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.