Why No Pictures

I haven’t posted pictures of Elena on this site and we have plenty of them.

When I taught at Oberlin College I had a picture of Maggie Rose on my website. She was not yet two and eating spaghetti in her high chair. She had reached for the phone and was sitting there looking as cute as can be with spaghetti sauce all over her face and clothes holding the phone upside down and talking into the wrong end.

This was included in the section about contacting me. I provided my home phone but wanted my students to see what it was that I considered most important during the time that I was at home. I took the picture down a few months later and didn’t post more pictures because I was afraid of having images of my girls posted on the internet.

After Elena died we went to Kim’s cousin’s house to pick up Maggie and tell her and take her home. When we got home Kim sobbed that she hadn’t even taken a picture of Elena with her newly missing tooth.

Maggie had. Maggie showed Kim that the night before, she and Elena had taken pictures of themselves using the iMac with the built in camera. We have a picture of Elena smiling, proudly showing off the gap in her teeth.

But we’re not posting pictures of Elena.

Channel 19 came over twice trying to come into our house and shove a camera in Kim and my face. Patti has been guarding the door and watching over us. She kept them out. Kim and I don’t watch local news – it’s one tragedy after another overplayed in ways that don’t serve the public. We certainly didn’t want to be the subject of a story. The woman from the t.v. station said “he’s already talked to channel 8.” Patti wisely said, “no he hasn’t and I still am not letting you in.”

They came back a second time while Kim and I were at the funeral home picking out a casket. Patti was playing board games with Maggie. Maggie had beaten her at Deflexion and Mancala and had moved to Sorry because “it’s mainly a game of chance so maybe you can win.” This time they told Patti they just wanted to come in and film Elena’s picture. Again Patti sent them away.

But it isn’t because of privacy that we aren’t posting her picture. It’s hard to describe, but I’ll try.
I’ve read all of your comments. Thank you. Many of you have sent us support and that means a lot. But many of you have sent us a note about looking at your own child differently. Others have sent stories of losses you have suffered. A picture makes this story about one particular little girl. We’re touched that you have personalized this story and made it about you and your family.

Thank you.

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 7:33 am  Comments (8)  


At a regular check-up visit to the pediatrician, the intern (I think – it was Kim who took the girls to this visit) weighed and measured Elena’s height. Elena is quite short. You have only to look at me or Kim to figure out that that’s to be expected. The intern looked at Elena’s chart and said “she’s in the fifth percentile height-wise – I don’t understand it.”

She furrowed her brow and compared Elena’s chart to Maggie’s chart. The girls’ regular pediatrician stood next to her and prompted her to explain. The intern said “well she’s so short and yet her sister is in the ninety-fifth percentile for height.” Kim and Dr. Robinson exchanged glances. The internist was practicing medicine without noticing her patients. Dr. Robinson pointed to Maggie and the internist finally noticed that they were not biologically related and so this comparison of the charts was not relevant.

They were tied in so many ways.

Maggie is adopted from China. When we were going through the adoption process we had people ask us if we were ever going to tell Maggie that she was adopted. That always cracked us up.

We told Maggie all along. It’s part of who she is.

There were so many people who have told us how lucky Maggie is that we adopted her. Kim always answered that we were the lucky ones that Maggie made us a family.

Most people assumed that we adopted because we couldn’t have children. Adoption for us was a first choice. We didn’t know whether or not we could have children. We were not going to try until after the adoption because it is harder to adopt from China when you already have a¬† child.

When we had Elena, people told us that this always happens. That people who were unable to conceive often had “their own” children after they adopted.

Again, adoption was a first choice for us. We were better able to conceive after we stopped using birth control.

Their own children.

Maggie is my own child. I had almost seven years of hard evidence that there is no difference in the love you feel for an adopted child or a birth child.

I am a dad because of Maggie.

When she was a year and a half I brought Maggie downstairs to help me prepare Kim’s first mother’s day breakfast. Kim wanted pear crepes. My sister Jill called as I was assembling ingredients because she knew it was our first mother’s day. You have to watch children closely and I had dropped my guard for a moment. When I turned back around, Maggie was proudly cracking the eggs one at a time on the glass storm door. As the yolks ran down the glass to the floor she beamed with pride on what she had done to help us make mom’s breakfast.

Maggie and Elena share a chinese character. Maggie’s chinese name is Qiu Xue (pronounced roughly as Chew Sheee-eh) which means autumn snow. Elena was born almost exactly two and a half years after Maggie on March 3. It snowed hard and we decided to give her the name Chun Xue (Choooon) which means spring snow.

Margaret Rose Qiu Xue Steinberg¬† what a mix of a name – Irish sounding Maggie Rose even though the Rose is for my great grandmother. The Margaret is for Kim’s grandmother. Qiu Xue to honor what may have been her birth name.
There’s a lot we don’t know about Maggie’s first year. There’s a lot we can’t know. Her birthday even changed when we went to get her. Until we traveled to China all of her paperwork said that her birthday was October 2, 1996. When we got there the new paperwork said September 2. We were initially sad because we had missed her first birthday. Maggie was first placed in my arms on September 15, 1997.

In the scheme of things, what difference did it make. Having a birthday so early meant that she would have options of when to start school – and she was ready early. I know all parents think that their children are beautiful and bright, but ours are.

Maggie was always proud of being chinese. It is important to her. When we were looking to move to a new school district before she was ready for kindergarten, Kim took care to make sure there was an asian population – she didn’t want Maggie to be the only chinese person in her class. We found a wonderful school with a significant international population.

Elena used to try to tease Maggie that she had been “born from mom’s stomach and you weren’t.” It was unusual for Elena to be that off the mark. No one could get under Maggie’s skin like her little sister, but this wasn’t something that ever bothered her.

The name Maggie had when we got her also included a last name “Shen”. We didn’t keep that name as part of her legal name because all nine of the girls that were adopted in her group had that same last name and it was not their birth name. We’re not certain if Qiu Xue was her given name but we kept that. Each year we get together with some of the other girls in that adoption group – the “Shen Sisters”.

These were the girls that Maggie had her first big adventure with. This group of nine families seems to have nothing in common and yet it is the most magical weekend each year to spend time with people who shared that special trip with us eight and a half years ago.

Maggie announced to us a year back that she might change her last name back to Shen when she’s older. That’s fine with us.

Elena thought for a day or two and announced that she’s going to change her name to Shen too when she’s older. That was more than Maggie could stand. Did Elena have to copy everything she did (no – she didn’t, but of couse that wasn’t the point at that moment). Shen was her name – not Elena’s. Ahhh, Elena had found a button she could push. The “you’re adopted” thing hadn’t worked. For days Elena would ask innocently “dad, how old do you think I should be to change my name to Shen?”

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 7:14 am  Comments (6)