You are 5. You are unacceptably tall. You like Paw Patrol and dancing and marshmallows. And in two days, you are moving across the country without me.
When I placed you up for adoption five years ago, I knew without a doubt I was making the right decision. I was so relieved your new daddies wanted the same level of openness in our adoption that I wanted. I was thrilled I had found the perfect family to raise you. I was, maybe, the luckiest birth mother of all time.
And yet, losing you absolutely destroyed me. When you left the hospital without me, I literally couldn’t stand up straight. My body folded in half as though of its own volition, and I broke down sobbing, even as I knew I was making the right decision.
But now, I am losing you yet again. Your daddy has gotten a job on the West Coast, and good for him. You deserve a life full of sunshine and avocado and all that Los Angeles has to offer. New York, as much as I love it, can be a terrifying place.
Still, I want to howl at the moon like a wolf. I want to send a primal scream into the universe that penetrates the sun. I want to crack in half with the injustice of it all. I already lost you once; now I have to watch you move across the continent without me. What fresh hell is this?
I know, because I know other birth mothers who’ve gone through this exact thing, that all kinds of joys await me. I know, because I’ll be staying with you when I visit you, that I’ll get time with you that I never would’ve gotten otherwise. The pleasure of tucking you in at night or having breakfast in our jammies in the morning. I know I’m lucky you’re 5 years old as opposed to a little younger; you’re old enough that we can have our own conversations across the miles. I know your adoptive parents are dedicated to keeping me in your life, to visiting this coast and bringing me to your new one every so often.
But oh, my God, this just sucks. This is just terrible. I can’t find any other words for it than that.
Today, you and I made two crayon and marker drawings together — one to hang on my fridge, one for yours. At your request, I made you hot chocolate. You watched Creative Galaxy while I looked at my phone. We floated the idea of visiting a cat café together, but since that would require an hour-plus on the subway each way, you were happy to meet my new roommate’s cat instead. And of course you tried, for the umpteenth time, to pet my cat Sophie and make her love you; I’m sorry she’s so skittish and scared. I always feel so guilty when I can’t give you what you want.
When it came time for your goodbye party, I held your hand as we made our way through the streets of Queens. You informed me I wasn’t allowed to step on any cracks or I would die. You dropped all the pennies that were in your pocket, and I shined the flashlight on my cell phone onto the sidewalk trying to recover them all. We spent the evening surrounded by your family and friends, snapping pictures and eating Greek food. I got to watch you loving your friends, hugging them and giggling and all showing your brightly colored tongues to each other as you ate your Blow Pops.
I am terrified you won’t have any memories of New York. I scarcely remember anything from before I was 5. The only memory I vaguely recall is spending one Easter in someone’s driveway. I remember that someone was on a skateboard, and I think my cousins were there. I don’t want you to think of New York the way I think of that Easter: fuzzy, out of focus, so vague it might as well not have happened. I want you to remember the froyo place with the gaming iPads and riding the streets of Astoria on your scooter and the burger place we always go to and the bounce house where you spent your fifth birthday. I want you to remember the skyline and the subway. I want you to remember my apartment and your daddies’ apartments in Jackson Heights and Astoria and the doorknob in my hallway where we hung the valentine you made for me.
But none of that is up to me, is it? All I can do is love you as hard as I can and hope some of that love hangs around in your memory.
Dear Leo: I don’t know what’s going to happen when you get into that car on Tuesday and make your way to Los Angeles. All I know is that your daddies and I are wholeheartedly committed to figuring out what our weird, self-made, queer little family looks like in a cross-country relationship and that we all love you madly and that I’ll see you soon — one way or another.
Safe travels, my love.
With all my heart,