Compared to the two most recent reunions of our older daughter’s adoption group, the Zoom gathering that we had to settle for on the Saturday night after New Year’s Day might have been considered a letdown.
That’s understandable because those in-person reunions, in the winter of 2017 in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and on Cape Cod the following summer, were the personification of what fellowship, friendship, community and celebration used to be before the pandemic: We met in person, shared relaxing dinners in honest-to-goodness restaurants and enjoyed lively conversations and heartfelt bonding.
The weekend summer reunion also included lazy afternoons and evenings by the motel pool, informal chats catching up with old friends and the cutting of a cake after our extended Saturday night dinner.
Those reunions added more fond memories to the ones formed during the more than two decades of gatherings we have held to celebrate what we accomplished on Sept. 19, 1997, in Hefei, China, where we had journeyed to adopt our toddlers.
Those little girls, whom we cradled so carefully in our arms on Adoption Day, are now young adults who have graduated from college or are pursuing advanced degrees while also working in a variety of professions – teaching, engineering, biogenetics, to name just a few.
Much has changed since we first adopted our daughters, at a time when international adoption wasn’t quite so popular or routine as it eventually became for American couples yearning to start families. The movement to adopt Chinese girls gained steam at that time because of China’s one-child policy (which the Chinese government ended in 2015).
In 1997, the year that Hong Kong was given back to China, it was a different world from today. China was just starting to become an industrial giant, there was thick smog in the girls’ home city, and a perceived shortage of retail products in the country led us to bring plenty of toilet paper on the trip. We also brought baby formula for the girls, who were between 13 and 17 months old. (The formula came in handy, but there was plenty of toilet paper at our hotels.)
What would soon become a tight-knit group of new parents first met in the Hong Kong airport, while awaiting a flight to Hefei. When we landed in Hefei, later that Wednesday night, we boarded a bus to the hotel and were told that the adoption would be pushed back one day, to Friday.
No one was disappointed; the chance to rest one more day was a divine gift, because all of us were nervous and anxious just thinking about becoming parents. The reality that we would be handed a life to take care of was daunting enough to make sleep rare on the final two nights before parenthood changed our lives.
The handover from local Chinese adoption officials, held in a hotel conference room on Friday morning, went as smoothly as possible. The girls seemed to quickly adapt to their new surroundings, and the sight of fathers and mothers walking the hotel halls with their kids at night became common.
The next two weeks in China breezed by, and we flew home forever transformed. I’ll never forget how animated my daughter, Ari, was when we got into the car that picked us up at the airport; sensing the excitement, she clapped her hands, as if to say: “Get me home already!”
We quickly grew accustomed to the challenges of parenthood. And each year, our adoption group, which included families from New York, Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts, would hold a reunion – something that we did, remarkably, every year through 2012.
Reunions then became less frequent; with the girls in high school, they kept in touch on social media, but getting together became difficult. Some of the girls attended Ari’s high school graduation party in 2014, but it had been a while since the parents had gotten together until, in 2017, we met for the first of our last two in-person reunions, at Sturbridge’s Publick House.
We had a grand time. And at one point, I turned to one of the mothers and said, “Janis, we’ve done good.”
Grammarians will scold me, because I should have said “we’ve done well,” but my point was that our perseverance during those two weeks we spent in China in 1997 produced two equally important results:
At the 2018 reunion on the Cape, we made tentative plans to gather again in a couple of years, during the summer of 2020. But, like nearly all plans made for 2020, that reunion didn’t happen.
That’s why, when the email invite arrived on Jan. 2 to hold a reunion on Zoom that evening, several of the 10 parents who have kept in touch responded enthusiastically.
What followed was typical of the reactions that people have when they’ve finally been able to reconnect with friends during this pandemic, even virtually: We shared stories, we laughed, we gave and received updates about our lives and those of our daughters – and we commiserated about this terrible pandemic.
We all felt incredibly grateful that we are surviving this “new normal,” which has robbed us of our humanity – and we vowed to meet in person as soon as we’re able to do so to celebrate the miracle of adoption that happened so long ago in China.
It's the least we owe each other and our daughters.
LARRY KESSLER (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He and his wife Lynne adopted a second child, Alana, from China in 2002. Larry blogs at larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.