Mother’s Day and reflections on 2 daughters of China ...

Terry Garlock's picture

Mother’s Day brings to mind the twisted path that took us to China to adopt our two girls from orphanages, both at 12 months old. Kristen, the youngest, is 4 this year, old enough now to buy a present for Mom with Dad’s help, old enough for our Chinese Moon Festival conversation.

In China the Moon Festival is a little like Thanksgiving in America, a holiday of family gathering and celebration with food as a central theme.

The Moon Festival has at its center the legend of Chang Er, the Moon Goddess, who was banished to the moon alone forever for not trusting her husband Hou Yi.

The legend says Hou Yi is allowed to visit Chang Er on the moon on just one night every year, and it is said their love is what makes the moon shine its fullest and brightest on that night, the 15th night of the eighth lunar month, Oct 6 this year on our calendar. In China the Moon Festival is the night of lovers and family gatherings.

On that night we will sit on the front steps with Kristen and her 9-year-old sister Melanie, look at the moon and talk about the legend of Chang Er.

More importantly, we will take the occasion of family gatherings in China to talk about their birth families because it is important for kids to say out loud what they are thinking, to feel free to talk about the family they lost.

We will wonder what they look like, where they are and what they are doing, and we will wonder when they gaze at the moon that night in China, whether they think about Melanie and Kristen, beautiful girls they never really knew.

It is hard to imagine a mother letting her child go. Most Chinese mothers would never dream of it, and when I hear knee-jerk comments like “The Chinese don’t care about girls,” I am reminded that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I have seen the Chinese people loving their daughters and sons just as we do. I have seen them one after another on the street approach the Chinese child in our arms with smiles and giggles and playful wonder. I have seen small crowds gather in China to touch Melanie and Kristen as we held them, gestures of affection, sometimes with tears.

I have spoken to Chinese men and women, each of us trying to break the language barrier as they tell me what an astounding thing it is that westerners can adopt a Chinese child and take her home to America.

I have seen the envy in Chinese eyes as they watch western families with two or more children visit their country, obliviously exhibiting the freedom to choose their family size in a land where population problems restrict each family to just one child.

A mother giving up her child in China seems careless and heartless on the surface, but it is more complex than that and critics need to walk in Chinese shoes. Perhaps the best summation is the title to Kay Johnson’s book “Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son.”

Ideas and forces are in collision in China, modernization, economic growth and capitalism on the march, urban new thinking butting heads with rural ancient notions, like the family being far more important than the individual and the value of boys versus girls.

Even now a son is considered security in old age in China - a son and his wife live with his parents and care for them, while a girl marries and moves away to help support her husband’s parents.

In some regions a family who has a girl is allowed a second child to try for a son. Sometimes the second child is also a girl, sometimes grandparents make decisions for the family, and so sometimes the birth mother has little to say about giving up the child to try again for a son.

Melanie and Kristen are American citizens and thoroughly American kids, but we teach them what we can about the people and culture that gave them birth, urging them to be fiercely proud of their Chinese roots. As they grow and come to terms with losing their birth family, they will have to decide for themselves how to feel about that because the issue belongs to them alone.

While social change is marked by demographic trends like a growing gender imbalance in China, Mother’s Day is a reminder those shifting forces are composed of real people, one at a time.

Kristen is learning what Melanie has long known, that she has two mothers. One of them is on the other side of the world with, I believe, a wound in her heart that will never heal. The other is my wife Julie, who was magically transformed by Melanie and Kristen into a mom, a devoted parent.

On Mother’s Day this year I expect Melanie will watch the clock and Kristen might do an involuntary dance, both breathlessly waiting for their mom to open their present.

And while I know Mom will be pleased with each package, I also know nothing we could possibly wrap in a box will compare to the gift of the look on these girl’s faces, for the platonic love affair between Melanie and Kristen and their mom Julie burns steady and hot like the sun, just like mothers and their daughters and sons all over the world, just like in China.

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