Toting an empty baby carrier, Rose Lewis could hear babies bawling as she and six other prospective adoptive parents nervously completed final interviews in a Wuhan, China, conference room. Finally the door opened to a procession of tot-bearing nannies, and Lewis—then 41 and single—found herself cradling a 7-month-old girl. "When she stopped crying and I looked at her, it was magical," Lewis says. "I knew I would love her, but I didn't know how in love with her I'd be."
Now she's letting the world know—and helping youngsters like her daughter know how much they are wanted. I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, a chronicle of her adoption odyssey that Lewis, now 45, wrote as a gift to her now 4-year-old daughter, jumped onto the New York Times bestseller list for children's picture books soon after its September release. Its most ardent fans: the growing number of children who were adopted from overseas—some 100,000 in the last decade, most frequently from Korea and China—by Americans. "My 4-year-old has memorized it," says Shanti Fry, 49, director of the New England chapter of Families with Children from China. "It helps her give words to her experience." At packed bookstore signings, says Jane Dyer, the book's illustrator, "you see all of these little Chinese girls saying, 'That's me.' "
The rosy-cheeked little girl who inspired the book is actually Alexandra Mae-Ming Lewis—Ming to her happy mom. When Ming was a year old, Rose, a TV news producer in Needham, Mass., looked for a volume that explained where adoptees like Ming came from and how much they were treasured. "I didn't see any books that said what I wanted to say," Lewis recalls.
So she said it herself. Undaunted by the fact that she had never published anything before, Lewis mailed the manuscript to an editor who worked with Dyer, the illustrator of some of Lewis's favorite children's books. "The moment I read it, I cried," says Dyer, 51, who set to work creating watercolors from photos and videotapes Lewis sent her. "Even though it's a story of adoption, it reminded me of the moment every parent falls in love with their own child."
Quite a leap for Lewis, who once daydreamed about writing a book called Blind Dates I Never Should Have Seen. An Andover, Mass., native who worked as a newspaper photographer before joining Need-ham's WCVB-TV in 1983, Lewis says she always wanted "to settle down, get married and have children." But just before her 40th birthday, a four-year relationship she thought would end in marriage came apart. She made a momentous decision. "I can't do anything about my love life," she remembers thinking, "but I can do something about being a mother."
Lewis set her sights on China, where a one-family, one-child policy—and a widespread preference for boys—makes many baby girls available. To come up with the necessary $25,000 in agency fees and travel costs, she made what many adults would consider the ultimate sacrifice: She moved out of her condo and back in with her parents. "We had an empty nest for 20 years, but I just said, 'Come home,' " recalls mother Joan, 72, a travel agent (father Jerry, 72, is an attorney). "I couldn't see her living this life and leaving it alone."
A year later Lewis and her mother flew to China to pick up Ming, who, they were told, had been abandoned at the gates of a textile factory; mother and daughter bonded instantly. Joan says Rose and giggly, adventurous Ming are "so much alike it's a little scary."
The two moved out of Rose's parents' house to a townhouse in 1998. After a full day at the office, Lewis picks Ming up from day care at 6:15 for a home-cooked dinner and spends hours working in the garden and reading with her. "It's a real juggle for her," says friend Sarah Dunleavy, 48, but "you can feel her joy."
The still-unmarried Lewis says she's delighted that her book (whose title comes from a phrase she made up when bidding Ming goodbye one morning) has persuaded some on-the-fence readers to adopt. "Did I ever think I'd be single with an adopted child, supporting myself? No," she says. "But what joy this little girl has brought to my life."
Anne Driscoll in Needham
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