By Joel L.A. Peterson
I remember clearly the first time I met my mother. I had just come off of my first airplane flight, a flight that had taken me across the Pacific Ocean and transported me into a new life, a new world, and a new identity.
I was nearly seven years old—a mixed-race Korean child of a prostitute and an American GI—when I was adopted into a Swedish American family with four existing biological children.
I was part of a group of adoptees arriving from Korea. I remember suddenly being very frightened. I realized that somewhere outside of my plane waited complete strangers who would have total power over me. I would be alone with no one whom I knew to turn to, in a land that was strange beyond my understanding, where I spoke not one word of the language. This reality closed its fist around my heart and squeezed, shooting up my pulse and my runaway terror.
I walked with leaden legs up the Jetway ramp, jostled and pushed by the other children around me. Without warning, I came to an open set of aluminum-framed, glass double doors that were clipped open and I walked through
There were bright flashes and popping sounds and the line of children disintegrated in front of me. Big Americans pushed their way forward and took by the hand or lifted up the children who had been in front of me.
I stood all alone – a tiny boy frightened and lost with a bright red bag hanging across my shoulder – when someone loomed up in front of me. I looked up and saw an American woman with blonde hair and blue eyes and perfectly shaped lips that were painted red. I could see the earnestness and intentness in those eyes.
And something else.
The woman – my new mother – knelt down and touched my two shoulders with her hands. I remember locking eyes with her and years later she would tell me that she too remembered this moment.
My mother told me that it was this moment when she knew.
She shared that she had been afraid of maybe not connecting with a foreign boy, raised six years by another woman. She had worried what she might feel – or not. But, years later, she would tell me how she still remembered feeling a rush of love inside her, like an explosion. She would tell me how she had seen the fright in my eyes, my confusion, my terror; that it twisted something inside her and created a desire so strong that it shocked her.
My mother would tell me how she made a promise in her heart and before her God, that she would love me and do whatever it took to take away my fear and terror. She promised that she would be my mother - in every way, in all ways, and for always.
I have a photo.
It shows a boy being held in the arms of a woman who is looking at him intently. The boy has a red bag and is looking down with a wary and uncertain expression.
What the photo cannot not show was what I was feeling inside. It could not show that the fear and confusion in my heart had suddenly retreated when my eyes had met the bright blue eyes of my mother as she lifted me up and held and kissed me.
I remember there were tears her eyes, making them brighter and sparklier and somehow, those tears made this woman, who was holding me, human and real.
And I felt safe. Finally.