A few years ago I drove to OSH so my kids, at their request, could get me my Christmas present. I remember this as an especially poignant moment—sitting in my car watching the two of them walk through the crowded parking lot. I was already pretty sure what they were getting me. I’m not materialistic, but as on other holidays I’d cobbled together a list anyhow. Though far from glamorous, first on the list was a new toilet seat; something we could use at the time.
I watched them, my 16-year-old son and my 9-year-old daughter, as they headed toward the hardware store’s glass doors. On that chilly December afternoon as I waited I suddenly, though not for the first time, saw them through Everybody Else’s eyes: a lean teenager talking, then playfully nudging the bright-eyed young girl next to him, her skin much darker than his, her braids shiny in the winter sun. She barely reached his shoulder, and the two of them appeared easy and comfortable with each other. She looked up at him with a smile that could melt an iceberg. He grinned back, said something, and she gave him a push back with her arm. I remember this.
Do people assume they’re brother and sister, one adopted? They are so different from each other; in appearance, in temperament. But it’s my son and my daughter’s expressions and gestures that day that will stay with me.
Sometimes I want to tell people—and I do—that my son was an ardent advocate for my daughter’s adoption back in 1999, when I myself, a single mom who knew next to nothing about transracial adoption, was on the fence about adopting my first foster child. Thankfully I did adopt her, a year and a half after she’d arrived as a 2-year-old. The familial bond that began to grow the first day she came has grown ever stronger, and on that cold winter day when I was feeling poor and somewhat depressed it was heartwarming to see the radiance that still shines around my kids.
On Christmas morning a few days later I sat on the couch drinking coffee and watching my kids’ faces light up as they opened packages containing electronic games and clothes and books; I feigned surprise when I unwrapped the clunky package that held the blue toilet seat. Of course they’d remembered blue is my favorite color.
We’ve been through hell and back since then.
My son’s depression-related diagnosis the following year, 2006, isn’t as important to relate as are the small moments that helped hold my little family together then, like the day my daughter went into the hospital gift shop before we took the elevator upstairs and bought her brother a small, clear stone with the word “Hope” engraved on it.
Or the way the next December, still recovering and regaining his spark, wit, and confidence, he used a big chunk of his own savings to buy his sister an X-Box for Christmas. The way recently when my daughter got dropped off after a visit to a friend’s house she swept right past me with barely a “Hi,” to wrap her arms around her brother’s shoulders as he worked on his computer in his room.
“I love you,” they call to each other spontaneously and often, their voices filtering through the small house. But often my son’s eyes still look sad—as I’ve been told mine do.
This year, my happy, resilient, now-twelve year old daughter just e-mailed us her Christmas list—complete with brand-names, colors, sizes, etc. Topping it is an expensive new cell phone, and then continues in order of priority including gift cards for clothes stores, a sewing machine, games. She’s clear about she wants. And knowing my son, he might just spring for the cell phone. But when I ask him what he wants, he says he doesn’t know.
However, you can bet that if happiness came in a box my daughter would give it to him. I would, too.