The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, January 26, 2004  

She’s Coming to America

Within just the last three months I have been blessed, by proxy of course, by the arrival of two nieces: an almost unbearably beautiful baby brought by the stork in the customary manner and another who will soon arrive in America under less traditional circumstances. As I’ve already welcomed the former, allow me today to greet the latter.

Hi. It’s me. Uncle Jim. I know, you don’t know me yet. But you will soon. And just so you know, at least for the short term, I’m not really comfortable around babies. Ask anyone. There are pictures proving it. I rarely even hold them, even if invited to do so. My hands shake a lot, and so I break things, and I drop things a lot, and I don’t want to break or drop a little girl like you. And then there’s that whole head thing. I understand you’ve grown beyond most of that, but I might still be reluctant to hold you in my arms. I’ll explain it all to you later. It doesn’t matter; just keep in mind, I’m known for giving really great gifts, at least when I can. And nobody wraps a gift like I do.

Anyway, you’re beautiful. Breathtaking. You truly are. But I’ve known that for a long time, ever since the agency in South Asia started providing photographs of your incomparable face and tiny little body.

They tell me you’re healthy, too. That’s great news, and also a relief, because I know that many of your friends in the orphanage are afflicted with conjunctivitis, scabies or lice or both, cleft palates, clubfeet, and other, more serious, afflictions.

Don’t worry, that’s over now. The orphanage and all that, I mean. And I think you’re going to like it here. I really do.

Your parents are warm, loving, kind, thoughtful, and generous to a fault. I haven’t visited their home -- your new home -- recently, so I haven’t seen your nursery, but knowing your parents as I do, I can only imagine. Prepare to be dazzled, even in your own little way.

Know that you will be well provided for, now and always. In fact, due to the delay in your adoption, your parents already have started the hand-me-down process, giving away clothes you can no longer fit, a process that, as I understand it, still leaves you with more clothes than the two of them, and possibly the two of them plus me, combined, and that -- the “plus me” part -- is saying a lot.

Your grandmother, my mother I mean, who I suspect has been knitting for you furiously since she first learned this day might come, will drown you in more affection in a day than you heretofore have known your entire life. (At one point, when things looked iffy, I swear I thought Grandma was going to hop on a plane to Asia to get you herself, paperwork and bureaucracy be damned. Trust me, she would have pulled it off too.) And if Grandma won’t let you out of her hands, just start crying. But really hard, I mean, because she doesn’t give up easily.

Your extended family? Well, based on numbers alone, I could go on and on. And here I’m speaking merely, if that’s the right word, of my side of the family, because the other side, for which I do not at the moment have exact figures, is almost as large.

Brace yourself, little girl, for on my side of the family only, you suddenly have nine uncles, seven aunts, and 14 cousins. Many of them have the same names or middle names or what have you -- my siblings have a propensity for naming their offspring after each other -- but don’t worry, you’ll sort it out eventually. I did. Multiply these numbers by 1.7 to take the other side of the family into account and you’ll get a basic grasp of what you’re in for. Not ready for that kind of math? I’ll teach you. For now, just know you will not want for companionship.

What will your life be like here, little girl?

I can’t answer that question. It’s all up to you; not now of course, but eventually, and sooner than any of us can imagine, sooner than any of us would wish.

Maybe, without the adoption, and after having spent your childhood and adolescence in remote and bleak orphanages, you could have gone to college and then to medical school. Somehow, though, I doubt it. But now the world is your oyster, if you will forgive the trite metaphor, and, trust me, you don’t have to be a doctor if you don’t want to. (Personally, I’m not really wild about doctors.) You can be anything and everything you want. So much opportunity. So many challenges. So much to learn and see and do.

Best of all, you’re in good hands. The best of all possible hands.

Still, I worry. The world, or at least this country, has changed much since I was growing up, and yet you will encounter some people who will want to make your life difficult.

Why? Because your skin is darker than theirs. And because you are adopted. But mostly, I fear, because of who your parents are.

Don’t listen to those who would mock you or your family. Be proud of yourself. Be proud of your wonderful parents. Be proud of your precious family. Be the best girl and woman you can be. I know you can do it. I know that just by looking at you, even now. And I know that because, even in small part, you are now one of us.

Welcome to America. Welcome to the family. Welcome home.

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