Two days later, Rayna called. “How are you doing?” she asked. “Well,” I said, feeling far from it. “And you? And Nina?” I asked, my empty arms aching as I imagined reaching out over the phone and holding Nina close. “We are well, but Nina misses you sometimes. Yesterday she was looking at the money in the change purse you gave her and she cried for her Dada.”
“Yes, Dyl used to look at the coins with her and teach her the different denominations,” I said.
“Thank you both -- for everything.”
“You are welcome, Rayna, we are proud of you. Do you think -– maybe –- we could stay in touch?”
“Of course,” said Rayna, generously. “I definitely plan to stay in touch.”
Rayna’s kindness in permitting us to see dear Nina, even as she was just getting adjusted to parenting Nina again, was not lost on us. What a treat it was to see Nina, to hold her, to assure ourselves that mother and daughter were doing well! Of course every time we said good-bye, it felt like leaving behind a part of ourselves. Still, overall, it was a time of great satisfaction at seeing mother and daughter together again.
And then, about a month into the sixty day probation, Rayna called one evening to tell me she no longer could stay in contact with us. Her attorney reminded her about the “Wayne” incident and told Rayna she could not risk us finding a way to take Nina from her. I pleaded and tried to assure her that was the farthest thought from our minds. Wayne was gone and Rayna was a confident, good mother. Rayna sounded sad as she replied, “I am so sorry. Please don’t call us anymore.” Utterly devastated and sobbing, I told Dyl, the yin to my yang, who always could see beyond a raw emotional response. “Honey,” he said, “You can’t take this personally. Think about how vulnerable Rayna feels right now, having just reunited with her daughter. And as a lawyer, surely you understand that Rayna’s lawyer has to tell her to watch out against possible problems?” My brain understood what he was saying, and I was definitely not angry with Rayna, but my heart would not stop feeling sad. I desperately missed seeing Nina, I sank into depression and I needed counseling. Thanks to an excellent counselor, I was able to arrive at a peaceful state of being. Every morning, I prayed that Rayna and her daughter Nina were safe -- then was able, somehow, to go about my day.
Thanksgiving Day, 2008: I was shaking with excitement as my cell phone rang and I saw Rayna’s phone number flash across my screen. After exchanging greetings, me trying to sound as casual as possible, Rayna mouthed the most selfless words I have heard in my life: “Nina is asking about you. Maybe we could meet at a park or something?”
That was four years ago. Since then, our families have become even more intertwined -– and grown to include Lenny, our foster son whom we adopted when his biological parents were unable to conquer their demons of addiction and crime. Nina and Lenny, whose enigmatic, telepathic love has Dyl and I in awe of how life brings together people, of the instruments we have been in bringing two beautiful souls together, of the privilege we enjoy in being able to love and guide two children into the future. Nina and Lenny… a story for another day.
As I reflect on our continuing story, I think of Rayna, whose selflessness has allowed it to be so. After that initial hesitancy, Rayna never wavered in sharing Nina with us, not even during the early days when Nina would cry that she wanted to be with us, only us. Rayna, whose tenacious love and successful reunification is an inspiration in many ways, now has a daughter who loves and visits us, yet always wants to go back. “Remember how, when I was little, I would jump into your arms and wrap my arms and legs around you really tight and hold you very close? I do that to my Mommy now,” Nina said to me the other day, a bittersweet revelation that tells me all is as it should be.
I will sign off on this very long blog post with my memories of Nina’s most recent visit, just a few days ago. We had read five stories at the library and it was time to take her home. Walking across the parking lot, Nina said, “J, can you sing the Nina song?”
“Not right now, honey, my voice is tired.”
“Oh please, please, I LOVE the Nina song!!”
“Oh alright,” I say as I sing to the tune of “Luella” (apologies for not being able to source this):
“Oh Nina, Oh Nina, our lovely girl Nina
Please know that this family loves you
Some day you’ll go to your Mommy
And all of her dreams will come true
But if you could come back to visit
Then you will make us happy too!
Oh Nina, Oh Nina, our lovely girl Nina
Please know that this family loves you
Always and forever, my darling….always and forever, I think as I look at the smiling Nina in my rearview mirror and drive her back home for a joyous reunion with her mother.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. If you have a story you would like to submit as a candidate for next year's series, please email it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.