Choices That Changed My Life

“So . . . you were left in a Kroger?” Isaiah asked, as earnest and confused as a fourth grader could be.
“Isaiah, she said she was left in a market! Pay attention. So like Walmart. There’s a ‘Walmart Neighborhood Market’ near me, Ms. Clark. Don’t worry, I get it,” Aidan said, correcting Isaiah.

I laughed. “You all are both right. I was found in a market, which is like a grocery store, but do you all know what a farmer’s market is?” I asked the class. Hands shot up as an answer.“It was more like that.”
“Ohhhhhh,” The class chorused in unison.
“So are you and your sisters biblical?” Maggie asked timidly.
“Biblical?” I asked.
“Yeah. Do you all, you know, look alike and stuff? Are your sisters your real sisters?”
“Oh, I see. My sisters and I are not biological. We don’t share blood. They are still, though, as real as sisters can be to me.”

I’m a teacher, and I love being a teacher. I love connecting with students, their lives, and their stores. However, I understand that it starts with me. It starts with me being vulnerable and sharing my own story. When people learn I am adopted, they often have questions, as most do not know the full extent of what it means to be born in another country to another family, to be
living in a different country with a different family. The fact that I was born in China makes the concept all the more fascinating.
My story starts in China. People always say that your choices are your own, and you are one choice away from living a completely different life. There is wisdom in this saying. However, I acknowledge that I am only able to make the choices today because of the choices people made for me when I could not speak for myself. Someone chose to bring me to a busy, populated market with lots of foot traffic, rather than a dark, deserted alley. Someone chose to bring me to the orphanage, instead of leaving me there or using or selling me for profit. Someone chose to accept me in the orphanage, to clothe me, bathe me, and put me in the system. Finally, my mom and dad chose to adopt me. Their referral was put in exactly at the right time by the
right agency. There were a million decisions other people had to make for me in the early days and months of my life, and it doesn’t escape me that if just one person had made a different decision, my life could and would be completely different.

My mom and I are very close. I am fortunate to not only call her mom, but one of my best friends. We always say that adoption is like a club. Whenever you meet someone who has been adopted or has adopted, they just get it. It matters to have people in your life who get it. Growing up, my parents made an intentional effort for me to be surrounded by adoptees. We had a group
of about fifteen girls or so, called Chinese Sisters, who met regularly starting when I was seven, and continued to meet all through high school and even on breaks in college. We are all a very different group of girls, but we all have the same roots and the same background, and for that, we will always be bound together in one way or another. Our stories intertwine from the cities we were found in, to the orphanages we were taken to, and that means something. When I was younger, I liked this group because we did fun things: painting, making dumplings, going to lantern festivals, etc. In recent years, it has begun to mean something more. Adoption is something that is hard to explain, even harder to fully understand, though it is easiest with people who have walked the same road. I got married last summer, and these sisters were out there, celebrating with me.

Growing up, I was always allowed to ask questions, seek out information, and investigate for myself. This was necessary for someone like me, constantly curious about the world they lived in. They took me on heritage tours where I explored China and its culture with other adoptees. I was able to visit the orphanage where I was placed when we went to adopt my youngest sister. I was allowed to piece together what adoption is to me. It’s celebrating my heritage, while recognizing that it’s not necessarily the culture I live in or practice today. It’s appreciating my biological parents for giving me life, and appreciating my parents for raising me, guiding me, and nurturing that life. It’s understanding that I am never going to know, really know, what transpired the first eight months of my life, but embracing all the months to come. It’s grieving and celebrating, and allowing myself to do both, sometimes even simultaneously. It’s being at peace that I don’t have answers, but leaning in to the truth that I do know. It’s embracing the choices I do get to make.


Written by Caroline Clayton

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