Come Sunday morning, my wife and I will lie in bed as we hear the clatter of pans downstairs, the occasional yell for someone to butter the toast or get the eggs off the stove, followed by footsteps as they carry the finished tray upstairs.
The McGurn ladies in China
This Sunday morning in a suburban New Jersey hamlet, my bride will awaken to a Mother's Day scene repeated in millions of homes across America: breakfast in bed, prepared and served by her children.
In Mother's Days past at our house, the crayon-made cards, the iffy meal made by little hands and the perilous transportation up the stairs were all reminders this was an enterprise of children.
Today most of the children have grown into young women, and the fare has graduated to gourmet coffee and mushroom omelettes. So these days as this father observes the ritual, it hits me: Our eldest daughter is today but five years away from the age my wife was when she became a mom.
Mother's Day is a good day in our house, partly because of the general bonhomie that links us with the many moms in our lives. There's my wife, the mother of my children. There's also her mother and my mother, both still with us and adored by their grandchildren.
And in the special recesses of our hearts, there are three more. These are the women who brought our daughters into the world — three women in China whom we have never met and whose names we don't even know but to whom we owe our family.
This past summer my eldest traveled to China on her own to volunteer at an orphanage, where she learned a lesson that became her college essay. She had always wondered how a woman could give up her baby, she wrote. Then, at the orphanage, she became attached to one little fellow after just a few weeks, and gained a new appreciation for how difficult a decision it must have been — and the great selflessness that goes with it. And how lucky she was to have such a woman carry her to term, especially in a nation where she could easily have been aborted.
Now, when moms and dads have families the traditional way, biology is a powerful partner: The child is of both of you, meant for you, a part of you and yet apart from you in a wondrous way. For an adoptive mom, love must fill in what biology has left open.
So for my bride, the path to Mother's Day had no swelling of the belly, no morning sickness, no assurance that some time after nine months there would be an infant in her arms. The only physical signs of pending motherhood were a sheaf of forms and a single passport-size photo we received at some point in each adoption.
Delivery was different, too. Three times we checked into a Chinese hotel. Three times a tiny little girl was brought to our room. Three times I watched my wife wrap her baby in a love so natural and so fierce anyone watching would have thought the two had been meant to be together since the beginning of time.
And maybe they were.
I'll watch and witness amid feelings of peace and joy and contentment that overwhelm precisely because of how magnificently ordinary it all is.
Our daughters come from very different places. The eldest comes from Yangzhou, where Marco Polo claimed to have served as governor under Kublai Khan in a city not unlike San Francisco.
The middle one comes from Nanchang, birthplace of the People's Liberation Army, closer to a West Virginia.
The youngest comes from Chairman Mao's home province, Hunan, where girls are known as "chili peppers" after the dominant ingredient in the spicy local cuisine.
Out of this patchwork of Chinese geography, with no DNA or blood to bind us, their mother formed a family. And when these girls sit on the edge of our bed Sunday morning and watch their mom enjoy the cup of coffee they've made for her, on their faces you would see the certainty this good woman gave them: I am loved.
Others see it, too. Once, when my brother mentioned adoption when he was talking about our kids, his young son was incredulous: His cousins were adopted?
You could say my nephew was slow on the uptake, given his aunt is an Irish redhead while his cousins are all dark-haired daughters of the Middle Kingdom. Or you could say maybe when he saw his aunt with her children, he was the one who grasped the obvious.
So come Sunday morning, my wife and I will lie in bed as we hear the clatter of pans downstairs, the occasional yell for someone to butter the toast or get the eggs off the stove, followed by footsteps as they carry the finished tray upstairs. I'll watch and witness amid feelings of peace and joy and contentment that overwhelm precisely because of how magnificently ordinary it all is.
And offer a prayer for three unknown women somewhere in China, to whom my happy little family owes a debt beyond this world's ability to repay.
William McGurn. "Love, not biology: A Chinese-American Mother's Day." New York Post (May 9, 2014).
Reprinted with permission of the author, William McGurn.
William McGurn is editorial page editor of the New York Post. He was the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush until February 8, 2008. Formerly an executive with Newscorp, McGurn also served as the chief editorial writer with The Wall Street Journal. From 1992 to 1998 McGurn served as the senior editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. Prior to this he was the Washington bureau chief of National Review. McGurn is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Boston University. He is the author, with Rebecca Blank, of Is the Market Moral?.Copyright © 2014 New York Post
back to top