Write a short story, Lucien’s sixth grade assignment goes. Elements needed to make a story work, Lucien is told include narrative, character development, place, and conflict. Lucien can set the scene. He can make up a story, as in this happens then this then this. Conflict, he’s struggling with creating—not that in real life he can’t make a scene, because he’s quite masterful at that—because it’s hard to dream up a meaningful, interesting conflict—and a resolution. I found this to be the hardest part of writing stories, too, the conflict. Most of my stories were kind of small tales, often about family. When I was writing short stories all the time, I remember thinking that families do not operate like novels; families are a series of interlinked short stories. So often, the dramas are minor in themselves, but they accumulate over time.
Late October in New England means whatever leaves are left on the trees—and this year, there were quite a lot—deepen in hue from bright to burnished, rusty orange, ochre, ruddy red. Glorious as the colors are in the sun, in the rain and grey, they almost seem to pop out even more. It was that kind of afternoon as we went drove to Margery and Eric’s wedding in Topsfield, and the trees did not disappoint. Because of the rain (even a couple claps of thunder), it was not quite balmy, but not cold, either, and the moistness came off as soft. If air had a tone, it’d be the dulcet one Saskia uses to pat your cheek when she says the word, “Gentle.” She quiets for the word, in order to demonstrate that she comprehends the meaning.
Saskia’s aunt Margery—a.k.a. the bride— is the half-sister of Caroline, Saskia’s birth (first, or just plain) mother. In trying to sum up the relationships in one sentence, language falls somewhat short. I could drop all the qualifiers: we went to Saskia’s aunt Margery’s wedding. And that’d be true, both in terms of what is and how we feel about very lovely (very gorgeous bride) Margery. However, aunt alone would imply that Margery is my sister or Hosea’s sister. So, a more longwinded explanation seems necessary to clarify that ours is an open adoption, which for all of us seems to mean this: a lot of people love Saskia an awful lot. Open adoption doesn’t have an official motto, but mine for it is more love is more love. In the parking lot, we saw Carolyn, Caroline’s stepmother, mother of Margery, wearing a beautiful white dress with black and gold background she’d made for herself and we saw her son, Saskia’s uncle, Doug and his son, Matthew, just a few months younger than Saskia.
As four o’clock neared, the rain lightened and the skies brightened a touch, like someone took the shade beneath the storm’s gauzy overlay curtain and pulled that up, leaving the clouds’ viscosity in plain view. We chatted with Saskia’s aunt Margaret (Caroline’s sister) and Rick (brother-in-law) and their kids, cousins Sydney and Adam. It was friendly and easy, ours the generation just beyond Margery and Eric’s, the one with kids and all that kids entail, a book on the table for Adam, diapers for Saskia, an acceptance of the wiggly nature of children and the lugubriousness of time when waiting with children being told both to be still and behave while doing, well, nothing but wait.
It was a beautiful spot to wait in, an old barn lovingly restored off a small common in a wooded New England town. The setting’s simplicity seemed to echo Margery and Eric’s style, which I’d call understated, and also, happy. Margery is a tall young woman with a wide, infectious smile. Even her wedding dress revealed her particular, at-ease-with-herself panache: stunning in her white and a bit sparkly dress with black sash (and glittery pin attached). Eric’s more contained, perhaps, but his contentedness is evident.
Fortunately, the ceremony began and the kids settled down easily, watching the pageantry of a bride on her father’s arm, a wedding party, and a grinning groom, listening to the music and the words (other than the six and seven year-old each heard muttering—but so quietly and politely—“This is boring.”). The kids collectively were quiet enough, that is, until Saskia started jumping in her percussive clogs and announcing with each bounce, “I jumping.” Whisked of to a hallway and then outside in the misty late afternoon, she and her papa missed most of the ceremony. That’s what it is to parent a toddler in those situations. I can’t think of a wedding attended during those years that both Hosea and I made it through.
Although there was a minister, the wedding took place under a chuppah because another of Margery’s half-sisters—Carolyn’s daughter from her first marriage (Margery and Doug are children from both of their parents’ second marriages), also named Caroline—had been Jewish, and the talit (prayer shawl) stretched over them resting atop a gauzy canopy, belonged to Caroline, representing her presence on this important day. She died when her daughter, Meg—full name, Margery—was a toddler. Meg, of the giant laughing smile and curly blond locks is nearly six, now. She reminds her family of her mama, too. Meg was the flower girl. Carolyn had made Meg’s fairy princess white dress that glittered and had a beautiful, bright red sash.
