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Ugly Babies and Grandparent Goggles

I’m the worst kind of grandparent–the kind who will show pictures of his grandson to complete strangers, including people in the Atlanta airport who don’t speak English and look terrified as they nod approvingly. I’m especially annoying because I know I’m annoying and I don’t stop.

You see, my grandson is one of the most beautiful creations to ever grace this planet. I know this because when he smiles at me I see in his clear eyes beauty, like Hawaiian sunsets, snowflakes and firework displays.

Of course, I do allow the slim (very slim) possibility that I might be a tiny bit biased, as I have known grandparents to sometimes have impaired vision when it comes to their grandchildren–Grandparent Goggles–­if you will. (These are the same goggles that can mystically transform a scribbled crayon drawing into a Monet.)

Once, at one of my book signings, a woman dropped a photograph of a child on the table in front of me. At the risk of sounding horrible or blunt or, maybe just horribly blunt, it was the homeliest child I’d ever seen. In fact I initially thought the picture was a joke, like when people post pictures of hairless cats on the internet. But when I looked up at the woman she was beaming with pride. “Isn’t he beautiful,” she said. “He’s my grandson.”

I looked back down at the picture then replied, “You must be so proud.” Her smile widened. “You know I am!”

And she was. And I smiled for her extraordinary vision. For her goggles.

I witnessed a goggle experience while picking up our adopted daughter in China. Another American couple, who had also just adopted, was proudly showing off their new baby who, frankly, looked like an Asian version of Benjamin Button–not the hunky Brad Pitt version either, but the creepy old man version.

“Can you believe how beautiful she is?” the swooning mother asked. I couldn’t help but smile for her joy and good taste.

As I was holding my own Chinese daughter for the first time, the Chinese guide assisting us suddenly asked, “Do you want her?”

I looked at him quizzically. “What do you mean, do I want her?”

“Is she pretty enough.”

I was offended by the question. “Of course I want her. Why wouldn’t I want her?”

“You do not know,” he said in strained English. “Your baby is pretty. Maybe if she not so pretty you do not want her. Americans sometime do not want ugly babies.”

Sadly, there is truth in what he said. A few decades ago China suspended foreign adoptions for a while because an American couple refused to take their assigned baby from an orphanage because she wasn’t “pretty” enough.

A few months after bringing our daughter home from China someone who was considering a Chinese adoption called my wife, Keri, to ask about the process. After talking for several minutes the woman asked what was really on her mind.

“Is she pretty?”

“Is who pretty?” my wife asked.

“Your daughter. Is she really pretty? Is she like a China doll?”

Keri was taken aback by the question. “Yes. She’s pretty.”

“Do you get to look at pictures and pick your child?”


“Then how do you know if she’s going to be pretty or not?”

“They’re babies,” my wife said. “They’re all pretty.”

“Oh,” the woman replied, sounding disappointed.

After a moment Keri said, “You know, this probably isn’t for you.”

I was proud of my wife. Just as I’m proud of mothers and fathers and grandparents everywhere who see more through their hearts than their eyes. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said beautifully, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

This world doesn’t need more plastic surgeons and beauty ointments. It just needs more Grandparent Goggles.

P.S. Want to see a picture of my grandson?


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Richard Paul Evans is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 27 novels. If you’re new to Richard’s books we recommend the New York Times bestselling The Walk series, the story of a man who, upon losing his wife, home and business, decides to walk across America. 


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