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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: January 12, 2007 NO.3 JAN.18, 2007
All in the Family
Parents of Chinese orphans in the United States place big emphasis on cultural ties

Margaret Tolan is a busy but happy mom with her three daughters-Hannah, 12, Julia, nine and Celia, four-all adopted from China.

Her day starts at 6:15 in the morning, when she gets up and prepares breakfast for the family.

At 7:30 a.m., the family leaves the house with breakfast in hand and Tolan drives the kids to school, dropping them off one by one.

By 9:00 a.m., she's in her office, where she works as an attorney.

At 6:00 in the evening, Tolan leaves her office and meets her children. The two elder children have their after-school dancing classes and they either have dinner with Tolan's parents or head home together.

"So my family works," Tolan, a single mom living in New York City, told Beijing Review proudly.

Americans seeking adoption have a long-standing love affair with China. In 2006, nearly 6,500 Chinese children found parents in the United States, according to CNN.

Twelve years ago, when Tolan turned 35, she was single and wanted very much to be a parent. On inquiry she learned that China was "incredibly inclusive and open to singles thinking of adopting a child."

"I did not feel the need to create a life when I saw there were many children needing parents," Tolan said, adding, she was both financially and emotionally capable of being a parent. She has been an attorney in New York City for the past 23 years.

Her first adoption of a Chinese child back in 1995 was successful after she went through what she called "people-oriented" processes. Those processes, as Tolan explained, usually included finding an agency which will send a social worker to the adoption applicant's home to interview them, and having the applicant provide medical and financial statements and other information which all helps to determine whether the applicant will make a good parent.

Well-adjusted children

When Tolan's first adoptive daughter Hannah came home, she was only a month old. Now 12, Hannah is an energetic child. She takes music and dancing class every day after school, learning ballet, jazz and pop.

Hannah looks happy with her mom and her two younger sisters. She is aware that she was born in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province and she never asks why she doesn't have a father. "I have many friends whose parents are also single moms," Hannah said. Having a single parent is clearly not a big deal for her.

So is Julia, a quiet Chinese girl with big pretty eyes. Julia was born in Gaoming, Guangdong Province. "I'm happy that I have my mom," Julia said.

Both having friends whose parents are also single moms and growing up in a culture where reportedly almost one third of kids are raised by single parents, Hannah and Julia have accepted the fact and enjoy life with their mom, sisters, relatives and friends.

Little Celia is still too young to think about her own background. She smiles constantly and is curious about everything new to her.

Talking about Celia, Tolan became emotional, her eyes clouded with tears. She told Beijing Review that Celia was a so-called special-needs child. She was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, with a cleft lip and palate which prevented her from speaking. And this is probably the reason that she was abandoned by her birth parents, Tolan said.

It took Tolan nine months to take then two-and-half-year-old Celia home. She immediately arranged surgery for Celia. The operation was successful and Celia has been practicing to speak in the last year and a half. She's also in a speech therapy class. "See, she is perfect now," said Tolan, as proud of her girl as any mother could be.

"I'm doing a good job. My kids are very involved with their culture and their friends," Tolan said.

She has kept her daughters' Chinese names as their middle names, so when they grow up they can use their Chinese identities. She also joined Families with Children from China (FCC), a not-for-profit organization that now helps over 2,000 families in the United States with adopted children who were born in China, raise their kids with involvement in Chinese language and culture. She said she wants to take her girls back to China frequently.

Learn to be proud

David Youtz in New Jersey has a similar story to tell.

Youtz and his wife were living in Hong Kong in 1995, when they adopted their first child from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. They didn't realize that many other American families were also adopting until they returned to America in 1996.

The adopted girl changed their lives "completely." It was "a wonderful change," said Youtz. And one of those changes was his career. Youtz joined FCC to offer help to other families who wanted to adopt children from China and is today the president of FCC of Greater New York.

Youtz and his wife don't really know anything about their adopted daughter's background. They only know the city where she was found and that the orphanage took good care of her. "Like many other families, we went back two years ago to visit the orphanage," Youtz told Beijing Review.

He said that the girl was only six months old when she was adopted and is now a happy girl in middle school in New Jersey. She did ask her parents why she looked different from daddy and mommy.

"We told her the story very honestly from the very beginning," Youtz said, adding, "In the United States today, no one keeps a secret about adoption. We are very open."

According to Youtz, a common explanation that adoptive parents in the United States give their children, is that they had birth mothers and fathers who couldn't take care of them for whatever reasons, and then the adoptive parents came over and were lucky to be able to become their new mothers and fathers.

"The children understand clearly and honestly what the story is. And we try to make them feel positive about that," said Youtz.

Like Tolan, Youtz also feels that it's important for the children adopted from China to learn the Chinese language and culture and to be proud of being Chinese. "We want the families, especially the children, to know the great things about China, to know where they came from and to be able to return to China," said Youtz.

(Reporting  from New York)

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