I shall be like dew to Israel; they shall blossom like a lily. - Hosea 14:05.
An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time or place. The thread may stretch and tangle, but never break. - Ancient Chinese Proverb.
The flight to Beijing is the longest plane ride of Charlotte's life, and she barely notices it. All that she can think about is Lily, and much of their trip to China to get her goes by in a blur. Until the morning when she and Harry arrive at the Civil Affairs Office in Beijing - they get there forty minutes before their appointment, which is early even for Charlotte - when time seems to slow to a halt.
"Honey, calm down," Harry tells her. He can read her so easily. "Look at how far we've come already. Don't worry, everything will be fine."
Charlotte smiles at him and squeezes his arm. "I know," she says, thinking back to what she told Carrie and Miranda when she announced that she and Harry were getting married. "It's bersheit."
Still, she can't calm down. How could she possibly be calm when her whole life has been leading up to this moment - meeting her daughter, becoming a mother. She's at once so excited, terrified, and breathless with joy that she's afraid she might faint. She's sure that she fidgets off several pounds, tapping her foot, checking her watch, and twirling her hair around her finger, like some nervous twelve-year-old.
Then a door in the wall opens, and a social worker steps in, holding in her arms the tiny, messy-haired girl that they recognize instantly from the referral photo. Charlotte and Harry each jerk forward a bit, as if resisting the urge to run across the room towards her. After a miscarriage, a failed domestic adoption, eleven months of paperwork, twenty-six hours of travel, and four airport security checks, here she is - Ming Ru, who would soon officially, legally be known as Lily Ru York Goldenblatt, their daughter.
Suddenly, all the air in the room seems to disappear, and Charlotte can barely breathe. She wants to say something, but all words flee. Lily frowns as the social worker places her in Charlotte's arms, scrunching up her little mouth as if trying to understand what's going on. Her short black hair is sticking up in all directions, like a cartoon character who's just been surprised. Then she turns her head, focuses her beautiful black eyes on Charlotte's face, opens her mouth, and burps.
Charlotte jerks back a bit in surprise, hoping that she doesn't look as shocked as he feels. Is this the powerful bonding moment that she's been waiting for - her new daughter burping in her face? But, like he's done so often in the past, Harry saves the day with his sense of humor. He's as thrilled as Charlotte is taken aback.
"Yes!" he cheers at Lily's burp. "That's my girl!"
Charlotte laughs with him, and at the sound of their laughter, Lily looks from Charlotte to Harry and back again, then gives her parents a small, hesitant smile.
And just like that, Charlotte's heart melts. She smiles back at Lily so hard that it hurts. She doesn't even realize that she's crying until Harry brushes away her tears.
You should've known better, Charlotte gently scolds herself that night. She's in their Beijing hotel room, standing over the pale-yellow travel crib that she and Harry bought back in New York, watching Lily breathe. Occasionally her tiny fingers twitch in her sleep. Charlotte feels jet-lagged and exhausted - Harry is already fast asleep in the bed behind her, snoring - but she can't go to bed yet. She can't get over what happened today. She wasn't a mother when she woke up this morning, but now, she is. Who ever thought that she would hold her daughter for the first time in the Civil Affairs Office in Beijing, instead of the maternity ward of a Manhattan hospital?
But she should've known that meeting her daughter wouldn't go at all like she had hoped. The most rewarding experiences of her life never did. Her wedding to Trey had been the perfect ceremony that she'd always dreamed of - the church elegantly decorated with tall candles and white ribbons, herself with a bouquet of roses in her hand and Trey's great-grandmother's pearls around her neck, the fall of the veil perfectly framing her face. And the man waiting for her at the altar matched the knight in shining armor of her dreams, with his dimples and chiseled physique. Looking back, Charlotte wonders if that was the real reason why she married Trey.
The rewarding marriage was the one with the disastrous wedding ceremony - wine spilt on her perfect dress, a glass that refused to break even when Harry stomped in it, Howie cursing out Carrie in front of everyone, and Miranda's scripted toast literally going up in flames. Lily was just following suit when she burped in Charlotte's face.
