A baby’s first touch—so foreign and yet so familiar—taught Life Lessons Essay Contest second runner-up, Molly Fessler, the meaning of love.
I suppose my objections could be categorized in a word: numerous. The noise, the smell, the cost, the age of my parents—I
had a plethora of self-indulgent complaints that fell on deaf ears. In the next year, one flurried with social workers, background
checks, and paperwork, I kept up my litany of protests. Sometimes silently, sometimes in the medium of sigh or eye roll, all
the while keeping hidden the truest source of my anguish.
As anyone could have easily discerned from the embarrassingly candid diary entries I made that year, I wasn’t truly concerned that my parents would be too old to attend kindergarten roundup without the aid of walkers. I didn’t even really mind having two new siblings. Sure, I hemmed and hawed, but the reality was that I knew how to be with kids and enjoyed them. The new nursery was far from my own room, so I wouldn’t be woken by shrieks in the night. I could burp an infant, change a diaper, and test the bathwater with the back of my wrist.
So what was the problem?
In my flower-patterned spiral notebook (after a long commentary on the undesirability of AAA cup bras), I wrote, “What if I can’t love them, because they’re different?”
Shortly after my 14th birthday, my parents, my siblings, and I set out for Guatemala City to meet Sam and Maria. On a Saturday morning, room-service debris still scattered across the room, my parents went to the hotel lobby to receive the babies from the agency. We kids watched cartoons in Spanish. We didn’t speak.
Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. My sister, Isabelle, then five, hurtled toward it, stepping back in disappointment when my father’s figure appeared, hunched with the uncomfortable clutch of diapers and bottles. And then my mother’s frame filled the doorway, a baby in each swing of her arm, two swaths of pink and yellow against the white of her cardigan. Isabelle gasped, and the rest of our family moved forward, oddly hushed, curious.
I alone stood back, a camera hanging limp from my hands, drifting backward into anxiety. It’s different, they’re different, we’re different, I can’t. Moments passed and my dad took the baby girl, leaving Mom to approach me, yellow bundle held out.
I shook my head. “It’s fine. I can wait,” I said.
She ignored this, stepped closer, necessitating the lift of my arms, completing the scoop and letting the baby come to rest, nuzzled close to my body. As I lifted back the yellow fold of flannel, I glimpsed a small brown face, with cheeks round and eyelashes long, falling over to meet the lids. My fingertips grazed the back of his hand, and Sam’s fist opened, pulling my thumb into his grasp.