the bulky suit. Dazed, you climb through the ship’s hatch. Crew members ratchet you tightly to a form-fitting chair. Your eyes blur. This isn’t what you signed up for, but you’re stuck. Maybe you can make the best of it.
Then, the takeoff. There is no “best of it” to be made as you are smashed into your seat by an unseen hand. Your eyes feel as though they will pop out of your head. Through the back of your skull. You can’t breathe. You’re going to be sick. Your heart is exploding. Your ears pop with unbelievable pain and pressure. You’re choking on your tongue. This is absolutely the most horrific event of your life. If you’d had any idea of the pain, you would have endured the lawyers to avoid it. Come to think of it, you would have never signed up for the contest if you’d known the result. Nothing could have prepared you for this. Nothing.
You’re in space. Crew members float over to loosen your straps. You glide to the window. Nothing could have prepared you for this. Nothing.
No words can adequately or accurately describe this experience. Your heart is once again exploding, but this time with joy, gratitude, wonder.
If someone had told you ahead of time about the pain of the journey, you would have done anything possible to avoid it. Now that you know the truth of the destination, you would endure the pain again. The useless preparations are forgotten. The pain, forgotten.
The chauffer was right. Plenty of space.
You know that the atmosphere re-entry is going to be difficult. It will be uncomfortably hot. Turbulence like you’ve never experienced before. Probably more tears. Possibly a panic attack or two. The knowledge that you have no control. Splashdown in the sea, then the wait for rescue, which will not come fast enough for comfort but will be in time for survival.
Now, though, you focus on the beauty. For this moment, you’re dancing among the stars.
Whether or not adoption is our first choice, it’s never what we expect. Being “chosen” to adopt sometimes feels like winning a contest…one you didn’t fully understand when you signed up. It’s easy to become jealous of “the others” who have never gone through the pain, the waiting, the disappointment, the difficulty. Adopting a child with special needs of any kind can magnify those feelings. However, if we give in to the idea of “what could have been,” we can easily miss the beauty of “what is.” Celebrate the small victories: real smiles, a recognized letter or word, genuine hugs, a followed direction. Realize that although life is not exactly what we expected, it’s sometimes more than we could have imagined. More tears, more frustration, more helplessness, more devastation, more work. More love, more hope, more surprises, more laughter, more victories. And when things aren’t going exactly “according to plan,” know that there will be many moments to dance among the stars.