A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
NPR host Scott Simon on falling in love at first sight — wtih the two baby girls he and his wife adopted from China. A personal tale of the joys of adoption and becoming a first-time father later in life.
- Scott Simon host of NPR's "Weekend Edition with Scott Simon" and author of "Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other," "Home and Away" and "Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In the past decade, more than 50,000 orphan girls from China have come to the U.S. in the arms of adoptive parents. For NPR, Scott Simon and his wife Caroline adopting their Chinese daughters was nothing short of a miracle. Scott has written a book about the joys of becoming a father to Lisa and Lina. He's new book is titled, "Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other." Scott Simon joins me in the studio. We'll take your calls throughout the hour. You can join us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And right up front, I must say I have a lovely card from Lisa and Lina, just absolutely adorable. It's in the form of a ship.
MR. SCOTT SIMONYeah, a boat.
REHMBecause Lisa, Lina, Caroline, Scott and I were together on a ship...
REHM…for two weeks. What a pleasure to get to know those little girls.
SIMONWell, and they loved getting to know you. Lina, in particular, began to dance around the kitchen of our apartment this morning when she heard -- she heard you utter my name and knew we'd be together. So baby, we're here together, Diane and I, okay? You can say hello.
REHMNow, you have to go back to meeting this beautiful woman, Caroline...
REHM..Before you talk about these beautiful children. Go back to that meeting of Caroline.
SIMONWell, my colleague, Jackie Lyden, threw a party for me. I had a book coming out, you know, 10 years ago in Brooklyn. And I hit my head on the cab arriving in Brooklyn so I had my hand against my head with a handkerchief because I was bleeding. And I walked in and there was Caroline, the most beautiful, funny, delightful, charming, enrapturing, enthralling person I'd ever met.
REHMAnd I can attest to that.
SIMONYes, exactly. And I fell deeply in love immediately. She, you know, she needed a little more persuasion, but since -- we haven't been apart since. Our 10th anniversary is coming up on September 3.
REHMYou were married in a very short time.
SIMONYeah, we were married in just a few weeks, really a few days.
REHMJust a few weeks.
REHMIt was exactly that way.
SIMONYeah, it was. We felt -- as I said, I felt very strongly from the first, but she took a little persuasion. We felt very strongly that we had met the person we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with.
REHMShe was born in France.
REHMNow, the decision to adopt came how soon?
SIMONWell, we began to try and start a family in the conventional manner, if I may be euphemistic. I think I say in the book, we tried every way until we were black and blue and it just didn't work. And, you know, we got some medical analysis and then we did a couple of rounds of -- I detail this in the book, of in-vitro fertilization. And I have what a lot of people think is the funniest vignette in the book when I talk about what that experience was like for me. Where, you know, they usher you in this small room and they present you with a stack of magazines that make Playboy look like The Economist. And in any event, that didn't work either, two rounds. And I think it was at that point we just looked at each other -- and of course, you have an idea of what it's costing. And we both had been around the world enough to know that there were children out there in the world who needed loving families.
SIMONAnd we were in a position to give a child a loving family and we thought, why are we trying to do this, when we can adopt a child?
SIMONYou know, it -- a couple of things. Some of it was we were just locked out of certain other programs. If you find out, for example, that the waiting list is three years, that wasn't attractive to us. China, at the time we applied, said the wait would be about nine months and that sounded pretty good to us. I also think, looking back on it, you know, when Caroline and I met, she was living on Mont Street in Chinatown in New York. We had both been around the world enough to know that late night any -- you know, London, Paris, New York, you want to find a 24-hour drug store, you want to find a restaurant that's open at 2:00 in the morning, go to Chinatown. And we'd a kind of fascination with the Chinese community and so we -- it just seemed to fit to us.
REHMIt is extraordinary that so many little Chinese girls are available.
SIMONWell, yes. And many more available than come to this country or any other country. And, you know, I can't say -- I mean, I want people to understand this. My wife and I were not trying to do something good. This was not our kind of personal witness against China's one child policy. But we have adopted two little girls who are from China so I think it makes sense to us that we should absolutely be informed and outspoken about that. And, you know, as I probably don't have to explain to your listeners, the one child policy, especially in a culture that favors male boys, infants, you know, it has the incendiary effect of depriving women of the freedom of choice. They cannot choose to have a child for any reason.
