July 6, 2013

Remembered Event

Adopting my “Twin”

I knew my parents were up to something when they summoned us to the kitchen table. It was a rare occasion when we held a family meeting. Except for dinner, we would only gather at the table to plan an upcoming family vacation or if we were in trouble and my parents needed to find out who “did it”. My sister Halle and I hoped it wasn’t the latter scenario. Fortunately, my parents seemed excited to have us there. We sat down giggling and our legs swung back and forth as if we were kicking in the pool. My parents cut to the chase and asked us:

“What do you girls think of adding another sister to our family?”

My parents had been searching for an older child from China. They had hand picked a little girl who had suffered from third degree burns as a baby that left her with terrible scars. She had been in an orphanage for eight years and she was exactly thirty days younger than me. They laid out three pictures of her on the table and Halle and I stared at them with curiosity and wonder. She had short cropped jet black hair, bright red cheeks, a cute half smile, and burn scars that entangled her right arm like poisonous vines. In the picture she looked shy and vulnerable. She seemed so far away, yet when I looked in her eyes, I could easily picture her in our family.

“Well what do you girls think? Would you girls be ok with her burn scars?”

I was eight at the time and I said,

“Every kid deserves a mom and dad!”

We all decided then that we wanted to add her to our family. After much debate on what to name her we came to the conclusion that she would be named Elise Lutz. I was thrilled to be getting a “twin.”

Fast forward to the year 2005. It was a chilly and gloomy day, Halloween day to be exact. Six seemingly endless months ago we were all gathered around our kitchen table staring at three photos of a little girl who needed a forever family. After a homestudy and stacks and stacks of paperwork, my mom and I were finally in Hangzhou, China. My dad and Halle had stayed in America and were eagerly waiting for our return. We were walking up green speckled marble stairs, our anticipation building with each step. At the top of the stairwell we came to thick double wooden doors. We waited ten gruesomely long seconds ,the doors then swung open, and we both walked in. The room seemed to glow with warmth despite the smoggy sky outside. We saw one couple meet their new son, another meet their new baby daughter, all of them were crying. My heart started to skip faster and faster and small beads of sweat began to form on the bridge of my nose. Then, in that moment, a shy girl walked up to us in a beautiful traditional Chinese dress the color of bubble gum. In broken English she shyly mumbled a simple: “Hello.” Although it had been six months, Elise looked as if she had not grown an inch and she looked pale and malnourished.

My mom started crying and hugging the girl and I stood over to the side in awe that I now had a new “twin” sister. Chattering Chinese ladies snapped pictures of us, paperwork and finger prints were exchanged, and everything seemed to happen in a fast-paced blur. In a matter of seconds my new sister, Elise was finally ours. We left the building to head back to our hotel with her red suitcase dragging behind her, holding every item she had accumulated in the past nine years with room to spare. After the excitement of the day had worn off, Elise fell into a peaceful sleep. My mom and I, still feeling the effects of jet-lag looked out the hotel window and watched the boats in the harbor pass through. Their lights twinkled past like shooting stars. We couldn’t believe that we were in China and that we finally had Elise. In that moment, everything seemed right in the world.
Elise and me Guanzhou-2005

The next morning, the timid demeanor of my new sister had vanished. While my mom was taking a shower, my sister was attempting to pour water into the electrical socket. I screamed at her “noooo” and ran to her and smacked the water out of her hand. She was startled, like a deer in the headlights and I was angry that she had been so ignorant. After all, I told myself, she was my “twin” and I didn’t act this way. Elise was hyperactive. Running down the hotel hallway, touching all my stuff, and repeating English words she heard on TV over and over. Worst of all, she scribbled all over my new princess coloring books. One time, she even ran out into the street and was almost squashed by a bus whizzing by. Thankfully my mom saved her in the nick of time. This new “twin” of mine was acting like a five year old and I was incredibly disappointed with her.

After all the adoption paperwork was finalized, we headed back to America. Once we got home it was decided that this alien from China would be living in my room for a while until her room was completed. Elise made herself at home in MY room by jumping back and forth between the beds. In the mornings, I had to go to school without waking Elise up. So just like an army drill, I crawled silently on the carpeted floor past my bed, past Elise’s bed until I reached the hallway. If Elise stirred, I would duck in order for her not to see me and hold my breath until she went back to sleep. I thought this routine was ridiculous considering it was MY room and complained to my mom often. For Christmas, I even asked Santa for Elise’s room to be finished. All I wanted was for this alien to get out of my room! That Christmas, Elise did leave my room. I hated to admit it, but I actually missed her company. I then realized how selfish I was being. I was so excited to be getting a twin that when she wasn’t exactly like me, I pouted when I should have been happy that I had a new sister. I soon felt guilty realizing that Elise’s whole world had been shaken, yet she never cried and I was the one blubbering about not getting what I wanted.

My twin and me!
As Elise learned how to live in a family and as her English improved, I developed a relationship with her. She would share stories of life back in the orphanage. I learned that Elise never truly had a childhood. She told me that she watched her friend die, witnessed the drunk gatekeeper abuse girls, and was responsible for taking care of all the special needs babies in her orphanage. She watched babies with cleft palates become malnourished and die because they couldn’t suck the bottle properly. It opened my eyes to the utter hell she had gone through, and how strong she remained through it all. I began to see that in fact, she was the mature one. I began to admire her optimism and her spirit and our relationship grew tighter. Frequently, I’d go in her room or she’d come in mine and we’d have a sleepover, talking for hours.

Last summer, Elise and I celebrated our 16th birthdays in New York City and we pretended to be twins. Although Elise is three inches taller and looks nothing like me, the hotel staff believed our story. I couldn’t have asked for a better girl to be my “twin” and sharing my birthday with her meant the world to me. There’s a Chinese proverb and it goes like this: “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may tangle but will never break.” I believe this proverb to be true. The red thread always connected Elise to our family, we just decided to tug on our side of the thread at the kitchen table in 2004.

Elise and me NYC- 2012

I  also have another sister, Halle! Here is the three of us! 


  1. Very well written. I have 5 daughters born in China, and one was adopted at age 13. The stories she has told me are hard sometimes to hear, but it is amazing how well she is doing. she just turned 16

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely story. You and your sister are wonderful. I am so glad you have one another. A sister is a precious gift.

  3. Oh my word. Wow. Thank you for sharing your story. I am the mom of virtual twins, both adopted from China. Our daughter, Savannah, was adopted a few months before you brought Elise home. Two years later we traveled back to China to adopt our son Baden, who had been born cleft-affected. Baden is 4 1/2 months older than Savannah and when people ask what grades they are in and say the same grade, they look at me funny when I say "sort of" to their next question "Oh, so you have twins." I can't imagine another brother or sister for them, just as you can't imagine not having Elise and Halle in your life. That red thread connection is strong.

  4. You have an incredible talent. Gorgeously written. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  5. Love your story and we can relate as our daughter Lauren arrived from Shanghai two years ago at age 6, while Hannah from Hunan province was 20 months old when she came home in 2005. The feeling of an "alien" arriving in our world and especially for Hannah was so easy to relate to. I'm thrilled to watch the transformation for Lauren's sake and ours as she finds her place in the family and adjusts to this whole new world she was transplanted to and had to make so many life adjustments to become a part of. The girls have become so close and it's fun watching the development of a true sister relationship that is so "normal" with it's love/hate dynamics depending on how they're getting along at the moment: )
    You have a wonderful ability to share your experiences with the ease of a true storyteller. Hope life offers you the opportunity to excel at this!