We’re Going to China!
I’m going to be an Auntie Anne again. Or maybe a godmother. I’m getting another baby from China, and I’m sending her home with my best friend.
As some of you know, almost two years ago I traveled to China with Jane and Rich and got Maggie, their first daughter. Maggie’s full name is Margaret Lili Anne… yes, she was named after me. Why?
Jane came to work for me in October 1994. I was just back on my feet after my first bout with cancer. Thanks to Gloria, her predecessor, my solo law practice was able to hobble along for the six months I was at home. Almost as soon as I returned to work full time, Gloria told me she was moving back to Virginia. I was devastated. I was losing a phenomenal legal secretary and the woman who had kept my hopes for my business alive. I was our primary breadwinner at the time, and without Gloria I can’t imagine how bad things would have been for us financially. Jack was three years old.
Gloria assured me she would find me a good replacement for her. I despaired. She smiled at me in the cooly confident way she had and told me not to worry. Worry? I had to rebuild my practice and train a new assistant at the same time, making sure the bills were paid, while still recovering from cancer. What, me worry?
We interviewed several people. Gloria handled most of the questions. For some reason, I remember Jane’s interview but not any of the others. Maybe it’s because Jane was such a superlative candidate for the position.
Jane had worked for a part-time municipal judge who had an active law practice in her home town, which was about 45 minutes from Little Rock in the Ouachita Mountains. “The commute will be long,” I remember saying.
“I’m moving to Little Rock whether you offer me this job or not,” Jane replied with determination.
I explained they type of practice I had. It was a general practice, and I handled a little bit of everything. The complex things I referred to lawyers who did those cases more frequently, or I associated the lawyer on the case and let him do most of the work. There were lots of divorces and post-divorce matters, settling estates and probating wills, writing wills, advising small businesses, creating corporations, the occasional car wreck, real estate transactions, evictions for landlords we represented, leases, paternity cases, boundary disputes, juvenile delinquency, custody cases, and child welfare cases. She’d be exposed to almost everything but securities work and adult-sized criminals.
“Not a problem,” she said. “That’s what my boss and I do now.” She had worked for this lawyer for six years.
During my conversation with Jane, Gloria excused herself then reappeared with a cup of coffee. She set it carefully on my desk, then turned to Jane.
“I want to hire someone who will take good care of Anne,” she said to Jane. “That means bringing her coffee, calming clients who are upset, screening her calls, and making sure her parking tickets are paid.” That last bit was not a joke. Someday I’ll tell about the parking tickets. It’s a subject for a completely different blog.
Jane smiled. “Right now, I pay my boss’s bills for him, arrange for babysitters, screen his calls, and handle the calls from the defendants in municipal court who think they can talk directly to the judge. I’m used to taking care of my boss, and I think he will tell you I do a good job. Call him and ask him.”
I will do that, I thought to myself, an I’ll check these other references, too.
Gloria and I were both impressed with her. “That’s my replacement,” Gloria said as Jane left the building.
I called her references. First was Jeannie, a lawyer in her hometown I knew from some volunteer work she had done in Little Rock’s juvenile court while she was in law school.
“Jane can’t spell her own name,” Jeannie told me, “but she goes the extra mile. She knows what to do and when to do it. She is the person I go to when I have questions about cases.”
“You don’t ask her boss?” Jeannie and Scott, Jane’s boss, were sharing office space.
Jeannie snorted. “Why would I? Jane does all his work.”
Next I called the insurance agent whose office was next door to Scott’s.
“Jane is the best lawyer in Morrilton,” he declared.
“Really,” he insisted. “She writes all the wills for my clients. I send them over there and Jane fixes them right up. I’m really going to miss her.”
I called Scott. Jane had said I could, and the current employer is no better person to give an assessment.
“She told me she had interviewed with a lawyer in Little Rock,” Scott said ruefully. “I guess this means I’m going to lose her for sure.”
“You don’t want her to leave?”
“Lord, no! She’s the person who runs my practice! I’m not going to find anyone to replace her anytime soon.”
“How’s her work?”
“She’s fantastic. She can’t spell, but that’s what spell check is for. She writes my letters, takes care of my clients, and makes sure I know where to be and when to be there. She does it all.
“I can’t keep her here as long as the big city lures her. I think there’s a man,” he confided.
Offering Jane the job was definitely not a mistake. Over the last 13 years we’ve had our ups and downs, but not with each other. She’s become my best friend, my confidant, my cherished girlfriend. She’s my right hand and my left brain. She’s the reason I have time to write the occasional blog.
