Sandy was my best friend in college in the 1970s. We discussed and over-analyzed everything then- dorm life, classes, and, of course, boys. We certainly didn't have many conversations about what our life would be like in our 30s and 40s, and beyond.
At 18, it was impossible to imagine life that far down the road. We were having too much fun contemplating the next semester's courses and our potential careers. Imagining what our lives would look like by the time we reached 40 was unreal and futuristic. As with most girls on the verge of adulthood, we assumed life would fall into place easily -- great jobs, nice husbands and kids.
After graduation, I saw a lot less of Sandy. We still made a point to exchange holiday cards and, once we got the technology, E-mail became a way to stay connected. But changed circumstances and geography made it pretty tough to maintain our friendship in any really meaningful way. Sporadic discussions of get-togethers never materialized.
By the late 1990s, Sandy was a homeschooling mom of two in rural California, a couple of hours north of Los Angeles, where she carried a stick on her morning runs in case she encountered a coyote. I was a recently-married Washington, D.C. lawyer, logging hundreds of hours at a stereotypically big law firm, nose to the grindstone with precious little leisure time. I was beginning to toy with the idea of motherhood, but it had taken back seat to my nomadic TV journalism jobs, law school and a career change.
When a business trip to L.A. presented itself, I hauled out the atlas and realized I could catch up with Sandy for the first time in years if we met each other for lunch half way between her small town and the bright lights of Hollywood. I had no clue how different my life was about to become as a result of that decision.
I had expected our rendezvous to be just the two of us, but Sandy didn't come alone - she brought along her then-five-year-old daughter Olivia.
We started out with the usual break-the-ice chit-chat in the burgundy faux-leather booth at TGIFriday's. After our chain restaurant salads, we finally got around to the real stuff. I admitted to Sandy that I was struggling with the issue of having a family. I had come to the realization that because of my age and fertility circumstances, that for me becoming a mom meant adopting a child. I knew if I went down that road, that international adoption was going to be the avenue most open to me because of my advancing age. And that meant adopting a child from another culture ... and probably another race. While I considered myself a politically correct person, I was struggling with the fact that I'd never be able to have a child who "looked like me." I wasn't sure I was equipped to cope with the issues, both subtle and overt, of being a transracial family. Could I be a good mom to a child who didn't have my eyes or my nose or my skin color?
That afternoon, I was so absorbed with my own inner conflict, I had failed to focus on the reality in front of me. Finally, my Caucasian friend who was sitting next to her biological, bi-racial African-American daughter, smiled slyly and confided, "My children aren't adopted and they still don't look like me. I've been mistaken for my kids' babysitter plenty of times!"
The reality of what I was contemplating had been staring me in the face all through lunch, but I was so focused on my own personal turmoil I had tuned out their obvious physical differences! As with someone who is truly a good friend, regardless of time and distance, Sandy helped me come to grips with my fear and the challenges that I would face being a mother to a child who didn't share my physical features and would have a cultural legacy completely different from my own. I could see Sandy and Olivia's mutual adoration and there was no question in my mind as I watched them that they were family. In that moment, much of my anxiety lifted, notwithstanding the issues I knew would have to be dealt with for a multi-hued family. But I knew then that I would not be alone in trying to muddle my way through a kind of motherhood that was still the exception to the rule.
As I drove back south on the I-10 to downtown Los Angeles and the rest of my business meetings, I thought long and hard about Sandy's reality and realized that parenting was less about genes and more about being part of a child's life. In that moment, I finally knew that I was ready to take the next step on the path that ultimately led me to China to bring home my daughter Rachel. I just didn't know until then that the road to China went through L.A