REHMOr if they do have a little girl?
SIMONThey'd get -- well, they can be subject -- if it's more than one child, they can obviously be subject to imprisonment. And that happens. Forced abortions, forced sterilizations as human rights groups have talked about are certainly a matter of course in many areas of China. And the Chinese government itself is talking increasingly openly about the gender imbalance that's created in so many communities across China. Far fewer – there are many more young girls who, in theory, would be available for adoption than who actually are adopted overseas or certainly, for that matter, in China.
REHMAnd there is kind of a limit as to how many children China will allow the United States to adopt.
SIMONYes. And, you know, and from the Chinese point of view, I guess I understand it. What distresses me is that -- I think as people have pointed out, there are orphanages that are clean and orphanages that are well maintained. There are not, I think it's safe to say, any happy orphanages. That's a point that my wife makes. That these are all children who we would like to think, in their one chance in life, deserve to find a loving family and there are families in China and all over the world who would be in a position to give it to them, if you could just sweep politics away.
REHMSo, Scott, you got eight tiny photographs?
SIMONYes. Have I showed this to you? Let me -- I'm taking out my wallet and I'm showing because I have a picture of Elise. I'm handing it across the table to you, which is...
REHMIt is such a charming photograph. And her name, Scott...
SIMONHer name is, well, her -- Feng Jia-Mei, her Chinese name. Her name is now Elise. And this little picture I'm looking at of this tiny sparrow-like little girl, I guess she was about then four months old, underneath it says Jia-Mei Simon. And we just got this picture by Federal Express and immediately fell in love. There was just something in her expression, her tiny tender shoulders, the realization that there was this little girl on the other side of the world, but only on the other side of the world, I mean, a world that we share, who would be our responsibility to raise and love in this world.
REHMIn other words, unlike the film -- if you recall "Cider House Rules," when a potential parent or couple walks into an orphanage and says, I'd like that one.
SIMONOh, no, that doesn't happen.
REHMThe Chinese government, through this orphanage, sent you this one photograph?
SIMONI think we got three photographs, if I'm not mistaken.
SIMONBut essentially, you know, the same headshot.
SIMONAnd, you know, we fell in love with her immediately, as we did Lina's picture when we received it. And it changes your life. You know, in the adoption process, as my wife will talk about, you know, you're not pregnant, right? So there's not this -- you don't have the time clock going where you say, well, you know we've got four days. What happens is that just one day your life changes. And, you know, you're told, oh, you might hear beginning January 1 or you might hear beginning March 1 or -- I've never known anyone to really get notified in the time you're originally given.
SIMONYeah. You know, delays.
REHMSo after the photograph came, how much longer was it before you were face-to-face with Lina?
SIMONWell, in Elise's case...
SIMONWell, in Elise's case, I think it was about a month. In Lina's case, it was just a few days. It was just four or five days.
SIMONWe were told to get on a plane and we landed in Shanghai and then went to Nanchang. They both happen to be -- we got them each in Nanchang, which is in the Xiang Chi province.
REHMYou know, it was fascinating to read about getting on the bus after you got off the plane and being in the company of several other couples.
SIMONThere were four other families, yeah.
REHMEveryone's so nervous, so on edge. That ride from the airport to the hotel.
SIMONIt's -- you know, you've been preparing for it, I think, at that point, like a year and a half and it can't come soon enough. And then, suddenly, when you're confronted with it -- I think I write in the book that, you know, you meet everybody else and, you know, you talk about, have you been to this great little Indian restaurant, have you seen this in the theatre, have you read this, have you watched this? And then, you leave and children are in your arms and you're looking for Cheerios and diapers. Just everything changes. And it's, you know, it's a blessed moment, but you're absolutely intimidated because a little child is put into your arms and this is your responsibility to love and care for in this world.
REHMFor the rest of his, her and your life.