I’ve sent her to paralegal school and announced on Friday afternoons that we needed to go see a chick flick. Our husbands wouldn’t take us to them, so if we wanted to see tear-jerkers we were on our own. Every once in awhile we’d take the morning and go for pedicures. It’s not all about work. The work gets done, though.
Jane and I celebrated our tenth anniversary together with a trip to New York without husbands or children. We saw shows, went shopping, and played tourist. Our families vacation together in the summers. We go to the beach as soon as school gets out for a week. She is like my sister. In fact, people often ask us if we’re sisters. We’re both short, plump, and have dark hair. We laugh. We are sisters in spirit, we tell them. We are good judges of each other’s moods. We can finish each other’s sentences. We laugh at each other. We are not at all alike, but we complement each other beautifully.
After years of fertility treatment, Jane and her husband Rich, who she met a year or two after coming to work for me, were finally able to have a son. After that, though, the fertility treatment was frustratingly ineffective. She became pregnant twice and miscarried. Her doctor told her he’d keep doing the in vitro, but he doubted it would work. Jane and Rich had spent years and tens of thousands of dollars on fertility therapies. It was time to look into adoption. I was relieved. All those hormones made her into a raging monster. I was glad to put up with it, though. She put up with me, after all.
Jane was terrified of adopting a child through a local agency or through the state. Practicing family law, we were all too aware of how badly wrong things can go, especially when the birth parents start fighting each other and drag the adoptive family into it. Several high profile adoptions going wrong cemented Jane’s resolve to adopt internationally.
Jane came to work one morning and solemnly asked me if we could talk. Their health insurance didn’t cover the fertility treatments and they had borrowed money to keep trying to have a baby. Although they were steadily paying the debt off, and had already paid a significant amount, there was still a lot left to pay. If they were going to adopt, they needed to borrow money.
Jane outlined a repayment plan to me, and I agreed. I would have agreed whether she had a plan to repay it or not. This baby was important to her, and I had the power to make it possible. I told her that day that I didn’t expect repayment. This was something I could afford to do and something she needed. There was no way I could, or would, refuse her. She insisted on signing a promissory note. I never got around to drafting one. Jane is important to me.
China seemed to offer the best program. China’s been exporting girls for decades because of the law that allows each family only one child, and the Chinese preference for sons. They began the long process of applying for approval from China.
From the time they made the decision and started gathering paperwork, it was a year before they were told that Maggie was waiting for them in Guangdong Province, the place we used to know as Canton.
“We’re going to China!” Jane exclaimed joyfully.
“Not without me, you aren’t,” I told her.
That’s right. I tagged along when they adopted her baby girl. In fact, one of my very first blog entries, before I started writing regularly, was made from China.
Jane and Rich’s family still wasn’t complete, though. About six months after we returned from Guangzhou, Jane told me that she believed there was another Chinese girl who would be calling her “mommy.” This little girl’s name would be Kennedi. Kennedy is a family name on Jane’s side.
They started the paper chase again. All the documents that had been gathered for the Maggie’s adoption were out of date and had to be replaced. Jane got busy and replaced them and sent them to China. The debt from the fertility treatment is almost paid off, and Jane and Rich have paid all Kannedi’s adoption fees to date with money they have managed to save.
Jane called me today, in tears. We only work two days a week now. She spends lots of time at home with Maggie, who is now two and a half and acting every bit of it. She is able to pick her son, Cade, up from kindergarten every day.
“We got the referral,” she said. I barely understood her she was crying so hard.
“Tell me about her!” I demanded.
“She has a cleft palate.” We expected this. This time Jane and Rich had requested what the Chinese refer to as a “waiting child” – one with a birth defect or some other special need that prevents them from being the most desired for adoption.
Jane and Rich specifically asked for a child with this particular birth defect. We can have it fixed here in Little Rock at Children’s Hospital. One of our clients works for a local doctor who specializes in this surgery, and makes regular trips to China to donate her time and skills doing the surgeries there.
“We haven’t got the last of the fees saved yet,” Jane told me. They hadn’t expected the referral this soon.
“You know that’s not a problem,” I told her.
Once again she outlined a repayment plan. Once again, I will forget to draft the promissory note.
I’ve spent the afternoon staring at the pictures of a very pretty baby. Yes, she has a funny smile, but that smile will be as perfect as it ought to be shortly after we get her home. She’s bald. She’s 9 months old. She lives in an orphanage near the border of Tibet. If only she was actually in Tibet!
Jane and I are going to get Kennedi without Rich, this time.
We’re going to China!