Since Scott Simon has chronicled the American experience for years as the host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” it seems only fitting that he should apply his prizewinning reportorial skills to a personal experience that has enriched his life beyond his wildest dreams: adopting a child.
In his new memoir Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other, the congenial moderator invites us into the family he and his wife Caroline created when they adopted two Chinese daughters based on little more than thumb-size snapshots. Being a gracious host, he also shares other adoption stories within his circle of friends that includes sportswriter Frank Deford, Freakonomics author Steve Levitt and celebrated fashion designer Alexander Julian.
Elise, now 7, and Paulina, a precocious 3½, have become the center of Simon’s world. “I am the spoiler-in-chief,” admits the proud papa without hesitation or remorse. Despite the fact that he and his wife saved their daughters from what he calls “a life too terrible to contemplate,” it is Simon who feels lucky.
“Why are we pouring money into a scientific procedure to create children when there are millions of children in this world already who need love?”
Having failed to start a family “in the traditional Abraham-and-Sarah-begat manner,” the Simons submitted to the prodding protocols of a fertility clinic, without success.
“At some point, we just looked at each other and thought, why are we pouring money into a scientific procedure to create children when we know there are millions of children in this world already who need love?” he recalls. “I wish that people would take a look at adoption early on in the process of trying to have a family rather than as a last resort.”
Their search for a family led them to China, land of the controversial one-child-per-family policy that has placed a premium on male offspring at the heartbreaking expense of tens of thousands of abandoned little girls each year. That it took 18 months to adopt Elise and two years to adopt Paulina frustrated Simon beyond words.
“The Chinese permit an astonishingly small percentage of orphaned and abandoned children to be adopted,” he says. “To me, that is absolutely flabbergasting. The government policy on adoption is addressing political, economic and social goals that have almost nothing to do with the best interests of children. Now that we have two little girls from China who are part of our family, we need to speak out about it.”
“I’m amazed that today people can get scolded for using a paper cup and throwing it away and yet somehow we haven’t fathomed all the youngsters in the world who need homes.”
Simon describes the anxious hours of waiting in a Chinese hotel room before they could take their daughter Elise in their arms. Impending fatherhood brought its share of doubts.
“I love children, but I understood even then that there is a real difference between playing peek-a-boo in a public place and then being able to get up and go about your business,” he recalls. “I knew I could be a pretty successful play partner, but I think I was concerned whether I would be a good and devoted parent. But the transformation was pretty quick.”
The Simon sisters are in most ways typical American kids; they attend public school, prefer ice cream with extra sprinkles and believe in the Tooth Fairy. “They’re very, very bright,” Simon crows, then quickly adds: “One of the other advantages of adoption is that you can brag on your children without any concern that you’re congratulating your own genetic contribution.”
Still, he’s aware that childhood can slip by faster than a half-hour newscast. “The older they get, the sharper their questions get about not just what happened to them but what happens to other people there,” he says.