Writer Susanne Paola Antonetta shares what she would say to her son Jin’s biological mother if she ever had the chance to meet her:
Every Mother’s Day, I think about a particular mother. She is not my mother, nor my husband’s, but she is my son’s, and she means more to me than any person I can think of whom I have never met. She shines through my son’s face; his face is like a palimpsest, to borrow the old term for a manuscript that has been written over, so one masterpiece hints its way out from another, in a hidden curve here, a flash of color there.
My son Jin is adopted. He’s 16, and as he grows into his adult face, the faces of his birth parents emerge more and more clearly, a young man and woman together only a short while in South Korea.
He hates to hear me say this, but he has been blessed with the gift of beauty; he resembles the Korean actor and pop star Song Joong-ki, kind of an Asian Justin Bieber. I carry around merchandise with Song’s image on it, and sometimes prank my friends by telling them my Jin has taken up modeling.
One of the beautiful truths of adoption is how deeply you come to love the otherness of your child. I love Jin’s physique, tall and slender and astonishingly without hips; where my body is the classic pear, his grows tall and slim as a stalk of asparagus, and it used to be all we could do to keep his pants up without a belt. Looking at his jeans—at this body so improbably different from mine—makes me smile.
He is physically my opposite in many ways, with black, straight hair, dimples, snub nose. I am all wild curls and Roman nose. I love that Jin had an infallible sense of direction by age 2, unlike his geographically challenged mother (are there any other moms out there who appealed to the toddler in the car seat for directions?), and an intuitive sense of how to work computers by the age of 4. Once, back then, I opened my laptop to find my screen icons renamed: Jin had redubbed them using his favorite potty words.
Love is fierce and love flows into the forms it encounters like water, which is to say, there is no better or worse love, just endless variety. I know that all children are like us and unlike us in unpredictable ways. I’m sure if I’d had biological children, I’d love them both for ways in which they differed from me and ways in which they offered reminders. I expect even seeing myself in them could be sweet, the way I warm to my son’s sharing of my devotion to hot sauce. But mostly when I see Jin, I see not-me, and I adore our difference: My love wraps itself around a life that so clearly occupies a separate space in the world.
When my son was conceived, South Korean society operated through clan registries—records kept through the male line. Unmarried couples did not -register babies with the clan registries. If he had been raised there, without a legally recognized father, Jin would have had limited choices. I imagine my son’s mother thought hard about his future before making the plan to have him raised in another country. Beyond that, I can only speculate on her life, her situation. I’m sure she misses him.
I hope my son’s mother understands that she is his mother, that he has been raised to think of her that way, and that she is as real a presence in his life as I am. He can look for her when he turns 18. He knows he has our blessing.
Jin is only a few years away from the age at which his mother and father conceived him. I see Jin growing into teenage impulse and desire, and how easily the hard facts of reproduction could trip him up, how difficult the choices then would be. I see his birth parents and love them in his humor, his creativity, his kindness. I wish for them a Mother’s Day ripe, somehow, with the knowledge that they have brought a beautiful being into the world.