Thursday, July 9, 2015

Returning



I’ve been planning to bring Jingju back to China to visit (provided she wanted to go) ever since we became a family in 2009. In talking with other families with children adopted from China, I have heard about the many different feelings our Chinese daughters have regarding their connection to China, their heritage, and the life they left behind. Some girls have embraced and blended their Chinese culture with american life, while others have been afraid to go back, thinking that they won’t be allowed to return home, and others have perhaps so assimilated to american life, they simply have no interest. The age of the child seems to be a factor in the level of interest they have in returning. Typically families returning to China choose to go on a heritage tour where it’s possible to visit many different regions with the help of a Chinese speaking guide. I chose the Legacy Tour through the Great Wall adoption Agency. The Chinese government pays the costs for adoptive children to return to their homeland, which certainly helps to make the trip more affordable. On our tour, each region we visited had a hometown guide who was knowledgeable about the area and educated us on local customs, history, and folklore. We have also chosen to visit the two orphanages that Jingju lived in at the end of the tour.

Overall, it’s a tremendous experience with a few drawbacks. I have always traveled independently and this was my first tour. I am used to exploring and taking my time, and tend to prefer the local every day life experiences of the country I am visiting over the greatest hits focus that tours seem to provide. In the case of bringing an adopted daughter back to China, there is an additional more complicated layer to the scenario. China is clearly showing us the China they want us to see, and when your herded from one attraction to another, rushed back on the bus to hear the tour guides lecture, there is little time to reflect and process and talk with our children about the other China that competes for our attention in the background. Very early on in the trip I noticed Jingju noticing the poverty and behaviors of the people around her. We were taking a break outside one of the pits of the terra-cotta warriors one afternoon when finally Jingju uttered what she had been thinking, “I’m not sure how I feel about being from this place.”

Jingju is almost 12 years old, which I think is about the right age to make this trip. At this age she is still very open and has endless energy and curiosity. I’ve noticed the older girls on our tour often seem bored and more interested in each other than the sights around them. But at 12 years of age, Jingju has her own firm sense of right and wrong, and developmentally, I think isn’t yet able to make sense of the staggering contrasts and dualities we see here in China; Beautiful landscapes under polluted skies, terraced farmlands with dingy high rises in the distance, fine shops and aggressive street hawkers, ancient history and modern life. 


Then there is the issue of language. We are traveling with Tessa, one of Jingju’s “little sisters,” who she grew up with in the orphanage. Tessa and Jingju were adopted at the same age. Tessa was able to hold onto and develop her mastery of mandarin, while Jingju, in a matter of months lost all ability to speak her native language. I was a little worried about how Jingju would feel if approached by people assuming she spoke Chinese. I also recall her telling me two summers ago when she and I took Chinese lessons with a tutor, that she hoped to be able to learn enough to converse with her nanny when we someday returned to the orphanage. But summer ended and school started and homework became too challenging to keep our lessons going, and today Jingju and I can barely remember the names of the fruits and colors and animals we had worked so hard to learn. Tessa has been an absolute rock star on this trip, interpreting for us, bartering deals in the markets, getting directions, reading menus, and on and on. Today Jingju took it upon herself to learn to say “Wo bu zhi dao Zhongwen,” “I don’t speak Chinese.” She is coping, but feels a little sad. Tessa was one of only two children among 20 families on our tour to still speak Chinese. In the case of older adopted children, rapid language loss is common.  Jingju still wants to regain command of her language, and I believe she will some day. 


It seems that the longer we are here, the more Jingju is finding to like, and even love about China, as am I. Jingju has indeed been interested in the China we were directed to see, and we will continue to discuss and process together the parts that trouble us. 







Sunday, June 28, 2015

Finding Heritage

We are back in China. I'm taking Jingju on a homeland tour, which is sponsored through The China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) and coordinated through the Great Wall China Adoption Agency. We are traveling with Jingju's "little sister," Tessa, her friend who she shared a room with from the time she entered the orphanage until she left. We got into Beijing late tonight and get up early tomorrow to see the Summer Palace. I hope to be able to post here, but it all depends on wifi and the mystical powers of some proxy server that supposedly can break through the great firewall of China. For now...


