Reflections on Welcoming a New Family Member
The adoption of a child in China prompts reflections on the meaning of family and the ties that bind siblings together.
SCOTT SIMON, host:
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and daughter and I heard a knock on the door of our hotel room in Nanxiang, China, and opened it. Talk about room service. Two smiling people from an orphanage put our new baby into our arms. Her name is Lena(ph) and she’s beautiful. We began to cry.
But in the next instant, my wife blurted out what was on both our minds – Lee Na didn’t look like her picture. The thumb-sized portrait we’ve received from the orphanage showed a chubby baby with apple cheeks sitting in a field of yellow flowers, puffy pink pants pulled up to her chin.
This baby put in our arms seemed smaller, even a little pale. Dire thoughts flashed in our minds that we’ve been given the wrong baby. Would those people be back in five minutes or five hours with embarrassed grins to say, whoops, our mistake, hope you didn’t get too attached.
My wife and I rolled our eyes up and down Lena’s tiny limbs, looking for clues while she kicked and cried. Finally, our daughter Elise(ph) reached her arms out to our new child with a gentleness with which I’ve never seen her reach for a cookie or her cat, and said it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t detract from the love I have for my wife or mother to say that in that moment, I knew a love for our oldest daughter that is more fierce, deep and true than anything I’ve ever felt.
When Lena was restive and distressed over the next few days, Elise was often the one to settle and comfort her. She’d put her own small hand on her sister’s downy head as if to say, look, our father is silly but you can train him to do anything you want, and our mother is smart and beautiful. Don’t worry. I’m your sister.
And in those moments, the kind of platitudes people are usually embarrassed to utter with a straight face suddenly looked this big, bright and undeniable as the sun and moon. Race, blood, lineage and nationality don’t matter. They’re just the way small minds keep score. All that matters about blood is that it’s warm and beats to her loving heart.
Now I know our girls will fuss and contend as they grow up. But when Elise saw a child enter her life in tears, this little girl who was once herself given up, reached out with instinct of tenderness.
My wife took Lena and Elise into the bedroom, the two grinning orphanage officials sat me down with the sheet or forms. No words I ever put into an essay or a novel will be as precious to me as the ones I wrote. It will probably rest forever unread in the deep files (unintelligible) as bureaucracy. Why do you want to adopt this child?, the form asked. And I answered, we love our first daughter so much that we wanted to get her the best present in the world – a sister to come along for the ride.