Miracle Worker at the Chinese Buffet

I met a miracle worker at a buffet table. Her name is Sun Lu, and she is the driving force of the Waiting Child adoption program in China. Since the program began she has helped match hundreds of special needs children with families in the United States. She is the woman largely responsible for bringing Penelope into our lives.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Penelope was born in southern China in the spring of 2007. Perhaps because of her cleft lip or her parents’ poverty or the country’s rules on child bearing, Penelope was abandoned near an intersection when she was two weeks old, her birth date printed on a slip of paper pinned to her blanket. She was quickly discovered and taken to a nearby police station. The police ran an advertisement in the abandoned babies’ section of the local newspaper, but the parents did not step forward. She then entered China’s adoption system and doctors repaired the cleft lip. (They did an amazing job too.)

She spent a little time in an orphanage, and then with a foster family. I understand they were an older couple, and I wish I could have met them because they obviously loved our little girl very much. Penelope would not be as special as she is without the attention, care and love her foster parents so unselfishly gave to her. Penelope’s file eventually came into the hands of Sun Lu, who forwarded it to Homeland Adoption Services. Then, one Sunday morning in March of 2009, Pam from Homeland called to tell us we had been matched.

I’ll save the story of that Sunday for another day. Shortly afterwards, several photographs of our future daughter were emailed to us. Bern and I looked into the sparkling happy eyes of this little girl and knew she had been loved without reservation. We looked at the photos, and I wished I could hold her right then.

Sometimes people are shocked when they hear the story of Penelope’s abandonment. “How can a mother do that? She must not love her child!” I couldn’t disagree more. I cannot imagine the difficult circumstances that confronted that woman who left her child in a place where she’d quickly be found.

I think loving someone so much sometimes means having to let them go, trusting in God and in the innate goodness that dwells in us all. This mother wanted her daughter to have a better life and in the ultimate act of love did what she did. And, I feel I have an obligation to that nameless, faceless woman to do everything I can to give this little girl a good home and a good life. I thank her every day for the great gift and great responsibility she has given us.

And I am equally grateful to China’s adoption program, Sun Lu and everyone at Homeland Adoption Services for their roles in bringing Penelope home.

That evening, I leaned against that buffet table watching as all the adopted Chinese girls were herded together for a photograph. And, I marveled at the power of one person to make such an astounding, life-changing difference in so many lives.

Penelope playing badminton in the backyard on her birthday.

…And The Livin’ Is Easy

Bernadette and I have joined a social club. I’m not sure what I’m doing in a social club, except to say that I was unable to find any anti-social clubs in the area. And, even if I did, I suspect it would host few events and the two or three people who actually attended them wouldn’t talk to one another. When pondering this decision, a famous line from Groucho Marx twirls  in my mind: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

The group is actually a pool and hunting club. I worried before joining that the two activities are co-mingled. I imagined heads bobbing up and down in sparkling pristine waters and children frolicking at play, while hunters ringed the hillsides shooting at them. My concerns were quickly allayed: Swimming in summer, hunting in winter. I’m not much of a hunter, and I do not own a gun. I do own a fabulous set of steak knives, but doubt the deer of our beloved woodlands have much to fear from me chasing after them with my trusty Henkels. Come to think of it, my experience in handling firearms is limited to filling a clown’s mouth with water when the carnival comes to town.

So, needless to say, I’ll be spending most of my time at the pool. I’m grateful we joined because the pool is absolutely gorgeous, and the weather this summer has been brutal. Most summers we have a few hot days, but this year heat and its best buddy humidity have propped their feet up on the coffee table, grabbed a bowl of chips and decided to stick around for a while. Unfortunately, our air conditioner decided to make them feel at home by blowing hot air. At least the air conditioner will be useful come December.

Penelope adores swimming with a wild abandon that, as a parent, is both wonderful and terrifying. She loves playing blind man’s bluff with girls her age and Ninja with some older boys. She also enjoys Marco Polo; unfortunately, whenever she hears “Marco” she will respond, even if she’s not playing. One afternoon she was yelling “Polo” from the picnic tables.

She tries to dive by cupping her hands above her head and jumping belly first into the water. She is dying to touch the bottom of the pool and to jump from the diving board.

When Penelope and I arrive at the pool I marvel at how many friends she has made. As we hurry down the grassy hill toward the pool, I can often hear some child’s voice shout “Penelope!” or “Penelope’s here!” It reminds me of Norm walking into Cheers.

Then, wearing her bright yellow floatie, she’ll jump in the pool. With her head bobbing in and out of the water, she’ll swim toward a group of laughing children.

I lean against the cyclone fence and take it all in. The children splashing and playing games. The adults chatting; dark sunglasses hiding smiling eyes. A beach ball flutters across the buoys that divide the shallow end of the pool from the deep. The colors here are so crisp and vibrant: the shimmering blue water, the deep green leaves of the trees as they sway below billowing white clouds. I am convinced it’s impossible to feel unhappy at a pool.

Well, until somebody pees in it.