The best one

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, March 07, 2007 |

"I think we got the best one," Nicholas Cage's character says in Raising Arizona, referring to the baby he and his wife (whose insides were a rocky place where his seed could find no purchase) have just stolen from fixture magnate Nathan Arizona. Despite the circumstances, it is a sentiment that I have seen reflected in the world beyond the Coen brothers' imagination. In a Washington Post magazine article I read over a year ago, a woman recounted the embarrassing story of what her husband said on a bus full of other newly-adoptive parents driving around Beijing: "Does everyone think they got the best one?" Then, when friends they have convinced to adopt from China return to the U.S., the first thing the new mother says is, "Oh my God, we got the best one!"

Before I became a parent, I was uncomfortable with that kind of talk; it had the ring of conspicuous consumption: as though one were talking about a new pickup truck or a piece of high-end furniture. How could every kid be the best? I wondered. It made no sense.

Last night, Wood and I were talking about our new dog, who has acclimated to our home far better than we could have hoped. He is so well-mannered and easy to love. I remembered walking through the shelter, staring down at the wide-eyed pups desperate for us to bring them home and save them from the needle and the 50-gallon barrel of hazardous waste that would otherwise be their fate. I had wanted to save each of them, but something about Wendell spoke to us. Talking about what a good dog he is, I said to Wood, "We got the best one."

"Just like our kid," she said back to me. She was sleepy. "And that's how I feel about you, too."

I remember when Wood and I had just started dating nearly eleven years ago. She was an eighteen-year-old counselor at a camp for severely disabled kids. I would drive across the state to see her almost every weekend in my mom's 1994 Cutlass Ciara and steal her away for the 24 hours she had free from changing adult-sized diapers and comforting paralyzed eleven-year olds from Detroit who'd been shot in the spine when they were four but were terrified by the sounds of the forest at night. This was a time when we would literally stay up all night like they do in R&B songs. We would drive up and down the shore of Lake Huron. I would take pictures of her. I took so many that in several of them she looks a little embarrassed, tussling her hair and scrunching her shoulders a bit uncomfortably. I wanted to document the miracle that was happening to me. I wasn't sure how it happened, but I was sure I had found the best one. And I had.

I realize now this is just part of what it means to fall in love. Negatives slip away like dead skin. You don't even notice they're gone. You are left with the overwhelming evidence that you've got the best one. Logic dictates that not every husband, or wife, or child can be the best one. Yet in the face of that terrible logic, belief persists.

That belief drives us to document it, to photograph the object as proof. It may drive us to share those photographs with strangers (even thousands of them). Though a belief may be illogical does not make it untrue. It is true for all of us. The moment every child enters the world, two insufferable blowhards are born. That's just the way it is.