REHMScott Simon, he's host of NPR's "Weekend Edition. His new book is titled, "Baby We Were Meant For Each Other," in praise of adoption.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Scott Simon is with me. You know him well as the host of NPR's "Weekend Edition with Scott Simon," and his new book, all about the adoption of his two beautiful little girls, Elise and Lina. He and his wife Caroline went to China for that adoption. He's written a book titled "Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other." And the book, Scott, I want you to know, made me laugh, made me cry...
REHM...made me tear up just thinking about those two little girls ,who are so lovely. But the first night (laugh) was not an easy night.
SIMONFirst night was not a -- not an easy night at all because, of course, we were strangers to Elise. And the -- we don't know the circumstances entirely under which we -- she was born. We certainly know that she spent time with institution and foster mother and that was the only world that she knew. And then, suddenly, she's meeting these two strangers.
REHMAnd she is how old at this...
SIMONShe's 11 months old...
REHMEleven months old.
SIMON...and, of course, has no reason to think that we're in it for the long haul with her, right? And even though we tried everything. I mean, of surrounding her crib -- her Chinese name is, I think I mentioned, is Feng Jia-Mei -- and my wife and I would surround her crib and go, we're on your side, baby. Feng Jia-Mei, Feng Jia-Mei, Feng -- which she likes now. She thinks it's pretty funny now, but then she wouldn't be -- you wanted me to read a...
SIMON...a section, if I could. When we got Elise back to her hotel room. "Back in our hotel room Caroline zipped, snipped and unbuttoned four layers of Chinese clothing. Our daughter looked up into Caroline's unfamiliar face without warmth or disdain. One more stranger was handling her. First, the puffy quilted pink coat came off, then a black quilted coat. A mustard colored crocheted sweater." I'll explain. There's no heat in orphanages. "A little red and white shirt, a tiny white T-shirt, four pairs of pants, white, black, gray and pink, each with a cunning little slit in the backside -- among the greatest Chinese inventions since the compass and printing. And finally, pink socks that had been tucked beneath red socks, as tiny and dear as a kitten's paws. Each layer smelled of coal smoke and pee." I can say pee, can't I? Yeah. "We laid these small clothes aside to keep for the ages.
SIMON"Shigu, our trip coordinator, came by our room. We told him our daughter seemed inconsolable. Well, he had seen that several hundred times before. 'You should go downstairs,' Shigu advised. 'Get something to eat.' Our baby was famished. She inhaled a soft egg custard and plain white rice and stopped crying for a few moments, sobbing being hard to do while you're swallowing, though she tried, she tried. She sat in Caroline's lap, then mine. Her eyes were dull, defiant and blistering. Her small cheeks burned so, I wondered if her tears would sizzle. We looked at the other happy new families across the room. They smiled back wanly. They were having as much fun as we were." (laugh) Should I go on?
SIMON"I don't remember what we ate. Not much of whatever it was. I had a glass of wine, my wife had a beer and we toasted our daughter. The drinks flashed through us like tap water. We ate and talked and tried to amuse, divert and win over our daughter with songs, food and funny voices, leaving her sullen and unmoved, all the while asking ourselves, what have we done? What were we thinking? We've ripped a baby away from the only place she's ever known to bring her someplace on the other side of the world that might as well be the moon. What kind of people are we?'"
REHMAnd what you and Caroline finally did, which made such beautiful sense to me, was to put her in bed between you.
REHMShe finally went to sleep.
SIMONShe finally went to sleep and so did we, although I (laugh) did turn to my wife at one point and -- you know, I mean, it's one of those signature moments in your life when you realize what your life stands for. And I had loved my wife an awful lot before, but realized, with this little girl between us, if possible, I loved her even more, that we loved this little girl between us even more than ourselves. And that just was as -- you know, was as bright as the moon. Then I turned to Caroline and said, you know our daughter hates us.
SIMONI should explain within three days -- I don't know as -- you know, she accepted us as the people who were put on this Earth to take care of her. And I think the wonderful photo that's on the cover of the book is...
SIMON...and it's of my beautiful wife holding up Elise in that...
REHMin that lovely little white silk dress that she got at...
SIMON...Walmart (laugh) .
SIMONWalmart in Nanchang, China. Yeah, they have quite a wonderful selection there, as a matter of fact.
REHMExactly. Now, the Chinese government has a restriction on how soon you can adopt another child.
REHMYou very much wanted a little sister for Elise.
