All that and a bag of chips

I had promised Leo a treat after his appointment this morning, and he settled on a bag of barbecue chips. He reached up on his tiptoes to put it on the counter, and the salesclerk started ringing it up.

She glanced down at Leo, looked away, looked back. Then she leaned toward me. “Is he adopted?” she asked, almost whispering.

“Yes,” I said as I signed my credit card slip – embarrassed that I didn’t have $1.50 in cash. “Leo was born in China.” I waited to see if she would volunteer her own ethnicity – thinking she might also be Chinese-American.

“A boy from China!” she said loudly enough for my son and others to hear. “That is very unusual.”

“Well, actually, it’s not that uncommon,” I told her. “Many families adopt boys from China.”

“No,” she told me, and the authority came through in her voice. “In China everyone wants boys.”

I started trying to explain and then stopped myself. Because, although the adoption of boys from China is obviously close to my heart, my priority this morning was the 4-year-old standing by my side. He seemed bored with his mother’s chitchat, but he hears everything, understands almost as much, and I suspect this type of conversation raises questions for him.

What I would like to have explained to that well-intentioned salesclerk – and what I have tried to explain to countless others – is that there are girls in orphanages in China, but there are also many boys – especially those with special needs. I am not an expert and this is a very complicated issue. As I understand it, however, when a family’s entire livelihood depends on having a son who will grow to adulthood, birth families need to make what must be a heartbreaking decision about whether to raise a child who isn’t perfectly healthy. Concerns about minor or correctable medical issues are not that great for American families like ours who have health insurance and easy access to some of the world’s best health care.

And there just aren’t as many girls available for international adoption in China. Families are likely gender selecting and aborting the girls before they are born. At the same time, more Chinese families are adopting healthy orphaned girls and raising them in their homeland. Orphaned boys, however, are, for the most part, not adopted within China. On our trip to adopt Daniel, one of our Chinese guides explained to us that an orphaned boy can have no future in China because no woman will marry a man without a lineage.

Add to this complex question the fact that most families adopting from any country want to adopt girls. Back in 2008 when our social worker asked us our gender preference, John and I were speechless. We couldn’t think of anything we cared about less. We just wanted to become parents. We let God decide, and he chose us to parent our two wonderful sons.

As I was standing at the cash register this morning, wondering how to respond or whether to extricate myself, I could tell the salesclerk was admiring my handsome son, who was standing and waiting politely for his chips. “You are very lucky,” she said with a smile.

And there I will agree with her – wholeheartedly.

We are lucky – luckier than she will ever know and far luckier than we deserve – to be the parents of our two sons.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.