when it was real.

Dear Ridley,

Today is your official adoption finalization day. And I have a little secret. Are you ready, baby? Lean in.  

I don't care.

Oh, please make no mistake, I care about you. In staggering, all-consuming, obsessive, neurotic, tsunamis of love, I care about you. I just can't get on board with the idea that today, this small day in November, it all becomes real. This is not your Pinocchio-sans-strings day, not yours or our family's. This is not the day you become our son. Not by a long shot. Let me tell you when it was real. 

It was real when your dad and I had fresh driver's licenses and I read a quote that said, "I have 5 kids, 3 of them are adopted, I've forgotten which ones," and I told him I wanted that and he said, "Me too."

It was real in college, when I confidently announced to my friends that your dad and I were going to adopt someday and they said, "Yup, I can totally see that."

It was real when we started driving east one Sunday a month, almost six years ago, to attend adoption information meetings at the home of sweet friends who'd gone before us. We were thinking of you then, baby boy. We were praying for you and imagining what color your eyes would be. Also, full disclosure, we kind of thought you were a little girl from China, but that's such a long story, and still.

It was real two Christmases ago when your Uncle Zach declared it to be our final inappropriate ornament exchange, in light of you coming our way anytime. Such a bittersweet day. He and I have been giving each other bad Santas since we were in middle school and didn't have a whole lot of money or imagination for sibling gifts. That's nearly fifteen years of Grandma keeping those off-color ornaments two rooms away from the nativity and of Grandpa telling me, "You're not going to be able to top this one, Sis". Don't worry, they're only packed away until you're older and we can embarrass you in front of your girlfriends.

You know when it got really real? 8:00am, Mission Viejo, putting sugar in hotel coffee (two full packets, treat yourself), and the phone rings. It was on silent so I didn't notice til 8:10. Voicemail, his big smile obvious even over the message: "April, it's Wahli from family services. Call me back as soon as you get this."

I was stone cold sure. You were ready. 8:15 I call back. It's a boy.  

It was really expensive, those next eight days, waiting to learn more about you and see your picture. I bought everything -- just yes, I'll take it all, every color. But ma'm what size does he wear? I don't know, all the sizes, he wears every size. Then came Halloween, which is trippy since months and months back I'd created a registry on Amazon and made your required due date Halloween. Your dad and I went to a one hour meeting where we learned you were in fact six months old, not nine, but a big guy, pushing 20 pounds, and you liked blankets, mirrors, dogs, and laughing. If that is not a child of mine, I got nothing.

It was hand-trembling real less than a week later, at a Starbucks in the desert. There is no fall here, let's call a spade a spade, but your dad and I split a tall salted caramel latte anyways. Here's the thing: we never split coffee, we never get a tall, and since when do either of us drink salted caramel lattes? I don't know, but that morning we did inside that Starbucks because we got to your neighborhood like 45 minutes early and we didn't want to look like creepers. Instead we looked like nervous robbers fresh from a crime scene, shifty-eyed and shaking. He's just over there, we kept telling each other, just a few blocks from where we are sitting drinking this, what is this, did you order this?

It was real four days later when I rushed you to urgent care. Baby boy, it had been a loooong four days. Mama looked bad. Like bad bad. Remember that nice man who asked if I was homeless and offered us shelter? Remember how I looked down at the sweatshirt and ill-advised leggings I'd been wearing for at least 72 hours and tried to convince the stranger we were okay? Remember how he gave me his card anyways? Then the doctor took a look at you, and a longer look at me and said, "Well, I am glad you brought him in. He does have a slight cold but it is great to be safe. You happen to be a first time mom?" Remember how fast we ran through the parking lot?

It was real when you and I were sitting in that dank lobby, waiting for your birth mom to get there to meet us. You had no idea what was happening, but then again I wonder because you were awfully quiet while we waited. The social workers explained to her that I would always take care of you and keep you safe because that was her only request. She watched us from the window when it was time to go and the social worker called later that day to tell me that your first mama said, "When you see them together it makes sense. He's supposed to be with her."  

That was really something.

It has been real every day since, every day in between, always. Ridley, you are our Own Child, you are a Real Kid. We didn't make you but we are raising you one mistake and success at a time. You are our son. 

Look baby, I am not saying I won't shed a tear today when the judge knocks his gavel.....if they even do that. I'm not saying this isn't a big deal. This is absolutely the culmination of a long journey and the base camp of a longer one. Hell, I probably will shed a tear. But not for what the judge is thinking. The tears will come for our secret, baby, the one I've been keeping for such a long time. The one about you always being real.

Love you forever, golden boy,
your mama

Written by April Hoss in preparation for Ridley's adoption day -- November 20th, 2014.