SIMONYes, we did. We thought that would apply the right amount of gravity all around. And, you know, I -- this is something that I went through, puzzling it through, I think any parent has to accept. And from -- you know, look, I lost a sister so I've been a single child for, you know, all of my life, virtually. I think it's important -- we felt, look, my wife and I aren't going to last forever and who knows what the future holds. And at some point, it'd be really good for both of our daughters to have a running mate, somebody who has shared this experience and shared the origins and, you know, not to mention can imitate me doing all the imitations that I do. So we - immediately we wanted another daughter, you know. And once again, we weren't -- we felt it would be good to go to China a second time. We weren't looking to put together any kind of six pack of, you know, children from all over the world. We think open adoptions in the U.S. -- domestic adoptions are great. But for the second, you know, I think it made sense for us to go back to China. And it turns out to be the Jiangsu Province. That's just where we were assigned.
REHMNow, you mentioned that you wouldn't be here forever.
REHMHow much did it -- does it bother you that...
SIMONI bet most of your guests are in the same position (laugh) .
REHM...you're an older father?
SIMONYou know, I don't think of it as old -- I really don't think of it as old. I mean, I'm still younger than my colleague Dan Shore was when he became a father. I think it's -- you know, maybe towards the end of my life it'll count for a little bit more. But there's no reason why I, you know, can't be around for many years to come. You know, is there a regret in the sense that I wish I'd done this earlier? Maybe. But I didn't meet Caroline until ten-and-a-half years ago. So I don't -- honestly, I don't know as I would've been as happy -- I know I wouldn't have been as happy with anyone else. And, you know, this is a romantic thing to say that is logically insupportable, but I really do think that my life didn't begin until -- really didn't begin until I met Caroline and we went through life to -- decided to go through life together.
REHMI think it's important to say that your book tells the story of other families who've adopted. And the first story you tell is that of Frank Deford...
REHM...and his wife after their little girl, Alex, died from cystic fibrosis. I have to tell you that I interviewed Frank Deford for that book when Alex died...
REHM...after Alex died. And it was the only time in my career when, after reading that book, I went to my boss and I said, I cannot do this interview.
REHMAnd he said, why not? And I said, because this story is so tragic. And you may remember Michael Nitka (sp?). He said to me, Diane, it's not going to be the first or the last time you have to do this kind of difficult...
REHM...interview. And of course, I did and I shall never forget the story of Alex. It's a beautiful story that you tell.
SIMONThis is the story of their adoption of Scarlet. And Frank -- Frank and Carol, wonderful couple, because of cystic fibrosis, felt it was, you know, ill-advised to have a child in the traditional manner again. So they began to look immediately. And rather like me, I mean, Frank was over 40 at that point and he understood that he and Carol would be put to the back of the line for domestic adoptions. They came to adopt a little girl from the Philippines, uh, named Scarlet, who was a wonderful young woman, jewelry designer in New York, recently married.
SIMONAnd, you know, Frank and Carol having suffered a terrible loss, he said, look, I'm -- he said, you know how many marriages break up after they go through a terrible tragedy like that? He said, I'm not saying that that would've happened with Carol and I, but I am saying that Scarlet made us whole. And a part of the story that particularly touches me is that Alex is still a part of their lives in that family. Scarlet has a tattoo that is on her left wrist with the initials of every member in the family, Frank and Carol and Alex. Alex's initials are in there and Scarlet and Chris, Christian, her brother. And they are still that family. And yet Scarlet said to me, no, it's not as if I grew up conscious that I was any kind of a replacement part. That's not the fact. I always felt that Alex, in a sense, was looking over me.
REHMIsn't that lovely?
SIMONYeah, it's a wonderful -- they're a wonderful family. They...
REHMNow, tell me about Lina. Same thing? A photograph arrives?
