My life seemed difficult at age 14. It wasn’t easy balancing school, friends, family, sports, and of course, girls. I was making the transition to high school, the social scene was changing, and I was beginning to sprout body hair in some very strange places.
So you can imagine my dismay when my mom and dad sat me down and gleefully announced, “We’re adopting a little girl from China!” Naturally, my first reaction as a teenage boy was to rebel. Thousands of questions circled in my brain. How dare they adopt!?! Didn’t they have enough to deal with already? Aren’t they a little old to be having kids? How is this going to affect my life? How about the lives of my five brothers? Don’t they care about us at all? I could not be consoled.
But I didn’t want to be selfish, as it was obvious that my parents had given this adoption a lot of thought. I would have felt barbarous had I stood in their way. “Cool,” I told them. “If you want to adopt, that’s cool with me.”
My life was about to change, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I resentfully went through the motions of the adoption process– interviewing with social workers, signing my name on official transcripts, watching my parents wait anxiously. The entire ordeal dragged on for more than a year. Yet through that entire period, I kept all of my feelings to myself. I didn’t disclose my worries to my friends, my brothers, or my parents. I tried to forget about the whole thing, hoping it would all go away. The fact that I would soon have a little sister seemed more like a distant threat than a reality.
That is, until her picture came.
It arrived in a large manila envelope covered in intricate Chinese stamps and seals. A blurry 3-by-5 photo of a pale little girl was included in a stack of meaningless documents. Her face was beautiful, but dispirited, and it looked like there were tears in her eyes. Reality sank in instantly.
This little girl, in an orphanage 8,000 miles away, was my sister.
I felt terrified and guilty for not wanting her to be a part of our family because the alternative for her was awful. I had some growing up to do, and I had to do it fast.
Two months later, my parents brought Lily (my sister) home. We met her at the airport where my parents named off all of us to her and then passed her around from brother to brother. The first time I held her, all the apprehension, the selfish concerns that kept me up at night, the denial, everything, all dissolved instantly. She was just so cute and helpless.
I loved her instantly.
She became my little buddy– someone I could play with, someone I could teach, and most of all, someone who could teach me. Lily has provided me with a completely different perspective on everything from international relations to children’s programming (that Blue’s Clues show is pretty good).
Today, as an older, wiser, and hairier 17-year-old, I can offer this advice to parents: Keep your teens involved in the adoption process. Educate them about the adoption process. Let them become a part of the procedure instead of letting them feel isolated.
Take them to events where there are adopted children. For example, I went to The Chinese Children’s Heritage Camp just outside of Steamboat Springs, Colo. As one of the many counselors, I was able to interact with other teens who were going through the adoption process. Despite the fact that all of us were frantically trying to keep the children in line, we were able to provide hundreds of helpful insights to each other.
It’s easy for parents to get wrapped up in the process and perfectly kosher to do so, but you can’t forget about the feelings of your teenagers. Encourage your children to discuss their concerns. Don’t pry anything out of them, but bring up the subject several times. Take them shopping or do something one-on-one because they probably won’t come talk to you on their own. If you are truly together in adopting, it will make things easier for you and your adolescent.
Communication on the subject of adoption has greatly improved in my family. So much so that we have decided to adopt another Chinese baby. Her name is Ally, and we wait for her with open arms.