Sunday, June 15, 2008

And it only gets better...

Amherst Bulletin
Column, Larry Kelley
Published February 2003

Time now has a joyous new means of measurement, BK and AK: Before Kira and After Kira. Yes Kira Li, sixth generation of Kelley to call Amherst home, you have vaulted to the top of the totem pole, realigned the pecking order, and made mornings infinitely more worthy of awaking to (in spite of the early hour).

We didn’t feel obligated to retain your Chinese name (Huai Yun Shi) because all the little girls from your orphanage shared the same surname. Let that be your first lesson in the way of bureaucracies: they choose the path of least resistance. But then, they have to care for so very many like you who are cast aside simply because of gender.

We plucked you from an orphanage two hours drive from Hefei the capital of the Anhui province, a predominantly agrarian area (renowned for its beautiful women) as dirt poor as our own Appalachia. You had 11 other roommates—all girls-- in an unheated room measuring only 21 feet by 11 feet, with one caregiver per eight-hour shift.

Three cribs touching end-to-end on the left wall and three more similarly aligned on the right, with two babies per crib, all bundled up like skiers at a Vermont resort (outside temperature was in the 40’s). You occupied the middle crib on the right now empty because a family from Spain liberated your crib mate the week before.

But your caregiver shed tears when Donna took first gently took you away from her that long awaited afternoon in the Hotel Conference room (12/16). So we’re confident she did everything possible for you—but with eleven other baby girls constantly craving attention…well, it’s hard to ration love.

On the drive to the orphanage we visited the bustling area where you were found on 9/24/01, the very day you were born. Some birthday present, eh?

Maybe your mother was too poor to support you; or perhaps your father desired a boy. Because of the ubiquitous abandonment of girls, China recently relaxed the ‘One Child’ policy--allowing a second try for a boy. So perhaps your parents had to unfairly choose between you and an older sister.

Yin/Yang, life’s opposites interacting together. If not for the nightmare of your initial world entry, our dream to become parents would never have materialized. Chinese legend also tells of an ethereal red thread that winds through space and time to create a cosmic connection, bringing together those who were destined to be.

Very early the morning before we became a family a dispatch from Amherst delivered the sad and stunning news that an old friend had died. For over 20 years he always took credit, partially true, for bringing your new mother and I together.

Just don’t ever believe that Chinese people loathe little girls. Anytime we went anywhere with you in public we attracted a crowd of well-wishers. And women would constantly come over to inspect you to make sure we had dressed you warmly (in China that meant onion-like layering).

We met a man from Houston who beat the odds by adopting a 2-year-old boy (96% of China adoptions are girls) who was raised by foster parents wanting a companion for their lone little boy. Tragically, the natural son drown--yet they still had to surrender the foster child to an American.

Resentment from the Chinese towards us was almost nonexistent. Even the stoic military guards in olive green uniforms would occasionally smile over the antics of baby Chinese girls enthralling the crowds of curious onlookers, while their proud middle-aged American parents held them tightly.

On Christmas Eve at about 11:45 am, with the American consulate closing at noon, you became an American citizen. No flag waving, no singing the Star Spangle Banner and, in fact, most of the 18 other couples in the cramped room didn’t even stand as we raised our right hand and swore that everything provided in the written documents was correct.

But the Peoples Republic of China’s 1. 2 billion populations was reduced by 1 and the town of Amherst, also sometimes referred to as the ‘Peoples Republic’, increased accordingly. Perhaps no town in American is more accepting of diverse cultures and beliefs (as long as your not a Republican of course).

So when locals see us walking (any day now) down the street or dining at a downtown restaurant, inevitably some will think that I have done a good and noble thing in “saving” you.

Little do they know, my darling daughter, quite the opposite is true: My salvation is you.


O'Reilly said...

What beautiful prose to match the feelings you have for your daughter.


LarryK4 said...

And that will e-x-t-e-n-d to Jada... coming ever so soon.

LarryK4 said...

Of all the 125+ columns I wrote for the Crusty Bulletin (over 14 years) this one was BY FAR the best received.

The ONLY person who hated it was my wife (somehow thinking that Chinese authorities actually peruse the provincial Amherst Bulletin and would somehow feel slighted.)

Mary E.Carey said...

This IS moving, Larry. Love the part about the old women making sure Kira had enough (too many) clothes on. Someone could probably create a Web site where people list the various advice they have gotten about how to dress their kids from strangers.

Anonymous said...

Now I know what keeps you from blowing a head gasket. You are both very fortunate.

LarryK4 said...