SIMONWe got a photograph. Though there'd been a change in the technology, we actually got e-mail first -- e-mail photograph of Beanie, as you know we call Lina. And she had puffy little crocheted pink pants that looked to be almost pulled up to her neck. Peter Breslow, one of my producers on our show, said, my gosh, you know, my grandfather had a pair of pants (laugh) like that -- New Jersey grandfather. And we left very quickly and this time, we weren't with a whole, you know, group of other people. We were told to be in our hotel room -- hotel suite at, I think, 4:00. And, you know, it got to 4:01, got to 4:02. As I said to my wife, my gosh, talk about room service. And then, there was a knock on the door and Elise began to bounce around saying, my sister, my sister, my sister. And we opened the door. Nice couple from the orphanage comes in and they put a little -- an infant on our -- on the round table in our suite and she, at first, did not look like the little girl in the photograph.
REHMIn the photograph.
SIMONAnd it's not as if my wife and I necessarily were preoccupied with that. But what we didn't want is a situation where we would fall in love with this little girl -- which it happened already the moment we saw her face, the moment they put her on the table. And have them come back in an hour or two and say, oh, I'm sorry, you know, the Taplitskis were supposed to have that baby. Yours is down the hall. We'll go make the switch now. We just didn't want that to happen. And Caroline said, are you sure it's the right one?
SIMON(laugh) And I'm sorry. I always cry on your show. The most amazing moment of my life is when Elise, who then was four, reached out her hand and held Beanie's hand and said, it doesn't matter. And we were (laugh) humbled and overwhelmed, you know, that this little girl who had herself been cast aside by a lot of forces in life, just when, you know, confronted with this child who needed love and care, just instinctively, reflexively reached out her hand and said -- reminded us, it doesn't matter. She turned out to be the little girl in the photograph.
REHMScott Simon. The book is titled "Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other: In Praise of Adoption." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. We'll be opening the phones very shortly. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Scott, you write, "A family friend asked Caroline if she felt guilty for taking Elise and Lina away from their native culture."
REHMHow did Caroline respond?
SIMONYou know, I'm not sure. I think she pointed out, as we do, the -- firstly, we did not -- you know, we took our little girls -- took our little girls. Our little girls were living in orphanages. I think she explained our little girls, at that point, were going to a Chinese culture class. We intend to expose them to Chinese culture all around the world. They will grow up, I think, with every capacity to know about Chinese culture, learn about it, certainly be proud of Chinese culture. On the other hand, we adopted two real little girls who, I think, will make their own choices where that's concerned in life. They went to a Chinese culture class, which shortly before summer just stopped. Elise, as you know, is interested in many different things.
SIMONIt turns out her Mandarin is pretty good. But the only word of Mandarin I ever heard her utter was pigu, which is Mandarin for derriere. (laugh) Some people, no doubt listening, might know. And, you know, she's interested in so many things. Our Godmother, Hong Fong (sp?) is Chinese and spends most of the year in Shanghai and we intend to visit her. And the girls will be able to get to know, not only Hong Fong and what she does, but Shanghai and, you know, the larger culture of China. But all of that being said, I think their identify -- and this is true of people that grow up in the United States, is going to be what they learn, what they are, their achievements, what their experience is. Not just that ethnic identity.
REHMAnd number one, how much do you know about each of their backgrounds? Number two, how much of that will you share with them?
SIMONWe know almost nothing. We've been given a birth date and a location where they were found. That's it.
SIMONFound. Each of them were...
SIMON...you know, the term abandoned makes a lot of us squirm -- relinquished. And I say abandoned because I think it was certainly against the will and the love of young mothers who often will bathe their infant, put them in warm clothes and put them -- in one case, one of our daughters in front of a light bulb factory, another one actually in front of an orphanage and will wait across the street, across the road and look...
REHMTo make sure.
SIMON...to make certain that they're all right, someone picks them up. And I cannot imagine their pain, I mean, the literal torture of a young mother looking and trying to make certain that their children -- I can't imagine that. But that's what they do.
REHMBut you don't know the fullness of their back story.
SIMONNo. We don't -- we know nothing. We don't know if their mother was 14 or 44. We don't know -- we don't know anything. You know, we don't -- well, they're from the Jiangsu Province, but we don't even -- we don't even necessarily know that they're from Jiangsu because we're told that it's common for scared young mothers to take a train because it's against the law, obviously, to both, you know, have a child, if it's your second child, and against the law to abandon that child. So we've been told that they will often take a train scores or hundreds of miles away to relinquish their child in another place where they won't be recognized.
