Marylin Kress began her adoption journey as a young woman contemplating her future family. In May, 1994, as a single parent by choice, she adopted an eight-week-old baby girl from China. Marlyn currently co-directs Stars of David Chaverim Chapter in the Southern NJ/Philadelphia area. She is also a member of the Adoptive Parent Leadership Coalition whose mission is to strengthen the voice of adoptive families through a network of adoptive parent support groups.
The Best Is Yet to Come
As Mother's Day approaches, I sit here trying to gauge how one person — me — can be so lucky. This will be the tenth anniversary that Zoe and I celebrate our becoming a family through the miracle of adoption. I waited forty-four years to have a child and to be blessed by receiving her into my arms on Mother's Day of all days continues to overwhelm me even after all this time.
During the past ten years, I have watched my daughter develop from an infant to a preteen who just can't wait to grow up. It used to be so easy: I would pick out her clothes; take her to the activities I planned; surround her with friends I picked out; feed her what I wanted to eat; and keep her on a schedule that was convenient for me and my crazy life.
I also chose a religion for her to follow — Judaism. On Zoe's first birthday, my parents and I went to the mikvah, ritual bath, at a nearby Orthodox shul and converted her to Judaism before the Va'ad, committee, of Orthodox rabbis in our area. My father, of blessed memory, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the Great Wall of China, dunked Zoe into the warm pool the requisite three times. Everyone cheered and the rabbis proclaimed her a beautiful Jewish girl. It was all very uncomplicated and loving. A fairytale...
Then came the start of elementary school. I chose a Jewish day school — our local Solomon Schechter — because I wanted Zoe to have a firm foundation in Judaism. I hoped she would be "centered" in her spiritual identity and feel that being Jewish was a source of strength when she needed it to face life's challenges. The school also had a diverse student population, with a number of adopted children, some Asian, some domestic, some from Eastern Europe. I wanted her not to feel alone in her differences. It was the right decision. She is so happy there.
Once she began attending school, all of a sudden this little girl had major opinions on everything — what she wanted to wear and to eat each day; which activities she wanted to pursue; which friends she wanted to play with. What got into her, I asked myself? She even had crushes on boys!
Where was the child who had quietly voiced her likes and dislikes? Gone to another land. My daughter was becoming her own person. How fun it was to watch and experience her development; to share all the wonderment and intensity that filled her questions about life, her adoption, science, the world... To be a witness to the person she was trying to hatch.
Everything about Zoe has started to change again this year. As she began fourth grade, a new obsession has taken hold. She and her friends have become enamored of a reissued TV program called Full House. They watch it every day, recite the episodes to each other, discuss the merits of the storylines, and act out their favorite scenes. This is endearing to me because I remember a program called Dr. Kildare which spawned a new wave of doctor fashion among the girls of my generation.
Other subtle changes are also taking place. My little girl is slowly but surely starting her rite of passage into womanhood. Her body is changing along with her ideas and preferences. She is becoming more introspective. She sees her place in this life in a new, more mature way.
I feel that Zoe is somewhat of an "old soul." She is very worldly and thoughtful about her adoption. This year, her class did a unit on miracles. The kids had to think of miracles that have happened. Zoe wrote something down and turned it in. The next day, I happened to be in school and her teacher came up to me, asked if I had read what Zoe had written, and then showed it to me. I started to cry right in the middle of the hall. She had written in Hebrew that the miracle was my coming to China and adopting her because if I hadn't, then she wouldn't be in America with so many family members and friends that love and care for her. And she wouldn't be Jewish and go to Kellman Academy. Out of the mouths of babes!
I have always been very open and honest with her about how we became a family. We have had many discussions about "the why" and "how" of it all. I feel that communication develops a trusting relationship. There is no question that I will not answer. I have been asked if she has siblings; why or if they were also surrendered for adoption. Does she look like her birth parents? Would I love a birth child more than her? How did I know that she was the "right" baby for me? Will she be able to have babies grow in her tummy? Can she adopt a baby from China when she grows up? The list of questions is too long to list. But rest assured, I have answered every one to the best of my ability and on increasingly complex levels. The questions don't change as she matures, but the meaning behind them does. Zoe knows that she can come to me with anything. She might not always like the answer that I give but she is confident that it is the truth. This, I believe, is the healthiest way to deal with painful issues. For some of her questions or statements can be painful on a number of levels.
Zoe is a budding woman in more ways than one. She is starting to talk about her future education. She has developed her own fashion sense and wears her clothes differently. Her relationships with her friends are deepening. She talks about her friends "being there for me, Mom." And then, there is the embarrassment issue. I seem to embarrass her ALL the time. I like to sing in the street and in the car. "Mom," or should I say "M-o-o-o-o-m" has almost become a mantra.
Was I like this? How funny that the circle of life just continues to go 'round and 'round. I guess I'm seeing that all mothers and daughters go through this pattern one way or another. I tend to look at it with humor. It makes me laugh inside when my daughter tries to tell me "how it is" because she thinks it is so new, this feeling of trying to grow up. She is very serious about it, and while I respect this in her, I just see all those who came before her in her words and actions.
Now, we are waiting to receive the date for Zoe's Bat Mitzvah. This day of days will have my daughter standing before her loving family, friends and congregation, proclaiming her choice to be Jewish and assume the responsibilities of being a Jewish woman. The faith I passed down to her on her first birthday must now be chosen by her as she becomes an adult in the eyes of her spiritual people. I am awestruck when I watch and listen to her daven (pray) with her class at school. As the only Asian in her class, she does tend to stick out, while at the same time it seems very natural. Oh, how the face of Judaism has changed.
I can't wait for Zoe's story to play out. I may not have made Zoe in my body, but boy, can I see myself in her. Our wonderful differences keep me smiling. And I must tell you, while I love my daughter to distraction, what makes me truly happy is that I also like her! She is a great little girl. Maybe, when all is said and done, someone will say we've done a good job with each other. For I have learned as much from having her in my life as she will have from having me in hers.
Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher. Yiddish for "prayer," it's often used as a verb in English. ("I'm going to daven Saturday morning.") Yiddish for "synagogue."