This book and interview dovetails two things of particular interest to me: NPR, particularly the NPR hosts, and adoption.
I have written before about my love for NPR, from my interview with the author of a book of NPR hosts to my letter to NPR when my car stereo was stolen the same day NPR ran a story saying fewer people are stealing car stereos these days to my memoir piece when I once again, recently, was reunited with NPR by having a car stereo after going without for 18 months.
I have not written about my interest in adoption and am not going to do so here — some topics are too private to share — except to say I know families who have adopted children.
Scott Simon is one of my favorite NPR hosts. So when I heard this item on NPR announcing he had written a book about he and his wife adopting two children from China I knew I wanted to get a copy of that book and interview Mr. Simon.
He agreed, and the interview below is the result.
The book is excellent in several ways, both as a must-read for families who have adopted children or are considering adoption and as a glimpse into his own personal life. It has parts that may make you cry for joy and sections that may make you cry for sadness. As with his pieces on NPR he is eloquent and insightful.
He was limited in his time to answer questions, so I did not get a chance to ask him about one interesting New York Times piece that speaks both about his book as well as what sounds like a fascinating documentary, Wo Ai Ni, Mommy (I love you, Mommy). The article is worth reading.
And now on to the interview…
How do you feel about the possibility of becoming, essentially, a poster boy for adoptive families by writing this book?
I don’t think that’s likely to happen. One of the advantages of writing this book at this point in my career is that I’m known for rather a lot of things by now, hardly just adoption.
Can you talk about the “Adults Say the Darndest Things” part of the book? Everyone I know who has adopted has a few of these anecdotes to tell of people who say things which are perhaps not meant to be offensive or prejudiced against adoptions but, sometimes, are. Why do you think that is? Do you chalk it up, say, to people defensive about their way of life?
I suppose that it depends on the person and the remark. And, the circumstances. A question like, “Why did you go overseas?” is fair — just not wise in front of our daughters. I mostly encounter people who want to make some kind of connection, but just don’t know how, or what to say, so they blurt something ridiculous. I’m sure I’ve done the same thing myself.
Followup question: Do you envision that changing over time — people making ignorant comments less often — as more people know others who have adopted?
Yes. I’d say we’re already getting there. But progress is never perfect. I get anti-Semitic email every week, and a lot of people think we’re beyond that, too.
Did you have adopted children in mind — including your own — as an audience when you wrote the book?
I certainly had my children in mind while writing the book. They’ll grow up with it, after all. And I’m comfortable with everything that appears. They will know of our love. Any child who is adopted who may read the book will know of their parent’s love, too.
I’m interested in your comments on page 169 about how legal adoptions in the U.S. are dropping. You suggest this is due to the increase in assisted fertility clinics? You also go on to suggest — if I read you right — that those who speak about concern about overpopulation should consider adoption rather than in vitro fertilization. Is that a correct summation of your thinking on this?
I can’t prove a negative — that assisted fertility clinics are among the forces that have lowered the number of formal, legal adoptions. But I don’t want to deny the obvious, however politically inconvenient it sounds. People can walk into a fertility clinic, answer a few questions, and have a baby in their arms within nine months. It is understandable that assisted fertility, not adoption, should be the reflex reaction of a couple who are having problems conceiving. It certainly was for me and my wife. I talked to several families in connection with this book who report that they were interested in adoption, but were finally discouraged by time, costs, and other factors, so they went into assisted fertility. I’m happy that they were able to start families.
I said explicitly that I would distrust someone who adopted because they think it would reduce their carbon footprint on this planet. Parenthood should be the product of joy, not duty. But all this being noted, I hope that people who go through rounds of fertility treatment will consider adoption as an early option, not just a last resort. The millions of orphaned and abandoned children in the world should be seen as precious potential for the world, and they deserve the love of a family.
I asked online friends if they had questions they wanted me to ask you and one asked this: “Does Mr. Simon address the moral issue of Westerners benefiting from the tyranny of Chinese authorities who are forcing these baby girls away from their biological parents? There is considerable duress involved, coercion and even threats. Yet, monied Westerners look the other way and are complicit in this violence. Where is the compassion for the Chinese parents?”
I was going to reword that to something softer but you’re an NPR host — you can handle tough questions. How would you answer that question beyond that, yes, you do address that.
I have no problem with the wording of the question. It’s just a silly premise. My wife and I do not look the other way, and do not consider ourselves to be complicit in the violence against women that is embodied in China’s state family planning tyranny. There are more than 15 million orphaned and abandoned children in China, and only an insignificant number of children, perhaps 5,000 a year, are adopted. Our daughters were abandoned. We didn’t take them from their parents — for whom I express profound compassion, sympathy, and admiration in this book — but from orphanages. US banks, businesses, and the US government are far more complicit in benefitting the tyranny of Chinese authorities — which the president of the United States is reluctant to criticize, because we are so deeply in hock to them — than parents who adopt Chinese children.
I want to end this interview with this quote from the book which I think excellently sums up parenting:
Parenthood is nuts and bolts. No, that’s carpentry. Parenthood is shit, snot, slime, fear, tears, spit, and spills. It’s as intense as combat, which is to say hours of tedium relieved by moments of alarm and flashes of joy to remind you that you’re alive.