Families with children from China embracing Games

For 11-year-old Nicole Stevens, the Olympics in Beijing are more than a showcase of the world’s best athletes. They’re a portal to her birth country and a chance to learn more about modern day China.

That’s why the sixth-grader plans to nap Friday so she can stay up extra late for the opening ceremony.

”I can’t wait until the Olympics are on,” said Nicole, who lives in North Andover, Mass. ”I’m pretty excited to watch the opening ceremony because it’s in the giant stadium in Beijing.”

While politics and smog are hot topics ahead of the Summer Games, parents who adopted children from China are turning the Olympics into a celebration – with parades, tree plantings and pot luck Chinese dinners around big flat screen televisions.

Since 1991, about 68,000 children from China have been adopted by U.S. families, according to the State Department’s count of required visas. Many families of the mostly girl adoptees already were taking great pride in their histories through Chinese language classes and the celebration of Chinese festivals.

The Games, they say, are a natural extension.

”The Olympics are serving as just another springboard for her to see first hand her native country,” said Katie Golembeski of New Milford, Conn., who has an 11-year-old daughter from China. Golembeski took her vacation to coincide with the Olympics so they could share the experience.

”We will be glued to the TV watching all of the events and are looking forward to seeing some of the background stories about China – customs, food, living conditions.”

Deb Capone of Southampton, N.Y., who has an 8-year-old girl, is hosting a parade of children from China and around the world. They’ll be carrying flags from their countries of origin, along with American flags, she said.

”We aren’t using the Olympics as a way to teach Chinese culture per se,” Capone said. ”We try to weave authentic cultural experiences into our daily lives. That said, the positive images of China and its people is very important to her and she is feeling quite proud of being Chinese. The focus on China makes conversations about culture, tradition and different ways of doing things more top of mind and universal.”

Betsy Vonk of Lawrenceville, Ga., and her two daughters, ages 12 and 9, are going to watch the opening ceremony with other families who have children from China. She took her daughters back to China two years ago and is hoping they see things on television that they saw when they were there.

”I think it’s a really great opportunity for our children to see China is a very positive light and feel good about that connection and their heritage,” she said.

Other parents said they’re keeping the Olympics low key.

Virginia Cornue of Montclair, N.J., said as the mother of a 13-year-old, she tries to go light on ”the cultural identity stuff.” Fitting in with peers is a tricky thing, she said.

”Our cultural connection will be simple, low key and naturally part of our everyday life – pride making, but not too much rah rah rah,” she said.

While seeing their country is pretty cool, many of the kids are more excited about certain sports, such as gymnastics, diving and soccer, finding kinship with athletes like Corrie Lothrop, who was adopted from China and is an alternate for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.

”I asked my kids not too long ago who they were going to be rooting for,” Vonk said. ”One of them said I’m rooting for the United States and China. Another one said, ‘Both of course.”’

Sometimes, it’s the parents who are more excited than the kids.

Brian Jones of Woodbury, N.J., had his 2-year-old daughter Juliene Raine running and tumbling while watching the trials in gymnastics. He’s interested in the China teams more than ever before, and at times, finds himself pulling for them.

He and his wife purchased Olympic coins and pins when they were in China last year to pick Juliene Raine up and are saving them for when she’s older.

”She’ll have a lot of things to look at, a lot of things to remember the Olympics by,” said Jones, a chief lending officer at a bank. ”This one is special. There’s no doubt about that. It’s special because it’s in China and because of our connection to that country.”