img20191101_15170571In 1997 we arrived in Rockford, Illinois with baby Maggie after flying for what felt like forty days and forty nights from China.

Hellos to her were constant–from neighbors, friends, relatives. Cliff’s teachers threw a huge shower. Everyone wanted to hold her, to welcome her after the nail-biting adventure of her international adoption.

Maggie was home.

And it was sweet. Her first attempt at kisses involved puckering her lips and blowing a poof of air. Waving was represented by waving her tiny fingers toward herself.

As she toddled into the hall one day and turned, waving goodbye, the symbolic flash blinded me. From that point on, Maggie would be forever leaving me. My true assignment was packing her up for those literal and personal journeys–short ones and long ones alike.

Lunch boxes, backpacks, and suitcases became her tickets to a separate life.

So I valued the tiny things she brought me.

20191101_092324A pine cone.

A crane.

A stone.

A box.

A buddha.

Each one a gift, a miniature hello.

A mother-daughter thing.

51HX9kZx9iL._SY300_QL70_When Maggie was six, she (armed with her doctor’s kit) and Cliff rushed me to the ER for a possible stroke. Suddenly I realized that if I became incapacitated, he wouldn’t know her favorite dishes. So I designated a “Maggie File” in the recipe box. Those cards and the kitchen counter became another playhouse. She loved to play Food Network as I cooked. Kneeling on a wooden stool, Maggie interviewed me as a celebrity chef (usually Julia Child, her favorite). She’d ask a question into a wooden spoon mic and hold it up for my answer.

So it stands to reason that we saw Julie & Julia together. In one scene, after countless rejections for her cookbook, Julia Child visits an interested and future editor, passing by the Alfred A. Knopf wall sign. Maggie squeezed my hand. After my own rejections, Alfred A. Knopf was soon to publish my picture book Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale.

A mother-daughter thing.

20190830_144117In August, Maggie packed and left again, as parents hope their college graduates will do. She received a food justice fellowship to work in an urban community garden, food pantry warehouse, and lobby markets in senior apartment buildings. The foundation provides a house where she lives with four other recipients. Each person cooks dinner on a specified night.

What parting gift could I send with her?

My choice was obvious.

I had some of her favorite recipes stamped on dish towels. The prints show their original vanilla drops and butter stains. A favorite, my grandmother’s peanut butter cookie recipe, appears in my fourth-grade cursive, with a notation from my mother, and an account of Maggie’s sixth-grade mistake that actually improved the taste–all recorded on my father’s 1950s office notepaper.


Surprised to find the rolled recipe towels upon her arrival, she was old enough to appreciate the heartfelt four-generation recipe connection among mothers and daughters. She said it was the most thoughtful gift ever.

To that, I’d say for now at least.

A lifetime of hellos awaits her.

I know she’s ready.


After cooking Lemon Chicken Broccoli for one of her assigned dinners, a recipe we’ve made together for ten years, she sent me a photograph. It didn’t turn out quite as planned, but it usually doesn’t for us either. To make her laugh, I emailed her one of our favorite Julia Child remarks (or something like this that she tossed off on her original cooking show): “Sometimes the turkey catches on fire.”

A mother-daughter thing.


9 thoughts on “A Mother-Daughter Thing

  1. What a story! It’s a story that I have the good fortune to witness almost everything, except when I worked endless hours in education.
    This ongoing essay of the story of Maggie is one for the ages. Thank you Karen Henry Clark for your astute documentation.


    1. Yes, we are beyond lucky. If you remember, CCAI sent 2 groups on that trip. I don’t know which one you were in, but our group had been stalled out in the delay when China closed their adoption bureau, unable to keep up with the demand for the babies housed in their orphanages. Consequently, we waited far longer than the expected 9-10 months. After we returned with Maggie and my mother fell deeply in love with the baby, she said, “Well, thank heavens for the delay, or you’d have gotten the wrong baby.”


  2. Karen, Maggie, and Cliff–Thank you. Thank you for being an awesome family, sharing your stories, and making this day a wee bit lighter. You are a good herd. ~janet


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