Summer Palace Long Corridor


and...








































Sunday, March 30, 2014

Life is Subject to Change

It rained all morning five years ago today in Nanning. To pass the final few hours of anxious waiting, I walked around the people's park. I had an appointment at 3 pm to meet my new daughter. For years walking in places such as this park, where families and children congregate, would trigger a quiet sadness in me. I had gotten quite accustomed to silencing it trying to focus my attention on other things such as my work, my relationships, and creativity.

People's Park, Nanning, Guangxi, China
There are moments in my life I will never forget-- the day my therapist asked me, why  couldn't I talk to my husband again about having a family. Kevin had already raised a family and I had accepted that he wanted us to have the freedom to travel and focus on us. My therapist said to me then his trademark line, a gift to me that I now tell my own clients; "Life is subject to change." It was such a freeing moment to understand that I could honor my own feelings and make requests on their behalf. I realized that I didn't have to ignore that part of me that had been grieving the belief that I was never going to be a mother. I decided that I would talk to Kevin that weekend. I remember we were driving past the high school as I was finishing up my speech. My presentation had included the idea of adopting an older child and concluded with the request that he take time to think about things for a few days before giving me an answer.  I was relieved beyond belief to learn that Kevin could be flexible with his own vision of his future. At this point in time, multiple sclerosis had not yet robbed him of his mobility and he had a very different future in mind for himself. It turns out Kevin needed Jingju just as much as I did. We just didn't know it then.

Jingju has now been with us almost as many years as she lived in an orphanage in China. Her memories of the time leading up to her adoption are sketchy, but they are like mine, hinged on pivotal moments.  She told me that one day someone walked into her classroom and asked the group of children, "Who wants a family, raise your hand." I picture this scene and imagine her little hand going up cautiously. How could she understand what she was saying yes to? What did she really think it meant to have a family? Did she understand it meant leaving her nanny and her friends and China altogether?
Jingju and her nanny on adoption day 3/30/2009

Jingju tells me that on the day of her leaving her orphanage, she was told to get dressed in the clothes we had sent to her. She says she rode on a bus to Nanning and didn't really know where she was going until they were underway. Her memory of this day has gotten hazy, and like most of her past life in China, we will only know what we can glean from the pictures and progress notes from Half the Sky. But I will never forget the moment she walked in with her nanny to the room where I was waiting for her. I can only guess her nanny told her to walk over to me, which she did. She took my hand and let me hug her. The qualities I saw in Jingju on that first day ranged from a yin yang of cautious bravery and bold restraint. She was so sweet and loving with her nanny, and quietly cried with such heartbreaking sadness when her nanny left. Over the next few days Jingju gradually opened herself up to me and became playful with me. It was clear what a resilient, bright, and curious child she was and that one of her greatest strengths is her ability to roll with and accept change. I am so privileged and thankful  to be Jingju's mother. My journey to Jingju began with the moment I gave myself permission to honor my need to be a mother. Kevin and Jingju both said yes in turn, and we became a family.

Jingju today



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wish You Happy Forever

I have written here often about my gratitude to Half the Sky for the loving care Jingju received while living in two orphanages in China. And so it was with great interest that I read Wish You Happy Forever, the new book by Jenny Bowen, founder of Half the Sky.

Watching her adopted daughter, Maya, out her kitchen window one day giggling and playing in the yard, Bowen decided she had to find a way to bring “family love” to the children she couldn’t bring home. Her daughter had been home a year and had blossomed in the care of her new family. It was a simple idea—“I would find the way to bring a family’s love to children who had lost theirs. I’d bring Maya’s miracle to China.”

At the time, Bowen was working as a screenwriter and filmmaker and admittedly knew nothing about starting a not-for-profit organization or very much about China. Nor was she an expert on child development, but she believed that she could ameliorate the negative effects of institutionalized living on children by giving them love. Wish You Happy Forever is the story of an impossible dream coming true. One orphanage at a time, Jenny brought her Half the Sky program to children who would otherwise be left to unimaginable deprivation. She faced significant challenges along the way, forging partnerships with Chinese officials, navigating around government bureaucracy, and multiple roadblocks along the way to ultimately redefine a philosophy of care for institutionalized children. Bowen envisioned babies being held and stimulated where they had before been left alone in cribs due to staffing shortages and other issues. She developed the Infant Nurture program, which pairs infants and toddlers with nannies who provide care such as a parent would give. The Little Sisters program provides early childhood education preparing children to eventually be able to enter Chinese schools. Older children and children with special needs who might not ever be adopted all receive care and attention in the Half the Sky programs.

