I knew I loved you last night when I was returning to bed, and found your legs dangling out of yours, half way to the floor, and scooped you up to move you back to your pillow and for a moment, watched you sleep in the glow of the streetlight peeking through our blinds. Or 7 hours earlier, when I whispered for the third time, “gai shui jiao la” (it’s time for bed) until you drifted off peacefully without a sound. I knew it last night when I was cooking dinner listening while you and Baba quietly scribbled a masterpiece on the living room floor- making art and building bonds. And yesterday afternoon, when you squeezed me tight around my neck in that toddler bear hug. I knew it on Monday when they drew your blood and repeated that TB test, and I watched your tears fall. I knew I loved you a week ago (my god, was it only a week?) when you first reached out and touched me, willingly, with your hands, first my nose, then my eyes, lips, neck, chest, shoulders- as I named all my parts.
I knew it when my heart was clouded with fear in China. Yes, even then. When you first smiled, and giggled, and made those funny faces just days before we left the country that birthed you- your first home. I knew it when the only thing you wanted was indicated with the determined thrust of your whole hand- a hand that pointed and demanded, “take me outside, out of this room- back to where I came from”. I knew it when I broke down too, exhausted, after you grieved for hours, even though my heart felt only the fear of getting through the next moment. I knew I loved you when on that second day, I already recognized the tell-tale sign you were tired or falling asleep- that little flex of your left foot. No yawning, no rubbing your eyes, just that little foot slowly rising and falling. I’d smile with you in my lap knowing it wouldn’t be long before your body would give in and I’d feel your head against me- something you couldn’t do in those first days awake. I knew it each time you’d shake your head “no” when we’d call ourselves “mama” and “baba”.
I knew I loved you when you screamed for those who nurtured you for the first years of your life. Even when your grief overwhelmed me and I wanted to take you back so you could have a moment of relief from your pain, I held you and told you how brave you were, how courageous and beautiful and strong. You could barely hear me over the sound of your tears, but you heard, I think, the love under my fear.
I knew I loved you the first time I saw you, walking into that civil affairs office. Even though I was numb. Even though I’d never been a mother before. Even though you were not at all what I expected yet everything I’ve hoped for- I knew.
You might wonder how.
Well, I’ve learned that love is a choice, sweet and perfect little one. A decision and a commitment. It’s not at all a feeling. You, most of all, have taught me that.
And how I am coming to love you. How my heart is blooming under your spell. You, who I call daughter. Ellis Gao Mei.