Son of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale looks at notes for his father

We Will Not Look Away From You

The first weekend in May was extraordinarily monumental for our family. Or at least that was how it seemed in the weeks leading up to it.

I’d looked forward to this weekend for months. We’d sent out invitations and picked out outfits and planned for lots of fun. Nana and Pop would be coming down, too. I was ready for two big events: our adoption party on Saturday, and Rite 13, the coming-of-age ceremony for Claire at our church, on Sunday.

Saturday morning we got up early and my mind was already spinning. I needed to clean the bathrooms and order pizza and organize who would be at Austin’s baseball game while we set up the party. Around 10 am, I was in the kitchen wiping the counters when Chris came up next to me. “Look,” he said, and pointed at the living room.

Tommy was staring at the frames on the wall, and I watched Austin walk up next to him and stare at the same thing. Years ago, just after Shawn died, I’d framed and hung a few letters from noteworthy politicians wishing him well. It was one of the few things that never changed over the years, but also something that I infrequently looked at these days. I watched as my boys read the notes.

I took a deep breath. It was powerful, watching them remember. After a few minutes, they wandered in the kitchen, asking a few questions about Shawn and also wanting snacks. Austin opened a drink. Tommy protested. “I want one too! Why does Austin get a drink and I don’t?”

I smiled. “Well, since it’s the day of our adoption party, everyone gets a special drink!”

Tommy jumped up and down, because he is 8. Then he pumped his fist a few times in the air. “Yes!” he shouted, “I am adopted! Yes I am!” Quickly, he grabbed a drink and ran out of the room before I could change my mind.

I laughed and Chris laughed and then I almost cried. I was listening to country music, which Chris knows I play when I’m feeling particularly emotional. After a few more minutes, the song “My Boy” came on, which is about parenting a child who isn’t biologically yours. It it one of my favorites, and even though it was written by a stepfather (rather than an adoptive father) I think the lyrics are so beautiful. (“He ain’t my blood, ain’t got my name. But if he did, I’d feel the same.”) I closed my eyes, and started to cry. Chris hugged me. We didn’t need to talk about how I felt. He knew.

It was yet another extraordinary moment.

But it was all so ordinary, too.

It’s funny, that’s how much of our transition to a family of 5 has felt – totally extraordinary, and also completely ordinary. When Chris moved into our house, in the summer of 2020, it was monumental. But then again, our daily life was fairly mundane. There were peanut butter sandwiches to be made, and a dishwasher to be unloaded and grace to be said at dinner and all the other things that make up daily life in a family. And then again, when we went through the adoption process, every step felt important. I took photos as Chris signed the paperwork, but really, it was just paperwork. The kids certainly didn’t care about that. When the adoption finally rolled around and we did it on Zoom, that too was one of those incredible life moments that felt….pretty simple, in the end.

The adoption party followed the same pattern. While my emotions were right at the surface all day, the party itself was laid-back and carefree – just a bunch of neighbors, mostly, who hung out in our back yard. Chris and I both didn’t give any speeches and the kids didn’t do much of anything besides play a massive game of cops and robbers. We made scrambled eggs for dinner because we were all so tired at the end.

The next day was Rite 13 at the church, and Claire’s tardiness made me grumpy. “Come on!” I yelled up to her. Chris appeared at the top of the stairs. “I’ve got it,” he said, and I heard him say something in a soft but firm voice to Claire, the voice he uses when he needs her to listen. She came down, grumpy too, and we all headed off to church. She sat with her cousin and her friends and we sat with the other parents.

It was church like church always is – the same songs and the same prayers and the same comforting rhythm. And then it was time for the congregation to bless the 13-year-olds. Claire walked to the front with the other kids, and after some prayers, the parents were called forward to bless their children.

I started crying almost the moment I started speaking. Chris put his arm around me, and we both looked at Claire, who smiled a bit even though I think we were embarrassing her. First the parents, and then the whole congregation said the same phrase a number of times:

“You are holy and wonderful and blessed, and we will not look away from you.”

There we were, in the same church where the kids were baptized and in the same church where we had Shawn’s funeral. The priest was the same one who had been through it all with me, and she stood there at the front blessing Claire, and blessing us. It was such an important moment on such an important weekend. I felt Chris by my side and saw Claire at the front and felt so overwhelmed by it all. There was just so much in the air.

And in a few minutes, it was over, and church was finished, and everyone was running off to get donuts.

Later that day, I kept thinking about that last line – the one that made me choke up. “We will not look away from you.”

Because, of course, that is parenting. The “not looking away” part – even when your kids are remembering their late father on the day of their adoption party and even when your daughter is acting like a pill on the day of her big celebration at church.

The life Chris has decided to take on, this one of parenting with me, is one that is full of ordinary days, and mundane tasks. That is parenting.

But there are also deeply meaningful moments, of course. At the end of church, after communion, Chris and I kneeled at our pew. Silently, Claire walked across the aisle and slipped next to Chris and bowed her head.

Chris scooted towards her as he bowed his head, too.

It was so ordinary. And yet, so extraordinary.