Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One Year Ago...

On November 10, 2008, it was a chilly but very sunny day when we went to the Civil Affairs Bureau to meet our second daughter for the first time. We didn't know what to expect - the pictures we had been sent showed a child not smiling, with a firm mouth and chubby cheeks, looking rather chunky in her sweats. She looked as though she was defiant and stubborn... but looks can be deceiving.

We got to the CAB early, and was talking with the CAB director, Ms. Meng, going over some paperwork, when we heard some noise coming from downstairs. We were told by our guide, Lynn, "They are here with your child."

Nerves... what were we going to encounter? One always imagines the worst - a child that will fight or refuse to go or scream her head off... and we were truly glad we had brought Kenzie. Being a Chinese child herself and our daughter, we felt she would be a calming effect on our little Jia-Jia.

In walked the director, the main caregiver, and our daughter.
She took our breath away - she was really a beautiful and healthy looking little girl, with her hair done up so her face was shining. I was first struck by her large eyes and her full, pouty mouth. She looked around in confusion, holding on to the doll we had given her, not quite understanding what was going on. They introduced her to her Baba first, getting her to hug him, then to Mama (I gave her a little kiss), and then to her jie-jie. Her caregiver and the director of the CAB were encouraging her to interact with us and praising us as good people and how lucky she was. There was such a flurry of activity, and then I was told she asked to go pee pee (niao-niao). I went with her and Lynn and the director of the CAB to one of the squat potties, while the director of her orphanage and her caregiver tried to sneak away. But too late, because they were just walking down the hall as Jia-Jia got back to the room, and she saw them leaving her.

We got our coats on and picked up all the stuff, walked downstairs and outside to the waiting van. Once in the van (Jia-Jia got in first, Kenzie sat by her, and then I sat by Kenzie, with Lynn and Roy behind us) we began to drive away. I watched her as she began to cry, choking back huge sobs and wiping her eyes. I know she was confused and scared... who wouldn't have been? I had a feeling she really didn't understand what having a family - a mom, a dad, and a sister - would mean to her. I handed her a tissue for her, and Lynn asked if she was hungry (it was close to lunchtime). She said yes, so Lynn asked if she wanted noodles or dumplings. True to her nature, she chose jiao zi (dumplings). Glad she did!

We went to a restaurant, and once sitting down and realizing she was going to be eating, her whole demeanor changed... she was happy. However, she took the eating utensils and began banging on all the plates and glassware... Lynn found out she'd never been in a restaurant before, and said she was behaving really well. I suppose there are some children who won't sit in the chairs, or yell, scream or throw fits. Jia-Jia sat there, smiling, while making lots of noise with the plates and bowls... looking happier with every loud clank.

We got back to the hotel room and she began "exploring". She first discovered we had two rooms that were adjoining. Our good friend (and lifesaver) Deb had opened her door to our room, and Jia-Jia had great fun running back and forth between the rooms. Then she discovered the lights... there was a panel of switches over the two full size beds that had been pushed together, which controlled most of the lights in the rooms. Next it was the TV, and the remote control. She began pushing every button she could to figure out how to work it. Next, she began to look through her suitcase we had for her, and through her back pack full of stuff just for her.

Roy and I looked at each other and, wide-eyed, gave each other the knowing look of "what did we get ourselves into?" We were used to Kenzie, who was calm and easygoing. This child was shot out of a cannon and it was as if she had not been allowed to ever discover what her world was all about. And now that she had a little freedom, she was exercising her curiosity to the fullest extent possible. We could see she was very bright - she didn't just turn lights off and on for the heck of it, she was actually figuring out which switch was turning which light on. She was figuring out which button would get her to the stations she wanted to watch. Still, it was confusing for us to know when and where we should begin setting limits without squelching her inquisitive nature or making her fear us.

When Roy had to leave the room, she got very upset. I blew up a couple of balloons, and we went out into the hallway to play with them, which kept her entertained. Here was a child who loved to play and discover... two traits that would serve her well as she began to learn what her new life was to be about.

She quickly learned that first day some English. The first was "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" which she would repeat after doing something naughty and then laugh at us. And the others were Bye-bye and Thank you. We thought she was learning to say pee-pee, but figured out that she was saying pi-pi as in pigu (meaning butt - which made her smile and laugh all the more when I'd say it.)

We went to supper that evening, and she learned yet another phrase: "C'mon." Of course, she began her banging routine, which I began to tell her "Give to Mama" and to take it from her. She began giving me her plates and bowls, which I held on to until she needed them.

That first night, she got into her new pajamas, got into bed, and with telling her "Shui Jiao" she went to sleep without much trouble.

The next morning, we went up to the dining area where breakfast was served, and did our best to get her foods she would eat. She was a very picky eater, but loved the yogurt - we let her get her fill of that.

Then it was off to the CAB one last time. November 11, 2008 - Adoption Day.

I think anyone who adopts probably at some point asks themselves, "Is this the right thing to do? Are we making a mistake? Are we the best parents for this child? Are we biting off more than we can chew? Is everything going to work out?" There is always the second guessing with me. But, in looking at Jia-Jia and her enthusiasm for life, I knew that if we didn't adopt her, we would find something missing in our lives - and we would for the rest of our lives regret not having her to love. We had to believe that we would be able to handle whatever came our way - and that God wanted us to be with this child.

The adoption process was all handled in one room, with the director of the CAB taking care of most of the process, having us sign documents and putting our thumbprints on the paperwork. Even Jia-Jia got to put her hand on the red ink and put her hand print on the paperwork as well. However, I noticed that she was very subdued around the caregiver. She spoke only when spoken to. We had so little time to actually get to know the caregiver or the director of the orphanage, but we were told by the CAB director that when we return to China, we will be given permission to go to Jia-Jia's orphanage and visit. I have to say that Ms. Meng was a very nice and caring woman - who seemed to really care about the fate of the children who were being adopted.

Once it was all done, she was ours. Ours. This bundle of energy, this spitfire, this little rocket full of explosive curiosity and a mind that was ready to drink in all the world around her.

I look back today and remember that crazy first few days, and the following months of her adjustment, and even our adjustment to her... it was a two way street that had some near head-ons, but somehow, we navigated through it and she grew calmer. Although I will still say she has some habits that are lingering (such as touching everything in sight or talking incessantly without a breath in between sentences) but I wouldn't trade our precious little girl for anything.

Older child adoption has many surprises in store for parents. Some surprises are delightful, others makes you cry for the lost years you never got to spend with him/her, wishing you could have been the one to make the difference between behaviors learned due to neglect or as a survival skill and behaviors that would better suit them to their new environment and life. At other times, you cheer him/her on as the daughter or son you have accepted as your very own meets milestones you knew they were capable of achieving. And although you may miss much of the developmental years, you will also gain much more in the love you will receive in just being there and loving them for who they are.

God has blessed us twice. And we do know how lucky we are to be in this position of parenthood. Both daughters are doing well, and thriving - and our lives have a purpose. Roy and I were talking the other night, and he asked, "Could you ever imagine not having our daughters, going back to just us?"

And I told him, "No, it would break my heart. I would die of the loneliness - and the void would be unbearable to me."

If you're looking for the meaning of life - just look in your child's eyes. You will find it there.

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