The Seahorse Way

Did you know seahorses turn around and change colors because they love each other?

We’re together, Bee and me. We’re sitting on the deck, surveying the garden, checking the strawberries, watching her pinwheel circle around in blues and pinks and yellows. She is, per usual, feeling chatty.

Really? I ask.

Really! she says. I learned it on Octonauts!

We Google it, and the whole thing checks out. It’s some sort of mating ritual where two seahorses might be swimming in opposite directions – looking for love, for food, for nothing at all – but once they decide to mate, they synchronize not only their movements, but their color.

They swim tail in tail for days, affirming their bond to the world, and then they begin to camouflage into one another.

Last week, a text exchange:

Ken’s brother: Left my sunglasses on your counter; can you drop them off at yoga?
Me: Done and done!
Ken’s brother: You sound like Ken.
Me: Or maybe he sounds like me? ;)

Ours is a culture that values individualism. Be yourself! Be strong! Be independent!

Show your true colors, we say.

But sometimes, we find that we’ve bled into one another. That we’ve turned around, changed colors.

It’s the seahorse way, after all.

My mother-in-law once told me a story of her parents on a random summer night. Her father Tom was out digging a ditch in the yard, was visibly frustrated – it was taking too long, it was hot, he was tired from work – and his beloved wife Mimi called out from the back door that dinner was ready and company was on its way.

Who’s coming? he asks.
Betty’s in town from Chicago, she calls.
I’m gonna finish up here, he says, picking up the shovel. She’s your cousin; you entertain her.
Mimi smiles, brings him a lemonade. Tom, Betty isn’t my cousin. She’s your cousin.

And he pauses, scratches his head, laughs. Follows Mimi inside to wash up for dinner, tail in tail.


Seahorses mate for life, the article reads.

What’s a forlife? Bee asks.

For life, I say. That means they stay together for their whole lives.

Like us? she asks.

Like us, I say.

Our adoption paperwork is finished. We’re waiting, that’s all.

We’re waiting, that’s everything.

I once read that the secret to family integration is simply time. It’s inevitable. You walk together enough, swim together enough, live together enough, and eventually, for better or worse, the habits of you grow into the habits of your child. It takes time to notice and celebrate your complex sameness; it takes time to notice and celebrate your complex differences.

It takes time to know each other. It takes time to know ourselves.

And, eventually we turn around and see that the colors have bled.

We are camouflage.

One can hope that this is true. One can hope that enough time together – the good (s’mores!) and the bad (lice!) – might transform us all just a bit. Might lead us tail in tail, our family bond affirmed to the world.

Not to turn us into one another but to turn us into one.

We’ve been preparing ourselves (oxymoron) for the adoption journey. We’ve been reading the pamphlets, brochures, memoirs. We’ve been listening to podcasts, chatting with grown children who have swam on both sides of the river. We’ve heard from those who floated through the murky waters, surfacing unscathed.

We’ve heard from those who drowned.

Who knows of the magic that is love? That is family? That is a life spent together?

What connects one seahorse to another?

Once, in college, my roommate’s parents came to visit. I answered the door to see her father – a towering 6’4 freckled redhead –  and her mother – a petite blonde in a neatly-pressed Lily Pulitzer skirt. But my roommate had this long glossy mane, black as silk, and as I welcomed her parents in, I must have looked visibly puzzled.

Oh my gosh, I’m adopted! she laughed. I can’t believe I forgot to tell you that!

The four of us spent the day walking through campus, splitting grilled cheese sandwiches on the quad while watching amateur skateboarders and rushed professors whiz by. We chatted about internships and car insurance, about the woes and woos of college life.

We kicked off our sandals, sprawled out on a blanket in the grass. We squinted at the sun. They chatted, joked. I mostly listened, watched.

When the sun was lowering, when our sandwiches were long finished, when it was time to go, we slipped our sandals back on and I stopped.

Wait a sec; you guys have the same birth mark?!?! I said. My roommate, her father. There’d been a kidney bean-shaped mole sprawled on their feet.

Runs in the family, my roommate said, winking as we shook off the blanket, gathered our things, headed toward the dorm.

Tail in tail in tail.

What connects one seahorse to another?

I don’t know.

But when it happens, it’s magic.

  • I am a new a reader of your blog and knew nothing about your adoption journey – only your cool design taste. I am an adopted 49 year old mom who also happens to have a 16 year old adopted daughter and an almost 13 year old adopted son. None of this was intended as any kind of “political statement” just the way life worked out. We are all both scathed and unscathed at the same time and we are stronger than anyone. We are alike and different in so many ways but our love binds us like nothing I can even describe. It is supernatural and proof that there is meaning in the chaos of life. I am happy for you and your paperwork!

    • Sheri, it is always so lovely hearing from those on this path a few miles down the road from me. ;) Thank you for sharing this encouragement, and I can only hope we can experience such a strong love, as well! Biggest of hugs.

  • Erin, just wanted to leave you a note to say I love your writing! Hope all is well with you, thanks for sharing your heart on this blog!

  • So good, Erin. My sister and her husband adopted 3, a baby who is now 10, and 6 & 7 year old half-sibs who she was gifted at 2 & 3. On a very obvious level they’re adopted – they’re black, my sis and hubs are white – but at the same time all three kids have distinct family characteristics that make us wink too – runs in the family! Family of different blood is still family. xoxo

    • This is so lovely to hear, Jamie!!!!!!!!! It’s so funny how we grow into each other, one way or another. ;)

  • As I prepare for my son’s wedding this weekend, this echoes and affirms my thoughts. It’s not that we have to do things together perfectly, it’s that we do things together again and again and again. That’s one of the reasons I loved homeschooling our six kids! So many shared memories! Thank you for sharing this- it is healing to my heart when self-critical thoughts arise. <3

  • Happy waiting Erin, sending heaps of love and patience your way. Hang in there! Any great parenting memoirs on your nightstand these days?

    • Thank you, Kassia! My favorite favorite favorite parenting memoir is the ever-lovely Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions. It made me feel slightly less crazy as a new mother!

  • This post makes me so happy. As a single mom who one day hopes to re-marry (if it feels right:) whatever that means, I have definitely given this topic a lot of thought! I want that feeling of connectedness for my kids and me and my future husband. I want to feel like a family (the good and the bad) I want to feel LOVE. I think you’re right about it taking time. I read that it will take as many years as your kids age to truly bond with a step parent…that’s a lot of time. I just hope there’s a lot of love mingled in between. I hope one day when we look back we wont even notice so much who came from where, we’ll just feel like a family, like home, like love!.

  • My two year old, Oliver, was sitting on my lap watching octonauts for the first time when I clicked on the link to read this post. It felt like some synchronicity. fun.

    Loved learning about the sea horse, love the way you write.

    hope + peace your way while you wait.

  • No words, Erin. You actually brought tears to my eyes. As someone who adores my family so much (my Dad has 10 other siblings and an adopted brother, so you can imagine the 4-generation 50-or-so mass of people we are now!) that I’ve chosen not to move away from it for long, this was beautiful. And as I’ve said to you in previous comments, your words are lyrical. Keep writing, Erin.

  • I usually read and don’t comment but today I just had to. Your writing is so lovely. It’s like a soothing hug to my soul and I wanted to tell you how very very much I appreciated that today. This post was in particularly moving and hit a major soft spot about life long connection for me. Thank you!

    • Oh Missy, thank you for your kind words! So uplifting to read first thing in the morning. :)

Comments are closed.