My own daughter’s journey to a family might have been a very different one without Half the Sky. In May of 2005 Jingju was transferred from her orphanage in Beihai to one in Wuhzou in order to enter Half the Sky’s Little Sister’s preschool program. She later returned to Beihai in August of 2007 when the Little Sister’s program was established there as well. Even though I know how Jingju’s story turned out, I noticed myself keeping track of dates as I read Bowen’s book. Half the Sky was born in 1998, just 5 years before Jingju was born. The preschool program came to Wuzhou when Jingju was 21 months old. How different might Jingju’s life have been were it not for Jenny Bowen’s amazing, impossible dream? I have an idea from her description of the conditions in the orphanages she visited before she took on their rebuild. I wish Jingju had never had to experience life in an orphanage at all, but at least I know that while she was there she was loved. An excerpt from Jingju’s Half the Sky progress report reassures me of this and is an example of the success of Bowen’s philosophy:

“When she first came to the program, she would make childish babbling sounds but
could not yet talk or express herself. She rarely smiled and did not cling to adults or
Jingju May11, 2005
whine to get her way. She could walk, but could not walk down the stairs by herself.
She wasn’t able to take care of herself very well for a child her age. Judging from her
situation, I think that giving her family love and increasing her ability to do things on
her own are the most crucial things to focus on. Every day, I would hug her, talk to
her, pat her lightly and potty train her—in essence letting her have a sense of
security and trust around me. After a week, she began to smile more. She wanted me
to hug her when she sees me everyday, and was very welcoming of my presence. I
think receiving such family love is putting her on a stable road, and she is beginning
to develop abilities to take care of herself.”

The title, Wish You Happy Forever refers to a letter Bowen received from a child whose life she touched. But it is clearly Bowen’s wish that every child without a family know love in order to be happy. Thank goodness she looked out the window that day.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Help Orphaned Children in China Hold up Their Half of the Sky

On the Wings of a Dragon

This summer Jingju is participating in Art from the Heart: Half the Sky's third annual art-a-thon fundraiser. Jingju created this work of art to raise money for the children still waiting in China’s welfare institutions for their forever families.
 

Half the Sky works to enrich the lives of orphaned children in China by
  • Establishing and operating infant nurture and preschool programs
  • Providing personalized learning for older children
  • Establishing loving permanent foster care, medical care and guidance for children with disabilities.
I believe that every orphaned child must have a caring adult in her life and the chance Jingju had for a bright future.

We have set a personal goal to raise $600.00 in donations by July 31. We need your help in order to reach our goal! Please join us in supporting this very important cause by sponsoring Jingju's artistic effort. You can sponsor online through our personal fundraising page - It’s easy and secure, and you can see our progress towards achieving our goal. Follow this Link to donate.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day, China, and Artifacts

Jingju (right), Tessa (left)

I received an incredible Mother's Day gift sent via text from China. Jingju's friend, Yanni, and her mom are in China adopting Yanni's new sister. They visited the orphanage and were allowed inside, which rarely happens. Apparently the children were moved to a new building shortly after Jingju and her friends left. The building Jingju grew up in now sits empty of life and frozen in time. Almost everything is still there-- the walls decorated with art and photographs, Chinese lanterns and decorations still hang from the ceiling left over from a dance performance. In the bedroom, Jingju's name and the names of her little sisters are still written on the walls in crayon. The beds are now gone from the room, but Jingju's name is scrawled high up on the wall where she would have scribbled it from the top of her bunk bed. The picture at the right is of Jingju with Tessa. It was still up on a wall along with the above picture that Jingju made in 2006. Yanni's mom is bringing it back for us. The nannies also made a video letter to send home to Jingju and her friends.