REHMSo the law is in place whether the young mother -- the mother is single or married.
SIMONOh, yeah, that's got nothing to do with it. I mean, the whole idea is obviously to depress the growth of population and it's been relaxed in some rural areas. It's certainly been relaxed for people of means, but it's...
REHMBecause the imbalance...
SIMON...the imbalance is growing so...
REHM...is really presenting itself. All right. We'll take just a short break here. Scott Simon is with me, his book, "Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other: In Praise of Adoption." Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you just joined us, Scott Simon is with me. You know him well, I'm sure, as host of NPR's "Weekend Edition with Scott Simon." He and his wife, Caroline, adopted two beautiful Chinese babies several years ago. Now, he's written a book about their experiences. It's titled, "Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption." In the book, he's also told stories of other families who have approached the idea of adoption from different perspectives and for different reasons, the end result always being love of a child. Here's an e-mail from Chris, "Please ask Scott why he didn't adopt from an orphanage in the U.S." You mentioned that earlier, but you might expand.
SIMONOur cumulative age, which is to say my age being over 40, my wife still being peerlessly young, would've put us at the back of the line. And we just, you know, we just didn't wanna wait three, four, five years. It is possible, and I think this is a very good thing to do, to adopt from the foster care system. Youngsters who are eight, nine and 10, before they age out, as it's called, of the foster care system. And that would've been possible, but my wife and I had never had a baby, much less a child who was five, six or seven as we do now and we just didn't feel that we were prepared to give a child who was that old a good home. We thought there were other people who would do a better job at it. You know, and also at some point, I've gotta say we just don't really recognize a line between domestic and international adoption. I mean, as we have grown to say, China's on the other side of the world, but it's a world we share. I don't -- we get paperclips from China. I don't think it's a big thing.
REHMHere's a caller in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Alan.
SIMONGood morning. And, Diane, you have the best show on any broadcast there is in the world.
ALANBut Scott, you need to -- I was in my car the first time you did this and I had all I could do to get out of my car because I was bawling right along with you.
ALANI am a 74-year-old grandfather of an adopted -- from China, 10 -- at 10 months old. She's now almost nine. She is the most incredible human being on the face of the earth in my mind. And I will share the same thing that you write about in your book, which I read cover to cover. I'm also dictating part of it into a computer so that I can pass it along with the mother who happens to be legally blind. I wish it was on a tape that we could get, but it's probably too new. So I'm trying to make sure everybody gets this.
ALANWe've told everybody in the world. But the big thing that touches me is the question when your daughter asked about was she cold...
ALAN...and why did you abandon. We've heard all these questions. We also...
ALAN...know that, in my mind, is the greatest thing in the human race is the fact that she puts her little arm around the back of my neck and hugs and hugs and hugs. And I am so proud that my daughter...
REHMThe issue of being cold, Scott tell that story.
ALAN...step daughter actually did this. And I know I'm talking like a babbling idiot, but I know the feeling. It's just so important and so wonderful.
SIMONI think you, you know...
ALANI was going to write you, by the way.
SIMONWell, I'm glad we had this conversation.
ALANAnd I still may write you.
SIMONYou're free to, scottsimonbooks.com. I'd love to...
SIMON...I'd love to hear what you say. Diane, you know, if I might tell this story, it was Elise who -- I don't think our daughters, like your granddaughter, have a conscious memory of their lives in China. But what happens is that bright young women grow up and they begin to kinda fill in the blanks.
SIMONAnd they begin to ask, I think, increasingly sharp questions. And it was a couple of years ago. Elise just looked up at Caroline one night while she was being put to bed and she asked, when my mother left me, was I cold?
ALANThat just got through me. I think just did it again, Scott.
SIMONAnd my -- you know, my wife said, no, darling, your mother wrapped you. You were in blankets. You were in a basket. You were warm. You were not cold. And it was important for her to understand that she wasn't cold, which is also, of course, a way of saying you were loved by...
SIMON...the woman who left you there.
SIMONAnd she's been loved all of her life.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Bill in Dallas, Texas, "Scott, did you keep a daily journal during all these experiences or were you able to reconstruct this level of detail purely from memory? I would think you would need a great deal of energy and discipline to keep a journal (laugh) during such a physically and emotionally exhausting experience. How did you reconstruct the sights and smells in preparing this book?"
