We still hadn’t agreed on an art print to hang in our bedroom. Kelly wanted something unique by a local artist. She tended towards yellow – the deep summer corn yellow of the textured wallpaper that adorned one wall of my childhood bedroom – and crimson. She was also partial to cubes, and hard lines. I wanted waterfalls and green jungles, deep blends of color where I could lose myself in a tranquil setting – or a paint-peeling wooden chair hanging from hooks on the wall, as I had seen in Wicker Park once at the home of an artist hosting a non-profit fundraiser. But we had not yet come to an agreement, so our bedroom walls remained bare.
We agreed on most of the rest of the house. We came to a meeting of minds with deep earth tones, large comfortable couches and giant art prints, with footstools for her short legs and wide open space to sidestep my mild claustrophobia. Both of us enjoyed being cozy – although for her, cozy included a dachshund covering both knees, a patchwork blanket her mom made fifteen years ago, and an orange and white boy-cat named Sweet Potato on her chest – while for me, cozy meant candles, fuzzy slippers, and a plush blanket over my lap, soft against my chin when I pulled it up.
We also agreed early in our relationship that she was Grace’s only mom, and I – well, we hadn’t really agreed yet on who I was to her daughter.
Step-parenting books say it can take 7 to 12 years to gel as a family. I stopped reading when I hit that statistic. It was too much to take in.
Now in the car, alongside snow-laden barns, we agreed to have a child – a decision which meant co-parenting for the rest of our lives. We didn’t arrive at this agreement lightly, but we were quick.
* * *
“How about ‘Kyla’?” I asked over breakfast, weeks after we had looped Grace into our decision. Grace was twelve, and looked like she wanted to throw up. She was still adjusting to the idea. “Let’s put it on the board, at least,” I said.
“No…” Kelly said. “I don’t like the name ‘Kyla.’”
“I thought Mama said it was gonna be a boy,” said Grace.
“It’s probably gonna be a boy. We don’t know for sure,” I began. “We said we’d take either. They said most of the time when people say ‘either,’ they get a boy because –“
“I get it,” Grace said.
“Hey – What do you think of ‘Nicolas’?” Kelly asked.
“I love Nicolas!” I said.
“I like it,” Grace offered. “It’s a good name.” Kelly stood up, uncapped the black dry erase marker, and wrote ‘Nicolas’ in the boy column of our new whiteboard, right by the door to the basement.
I remembered Grace huddled under blankets at the computer in that basement, with just her hands exposed, typing. I remembered relaxing on the futon behind her with a magazine, waiting for her next editing question, in a rare and lovely moment between us one evening a few weeks prior.
“Why are you adopting?” she asked now. “Don’t you think that’ll be hard for a kid? I mean, why don’t you – ?” Her speech patterns mirrored her mother’s.
“We’re adopting,” her mom said, “because we can all come into this together that way.” It sounded so mature and uncomplicated, the way she expressed the thorniest bit of our decision. “We did think about using a sperm donor,” she continued, “and one of us being pregnant – probably Roi, since I already did that once.” They smiled at one another. “But Roi says she doesn’t really need to be pregnant, so we decided adoption was the best way to grow our family.”
“Why Guatemala? You don’t even speak Spanish.” I noticed she didn’t ask why we decided to grow our family.
“I do speak Spanish, Grace.”
“Not around me.”
“Well, we’d need to get better about that. That’s something I’ll need your help with.”
“Are you going to learn Spanish?” she asked me now.
“I’d like to,” I answered. She nodded. The movement was small, but decisive.
“It’s a lot of work,” Grace said.
“I know,” I replied.
Later she would tell me she thought I’d be a good mom, and she thought it would be good for me to have a kid of my own. Later she would tell her mom she wanted a little brother, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about not being an only child anymore. But not this morning.
“What are we gonna do today?” she asked. Her mom smiled. My stomach tied itself in knots.
I shrugged, and pushed my chair back from the table. “I have a coffee date with Susanne in a little bit,” I said.
“What would you like to do today? Do you wanna play Rummicube?” Kelly asked her daughter, standing to clear our plates from the table.
“You just had coffee,” Grace informed me with a quiet grin.
“I did.” I smiled back. She always seemed a bit easier with me when she knew I was on my way out the door.
“How about Speed? Are the cards in the office?” Grace asked. Her mother groaned. “I’ll go easy on you,” Grace promised.
“Okay,” said Kelly. “Will you help me clear this up?”
The two of them carried plates to the sink. I put the butter back in the fridge, carried a glass and two mugs from the table, set them on the counter with a clink, and kissed Kelly on the cheek. “I sure do love you guys,” Kelly said.
“Love you, too,” we both replied. I took my winter coat down from its hook by the door, put my arms in and zipped it up. It was fleece-lined for winter, making me cozy in the doorway.
It hit me like this all the time now: Soon, I would be a mom.