Everywhere Lily Allen went with her new parents, the response was the same. Complete strangers would step forward to touch the infant girl and utter the two-word sendoff Chinese have spoken too often.
The strangers squeezed her tiny hands, her feet, patted her head, maybe hoping to leave an indelible mark on her memory of her homeland because Lily was leaving the country with her new adoptive parents, Steve and Carrie Allen.
The strangers knew nothing about the Allens, but knew the Spokane Valley couple were changing fate. Fate in Chinese culture is everything; it is every person’s road in life determined at birth by the lineage of one’s parents. Fate assures your life will be no better than your bloodlines allow, but also no worse.
And fate is a cruel thing for orphans like Lily, discarded anonymously by parents with more children than government policy allows, or parents just one child under the limit who are holding out for a boy. Orphans have no road at all.
But luck trumps fate and luck for Lily looked like the Allens, tall, blond, a public school teacher and a stay-at-home mother from Spokane Valley willing to spend $19,000 they didn’t have to adopt a child they’ve never met.
This is the how luck pays the bills, by canceling the cable TV subscription, and watching the odometer roll over to 150,000 miles, then 200,000 and never thinking about buying a new car, by holding garage sale after garage sale and dreaming up wacky stunts worthy of sponsorship.
When the Allens adopted Lily, Steve Allen ran around the city limits of Spokane to raise money for the cause. Two years later, the couple adopted a second Chinese daughter, Abbey, with money raised through school bake sales and car washes, church donations and a refinanced mortgage.
This Saturday, the Allens will be at it again, as Steve runs around the city limits of Spokane Valley to raise money for a third adopted daughter in six years. To twist fate this time, the couple will also sell their Ponderosa neighborhood home and move into something more affordable, something smaller.
“We’re doing it just like everyone in America,” Steve Allen said, smiling. “You get more kids and you move into a smaller house.”
The downsizing and sacrificing makes perfect sense to Steve Allen, a dad who can be seen talking out loud to himself in Mandarin as he pilots his aging economy car to work every morning. Language tapes, he explained. It made sense to Allen’s wife, Carrie, when the husband explained adoption was something they had to do, even though she was pregnant at the time, even though they had 21 cents in their savings account when they started.
Luck isn’t a word the Allens use much. They prefer fortunate, or faithful. They’ve been on this mission to adopt Chinese girls for six years, have spent more than $57,000 they didn’t have, all because Steve Allen watched a TV program on Chinese orphans and felt afterward that adoption was a God-given calling.
The Allens could have adopted an American child, but that’s not what they were compelled to do. There is no foster care in China, no safety net for abandoned babies beyond an orphanage, which is only available until a child turns 14. One of the things that attract couples like the Allens to Chinese adoption, said adoption agent Kathy Storro is the desperation of the country’s children.
By Storro’s estimate, there are 300 families in Spokane raising children adopted in China. Not all came to be here through Storro’s adoption agency, Small World. Storro and her husband have five Chinese girls, the most the foreign government will allow an American family to have at home at once.
“On one of my trips to China, I was walking back to my hotel. I’d been shopping and I had my hands full and a woman walked up to me, and she was a woman in her 60s, and there was a girl, approximately 5 years old, standing with her,” Storro said. “The woman was talking and pointing and all of a sudden I realized what she was saying. She was pointed for the girl to come to me. There was a language barrier; I couldn’t tell them that I couldn’t help. It broke my heart.”
The Allens have also seen faces they just couldn’t say no to. Their next daughter, a girl they met two years ago while picking up their daughter, Abbey, is already 12 years old, an age where fate is most always beyond challenge.
So the real estate sign is up at the Allens’ home, the miles are rolling forward on the family car and, as luck would have it, no one is complaining.
“We’ve learned a lot about our capacity to love,” Steve Allen said. “I feel like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes today.”
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