Category Archives: International Adoption

Call Me Crazy- On Returning Home

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Two weeks from today, we depart for our heritage tour to China.

Back in January, we were on our way home from a day trip with our two daughters  when an email popped up from our adoption agency, Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI). I opened the email to discover that the Chinese Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) had paired up with CCAI to offer a heritage tour for adoptees and their families.  The tour was, in part, being funded by a special grant from the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, therefore the adoptees in-China travel expenses would be covered. After about a two minute discussion with my husband, we jumped on the deal. We’ve had a good laugh ever since, because although our daughters’ costs are covered for the travel in China, we’ve nearly had to take a second mortgage on the house to cover all of the unlisted expenses. The international airfare alone, for the four of us, could pay for a year of college. Oh well… so much for a free trip. If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

After getting over the sticker shock for this tour, we began to marvel at the opportunities this adventure would bring. Todd and I remember quite well both of our adoption trips. The first one, bringing home our then fourteen month old, consisted of the most sweet, memorable days of my life. I became a first-time mother on foreign soil, to the most beautiful baby I could ever imagine. Room 902 in the Majestic Hotel in Nanning, Guangxi, P.R.C. was my birthing room. This was the room where the orphanage nannies delivered my baby into my arms, and where, approximately fifteen minutes later, she promptly puked all over me from the wailing and crying that ensued. But vomiting aside, it was the most beautiful, magical two weeks of which I could have dreamed. I knew at the San Francisco airport, as we waited to board the Singapore Air 747 bound for Hong Kong, that we were embarking on an adventure.  The crew for the jumbo-jet drew a collective gasp from the would-be passengers as they rode the escalator down to the boarding area. We quickly figured out that these exquisitely beautiful Asian women wearing brightly colored sarongs were to be our flight attendants. My husband knew from that moment on that he was going to enjoy that trip a great deal. He thought he had died and gone to heaven. The service and food throughout the twelve hour flight was impeccable.

On our next adoption trip, post 9/11, to bring LiLi home, things were different. We flew on an American carrier with an older, tired, burnt out flight crew that just wanted to get where we were going. Service was an afterthought. The flights for this current heritage tour have been booked on Korean Air, and we have hopes that the Asian influence on the service will be, once more, memorable.

Yes, both of those adoption trips are seared into our minds, nearly every moment; but not into the minds of our little daughters. When we traveled to bring LiLi home, JaneGrace was just a few months past three. Her big memory of that trip was greeting her new big sister under the porte-cochere of our Taiyuan Hotel with a big hug and “I love you.” My big memory of JaneGrace was of our new little family standing in the airport in Shanghai on departure day and her asking me, with the most serious tone she could muster… “so… what are we going to do with LiLi?” To be honest, I was asking myself the same thing. We all boarded the flight and flew from Shanghai to Tokyo and from Tokyo to Seattle. LiLi sat directly behind me and next to my sister on the nine hour leg, where she never slept and kicked the back of my seat the entire journey.  I was nearing the crazy zone as we circled Seattle, preparing to land. LiLi finally fell asleep as the big jet hit the runway. Had I not been so exhausted, I could have drop-kicked her off of the plane.

LiLi’s memory of the adoption trip is fuzzy, although she has recalled not liking me very much. I must add the feeling was mutual. That’s not to say I didn’t try. I do recall sitting on the floor in the hotel room in front of a wall-length mirror with LiLi in front of me and my legs crossed around her. We sat there peering at our images. I had read in an adoption prep book that this was a helpful tool to promote bonding. The typical child coming out of an orphanage has not seen themselves very often in a mirror. So here I was with poor LiLi, sitting in front of this mirror, neither of us understanding the other, and wondering what to do. I would hug her and kiss her, and smile, and she just sat there, wondering what this giant white woman was going to do to her next.  She thought I smelled odd, looked odder, and could we please just get downstairs to the buffet?

The hotel buffets bring to mind another memory from our two weeks in China finalizing LiLi’s adoption. The girl ate more food than a grown man. If watching beautiful Asian flight attendants on our twelve hour international flight was heaven to my husband; LiLi’s idea of heaven was an “all you can eat” Chinese buffet in China.  Her little belly stuck out like a basketball after devouring platefuls of food. She thought this new life was going to be okay after all, and maybe I wasn’t so bad. However, her digestive system took a beating as islets of sluggish cells secreting digestive enzymes were slowly being called into action. One particular night, as we were out eating again, and doing a little sightseeing, LiLi indicated she had to go to the bathroom. We scampered into the public restrooms that were nothing more than holes in the ground,  were as nasty as you can imagine, and weren’t outfitted with toilet paper. Neither was I. The floors of the public restrooms were littered with all sorts of bodily excretions, and I had to help LiLi squat over one of the holes, take aim, and deliver. I squatted in front of her and held her hands to keep her from touching the filth beneath our feet. After what seemed like an eternity of the great exodus, I realized I had nothing with which to clean her bottom. Oh my. Frantically searching through my pocketbook revealed the only paper I could come up with:  the wrapper from a candy bar. We used it. I don’t remember if we ate the candy bar first or just tossed it down the dark hole. Of course public restrooms have no facilities for washing your hands either. Hoo boy.

