“Hey you, you’re a child in my head
You haven’t walked yet
Your first words have yet to be said
But I swear you’ll be blessed.”
~ Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Janice sat at the kitchen table humming along with her favorite Elton John song on her iPhone while she drank her morning coffee and thumbed through the entertainment section of the San Francisco Chronicle. As she glanced over the movie reviews, she tried to imagine what she could give her husband, Stuart, on his 68th birthday.
Married to each other less than a year, they were still newlyweds and were supremely happy. They’d both been married before, years ago, and had both endured long periods of solitude after their respective divorces. But now that they’d found love later on in their lives, they were extraordinarily grateful for a second chance at happiness. They both felt blessed for finding someone with whom to share their golden years.
With tireless enthusiasm and the energy of a man half his age, Stuart still practiced law. He loved working and never wanted to retire. Janice, on the other hand, had quit her job as a reporter for the Chronicle the day they became engaged. She was fifty years old and tired of working. She wanted to spend her time making stained glass artwork, a hobby she’d loved since her youth, but which she’d never found enough time for as the years passed by.
This morning while reading the movie page she had a flash of inspiration. She would make a stained-glass window for her husband’s birthday gift. He loved to sail, and he loved the bay, so she folded up the newspaper, pulled out her sketchpad, and began a rough drawing of a sailboat on San Francisco Bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
She worked feverishly, in a fit of creativity that kept her occupied late into the afternoon. She finished three different sketches then got out her watercolor paints and began a mockup of the window design. Just as she put the finishing touches on the orange of the bridge, Stuart walked into the kitchen and looked over her shoulder.
“What’s this? A new window?” He laid his briefcase on the table and loosened his tie.
Janice turned to him. “I didn’t hear you come in. This was supposed to be a surprise.”
“For what?” he asked. He picked up her sketchpad and flipped through the pages.
“For your birthday.”
He smiled. “It’s not for three more months. I’ll probably forget about it by then, so you can still surprise me.”
She stood up and stretched. “What would you like for dinner?”
He reached for her hand, “Let’s go out for dinner. I’ve got a little announcement to make, and I want it to be special.”
Janice studied his face. “What kind of announcement?”
He took her hand and kissed it gently. “I’ll tell you at dinner. Go get dressed and I’ll make a reservation at Dupont Thai.”
Janice hurried into their bedroom and got herself ready to go out for the evening.
At dinner, Stuart ordered a bottle of Voss Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, a Napa Valley wine. He raised his glass and said, “To us. To our future family.”
Her eyes widened with excitement. “Did you hear from the adoption agency?”
He nodded. “They’ve got several candidates for us to meet.”
“Oh, Stuart,” she leaned over and kissed him quickly. “I’m so happy. Finally, at our age, we can have a family. What a blessing.”
“I knew you’d be pleased.” He held up his glass to her. She picked up her glass and touched it to his.
“To our son,” she said grinning.
They drank their wine and gazed across the table at each other with sublime happiness.
“When can we meet them?” she asked.
“So soon? The nursery’s not ready yet...”
“There’s plenty of time,” he assured her. “All three candidates are in their second trimester. We have roughly three months.”
“Three months! Maybe he’ll be born on your birthday.”
“It’s a possibility.”
The waiter arrived with their sautéed prawns and their pumpkin with mango sauce. He placed it on the table.
“Oh, I can hardly wait,” she said, picking up her chopsticks. “I’ve wanted a child for so many years and now it’s finally going to happen.” She reached across the table and squeezed his wrist. “Thank you for this.”
He smiled. “I’ve wanted it too, for a long, long time.”
“Well now we’ve got our wish,” she said, beaming. She picked up a small piece of pumpkin and held it up for Stuart to taste.
“This is excellent,” he said, chewing with relish. He served his own plate then added a helping of pineapple fried rice. Janice watched him and noted with tenderness the gentle way he unfolded his napkin, wiped the mango sauce from his lips, and then slowly folded his napkin and placed it back in his lap. He was eighteen years older than her, and she knew when they met that if nature took its course, she’d be spending the final years of her life on her own.
But now, chances are she wouldn’t be alone. She’d have a child and she’d be a doting and generous mother. She wanted to let her child know just exactly how much he was loved, and how long they had waited for his arrival.
That evening as Stuart and Janice lay in each other’s arms in bed, Janice got suddenly sentimental, as her eyes filled with tears. She turned her head into her pillow.
She shook her head. “If only we’d met sooner, we could savor our son longer. Watch him graduate college and have a family of his own. I want as much time with him as possible. I don’t want to lose a second, it’s so precious.”
