Dear Little Man,
This past June I did what every 20-something should do at least once: I backpacked through Europe. Now before we get any grand ideas, by “backpacking” I don’t mean I trekked through the mountains of Europe in hiking boots with just a compass and my sense of adventure. I mean I pre-booked trains and flights and hostels and had a few minor panic attacks when I thought I was going to miss any travel connections. But I did pack a month’s worth of belongings into an over-sized REI backpack…ergo, I backpacked through Europe. Just roll with it.
No matter how you define “backpacking,” I saw some incredible places on my trip. Your Aunt S and I met up in France and traveled to Spain, Germany, and Ireland at which point we parted ways and she flew home as I continued my European exploration in England.
I climbed the Eiffel Tower (despite my paralyzing fear of heights because, um, it’s the Eiffel Tower)…
And hung out in the Alcázar Palace in Spain….
And drank massive beers in Munich…
And went scuba diving in Nice…
And found five-leaf clovers in Galway…
And ate and ate and ate some more.
It was amazing. The people I met, the cultures I was immersed in, the daily adventures I went on with your Aunt S…it was everything I always thought it would be. I’ve always wanted to travel, especially around Europe, and my month-long excursion was definitely worth how poor I am now. I ate and I laughed and I danced and I could really breathe for the first time in months. It was glorious, and perfectly timed.
But everywhere I went, I thought of you. I wanted to show you the carvings on the underside of the Arc de Triomphe and the view of Paris from the tip top of Montmartre. I wanted you to see just how blue water can be and how fish look when you’re swimming right beside them. I wanted to tell you about the feeling you get when your legs are dangling over the edge of the Cliffs of Mohar (not entirely legal, by the way) and you can’t even breathe because it’s so beautiful and you feel so small.
But since I couldn’t bring the real you with me, I brought our story instead. But the first time I brought you up, I noticed I was a little nervous. I suddenly realized that I didn’t know how adoption translated…literally and metaphorically. How do I say, “I have a son but I don’t have him because I chose other people to raise him and be his family because I thought that’s what was best for him?” That particular sentence is not in any French phrase book. I know, I was surprised too.
The first person I told our story to was our friend and host, François — he was kind enough to let us sleep on his couch during our stay in Paris. I was going through pictures on my phone at dinner one night, and since most of my photos are of you, he glanced over and saw one. He asked me, “Is that your nephew?” I smiled and corrected him and quickly launched into the story of your adoption and The B’s. He looked surprised at first, but just for a second…and then he asked all about you. One of the last things he said to me was before we left for Spain was, “Say hello to your little boy for me. It’s things like him that make life beautiful. That’s what it’s all about.” So, hello from François :)
When I told our story to the woman we stayed with in Provence, Elodie, she started talking about how she couldn’t wait to have children with her soon-to-be husband. She told me the boy and girl names she’d already picked out.
When I told Florian, our German host, he told me he hoped that if he had any kids, he wanted them to have curly blonde hair like yours.
When I told the woman who worked in the coffee shop in Dublin on my last morning there (she stole a glance at a photo of you like François did), she said she’d never heard of anything like our adoption story, but that it was inspiring because she and her husband were trying to adopt in Ireland and they’d been on a waiting list for over a year. She said our story gave her hope and made her smile and she was glad I had walked in that morning.
I learned a lot of things when I was overseas. I learned about cultures and languages and history and methods of travel. I learned what orejas a la plancha means (pigs ears…don’t order it) and how thin hostel mattresses can be. I learned how you can live on zero sleep and still feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. But what surprised me the most was that our story did translate…it didn’t matter that I didn’t speak the language or that some words only elicited confused smiles and shoulder shrugs.
Love is palpable. Especially the love I have for you and The B’s…it doesn’t need to be verbalized to be felt.
All of these people I told our story to, they have dreams of that kind of love too. They hope and they dream of beautiful, curly haired children that they want to love someday. Different people from different countries with different languages, all with the same desires. So different in culture, but so similar in heart. We are not alone. Love…it really is the universal language. That discovery — even if it had been the only thing I learned — would have made the entire trip worth it. I thank you and Europe for teaching me that.
Oh, and just so you know, ‘adoption’ in French is the same as in English. Turns out I didn’t need to worry about translating it after all :)
“The most important thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”