As I was embarking on a journey to promote fair elections in Central Asia many years ago, and again before each ensuing trip to any part of the world older than America, a good friend used to say, by way of wishing me bon voyage: “Make sure you find one of those women who know things.” I sought out meetings with remarkable women in all my travels, and was guided to them, usually in villages, mountains and steppes, by people who knew where to take someone who had come humbly in search of answers. There is something sacred about a place where the wisdom of women is valued, and something indisputably divine about a woman who possesses both a kind heart and a strong will. I have never known anything to be a more solid foundation of a true community and a more plentiful source of wisdom than women who know things.
Wherever I find myself in life, particularly in its most trying moments, there are always women around me, either by chance or as a result of a purposeful search. If it weren’t for women who used their kindness and will to help us, we would have never come this far; in fact, we wouldn’t be a family. Sometimes, women appear and disappear before revealing anything about themselves, but always altering or affecting our lives in profound, unexpected ways. After six years of being a mother, I have come to believe that one of the most valuable gifts I can give my children is to teach them to seek out women who are kind and wise, and when they are in the presence of such women, to truly trust them, and to be open to their guidance. And if they ever roll their eyes and, God forbid, blurt out a whatever, I will tell them a thousand and one stories about the women whose grace has carried us through.
I will remind them of the manager of the orphanage, who risked her livelihood by giving me the names and personal telephone numbers of the men and women in charge of decisions concerning children waiting for families, making it possible for me to cut through many tapes and speak with an important man, who couldn’t refuse a favor, what with a mother calling in tears about wanting to be with her son, while he himself was just then heading out to church for Easter Sunday mass with his wife and children.
I will tell them about the woman who let us live in her home for sixty-eight days, as if having a grandmother by our side were the only way to fight against the odds that hailed down on us. I will tell them that she came downstairs each time she heard Daniel rage against my insistence that he was now a son, left mangoes for us in the basket on our dining room table, drove us to the place where I was able to obtain my son’s birth records, without which adopting him was impossible. I will tell them that she did all this because she was kind and wise, and because she, too, had been adopted, and now wanted to give thanks for the life she had been given by helping me give one to my son.
I will tell them about the woman who risked her position as the head of an adoption agency in New York when she let me write my own international adoption home study, printed, sealed, signed, and sent it to her counterpart in Kingston with a personal apology—as if it were her mistake that I had crossed seas to fight for the right to adopt my son, armed with a home study that declared me eligible to foster children in the state of New York, and said nothing about my eligibility to adopt a child, let alone internationally.
I will remind them of the nurse who turned the medical examination that takes fourteen days to process into a two-day affair, and the woman at the Consulate who adjudicated our case in two days instead of three months, so that I wouldn’t have to bring Daniel back to the orphanage and return to New York to keep the job for which I had just been hired and was already two weeks late.
I will tell them about the college professor who gave me furniture because I had no money to make a home for the child I was claiming to have the means to make happy. I will tell stories about the women who didn’t claim to know anything about my kind of motherhood, but stood by, asked questions without prying, imparted wisdom without imposing, lent a hand without making me feel I didn’t know what I was doing. I will tell them about the woman whom I have only ever known through the ether, who sends us things she knits and sews and writes, and whose presence is as real as if she had held my hands in hers many times, like grandmothers do when someone comes to them for comfort.
I will tell my children a hundred stories about each of the teachers with whom I have worked over the years, and whose presence has given me sanity, serenity, and answers to questions I didn’t even know I had until they were there to listen and guide me. I will tell them of the times these women covered my classes, held me as I wept, helped me plan lessons that would actually make sense to my son, as he struggled to stay afloat in classrooms he couldn’t navigate. I will tell them about the high school classmate who had no memory of me so compelling as to prompt her to help me twenty years later, but who reached out and connected me to three women who knew things, and who worked together to put our son’s life on a new, promising course.
I will tell them about the first and only person who invited Daniel to visit her school, one of many to which we had applied in desperate need to pull our son back up through the cracks. While Daniel toured the school with a teacher who looked like she had never been happier to meet a prospective student, this woman asked me questions about my son that had nothing to do with his scores, evaluations, and reports, and everything to do with who he is. I will tell them that she called on the very next day, and said, “Good morning, Ms. Dilakian, I have good news.” And then—after every school that had reviewed our application and decided that Daniel came with too much baggage—this woman said, “Thank you for giving us this wonderful child.”
Hopefully, someday, when I have lived long enough to know things and have learned how to be truly kind, one of my children might say to a friend, “Let’s go over to my place. My mom will cook something. You can talk to her; she’ll help you figure out what to do.”
Then, I will have made it.