From Photo Albums to Chinatown
It all began with a refrigerator magnet my cousin Lynn sent. It was a simple black and white photo, slightly larger than wallet size, and it was a dead on replica of me. With bouffant hair and a high collar shirt and button down sweater, 17 year old me smiled coyly at the camera. Except it wasn’t me. It was my paternal grandmother Hazel.
When I first met my husband I must confess that I fantasized what our children would look like. Would they have my brown hair and his blue eyes? Would they be tall like me? Would they have my husband’s nose? On visits to his home town of Louisville I would sift through family photographs, sure that our future child’s likeness lay there hidden waiting to be found.It’s a crisp October day in San Fransisco and I find myself with an afternoon free. I’m grateful for the time off, even if it is just for a few hours. The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind. Back and forth emails with my son’s orphanage. Countless documents to be notarized, apostilled, and sealed. Calls to the U.S. Department of State. Calls to our agency. Calls to our friends and family updating them to our seemingly unending process. But at long last, soon my son will be here.
I wind my way up a hill and find myself at the entrance to Chinatown. I pause for a moment, then step through the gate. I walk the streets and watch as children run in and out of shops. Teenagers call to one another. Elderly men sit in front of storefronts playing mahjong. From behind my dark sunglasses I watch a man, maybe 20, help his mother into a waiting car. He carefully lifts her packages in, kisses her on the cheek, then closes the door and waves the car onwards.
In my family, transracial adoption was a new word. A single glance at our photo albums show generations upon generations of slightly modified cookie cutter DNA replicas. But adopting from China? I look back up. The young man waits until the car is out of sight then turns and goes back into the store. His tenderness for his mother brings tears to my eyes.
It’s crazy I know, but for the first time I envision what my son might be like. I imagine Christmas photos, travel shots, family reunion portraits, and selfies. I insert myself and this man’s likeness into each scenario, trying it on, seeing how it fits. It feels different, yes, but also somehow right.
On the last day of school this year my son performed alongside his fellow classmates for the 4 year old portion of the Spring Program. As my son sang out with unabashed glee another mom turned to me and whispered, “He has your smile you know.” I turned to her, confused. She went on, “I know he’s adopted but I’ve been watching him all year. He has your smile and his eyes dance when he’s excited, just like your husband’s.”
Her words made my heart burst. And she’s right. Jack is a more perfect amalgamation of me and my husband than any biological child could ever be. It’s astounding really. And yet so many other adoptive families I know say exactly the same thing.
Our family photo albums look different now. But glancing through the pages there is no question as to who is related. He has my smile and my husband’s eyes. He’s Jack. And he’s our son.
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