I stand in my kitchen, filled to overflowing with the clamor of children. Victoria has brought Rita’s water ice home from work today, and the joy and excitement of her gift to her siblings is palpable.
My feet and legs feel heavy and tired, my back is aching, and my hands move methodically, robotically, clearing the counter for the umpteenth time today and filling it again, this time with brightly colored ice cream dishes and scoops and spoons for my brood of eager children. My body is present, right there in the midst of all my precious ones; yet my mind is far away in some distant place where joy resides and where peace fills me. The sound of the children’s voices jumble together in my mind like the sound of the wind rustling in and out of the trees behind our house as it whistles through the leaves like the song of a dozen whippoorwills chanting endlessly on a summer night.
My spirit soars somewhere distant and detached. Perhaps I am praying, in that deep, wordless, place inside myself where God communes with me, or perhaps my brain is resting from the endless chatter of the children. Perhaps I am weary and tired and thankful and blessed all at the same time and the feelings are all jumbled together in some wordless place that finds rest in the midst of the never ending busyness of my days.
Something calls me back from that far off place inside myself. I hear the children’s words, now cohesive, purposeful, intentional, distinct.
“David wants more strawberry.”
“Jonathan wants cotton candy.”
“Make sure you save enough coconut for Evangeline! Coconut is her favorite.”
“Andrew, you can’t have all the flavors together! That’s gross.”
“Mommy, Eliza fixed the gate and now Sebastian can’t get out anymore, but Mr. Bunn can.”
“No, Eliza doesn’t want any. It’s too sweet for her.”
“Mommy, Livi, wanted chocolate, and there is no chocolate.”
“Who is going to carry the water ice downstairs to the freezer?”
“Not me!” Another hollers.
And from another, “No, not yet. Where’s Sophia? She didn’t get hers yet.”
And then I see it.
Somewhere in the midst of the children’s voices all tumbling out together, in what feels to me like the well thought out rhythm of some flawless symphony, right there, in the ordinary, in the simple, in the common, I see it.
I see what I have hoped for and prayed for and sometimes wondered if I would ever see.
I see the children, integrated, united, one, not separated by the years they spent apart, by the diversity of their pasts, but instead, conjoined, banded together by the commonality of their lives now, by the new history we have built together. A history that belongs to all of us, a history that is ours.
I see how God has interwoven our lives. I see the connectedness, the cohesion, the bond that exists between all the children. I see how God, and life, and the passage of time has knit us together as a family. I realize too, that I can no longer see the forced and uneven, awkward stitching of the seams that once tentatively held us together as an evolving family and stood out uncomfortably when our pasts mattered more than the present, when the histories of our biological and adopted children were as different as the winter snow is from the warm dew of summer that glistens on the grass, reflecting its iridescent light off the common, the ordinary, the familiar.
I wonder. When did it happen, this feeling of normality? When did it return to us?
The answer comes to me amidst the chaos of the kitchen, amidst the dipping of the water ice, amidst the ordinary.
It was coming all along. It was happening like the magic of the skin horse becoming real in that famous book we all know and love, The Velveteen Rabbit. It was on its way that day we were tired and short tempered and quarreled, and then cried together and were sorry. It was coming on the days we baked together and colored and rushed out the door to church, impatient and scattered, and on the day daddy and I were weary and needed their help, on the day Livi fussed and forgot her bible and Eliza offered to run upstairs and get it for her. It was on its way the day we all climbed into our crowded van after church and it was hot, and we impulsively abandoned routine and went out for ice cream together instead of getting our lunch. It was growing in us the day mommy forgot to turn off the garden hose and we giggled together over the forgetfulness of their mommy.
It was welling up inside of us on Christmas and birthdays and on all the normal days that came in between.
And I believe it arrived when we shared the brokenness of ourselves with each other, our weaknesses, our inadequacies, our imperfections. It arrived when we needed to forgive each other, when we had wronged each other and found that afterward the love and bond was stronger than it had been before for having shared the hard.
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
We became a family, bonded together by the stuff of life, the hard and the happy, the laughter and the tears, over time and after we had loved, “for a long, long time.”