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|Family plans trip to talented child's birthplace|
Nine-year-old Joanna Calhoun might not talk your ears off, but she'll surely treat them with lovely sounds from one of the three instruments she plays fluently.
Huddled between her grandparents, Mack and JoAnn Calhoun, she smiled and giggled shyly when addressed by a stranger. But when asked to play some music, she darted off to grab her instrument. She returned and proudly took center stage.
Mack Calhoun's daughter, Sarah Allbritton, adopted Joanna in 2000. Allbritton, who was single at the time, flew to China with her parents to pick up Joanna, who was named after her grandmother, JoAnn Calhoun.
"I decided in September 1998 that I would adopt," Allbritton said. "I actually had an exchange student who lived with me from Belgium, so I tried out being a mother. I said, 'yes, I can let somebody I don't know, who is not related to me, come into my home, and I'll take care of them.' "
Allbritton submitted an application to an adoption agency in China in October 1998. A year later she was approved for adoption but waited until after 2000 to travel to China since many were afraid planes would be grounded due to fears stemming from Y2K. The U.S. embassy in China even closed during this timeframe because of this issue, Allbritton said.
On Jan. 10, 2000, Allbritton and her parents held Joanna for the first time. They call that day Joanna's "gotcha day" and each year they celebrate it like a birthday.
Joanna doesn't seem to mind that one bit.
"They give me gifts," Joanna said proudly.
The family is now preparing to return to China to visit with Joanna's foster parents, whom they've kept in contact with over the years. Sarah and her husband, James Allbritton, and the Calhouns will show Joanna her hometown. They'll also attend some of the Olympic games and tour the Great Wall.
The family doesn't know who Joanna's birth parents are since they left her in a busy market. The Allbrittons have made a flyer with pictures of Joanna and a small life story written in Chinese that they plan to pass around at the market.
"They must be beautiful and smart people, because Joanna is just that," Allbritton said of Joanna's birth parents.
Mack Calhoun added, "I think we picked the prettiest girl in China. Her name is Joanna, but I call her princess."
When Joanna was 4 years old, she was identified as gifted by the Ouachita Parish School System. She has been evaluated and identified as being talented in music and art. She plays the piano, violin and mandolin. She also excels at sports, and currently takes tennis and golf lessons.
"I attribute a lot of that to her foster mother, and of course my mother and I did a great job," Allbritton said. "But her foster mother got her from 20 days old to seven and a half months old, when I got her. She provided her with nutrition and stimulation and took her outside and provided her with such good care. And I always talk about Joanna's birth parents in a positive light. They did the best they could. We don't know why they left her, but they left her in a place where she would be found."
JoAnn Calhoun added, "And that was the best thing to happen for our family."