I have mixed emotions about receiving this and other information from Beihai. I am so grateful to the Beihai and Half the Sky caregivers for the loving care Jingju received. I am also very happy for the children currently living at Beihai who now have a new building and perhaps an even better living environment.  I'm so happy to hear that the nannies remember our girls. And to be receiving more pieces of my daughter's history three years later is such an unexpected gift. I have always wanted to believe that Jingju left an impression on those who cared for her. We are so fortunate to have a thorough documentation of Jingju's early years growing up in China. But while I know that whether or not her first home stands empty, or filled with the daily bustle of children, Jingju left 5 1/2 years of history behind her there. I can't help feeling a sense of Jingju having been abandoned and found again. The thought of her drawing, so vibrant with her spirit, or her dear little face fading in a photograph on a forgotten wall in Beihai just makes me sad. Yet I have these precious artifacts rescued from a fate of certain decay--I have the chance to honor their importance.

I plan to take Jingju to China in about 2 years when she'll be 10. Jingju has been starting to verbalize her questions and feelings about her abandonment and her life in China. She recently told me that she's sad she can no longer speak Chinese, and she is afraid she won't be able to communicate with her nanny when we visit. She even fears her nanny will have forgotten her. It is with all this in mind that I project my sadness on Jingju's behalf about the condition of her first home. I don't know that we would be allowed inside, or if her building will even still be standing when we eventually return. I continue to be so hungry for any pieces of the puzzle of Jingju's past, and I know there are pieces that will always be missing. Well, I guess it's not just for Jingju that I'm sad. I didn't realize how important it was to me to go to Beihai until I found out about the changes at the orphanage. But time moves us on--Jingju just keeps growing, life in china continues without Jingju, and I am just trying to hold on to what I can for me and my girl.










Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jingju has been studying Kempo for about two years now. 
She recently earned her green belt with brown stripe. 
She is here pictured in her sparring gear. 
She is one tough cookie.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Monday, November 21, 2011

Baba and Jingju

                                                                        

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011



Sunday, June 26, 2011

From Beihai to Central Park


We spent the entire day in Central Park so that the girls would have space to play and just be together. They had gotten together the night before in a hotel room. First Jingju and Taylor met. They were a little shy with each other at first. Then Maylea arrived, followed by Yanni and Tessa. Once all five girls were together they completely became themselves and it was total mayhem and silliness. In the small hotel room, they ran, they hid under beds and in closets, they wrestled, and laughed, and got to be friends again.

Central Park is a world all its own within New York City. It was the perfect place for the girls to wander and explore. It was lovely to see them together and to watch my own daughter, the youngest of the five, with her first family again. Every day I feel thankful and lucky to have Jingju in my life.  I think over my own history and years of struggle and learning to love myself that led me eventually to Jingju, and the way her path to me began with the day she was found. In the adoption world we talk a lot about the losses our children have had. On this day in the park, my thoughts turned to the other side of loss... of finding. I find myself everyday in loving Jingju.


Left to right: Jingju, Tessa, Yanni

Tessa and Yanni
Left to right: Taylor, Yanni, Mayleea

Left to right: Sandra, Jingju, Tessa


Mayleea and Taylor

Tessa and Jingju


Friday, June 24, 2011

Beihai Little Sisters Reunion

Jingju and I are in New York City for a reunion with her "Little Sisters" from her orphanage in Beihai. Tessa (Jinghuan) and Yanni (Yanlan) are coming again, but Jingju will also be seeing two other friends, Mayleea (Yonghua) and Taylor (Caihong), who she hasn't seen since she left China two years ago. The girls will be getting together tonight at their hotel to get reacquainted. Pictures to come...

Picture from SWI of Wuzhou where the girls were prior to Beihai. 
Front row far right is Taylor (Caihong), Middle row 2nd from right is Jingju, 4th from right is Mayleea (Yonghua), 6th from right is Tessa (Jinghuan), and 5th from right is Yanni (Yanlan) I think this is correct.

Sunday, May 1, 2011








Monday, February 21, 2011

Together But Apart


When we planned our adoption of Jingju we thought long and hard about how she might be effected by her father having multiple sclerosis. For many reasons, we came to the conclusion that we should go ahead. We were perhaps a bit pollyannaish in our outlook, but when we considered the life Jingju might have in China and the possibility she might never have a family, we felt that all the things we could provide; family, love, safety, our guidance, an education, outweighed the challenges of Kevin's illness.

