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May 7, 2004

Mother's Day 2004: Love echoes in the Hoppe home

From:, CA - May 7, 2004

LEMOORE -- "I can't imagine my life without her," sighed Karen Hoppe as she glanced at photographs resting on her pool table.

That pool table is now used as a base for photos, books, and other paraphernalia to make scrapbooks of Hoppe's life with her 4-year old daughter, Sydney-Anne Zhong Hoppe.

"I knew I wanted children," said Hoppe. "But it's hard for a single parent to adopt an infant here (America)."

After attempts at adopting older children didn't work out, Hoppe began the process of adopting a child from China, one of the few countries which allow single parent adoption.

It was a daunting process.

"Paperwork," she sighed. "Unless you've gone this route, you can't imagine the amount of paperwork involved. And the time it takes -- the FBI fingerprints, I was intimidated."

Hoppe refers to the 18 months involved in the paperwork and other "hoops I had to jump through" to get permission to adopt a child from China as "the longest pregnancy in history."

With the help of friends and a Fresno agency the letter from China finally arrived in July 2001.

"I was too nervous to open it," admitted Hoppe.

So a neighbor signed for it. The letter and all the papers were in Chinese. That didn't matter to Hoppe. There, in front of her, was the photograph of her daughter.

"She had that 'coaching' look," laughed Hoppe, a teacher at Lemoore High School, who holds the record for wins for a girls basketball coach in the WYL, as she remembered her first sight of the little girl who became Sydney-Anne. "You know, like she was telling someone to get in there and block someone out."

Flight delayed

Hoppe's flight, scheduled for Sept. 14, was cancelled because of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11.

"I kept telling myself that God had a reason," she explained. "I know that it took so long for the Chinese government to find me my little girl because it was really God, not the Chinese, looking for just the right child for me. But you know, when you're dreams are so close, it's hard to put them on hold."

The delay meant that her appointment with the Chinese consulate office and all the other tons of paperwork were now incorrect. It looked as if she'd have to start over.

"Then I got the call, we're leaving on Sept. 18," Hoppe laughed. "I couldn't believe it."

She and her father, who traveled to China with her, walked through a deserted LAX to the airline desk hours before their departure time.

They touched down in China in a pouring rain and made their way to the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, a place she said that not many American hotels, even those in the fanciest places in Beverly Hills, could match. They had 45 minutes to shower after a 15-hour plane trip before they meet their child.

"I never realized how nervous my dad was until I saw him putting hair creme on his toothbrush that day," Hoppe laughed.

The rain never let up as they drove to meet their newest family member. Hoppe believes that the rain was another sign from God. Sydney-Anne's Chinese name, Zhong Yu Li, translates to "Middle Rain Place" in English.

Hoppe knows very little about Sydney-Anne's past except that she was found as an infant in a marketplace, spent 8 months in an orphanage and 8 months in a foster home prior to being adopted.

It's been two years, but Hoppe's eyes still tear up when she remembers seeing Sydney-Anne for the first time.

"There were three families there to adopt and Sydney-Anne was the last child to be brought out," said Hoppe. "The other two children, one of which was four years old, cried and tried to pull away from their adoptive parents. Not Sydney-Anne. I took her in my arms, she looked up at me and didn't do a thing."

Later she would cry, but by the time the new family left for home five days later, Sydney-Anne was solidly Hoppe's daughter.

"I couldn't put her down," laughed Hoppe. "It was like she had finally found something she'd needed. Every time I went to put her down, she'd let out a cry. So, even though I knew I was probably spoiling her, I picked her right up. After all, we both had waited along time for this."


Hints of future problems came when they arrived in Los Angeles. Although Hoppe didn't take much notice of it at the time, during Sydney-Anne's entrance physical she didn't respond to the sound of a tambourine.

Hoppe was overjoyed when her tiny child, Sydney-Anne weighed 17 pounds at 18 months, began babbling. She was sure she'd hear "Mama" any day.

She didn't.

"The first thing I thought when the doctors told me she had severe, really complete, hearing loss in both ears was that I'd never hear her say I love you mama and she'd never hear me say I love you Sydney-Anne."

Enrolled in a special class, the two of them began learning to communicate through the use of touch-sign language and limited lip reading by Sydney-Anne.

Pleasant surprise

Today Sydney-Anne runs through her home and calls for her mother and her two family dogs, thanks to a cochlear implant that allows normal hearing in one ear and a special hearing aid in the other for balance so Sydney-Anne knows which direction the sound is coming from.

"It was strange," said Hoppe as she tried to brush the busy tot's hair. "Even though she could hear, she hadn't learned to respond. You could say something to her, but she wouldn't turn towards the noise. She's had to learn that."

Hair brushing is one of the pair's most agonizing events. Like all youngsters, Sydney-Anne doesn't have the time or desire to take care of her own hair. But unlike other youngsters, Sydney-Anne has another reason for fighting the brush. When Hoppe brushes her daughter's hair she has to disconnect the implant leaving, for a few minutes, Sydney-Anne deaf again.

"She doesn't want to have it removed, not even for a second," said Hoppe as she cornered Sydney-Anne in her bathroom. "Even though she knows I've always reconnected it and she can easily do it herself, she just doesn't want to miss hearing anything."

Outside of the Hoppe home last week Sydney-Anne takes practice shots at her toddler-sized basketball hoop under Hoppe's watchful, coach's eyes. She seemed to prefer a ride on her trike. Heading towards the street, Hoppe shouts a warning to her daughter.

"What mama, what?" the little girl turns to her mom. "Mama, what?"

"I love you," laughs Hoppe.

"I love you too mama," says Sydney-Anne, her dark eyes twinkling up at her blonde-haired mother.

By Judy Finney, Advance Reporter

Copyright © 2004 Pulitzer Central California Newspapers. All Rights Reserved.