SIMONI did not keep a journal for all the reasons that he points out. My wife did write a daily e-mail dispatch. And, you know, the wonderful thing about cell phone pictures these days -- for example, the section where I described all the seven layers of clothing that came off Elise, we had pictures of that so that helped me write about that. Also we're talking between Elise's adoption and Lina's adoption, the most vivid weeks of my life.
SIMONI remember every moment, one way or another so (unintelligible) .
REHMAnd you'll never forget.
SIMONAnd I'll never forget, no.
REHMAnd to Claire, who's here in Washington, D.C., good morning to you. Clair, are you there?
REHMGo right ahead, please.
CLAIREYes. I'm enjoying the sweet story of Scott and his wife's adoption. But in a trip to China a number of years ago, I learned something that Scott doesn't take into account and that is that China's one child problem was an attempt to deal with a burgeoning population that it could not feed. And so it's not trying to deprive people of children. It was trying to feed their population.
SIMONI think that's a fair point. And India has contended with the same problem. And I don't mind saying I think it has addressed it in a way that is significantly better or significantly kinder, let me put it that way. And they've had some pretty impressive results, too, although certainly highly imperfect. We haven't had to make those kinds of choices in this country and I wanna respect that. On the other hand, I think the damage to young women -- really several generations of young women in China being deprived of their contribution has been too great to ignore. India, being a much freer society, made another choice and I think they deserve to be commended.
REHMThanks for calling, Claire. Here's an e-mail from Cher, who says, "Our daughter is from India. The photo from the orphanage was wonderful, a beautiful little girl in the arms of a nurse. It came before the official photo. That was terrifying. The baby was ill, a preemie. If we'd seen that one first, we might have refused the placement. By luck or design, the other one came first. Our daughter is now 23, beautiful, with the best heart of anyone we know."
SIMONWell, I'm happy for her.
SIMONI don't think we would've refused any baby.
REHMLet's go to Indianapolis. Hi, Kevin. Thanks for joining us.
KEVINScott, thank you so much for doing this on behalf of another fellow collector of children.
SIMONCollector of children. Yes.
KEVINI have six step children I've collected in two marriages and (laugh) it's very important people understand that the biology is not the important feature with a family.
SIMONYes. I -- Kevin is your name?
SIMONYeah, I think you're absolutely right. And I think that's a good lesson to learn, whether you're an adoptive family or not, that, you know, race and blood and genes and heritage go only so far. In the end, we're defined by our common humanity. And that's, you know, as my wife and I tell people, I mean, are we aware of the fact that our children are of a different ethnicity, yes. Are we aware of the fact that they're adopted, yes. But, you know, only about, I don't know, 5 percent of time. For most of the time, they're just our children and no differences are created between us because of that.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Donna, who says, "I applaud you for adopting a child. Do you feel or get any racial bias? We adopted a Korean boy in 1969. At that time, there was little information given to adoptive parents. When he was little, he was given lots of attention because he was so very cute. But when he became a teenager, things were different. We experienced a racial reaction. We live in central Pennsylvania. My husband was running for a local political office. The opposing party waged a telephone campaign against him because he, quote, 'had a foreigner for a son.'"
SIMONYou know, it's interesting. That happened to John McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000. There was an ugly campaign waged against him. They have -- the McCains have a young daughter who is adopted from Bangladesh. That's one of the reasons why we talked to a dozen other people -- a dozen other families in this book. 'Cause my wife and I recognize that we only have something like six and a half years of experience at this parent thing, if you please. And so we talked to other families. Frank Deford's daughter, Scarlet, adopted from the Philippines, says that she can recall no real incident of bigotry.
SIMONYou know, there was something that happened. I don't even wanna refer to it as an incident. Just the other day, my wife told me about being in Georgetown and there was a truck of people who were visibly and audibly immigrants from Central America, who were workers. And they saw one of our daughters and made the kind of sign that people sometimes do to suggest Asian eyes. They were from societies where they didn't grow up with Asian people all around them. And I'm not trying to make any excuses. I also don't wanna go into overdrive and label it bigotry. I don't know what it was. I know if I'd been there, I couldn't be responsible for my actions. But my, you know, my wife is more thoughtful. And she said, oh, what they're doing is stupid. And our daughter who was, I can tell you, Elise, who was with her, laughed and said, it's funny. And my wife said, no, it's stupid. And Elise said, no, it's funny. And I'm not sure Elise doesn't have the healthiest reaction of all of us.
