The Red Thread
There were small moments of truth along the way. One was standing in front of a cinema on a late afternoon in early winter, asking myself if I really believed I could make a lifetime commitment to another human being, and answering “yes.” One was trudging not even a mile through the ice and snow storm that descended on Portland in January of 2004 and brought the city to a standstill. I slipped and slid through the slick streets and arrived cold, wet and numb at a friend’s house an hour later. She translated the documents I’d brought, looked at the photograph, and we both believed this was “the one.” I thought about the possibility of escape, though. I knew I could say “I’ve changed my mind” and disengage the wheels I’d set in motion over a year earlier. I told myself, “You can always turn back” even as March came and I flew through the long night to Hong Kong, then on to Guangzhou.
Finally, on March 7, 2004, I stood in a room full of crying infants and stunned parents, and knelt down as a nine-year-old girl was led to me. Miss Hu, the orphanage director, held the little girl’s hand, and prompted her gently. The anxious little face from the photograph said to me, “Hello, Mommy.”
There was no turning back, of course, and even today, more than two years later, I find what we both did astounding. How do two strangers, flung together by fate – or as the Chinese say, yuen fen – find love and become a family? There are never guarantees in life, and definitely none when adopting an older child. I’ve heard all the stories about attachment disorders, disruptions and heartbreak. I’d heard them before I climbed onto that plane, frightened and alone, but I climbed on anyway. My new daughter climbed on with me for the return trip to a land where she spoke no English and suddenly found herself an only child with a mother, after being an orphan with 200 brothers and sisters for all of her previous life. Later, I asked her why she did it, and her answer was simple: “I wanted to see it all for myself.” Sometimes, in retrospect, I wonder if that’s why I became a mom, although single and in my forties; to see it for myself.
There’s a belief in China: when children are born, a red thread connects them to all the people who will be important in their lives. As the child gets older, the thread grows shorter, drawing the child closer to those people. I’d like to believe it’s a thread woven of love, hope and fearlessness. Over time, that red thread has stitched my daughter and I tightly together, and I believe that she and I are now two fabrics, but one quilt, forever.
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