We knew that Kevin would become more disabled, but we never imagined his MS would progress so quickly. Just before Christmas, Kevin got sick with what for most would have been a minor infection. For him, it landed him in the hospital because it doesn't take much to exacerbate his MS symptoms. He got better medically, but as with all his hospitalizations, he needed rehab to regain his strength. Kevin has been at a rehab facility since New Years, but he has not made the progress he needs to make in order to live safely at home. Our insurance company has refused to cover more rehab at this point. The outpatient coverage we get for visiting home care services is not adequate to keep Kevin safe or comfortable while I am away at work all day. Kevin and I met with his care team last Friday, and we all agreed that it is time for Kevin to go into long term care. This is a very sad time for us, but especially for Kevin. It's so hard for him to be away from Jingju.


So how is Jingju? As I've said before about her, it's difficult to always tell how Jingju is feeling on the inside. On the outside, she is almost always happy, inquisitive, and fearless. A few weeks ago as we were walking down the hall to visit Kevin, Jingju spontaneously said, "I don't think Daddy should come home." I asked her why, and she said "because he's safe here." All these months I've had to collect myself before opening the door when I'd get home, bracing myself for what I might find; Kevin slumped over asleep in some precarious position on the couch, or worse, on the floor among broken bits of glass from a plate he dropped. I've assumed that Jingju has had the same anxieties, but it was hard to tell. When Kevin did fall, she was always there being sweet and sometimes humorous, for example taking advantage of his compromised position to use him as a chair or pony. I suppose we both hid our fear to be strong for each other.


Jingju does voice that she misses her daddy, and I think as is typical of a seven year old, she's concerned about what this all is going to mean for her? The questions she asks are about where are we going to live (with my parents for a awhile), and where will my bed go, and can I bring my Teddy bear? I am more than ever now trying to create a sense of safety for Jingju by keeping her routine going, and communicating our plans in advance so she knows what to expect each day, and in the near future. We talk with Kevin every morning on our drive to school, and at night he calls in (soon Skyping) to listen in on bedtime stories and to say goodnight. We visit about 3 days a week, and usually have a meal together. Sometimes we take Kevin out to eat at a restaurant or we go to a movie. Jingju also gets some father/daughter time because I can now leave Kevin alone with her knowing that she is safe. The nursing home has a rec room with air hockey and a pool table, so Jingju loves to hang out there. A few weeks ago I started keeping some books, games, and art supplies in Kevin's room so he can have activities to do with Jingju when we visit. And Miss Jingju has made herself a friend of everyone in the place, beginning with the receptionist with whom she practices telling time as she enters our names in the visitor's log. She has a fan in Kevin's roommate who calls her "Bright Eyes," and she rides around the place on Kevin's lap waving to everyone. They have a rule at the nursing home that children are not allowed to be quiet. So it's a very welcoming place for Jingju, and she is very comfortable in the setting.


I am reinforcing all the time to Jingju that we are still a family and that her father isn't dying. I'm trying whenever possible to defer to Kevin when opportunities to discipline Jingju arise to emphasize that he is still involved in her parenting. There are some positive aspects to our new situation, which is that since Kevin has been getting more support in his personal care, he's more alert and has more energy when we spend time with him. I am less stressed and therefore have more energy as well. I am looking forward to being able to be more of a wife and less of a caregiver, and a better parent to Jingju.


Our work now is to establish a new normal family life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Snowy Day

Monday, December 27, 2010

To Be By Your Side

Here we go again...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween


Zebras are African equids best known for their distinctive black and white stripes. Their stripes come in different patterns unique to each individual. They are generally social animals and can be seen in small harems to large herds. Unlike their closest relatives, horses and asses, zebras have never been truly domesticated.




It's our second halloween with Jingju. This year she chose to be a zebra. Well, she had really wanted to be a snow leopard so she could wear a mask that we'd gotten her at the Bronx Zoo, however, snow leopard pajamas were no where to be found... well, not until after I'd found zebra leggings and had commited to buying a zebra tail online. In the end, she was quite happy.