SIMONI -- look, I don't know what'll happen in life. But, you know, my mother received some Irish immigrant prejudice. The Jewish side of my family received some anti-Semitism. I think our children today are growing up in a significantly more multicultural ethnically diverse society, beginning with that wonderful family from Chicago who's in the White House certainly know how to handle this. And in so far as they are subject to those kind of remarks, I think, as adversities do, it'll make them stronger so I'm not worried about that.
REHMDo you -- have you ever encountered someone, stranger or friend, looking at...
REHM...the two of you and your little children and saying...
SIMONSure. Oh yeah, they'll say to my wife, my -- or if, let's say, it's just my wife and children, they'll say, oh, my, do they look like their father? And my wife will sometimes say, well, I suppose so, most children do. But you know what we receive -- in China, this is very interesting. People will come up to us and say, oh, your daughters are so beautiful. They could almost be Chinese. So...
SIMON...we receive, you know, most of it nice.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Orlando, Fla. Rachel, thanks for joining us.
RACHELThank you. I'm so glad I got through. I've never had such a desire to weigh in on a topic before. I was adopted myself in this country when I was a baby. And I was just struck especially when Scott was talking about how he immediately fell in love with his daughters. There's absolutely no difference between the love of a family of a child who's born into the family or an adopted child. It's just like when I had my daughter. I was immediately in love with her. When my parents -- they've told me many times, once they picked me up or even got the phone call that I was, you know, ready to be picked up, they were immediately in love with me. And I just think that the topic -- the title of his book is so appropriate. It's meant to be. And...
RACHEL...I've had people my entire life try to tell me that they're not my real parents. And I unequivocally tell them they are. There's absolutely no difference.
SIMONYou know what I think is very nice about those of us -- we didn't plan it this way, obviously, who have families in which adoption is a fact of our lives. Maybe because of that, we are inspired to come out and talk to each other about what we really mean to each other. We just can't...
SIMON...assume this stuff. It's not on auto pilot. I don't think any family should assume it. But I think, because we have to have these conversations and tell each other how much we mean to each other, I think it actually winds up making us stronger. I don't mind saying.
RACHELI agree. I agree completely.
REHMThanks for calling, Rachel. And finally to Charlottesville, Va. Mary, you're on the air.
MARYHello. Thank you for taking my call.
MARYI love your show.
REHMThanks. Go right ahead, please.
MARYI have three kids adopted from China. I'm a single mom. I adopted my baby very similar to Mr. Simon's process that was back in 2001, knew immediately that I wanted a sister for her. And between coming home with my first and deciding that, it was only a couple of months, but China changed the rules about...
MARY...single parents. And I had -- there was a very long wait list. And I had a couple of agencies say -- tell me that the special needs adoptions were not part of the wait list. And I found my second daughter. And six months later, 15 months after bringing home Rosie, Rosie and I went back and got her sister. And then five years ago, we -- the two of us -- the three of us, both daughters, we went back to China and got our big brother, who was eight and a half at the time.
REHMInteresting. Well, congratulations, Mary.
SIMONGood for you. Much happiness.
REHMI'm glad you have had such success. Scott, I think that your book is going to mean so much to so many people, not only those who've been through the adoption process as you and Caroline have, but simply sharing the experience of love for children, which I saw so blatantly on board that ship (laugh) with you and Caroline and Elise and Lina. You're a lovely a family.
SIMONThank you. You're an important friend to us. Thank you. It's -- I feel blessed to have met Caroline and to have these two little girls in our lives and to share this passage through life together. And I do hope anyone reading the book in a family can learn from it, yeah.
REHMScott Simon, host of NPR's "Weekend Edition with Scott Simon." His new book...
SIMONI always cry on your show, don't I?
REHMI know you do, Scott. And his book is titled "Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption." Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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