Charlotte had never once imagined herself with a bald, sloppy Jewish lawyer for a husband, or a Chinese girl for a daughter. Harry and Lily weren't what she had planned on. They were better. They were bersheit.
Lily is a quiet, serious baby for the first several days in her new home in New York. She rarely smiles, but looks around with wide, blinking eyes. One morning when she cries and Charlotte picks her up and holds her close, Lily takes one look at her and cries even harder. She stiffens in Charlotte's arms and tries to push her away.
Charlotte's heart breaks, but she understands. Lily doesn't want her yet; she still wants the foster mother in Beijing who loved and cared for her for so long. All of the adoption counselors warned her and Harry that this would be hard. But Charlotte never realized just how hard until now, as Lily wails and scans the room for her foster mother.
Charlotte feels like crying with her.
Another morning, she thinks, for the first time in years, of Bunny MacDougal. It's vaguely tempting to send her a photo of her and Harry holding Lily, with the message, You were wrong, when you said that adopting from China was a bad idea. This is my daughter, and I love her more than anything. She wants not only to tell Bunny, but to shout it from the rooftops, to announce it to strangers on the street. I have a daughter. This is my daughter. I love her.
She's not able to see the girls as much now that she has Lily, but they often come over to visit during her afternoon nap, and sometimes Charlottes takes her along on a lunch date. Lily sits in a high chair and Charlotte feed her as they all talk. They start having lunch at Chinese restaurants more often, after Charlotte discovers that Lily can eat dumplings endlessly and never get full or sick.
At lunch one afternoon, Charlotte confesses that she's worried that jokes about how Jewish people love Chinese food will plague Lily's future. Miranda, in turn, confesses how she's worried about the redhead taunts that Brady will eventually hear. Kids at school used to call her carrot-top, French fries with ketchup on top, or ask if her hair was on fire. But Steve is just relieved that Brady's vision is perfect; the other kids used to call him four-eyes. By the time Samantha shares how all the girls in her class called her a slut and Carrie recounts how she was made fun of for her clothes, Charlotte's fears have eased. Apparently every child gets teased for something over the course of their education.
All the restaurant patrons who pass by Lily in her high chair admire her, but Charlotte has a rule that no one, not even the girls, can pick her up. She and Harry decided not to let anyone else hold, feed, dress, or bathe Lily for at least six months, for that she can form an attachment to them. She's read that many adopted children are too affectionate with strangers, but with Lily, it seems to be the opposite. She isn't affectionate with anyone.
The first time that she really sees Lily come out of her shell is one morning when Miranda visits with Brady. "Say hello to the red-headed stranger," Miranda says cheerfully, plopping Brady down beside Lily in her playpen. Charlotte watches them closely; she's been a bit hesitant about their first meeting... but she didn't need to worry. Lily is used to being around lots of other children in the orphanage. She immediately smiles at Brady and moves closer to him.
"Who is that, Brady?" Miranda prompts, pointing to Lily.
"Lee-lee," Brady pipes up, "from Ty-na." Charlotte can tell that she's rehearsed this with him, but she's still touched. She loves that Lily and Brady will grow up so close in age.
"Hong," Lily drawls slowly, brushing Brady's hair with one hand. Charlotte is confused until she recognizes the word - the Mandarin word for red - and notices the look of wonder on Lily's face. It's the first time that she's ever seen red hair.
And for the first time, Charlotte considers how different a world she and Harry have brought her into.
They consider Liora - another L-name, and Charlotte likes the sound of it - but they settle on Shoshannah for Lily's Hebrew name. As soon as their rabbi tells them that it's the Hebrew word for lily, they're sold. He draws up a conversion certificate for them and has it signed by a beit din. Even though she and Harry of course plan to raise Lily Jewish, some sort of conversion process is necessary, since her biological parents almost certainly weren't Jewish.
Charlotte schedules a mikvah appointment at the same synagogue where she became Jewish. They take Lily there together, and in the basement, Charlotte's heart swells as she watches Harry undress Lily at the edge of the mikvah pool. Only a few weeks into being a dad, he's already an expert at maneuvering her squirmy limbs in and out of her clothes, bathing her, and even putting her unruly hair into pigtails or braids.
