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Commentary | JOHN BALZAR

Moonbeams and Hope

November 28, 2001|JOHN BALZAR

Have you ever climbed a ladder to the moon? Have you sent your heart on that long flight into the sky? Have you ever loved someone you've never seen except in the face of that moon?

As the legend goes, the moon will be your touchstone, if you want it to be.

So my wife and I gaze up as the moon makes its rounds. Hours later, it shines down on our baby daughter, who is on the other side of the world.

Tonight, this baby sleeps in an orphanage in China. Sometime next spring, a page will turn on a waiting list, and we will be "matched" and can bring her home. Today, Liisa and I share this story because November is National Adoption Month, and adoption, of course, is another of nature's miracles.

Children are expressions of optimism, and never more than in troubled times. In the next 12 months, 120,000 children will be adopted in the United States. The reasons are many, varied, often private. But they all answer to the same essential chemistry, the wild molecules that fuel the chain reaction of life.

Each of us can choose how to view matters, and Liisa and I choose to regard adoption as a timeless and honorable way to make a family. There are many children in this world, too many if you are concerned about the future of our teeming planet. But in our household there are too few. There is room here for one, or twins perhaps (you never know).

President Bush's Adoption Month proclamation noted that 134,000 children in this country are awaiting homes. Abroad, many times more are without families.

Beyond logistics and the crapshoot of genetics, adoption is different chiefly in its paperwork. And we don't say this lightly, because adoptive parents are screened, investigated and forced, at least in our case, to fill a whole binder with self-reflections on ourselves, our lives and our purposes. We were asked to put our dreams and our promises in writing. I have no earthly idea if this introspection will make us better parents, but I'm certain it will not make us worse.

A generalization: When you reach your 40s and 50s, your choices narrow and intensify. What you do next will shape the remainder of your active life.

According to government statisticians, the prevalence of adoption increases with age, education and income.

This daughter will be my second. I raised my first in a previous marriage and she is on her own now, living in another state. We use the telephone and airlines to stay close, although I look for her smile in the moon too. The most wonderful thing she ever said is that her sister will be lucky to have me as a father.

Adoption is an absorbing process, full of magic and nail-biting worry, but also transitory. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, just over half of adoptions in the U.S. are by blood relatives or stepparents. The remainder are called unrelated adoptions. A growing number of these are international adoptions, perhaps 15,000 or more in the coming year, with Asia, eastern Europe and Latin America accounting for 90% of these children.

According to the National Center of Health Statistics, about one-quarter of married women in the U.S. between 18 and 44, or nearly 10 million, said they had considered adoption. Of these, 15% had taken steps toward adopting. The study did not inquire about the attitudes of men.

You won't hear from me about famous people who were adopted. Or famous people who have adopted. Or about the pitfalls of adoption. On the occasion of National Adoption Month, I only wanted to celebrate this one way that families are made. All the rest is parenthood.

Abe Lincoln, who is remembered for his wisdom on many topics, understood what's in our hearts. "Love," he said, "is the chain whereby to bind a child to his parents." Love and, for a while, moonbeams.

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