The social worker had a reputation to consider. She was known throughout the county for facilitating flawless adoption matches. Her philosophy was simple; an adopted child should blend into the family as best as possible. She should look like her new family and share an ethnic heritage whenever possible. That way, she surmised, there would be no observable reminders that the child was any different, sparing both her and her parents any discomfort. The social worker prided herself on her ability to study the face of an infant and envision her fully developed features. She could tell whether a nose would be large or small, a body would be robust or petite and if eyes would change to blue or brown. She examined fingers and toes to predict things like athleticism and paid close attention to temperament.
She did the same when she interviewed birthmothers and perspective adoptive parents; taking stock of their eye color, facial features and body type, scribbling notes onto her yellow legal pad. It was such a focus of her work, her adoption files read like All Points Bulletin police descriptions of fleeing suspects.
I had been in foster care three months when the Gray’s file landed on her desk. She’d been just about to close the case, having found a nice Norwegian couple looking to adopt their second child. But, a home visit changed my fate.
It was an impressive scene at the Gray’s farm. She entered through the kitchen porch, where a petite, well dressed homemaker greeted her. The county sheriff sat at the kitchen table, enjoying a quick breakfast and large cup of coffee. Farmer Gray’s mother busied herself in the kitchen while Mrs. Gray guided her through the immaculate farmhouse, pointing out the nursery and playroom already prepared for a baby. From the nursery window, she directed the social worker’s gaze to a large plume of dust, far out in the wheat field, explaining it was Mr. Gray’s combine, midway through his workday.
The Grays looked first-rate on paper; a large farm in a booming market, horse stables, a spacious house, doting grandparents and even the endorsement of the county sheriff. The only perceivable issue seemed to be that Mr. wanted a boy, but the worker had the grandmother’s assurances he didn’t know what was best for him.
Alone in her office, the social worker’s decision came down to two, underlined notations in her yellow legal pad:
Mrs. Gray is Norwegian.
This worker feels the baby will resemble the Gray family. They appear to have matching noses.
And just like that, because of another family’s ethnic background and the shape of my little nose, my file was transferred, the deal was made and the case was closed. It was just a few days before Christmas.
The event is forever memorialized in the family album, a brand new baby placed beneath a Christmas tree that looked like it belonged in the lobby of Nordstroms, not the living room of a simple farming family. Even the local paper couldn’t resist the perfect human interest story, just in time for the holidays: