I had just returned from an income tax audit with the Internal Revenue Service, which everyone agrees is as pleasant as a bad session in the dentist's chair. The audit had gone well, but I was relieved it was over. To celebrate I bought an ice cream cone and sat in my car to read a letter from my eldest daughter Linda, a college freshman. "Dear Mom," the letter began, "I know you will be shocked to learn that you are going to be a grandmother." She was 20 years old and unmarried. My initial response was, "This can't be happening! I'm a middle-aged jobless divorcee and I'm not going to raise any more kids!" I had a six- and a twelve-year-old at home. Raising children alone is not easy, especially on a limited income. However, after I reflected on how my daughter must be feeling, I telephoned her and suggested that she complete her semester and then come home. We would figure out what to do.
The parents of the boy, a freshman engineering student, were also calm, but their primary objective seemed to be to make sure that whatever happened did not compro-mise their son's future. A marriage was never really considered; they were in favor of adoption. At least medi-cal bills were not a major concern; though I had been laid off, my insurance continued in force at a small cost, and it would cover my daughter's medical bills, likely to amount to several thousand dollars, albeit not those of the child.
So at the end of the semester my daughter came home. She quickly ruled out abortion on religious grounds. The idea of adoption was appealing, but we were somewhat put off by the totality of the rupture between birth mother and child imposed by the state welfare department. They chose the new family, and the fate of the child would be utterly unknown to us. One day Linda commented that she wished we could find an adoptive family in a distant location who were well educated, already had one child (so that the baby would not be an only child), loved animals, were of her religion, well off financially, with a nice home; and in which the mother was a stay-at-home mom. Two days later my brother in Arkansas, an attorney, phoned to report that his wife knew someone with a friend whose baby girl had died unexpectedly the year before. The grieving mother was unable to have any more children. The family wanted very much to adopt: would we be interested in talking to them about adoption? We received a long letter describing the family in great detail. Their profile corresponded point for point to our wish list for an adoptive family. It was truly uncanny. Linda and I both knew instantly that here was our solution.
The baby was a blond blue-eyed boy weighing 3.5 kilos. We held him twice and decided we had better not be with him any more lest we change our minds. Our lawyer presented the proper legal papers and physically removed the baby from the hospital before turning him over to his new parents. The adoptive family sent Linda a big bouquet of flowers with a card "from your Arkansas family". Two weeks later the adoptive father phoned to tell me that he had that day put the first funds in the bank for the baby's college education. My daughter returned to university to get her degree, met her "Mr Right", married and had four more children.
Some 22 years later I was in Arkansas visiting my lawyer brother before returning to China to teach for another year. My sister-in-law telephoned the adoptive family and asked if they were interested in meeting me. The next day I received an excited phone call from that "baby": Could he come over for a visit?
When Bryan and his adoptive mother arrived the next day, we spent two hours sharing photos and stories and exchanging e-mail addresses. His parents had always made it clear to him that he was adopted; indeed, how else to explain pale skin, flaxen hair and blue eyes in a family of dark-haired olive-skinned descendants of southern Italians?
Bryan had become an extraordinary young man.He was an Eagle Scout at the age of 13, Arkansas's youngest ever. (The Boy Scouts are a character-building organization, and few boys rise to the top level; to become an Eagle Scout is like receiving a grand testimonial to one's virtue and versatility.) He had been a football star in high school. After attending Brigham Young University for one year, he had served a two-year stint as a representative of his church in South Korea. Now he was preparing to return to university. I told his mother that I believed we had made the right decision 22 years earlier; the next day she called to say how much the comment meant to her.
As it happened, Linda's eldest daughter would also be a sophomore at BYU that fall, and her next eldest daughter would be at the branch campus in Idaho. I told him that his half-siblings were unaware of his existence; Linda subsequently decided to tell her children about Bryan. They were surprised and curious to find out what their new brother was like. The two girls were quick to set up a rendezvous with their tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed half-brother on the BYU campus in Utah, but birth mother and son have yet to meet.