Stuart wiped her tears away and kissed her forehead. “Just be thankful for the time we do have,” he said softly. “And it’ll be all the more rewarding, knowing just how precious each moment truly is.”
She nodded in agreement. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she whispered. “I’ve never been this happy.”
“I know what you mean, Jellybean,” he said. He hugged his arms around her waist and pulled her closer. “Maybe after he’s born, I’ll spend less time at the office.”
She smiled. “We’ll be so happy together,” she said. “Just think of all the fun things we can do together, like picnics at Golden Gate Park. Or taking him to the zoo. Or to the beach. And Disneyland.”
He laughed. “Do we have to go to Disneyland?”
“Kids love it.”
He took her hand and said, “Maybe I’ll even retire. The idea of watching him take his first steps, and hearing his first words is so much more appealing than taking a deposition or studying a mediation brief. Maybe we can buy him a pony.”
Janice laughed out loud. “Maybe we can start with a puppy then as he gets a little older, we’ll see about the pony.” She yawned, then snuggled her head up against his shoulder. “But I like the fact that you’re thinking about retiring,” she added. “That’s just icing on the cake.”
She imagined that she might float up out of her skin, she felt so light and airy. She wanted to memorize this feeling and keep it safely in her mind so she could recall it whenever she chose to.
Her life had become somewhat of a storybook in the last year and a half, since meeting Stuart at a fund raiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. After spending seventeen years together, Janice and her first husband had divorced because he did not want children, and she’d spent the next eight years on her own. She sank into a time of depression and listlessness, and lost interest in dating.
Then all of that changed one night in a crowded ballroom. The fundraiser was held at The Top of the Mark, a chic bar atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel in downtown San Francisco. Janice had been given a free ticket from the Lifestyle editor at the Chronicle and she bought a new gown in the Cinderella-like hope of meeting a prince at the ball. But once she arrived at the event, and saw only gray-haired couples, she felt ridiculous and stood at the window looking out at the lights on the Bay Bridge. She glanced at her watch and thought to herself that if she left now, she could make it home in time to watch Saturday Night Live. She took one last look at the bay then turned abruptly away from the window and bumped into a distinguished looking man in a tux with silver hair and a trim little gray goatee.
He seemed as startled as she was, then without saying anything, he took her hand and led her out to the dance floor where the band was playing a slow and easy rendition of Tony Bennett’s “The Second Time Around.” They danced that first dance together without saying a word. They danced the next six dances together before Janice suggested they take a seat and sip some wine. Her feet were aching in her purple velvet heels, but she didn’t want to say anything negative, and dampen the evening.
They talked with an easy familiarity as if they’d known each other for years. He spoke of his first marriage, and how his wife had left him twenty-five years ago because he was a workaholic. Now that he was older, he was looking for someone to keep him away from the office.
She fell in love with him at first sight, before he said a word to her; before their first dance. It was instantaneous, as soon as their shoulders bumped. They nearly spilled their drinks. She felt giddy and excited. But as the evening wore on and they talked at their table, she realized that her entire life had been leading up to this meeting. And that she had spent the last eight years alone so that she would appreciate him, now that she’d finally found him.
Janice sighed and kissed Stuart’s shoulder. He was indeed the most exciting chapter in this late blooming storybook of her life.
She closed her eyes and imagined painting a mural of clouds and blue sky on the walls and ceiling of the nursery.
The next week was a flurry of preparation. In the span of two days, Janice completed the mural in the nursery, and they purchased a little white crib with baby blue bedding. They even bought a musical mobile with clouds, stars, and planets to hang above the crib.
On Wednesday, they met the first candidate at the adoption agency office and liked her immensely. She was eighteen and a college freshman studying pre-med. Her boyfriend was nineteen and had no intention of marrying her or becoming a father. She lived with her mother, who had raised her as a single mom. This young girl was determined not to spend her life struggling, the way her own mother struggled as a single parent. She was upbeat and intelligent, with an engaging smile and intense, blue eyes. She had strawberry blond hair and was very thin. She looked the way Janice looked at that age and Janice somehow took comfort in this, even though she knew it was ridiculous to want an adopted child to bear her some physical resemblance.
As they left the agency and drove back to their home in North Beach, they were silent. Each of them deep in thought as they pulled into their driveway, Janice said suddenly, “I don’t want to see the others. I think she’s the one. She was sent to us.”
Stuart nodded in agreement.
That night, Janice took out her journal and covered several pages in her long, flowing script. She poured herself a glass of Pinot Grigio and wrote for over an hour then put her pen down and re-read the following:
I was fifty years old when my son was conceived. My husband was 68. We adopted him from an 18-year-old unwed mother who had refused to abort her baby. She’d wanted to keep her baby and raise it with her boyfriend. However, upon learning that she was pregnant, the young man told her he didn’t want the child.
