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My Other Birthday

As I celebrate this other birthday, I can't help but reflect on what it means, not just to me, but to the woman who adopted me. And to the one that let me go to a life that she could not imagine.
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Photo courtesy of Joel L. A. Peterson

January 9th is my other birthday -- at exactly 11:55 p.m., Central Standard Time.

That was when I arrived off an airplane to start my life when I was almost seven years old. I'd left a life that would, over the years, fade into memory only. A different life in a different country -- Korea -- with a different, desperate and destitute, mother. Until she placed me for adoption.

As I celebrate this other birthday, I can't help but reflect on what it means, not just to me, but to the woman who adopted me. And to the one that let me go to a life that she could not imagine.

When my adoptive mother lay dying of cancer, she gave me a note the last time I saw her alive. When I re-read her note on this different sort of birthday, I see as few can the impact, the hope, the love -- and the fears -- that surround probably all births of any kind.

Dear Joel,

I'm not very good at expressing my feelings to my children, especially about how much I love each of you. I have saved the article from the American Lutheran Church Women's "Scope" Magazine all these years, thinking that I would share it with you someday, because it says what I felt but could never have said so well.

Remember, I have loved each of my children and always will. And you are my son.

Love always, Mom

I then read the small page from the periodical she saved for me -- for all those years. I'm always struck by the title. And the words that follow:

We have only your picture before us. As we look into your face we wonder what you will be like, what you are feeling and hoping.

Maybe you're a little scared, just as we. It can't be easy for a little boy to leave his friends, his country, his language and to move into a brand new life. It can't be easy for you to leave your mother, whatever the ties have been between you, and to step off a plane into the midst of a new family and a new mother.

I'm a little scared too, because I will be that new mother, but I look forward to loving you as I do my other children. I hope that you will learn to love me. But we're not guaranteed love in this adventure, are we?

You have been told that you are coming to your father's country, and so you are. We trust and pray that America will be good to you.

I find myself thinking much about your Korean mother these days, hoping that she has been good to you and that she has loved you much. Perhaps her greatest gift to you is a love big enough to let you go. I am ashamed before such love. I don't think I could be that strong.

We are ready, waiting for you to make your long trip to your new country, your new home, to us. Don't be scared. We'll be there when you get off the plane and although we won't be able to speak your language, we'll put our arms around you to show you our joy, and if you think it's alright I'll give you a kiss.

Your new Mom

I'm very lucky that I have this other birthday. And to have had the two mothers who gave me my life.

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Joel L. A. Peterson is the national award-winning author of the novel, "Dreams of My Mothers" (Huff Publishing Associates, March, 2015).

"Compelling, candid, exceptionally well written, 'Dreams of My Mothers' is a powerful read that will linger in the mind and memory long after it is finished. Very highly recommended."
-- Midwest Book Review

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