A New Sister, by Ellen Watson

Ellen is the older sister to 3 year-old Tong Ting, adopted in October 1998 from Tong Ling. Though Ellen did not make the journey to China with her mother, stepfather and brother, she hopes to travel there someday with Ting.


hen my mother mentioned over the phone to me one day, "We're thinking about adoption," I thought it would never happen. I was certain that this was a whim and that she and my step-father would do no such thing. My brother and I were 25 and 28--  though there were no grandchildren in sight, it was not an impossible notion. He and I were both involved in serious relationships. I was dreaming of marriage, babies, and a little house with a white picket fence. Surely, my mother was more ready to be a grandmother than a new mother. Or so I thought.

I got the call at home after dinner one night. The apartment I shared with my boyfriend, Sam, was very small. The bathroom often served as a phone booth in order to give each other privacy and quiet as we chatted with friends or family. That night, my mom called. Nothing out of the ordinary, we spoke frequently. But in minutes, I was sitting down and listening to her say the words, "So, are you really okay with the adoption? I want you to be okay with this."



"You're serious."

Silence...and then, "Ellen, I thought..."

"Wow, okay, I was just...uh...I just wasn't..uh...quite sure....that...this... was so....so....that this was so serious....." I stopped, breathed for the first time. "Just let me let it sink in, okay?"

We got off the phone. I told Sam. And then, it became a reality. Over the next year, my mother and Alan filled out endless documents, were subject to endless questions and visits. They read about China, surfed the Internet for stories of adoption, met families who had been there and who had adopted. They prepared for the trip to China by ordering a water filter, by painting a bedroom pale pink and filling the shelves with little tiny books and teeny weeny socks. They bought night lights and baby blankets. And then they waited. And waited. And waited for the phone to ring. 

A year after they began the process the phone rang on a crisp, sunny September morning. Her name was Tong Ting. She was 2. She liked to dance, to play with trucks, she smiled a lot. She was recovering from pneumonia, but she was okay. She needed a home and did we want her to join our family?  YES. More than anything, yes.

Two days later, FedEx came rambling down the long, dusty road. As precious as a crystal clear, clean-cut diamond, the folder was opened. Inside it held a glimpse of Tong Ting. The postage stamp-sized photo showed a small head and a little neck. Oh, that face. Her eyes looked out at me like two tiny dark pools -- they held such emotion, such need. Or perhaps it was that I felt I needed her at that very moment and that I wanted her to need me.

Just over a month later, my mother and Alan along with my brother, George, boarded the plane for China. I stayed behind, knowing I was missing out. I was not there to meet Ting, not there to stare into those little eyes. In two weeks they came home. Tired and exhausted, my parents introduced her to her new home, hew new kitties and her new dog, Jackson. She had a new bedroom with a bed and a chest full of warm clothes. 

I drove up immediately to see her. Pulling into the driveway, I waited for my usual greeting of hugs and dogs and cats in the driveway. But the house remained quiet, lit up like a carved pumpkin in the night. My car door slammed shut as I plopped my suitcase on the ground. Still, nothing. I walked up to the house, thinking how from this moment on my life would be different. The front door opens, my stepfather stands there with a smile and toddling in behind him is Tong Ting, trailing my mother behind.  "She's a little shy..," Mom says. I go to her, stretch out my arms. Up she comes, holding on to me like a little koala bear. There are the eyes, looking at me. And her smile is so sweet, so big!

I had a new sister. And she was about to change me, about to change my life.

Thank goodness.