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The B-Sides: Barron's life changed by adopted sister

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Purdue starting center Kirk Barron's wish for a sibling was fulfilled when Malia, now 12, was adopted from China. "She doesn’t look like us physically, but she’s one of us. She's my sister," Kirk said. "She says she’s Irish and Italian like I am. It’s really cute. It’s awesome. She’s a really cool person."

Kirk Barron was getting desperate.

He was quickly approaching 9 years old and still an only child, and that was growing less and less acceptable.

Kirk, who didn't like seeing all of his friends with big families, says he got tired of being alone and wanted someone to share life with, wanted someone to build memories with.

So he wrote a letter to Santa Claus, asking for a sibling.

That was on top of his other efforts, pleading with his parents and praying “all the time,” mom Susan said, for a brother or a sister.

That desire simply set in motion something Barron’s father had planned nearly 30 years earlier, even before Kirk Sr. married Susan.

“My husband always said he would like to adopt, whether we could have children or not,” Susan Barron said, “because there’s so many children out there.

“God brought us children two different ways. They’re both special. When (son Kirk) got Malia, he was just over-the-moon happy.”

The circumstances surrounding the adoption certainly made for an exciting process for a not-yet middle school kid, too.

Especially with Kirk Sr. and Susan opting to adopt from China.

The family got a photo of the daughter they were going to adopt in the mail from the adoption service, providing a glimpse into what was to come. And a dose of reality, too, at least for Kirk Jude, as his family calls him instead of “Junior,” without mom’s stomach growing as a tangible sign.

Getting a photo was kind of a reward, the good part of an extensive process that included loads of paperwork and visits from social workers to interview the family.

The process lasted nearly two years, but, finally, the family was able to travel to Beijing to officially add a girl into the family. They’d decided to name her Malia, which means “Mary” in Polynesian — Kirk Sr. spent a part of his childhood in Hawaii as the son of a military man — and Kirk Jude was allowed to select her middle name. He’d been learning in Catholic school about the angel Gabriel, who, among other things, told Mary she was going to give birth to a son and to name him Jesus. So Kirk Jude wanted Malia's middle name to be “Gabrielle.” It became so.

“He was definitely a part of it from Day 1,” Susan said of Kirk Jude’s involvement in the process.

The Barrons spent two weeks in China, and recently turned 10-year-old Kirk Jude was able to see the Great Wall and visit Tiananmen Square. But, obviously, those were not the main attraction.

When the family went to pick up Malia at a government building, they were joined by a host of other people waiting to receive children. The babies were brought into a room and presented to each family. Naturally, it was a loud, active environment, which had Kirk Jude “a little bit overwhelmed,” Susan said, because he didn’t like to hear babies cry — he wanted to be able to do something to soothe them. He couldn’t, not in those specific circumstances with the volume of kids.

After Kirk Sr. and Susan were given Malia, the family went into another room to take photos. For some reason, Kirk Jude wasn’t allowed to be included. He got angry. Why couldn’t he be involved in this special moment? Even Susan says she wasn’t quite sure the reason, but they settled him down and got a picture without without him.

But the younger Kirk recovered.

“Everyone wanted their baby to smile. A lot of them weren’t,” Susan said. “Kirk would stand behind the parents and make the babies laugh. It was funny.”

He soon was testing his skills on his new sister.

After the family got back to the hotel, the first extended period of time they had with her, 8-month-old Malia was propped next to Kirk’s side. He’d pretend to sleep and then try to surprise her with a “rawr.”

“We brought her back to the hotel room, and it was crazy. We just kind of sat there and looked at her,” Kirk Jude said with a smile, the memory still clearly ingrained. “It was cool, though.

“It was definitely something that changed my life. Seeing her for the first time and seeing how she is today, it’s pretty cool.”

Continued below

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Kirk Barron didn't fall asleep soon after meeting Malia — he simply was playing a game with her, faking to be asleep before giving her a 'rawr,' Susan Barron said.

Susan and Kirk Jude insist there wasn’t much of an adjustment period once the family got back to the States.

Kirk would get home from school and immediately race to play with Malia, who hadn’t learned to crawl yet, and he loved to hold her. He didn’t, however, like to change diapers.

“That was not me,” he said with a laugh.

And with mom jokingly “permanently attached” to Malia until she was 4, Kirk’s big brother role didn’t include many babysitting opportunities either, which he also was just fine with him.

Fortunately, Malia took to traveling quickly, getting wrapped up and lugged to all of Kirk’s hockey games, before she was even a year old.

Kirk loved that she was always there.

And that’s continued.

Now that support comes with Malia actually able to choose to do it and voice it. She’s 12 now and hasn’t wavered when opportunities arise to cheer on the guy she calls the best brother in the world, the one she cherishes being around, the one she still calls “Bubby.”

She’s attended all but one of Purdue’s football games during Kirk’s four years in the program, including the first year when he was redshirting.

The road schedule is daunting for Kirk’s junior season — he is projected to be the Boilermakers’ starting center for the second consecutive season — with trips to Missouri, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Iowa. But the Barrons already have every trip and hotel secured.

Even though Malia may bring books into the stadiums, few things will keep her from attending.

Not even in a snow storm and frigid temperatures in Iowa last year.

Only one thing has kept Malia away: When she and Susan got pneumonia and had to miss the Nebraska game in 2014.

“She will never miss a game,” Susan said. “I know the Iowa game last year, it was brutal. I told Malia, ‘Mom will sacrifice, if you want to stay at the hotel and watch the game.’ She’s like, ‘No, Mom, we’re going to go watch him play. C’mon!’ She would never not be there.

“They have a good relationship. She adores her brother. It’s funny because we live very close to Notre Dame and everyone at her school — her school is in South Bend — everyone has Notre Dame stuff on, and, of course, Malia is coming with all her Purdue stuff. ‘Don’t you dare say anything about my brother.’ She’s cute about it.”

Even though Malia doesn’t really like sports — she doesn’t play, just supports big brother — as she gets older, there’s more and more for her and Kirk to talk about.

And they talk often, he said.

They’ll go to movies. They’ll talk about what she’s up to in school — she’s a straight A student. They’ll talk about what she’s making in her chemistry-lab-type setup downstairs in the house, where she concocts lip balms and bath scrubs. They’ll talk as she’s cooking, something she loves to do.

“We have a really good relationship,” said Kirk, who will turn 22 on June 3. “Whenever I call back home, she’s usually saying, ‘I love you.’ That’s an everyday kind of thing. When I’m able to go back home, we spend a lot of our time together. She’s just a really cool kid.

“I know we changed her life like she’s changed our lives. Her biological mother dropped her off at a nursing school. That’s how she was found. Thank God her mom did that. It’s one of those things where she’s impacted my life greatly and how I view the world.”

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This may be the last time Malia wore Notre Dame gear. She's hardcore Purdue now with big brother playing for the Boilermakers.
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