How did Charlotte get so lucky?
Once Lily is naked, gently Harry brushes his hand over her bare neck and back, making sure that there are no stray strands of hair. Charlotte steps out of her dress - she's worn a swimsuit underneath, so that she can dunk Lily in the water herself - and carefully hangs it on a hook on the back of the door. She hopes it doesn't wrinkle.
It feels strange to be in her swimsuit when Harry is fully-dressed, but she pushes aside her self-consciousness. Lily is naked and doesn't mind. "Shuǐ," she chirps - the Mandarin word for water - pointing behind Harry at the pool.
"Can you believe she's only a year old, and she's already had three names?" Harry says as he scoops Lily up and puts her in Charlotte's arms. "Shoshannah, Lily, and Ming Ru."
Lily's reaction is immediate. At the sound of her Chinese name, she turns towards Harry, her eyes bright, and smiles expectantly.
Charlotte's heart twists painfully. Their daughter is only a year old, and she's already lost so much - her biological family, the foster mother she loved, her homeland, her Chinese name. How cab she and Harry ever possibly make up for all that hurt?
Then her gaze shifts to the mikvah pool in front of them. Charlotte never forgot how refreshing and cleansing the water felt on her body, or the sense of renewal in heart when she broke the surface.
The water is warm and calm, like an enormous bathtub, but Lily looks nervous as Charlotte slowly steps into it, holding her close. The water is high, almost chest-level on Charlotte, and Lily jerks a bit when it laps against her bare feet and legs. She wails uncertainly and clings to her mother, grabbing the straps of her swimsuit in her chubby little fists.
Charlotte's heart gladdens. It's the first time that Lily has reached for her when she's scared or sad. She glances at Harry, who's standing on their edge of the pool with their rabbi, and they smile at each other. Then she gently strokes Lily's hair with one hand.
"It's okay, baby," she whispers in her ear. "Your mommy's here."
Three years later, Charlotte takes Lily to spend the afternoon at Miranda's home in Brooklyn while she runs errands. Harry bought a wok and learned to make Chinese food not long after they adopted Lily, and Charlotte is going grocery-shopping for ingredients that he can cook for Chinese New Year. Their family celebrates it as a way to honor Lily's heritage. It feels right to Charlotte that the little girl who's already had three names also gets to celebrate three new years: New Year's Day in January, Chinese New Year in February, and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in the fall.
Sometimes, Lily still gets nervous when Charlotte leaves her at preschool in the mornings, but she loves spending time with her Aunt Miranda and cousin Brady. She hugs and kisses Charlotte goodbye with no tears.
Charlotte tells Miranda that she'll be back by three, but the traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge is worse than she'd expected, and it's closer to three-thirty when she finally gets back to Steve and Miranda's brownstone.
"Mommy!" Lily screams at the top of her lungs, as soon as she opens the door. She runs full-speed at Charlotte, throws her arms around her legs, and hangs on like her life depends on it. Charlotte grabs onto the door frame to keep her balance and looks bewildered at Miranda.
Miranda shrugs, looking equally bewildered. "Yeah, the poor girl got kinda freaked out when you were late. I guess she thought you weren't coming back."
Charlotte's heart sinks. "Oh, baby," she coos, scooping Lily up into a tight hug, "Mommy's always going to come back for you. Always." Lily doesn't answer, just wraps her arms tightly around her mother's neck.
It's on the time of her tongue to ask Miranda if Brady ever gets anxious like this when she's late to pick him up - but she doesn't. The answer is probably no. Brady isn't like Lily. He was born knowing his mother. He was born trusting her. He had never been abandoned; he'd never had the caregiver that he loved suddenly leave him with two total strangers, so he wasn't afraid that it might happen to him.
Charlotte realizes then that perhaps it never gets easy. It just gets easier. But as she holds Lily against her, close enough to feel her heartbeat, with her hot breath on her neck and her arms around her, she knows in her heart that she wouldn't trade this girl for anything.