“On November 5, 1994, I got on a plane with 10 strangers. I flew from Hong Kong to LA with 10 families. I was the only one who was alone. I wasn’t the only single female, but everyone else had a mother, an aunt… I flew all the way there to get this beautiful baby,” Marsha Warner says as she strokes her daughter’s dark hair.
Officially, Alison Warner is 18, but she doesn’t know her physical birthdate, because no one – not even the Chinese orphanage – knows, either. All the orphanage staff knew 18 years ago was that someone left a baby girl on the front steps.
“[They] said that I was left in a basket in front of the orphanage, but there was no reason why,” Alison says.
“Some paperwork indicates she was four months, five months, but it’s hard to know.
They picked her birthday,” Marsha says, smiling at her daughter. “She was left there. To me, that meant that her people, her family, must have really loved her. A lot of those kids are abandoned in the streets.”
Reading about the way babies often died in Chinese orphanages – “I heard about the things they do to those girls, injecting their heads with rubbing alcohol because it kills them” – was only part of the reason that when Marsha decided to adopt, she decided to go to China.
“My parents meant in Japan. I had a lot of Asian influence… I would say I had a great interest in Asia,” she says. So she found an adoption agency that would help her, with a few humps – she had to hide her gentle but large dog for the home visit, for one thing – find a daughter.
She filled out the paperwork, jumped through and ran around hurdles, and found herself alone on a plane with strangers. She was in her early 40s and ready to make the changes required of all new moms.
“It was the last day I ever smoked a cigarette in my life. I was older and more mature and ready to take care of a child,” she says.
When the orphanage workers put baby Alison in Marsha’s lap, she was ready for sleepless nights, baby formula and diapers. Her new baby girl, it turns out was ready, too – to pee. Which she did, on Marsha’s lap. It’s one of Marsha’s favorite stories to tell. Alison, for her part, just rolls her eyes and laughs at the story.
Somewhere between the first night in China, when Marsha pushed two hotel chairs together so Alison could sleep, and last week, when they sat and laughed in their living room, the duo became a family. Tofu, a bouncy, big-faced Boston Terrier, snuggles down next to Marsha while Tucker, a stern-faced hound, slops down next to Alison. Marsha and Alison talk about the past, the future, and what it holds. This summer, it holds a reunion for those strangers on the plane 18 years ago.
They didn’t stay strangers for long. Somewhere between boarding the flight out of LA and returning stateside with their new children, the group of new parents became friends. Every year, they meet for a vacation – 10 families and, as the years passed, more than 10 kids. Some of the families went back and adopted more children, and those kids, too, join the annual summer party.
“It’s not always all families, but it’s kind of cool,” Marsha says.
This summer they’ll meet on Belleair Beach, a post-graduation party for the 10 original girls. It’s been 18 years since Alison came home with Marsha. She focuses more on her future than her past. She’s technically a senior at Boca Ciega High School, but she’s spent her senior year as a freshman at St. Petersburg College. Next year she’ll enter the University of South Florida (St. Petersburg) as a sophomore, where she intends to
“I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do yet,” she says.
“I think she should be an anesthesiologist,” her mom says.
“Yeah…” Alison’s voice trails off. She doesn’t much care, she says, for the sight of blood.
“You’re really not dealing with blood and guts,” Marsha reminds her.
Alison still has some time to work it out. First things first: she has to see her old friends on the beach this summer. Then, she and her mom will face this next chapter in their lives – together.