So now, here we are planning to return to China to take our girls on a heritage tour of their native land. We are thrilled to return to JaneGrace’s city of birth, and tour some of the most beautiful, archeological, historical and cultural jewels of China. We will be blessed to visit with JaneGrace’s foster family and to show her the finding place. LiLi, on the other hand, has not wanted to return to China. I believe she is fearful of not being able to return home. Her memories of her life in the orphanage haunt her. Most often she doesn’t want to even talk about China. She grieves for the loss of her biological mother ,and is fearful that she is dead. Her feelings oscillate between anger and grief for her birth family. Sometimes she gets angry at Todd and me for making her wait for seven years before we “rescued” her. China represents a land of hurt, of injustice, neglect and abuse. So, call me crazy… we are taking her back. She needs to know that her country is beautiful, is filled with beautiful people, and that she was a victim of a most callous from of social injustice. I feel compelled to show her the beauties of China, to fill her mind with memories of the Great Wall, the terra cotta soldiers of Xi’an, giant pandas, and the mystique and wonder of Guilin. She needs to know that China is not to be feared, that we love her very much, and she belongs with us. She is on a journey destined by God Himself… she is a chosen child; His and ours.

854 Friends on Facebook and No One to Come to My Party

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My daughter has an acquired heart condition. She was born with a hole in her heart. Not the kind, mind you, that requires a skilled cardiothoracic surgeon to repair, but the kind in which you can dump anything, including the kitchen sink, and it still won’t be filled. This type of hole is the “black hole” of emotional ans developmental wounds.

Abandoned at birth, she was found on a dirty street corner in a bustling northern city of China at one day old. She weighed in at 5 and one half pounds. To complicate matters, she had a uni-lateral cleft lip-plate. Destined to become a social pariah, a Good Samaritan took her to the city police station after a day of care in his home. From there, she was delivered to the city’s social welfare institute.

The institutionalized years took their toll. She has shared with us that in those early years she was often cold and hungry. She cried to me one day, early on, that when she went to school, her back pack was empty. She had no supplies. This deeply frustrated her. On the floor in our Colorado kitchen, I consoled her as she grieved for that empty back pack, vowing to myself that she would never want again. On another occasion, she shared with me that the kids in the orphanage did not have breakfast, and usually only had a “bun” for lunch. This was the norm, and this was her life.

She has scars on the back of each ear. For years I thought they were cigarette burns, inflicted as a type of punishment. In time, my forensic training revealed they were more consistent with human bite marks. Some scoundrel bit my daughter’s ears to the point where the tissue has been permanently scarred. Both of her feet have a permanent outward rotational position which causes her walking gait to appear glide-like, similar to an ice skater. Once, when she was calming herself down from a tantrum, I understood why. As she sat on the floor with her knees drawn to her chest, she wrapped her arms around the outside of her legs, and firmly grasped each foot from the inside. While rocking back and forth in a trancelike state, she pulled her feet outward to a ninety degree angle and held them there, rocking to and fro. Left to her own devices in the orphanage, no stimulation, little play, rampant cold and hunger, she likely rocked herself for hours as a self-soothing activity.

Back to the present: She has a tremendous need to be accepted, I believe, more than the average 16 year old girl. She longs to be normal, to feel normal, and to be a typical student. In many ways she is a typical teenager. She loves listening to music on her I-pod touch. Her favorite food is spaghetti. She changes her hairstyle almost as many times as her outfits in the morning before departing for the school bus, always asking, “Mom, does this matching?”  My response: “Yes, this matching.” She cares greatly about her outward appearances and the perception others have of her. She dreams of being able to drive someday, and wonders what will happen to her if she is not able to accomplish this goal. She has failed her learner’s permit exam three times now. Maybe it’s because she reads at a first grade level? What are we to do? Extinguish her dream? Help her to dream realistically?

LiLi has 854 friends on Facebook… yet we still were not able to come up with a list of peers to invite to her sweet sixteen birthday.  She has created a virtual world for herself where she can play out her fantasy life. She can be the most popular girl, the most intellectual, and the girl whom everyone wants to be at their party. She takes photos of herself, stunningly beautiful photos, and changes her profile picture almost as often as she changes her hairstyle. She has befriended people half a world away whose language she doesn’t speak.  LiLi has tried to “friend” so many strangers, that Facebook deactivated this privilege because of her misuse. She became a public nuisance.

Last year my husband threw a surprise 50th birthday party for me. At this party, he mistakenly gave LiLi the job of taking photos. Anyone who knows LiLi knows how much she loves getting a camera in her hands. This particular night, she did a great job taking photos; she took over three hundred as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, 95% were of LiLi and her two friends who attended and 5% were of me and my party. It’s all about the image, pun intended. LiLi lacks a comprehensive self-identity. Seeing her own image enables her to create an identity for herself. She is putting together pieces of a puzzle. The damage of institutionalization runs deep in this child. Although she has been with us nine years, the seven years she spent in an orphanage left her scarred.  The scars may fade, but her memories of the infliction carry on.