Nurse Vivian was blunt.
As she was my mother, I was in no position to complain, but her bluntness wasn’t always a good thing.
The story goes that when I was born, Pop showed up with a Brownie camera. It was a brown leather box with a hole on two sides, from which black and white pictures appeared several months later. Pop loved that Brownie and had taken pictures of Brother X as Peter Rabbit, and Brother Not-X’s first holy communion and the two brothers joining the boy scouts. But Nurse Vivian held her hand up, “Harold, put the camera way. This is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen. And I should know. I’ve worked in a delivery room for twenty years.”
The camera went into the bottom drawer of the china cabinet, underneath the pinochle cards and the flatware that Nurse Vivian had won on Stairway to the Stars.
From 1958 until 1963 there were no pictures of the Paulsons in South Ozone Park. Whenever Grandma Sadie visited, Nurse Vivian turned me face down in the crib, saying, “Doesn’t he have lovely hair?”
But in Kindergarten, Sister Mary Florence sent a note home telling the parents to send in a picture of their child for the bulletin board. Nurse Vivian sent back a picture of Brother X, who was renowned as a beautiful baby.
But Sister Mary Florence was no nun’s fool. The kindergartener in front of her did not have blue eyes, dimples and curly hair. She called Nurse Vivian, “Simply put, Mrs. Paulson, it is your Christian duty to take pictures of your son. I don’t care how he looks.”
Nurse Vivian, a devout Catholic, took the Brownie out of the drawer. And every time she picked up pictures from the camera store she said, “Oh well, I guess you don’t get to choose family.”
We talk a lot about chosen family in this column, and most of the time chosen is off the record. Uncle Brother-X and Uncle Brother-Not-X both live on the east coast, and the boys have only seen them a handful of times so for a while, the going rate was that if you took the boys to the movies three times you got Uncle status. After Dorla, our neighbor, had taken Zane for his fourth walk to the top of McClaren Park, Zane announced, “You Unca Doya now.”
And since we have chosen family, we choose our holidays as well. And this Sunday, March 25, is adoption day. We don’t often get the chance to make those we love into legal family but it was on this day in 2005, that Zane Thaddeus officially became a Fisher-Paulson.
Brother X came out for the occasion, as did Mrs. X and son of X. Annamanda flew out from New York, Nana flew from Maine, and the Alameda Courthouse was packed with uncles. Turns out that Brian had taught ballet to the Judge’s daughter, so even she started crying at the adoption of the handsomest boy in the world.
For a family that loves ritual, there wasn’t much ceremony to the event, really just a lot of signing papers, the last of which Judge Nancy announced, “And this will be his new birth certificate.”
There we saw typed: "ZANE THADDEUS FISHER-PAULSON" and right above that "Father: Brian Fisher." Took me a moment to figure it out, but there it was, right below, "Mother: Kevin Thaddeus Paulson."
"The forms are outdated," the clerk stammered.
"That's all right," Crazy Mike offered. "We already knew Kevin was an ugly mother."
Judge Nancy announced, "Zane is now adopted." Much cheering, much applause and more than a few tears. We drank champagne, and then went to Yet Wah's for Chinese, the traditional restaurant for adopting babies. My fortune that night? “Your children will inherit your wit.”
But not my looks. Thank God, not my looks.
I tend to farm out my vices, but not my looks. Just as Brian is my designated drinker, Zane is my designated curser. I expect Aidan will have to have an affair with a twenty-year old, another vice I’ve never quite gotten around to.
Nurse Vivian may have been blunt, but I get in the last word. Let me quote the Velveteen Rabbit, “When a child loves…then you become Real.… Generally…most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But …you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
So Happy Adoption Day. Choose to make it a great day.