That ended their relationship, and it began the relationship that Stuart and I have with our unborn son. He was loved by his birth mother and loved by us before we ever met him, and I will tell him this as soon as he is old enough to ask the kind of questions that adopted children inevitably ask when they realize what it means to be adopted.
Janice finished her wine, put her journal down on her desk then crawled into bed beside her husband. He was already asleep.
At two a.m. Janice awoke suddenly to find Stuart sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbing his forehead. She reached for him and touched his shoulder.
“I just had the most incredible dream,” she said. “It was so real. Our son came to me and said that he had known us in a past life and that he had chosen us to be his parents.”
Stuart suddenly cut her off, “I had that exact same dream! The child came to me and said that he had chosen us, and that we had to wait many years for the right time. He said that it was ordained by God that he would be our child, and that he was meant to be the founder of a new world religion.”
Janice scooted up next to Stuart and put her arm around him. “He said the same exact words to me, ‘a new world religion,’ but I didn’t quite believe it. I thought maybe I had made it up in my mind since it sounds so incredible. I mean, neither of us is particularly religious. Why would God choose us for this?”
Stuart shrugged. “Who knows, but it wasn’t just a dream. It was a communication from our son.”
Janice shivered. They sat in silence for a while, neither one wanting to break the magic of what had just happened. She looked at her husband and said, “We can never tell anyone about our dream. It would make his life a living hell.”
“You are wrong about that, sweetheart. We’ll provide him with the kind of upbringing that would help our son handle the portent of what he told us in that visitation just now.”
She looked up at him, frightened. How could anyone so young be expected to live with the kind of stress and pressure needed to take on that innocence— of living up to that dream?”
He looked at her. Didn’t say a word.
After a moment she said, “What would be the best way to raise this child?”
He sighed. “We’ll know when the time comes.”
The next day, Stuart called the adoption agency and cancelled their appointments with the other two candidates. He said they made their choice, and they would be in that afternoon to sign the papers.
When they left the agency that evening, they drove straight to the bookstore at Union Square under the auspices of buying a new baby book that a friend recommended to Janice. But while they were browsing the children’s section, they both spotted an illustrated book of Bible stories. Stuart picked up the book and flipped through several pages until he came to a drawing of Pharaoh’s daughter rescuing baby Moses from the reeds of the Nile riverbank in a little wicker basket. He showed the painting to Janice.
“Oh!” she whispered. “I’d forgotten Moses was adopted.”
Stuart smiled. He tucked the book under his arm and took his wife by the hand. “And he was the founder of a new world religion.”
Janice blinked, and tears welled up in her eyes.
“Don’t worry,” said Stuart. “We’ll know how to raise him. It’ll come to us, just like that dream last night.”
Janice smiled at Stuart and said, “For the first time, I think I’m finally glad that you are older than me. It gives me the feeling that you’re wiser, even if it’s not true.”
He laughed. “Who says it’s not true?”
She laughed and linked her arm in his. “Are you implying that I’m not wise?”
“Not at all,” he said, leading her out of the children’s section and up toward the cash registers. “You’re very wise for your age, but because I’m somewhat older, I have more years of experience, that’s all. So, in fact, I am technically WISER.”
She rolled her eyes and retrieved the book from him as they took their place in line. She opened the front cover again and was taken in by the beautiful painting of the story of Genesis, and the creation of the Universe. There was a brilliant light at the center of a swirling mass of clouds and stars against a black sky. She gently touched the light.
“Are you sure it will come to us?” she asked him.
He put his arm around her shoulder. “It came to you yesterday that we did not need to see the other candidates. You just knew it. And that was before we had the dream. So, relax. You know more than you think you do.”
She smiled and thought to herself that maybe Stuart was indeed wiser than her. She looked at him and felt a swelling tide of gratitude.
The next three months flew by for Janice and Stuart. She spent her days putting the finishing touches on the nursery and reading every parenting book she could find. When they finally brought the baby home, she found herself wishing he’d sleep less so she could hold him more.
One evening when Stuart came home from work, he found Janice in the nursery in the dark, standing by the crib with tears streaming down her cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” he whispered.
She reached out her hand to him and he took it. She pulled his hand to her lips and kissed it.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she whispered. “I was just standing here watching him sleep and was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion.”
Stuart smiled then hugged his wife. They stood there, arm in arm, watching their tiny son, each of them acutely aware of all the many ways in which they were so very blessed.