Maybe, in families, relationships and stories are like quilt squares. The squares, stitched together, make up the quilt. In this family, Carolyn is committed to sewing, both for real, as evidenced by the beautiful dresses she made and the lace she loves to create and her affection for fabric and also by the fact that Meg’s father and his partner and Meg’s other grandparents (Caroline’s father and stepmother) were also in attendance. The stories that precede ours aren’t uncomplicated and I don’t know them, but I see this: Carolyn’s of the more love is more love school.
Short story fodder: Caroline arrived late, not long after the ceremony ended. I know we weren’t surprised and neither was Margaret. Neither was Caroline. It’s possible that everyone saw the why of this differently. Caroline explained that she’d worked early, she was tired, she took a nap, she overslept, she got lost; that’s a narrative. Her little sister was getting married; that’s another. From what I know about Caroline and family events, going to part but not all of them is often how she participates. And seeing Saskia might not feel easy; that’s another story. She is so cute, and all her cuteness could feel like a bittersweet kind of pleasure.
Many adoptive mothers find sharing word mother challenging. Language can’t encompass everything in a single word or phrase. Mother is more than the person who gives birth to a child and yet that is so essential an act it can never be minimized; it gets a whole word. Having said that, mother spills out far beyond give birth to—to diaper, feed, bathe, clothe, kiss, champion and care for. What I love about being connected to this family is its willingness to use mother generously and comfortably: during the course of the reception, Saskia was introduced as Caroline’s daughter and we were introduced as Saskia’s parents. There was room in the family for two mothers (although Saskia calls Caroline Auntie Cece).
The reception had its own arc, mingling, eating, and dancing. Each person arc travelled a different course through that time frame, from family photos to people to meet, from kids running around outside, to joining in the dancing, to not dancing. Caroline felt badly about disappointing her father by being late. The kids felt happy once they were running around outside in the misty dusky evening, both Adam and Meg returned to play clothes from fancier clothing (Lucien and Remy weren’t fancy to begin with; Saskia was happy to remain in her bright orange, pink and sage green floral corduroy dress and orange clogs, a mini-fashion hit). Even Ezekiel, absent because he was sick, called in frequently, the arc of his time with us away (hanging with our friend Ilana, eating dinner, watching television, playing Scrabble) thus became part of our experience.
I enjoyed taking photos and talking to people I knew and meeting new ones. Hosea described our relationship to the clan as being akin to being in-laws of the entire family, without the marriage, in the way there is intimacy and newness and a little bit of existing outside the central dramas. I enjoyed seeing how much fun Remy and Saskia had playing outside with the cousins and I enjoyed being on the dance floor with Lucien, reluctant at first, and then shyly, but so happily part of the mix. And I loved the music: Van Morrison songs, Johnny Cash, even John Denver’s tune, Country Roads, a favorite of my childhood. And I delighted in Margery and her friends’ surprise at my loving to dance, being of the next generation as I am. I loved how Saskia took the “chocolate ice cream” that was actually vanilla icing and put a little onto Caroline’s lips for a taste and how Caroline loved being fed by Saskia.
A couple of days after the wedding, Remy said to me, “You know my favorite part of the whole wedding?” What was it, I asked. He said, “It was when we were outside looking in (through the open barn doors) and Margery and Eric had that special dance (the first dance). They looked so happy and it was such a perfectly ‘wedding’ moment,” he explained, with complete accuracy and the convincing sincerity of a seven year-old. I couldn’t have picked a finer moment. They were radiant. We’d watched their dance through a frame that couldn’t have been more beautiful. As it was happening, that moment seemed like a dream, it was that magical. You could have written it into a fairy tale.
This wedding is comprised of many stories. That’s partly why storytelling is so hard to do. Mine is just one. And how Saskia will feel about being adopted and the mothers and the grandparents and aunts and cousins—not the people themselves exactly, but the fact that she has all this—I can’t determine. I hope she’s of the more love is more love camp. I believe that she will be; even still, we will have to remain open to whatever else she feels, whatever her story becomes.