A year ago today, I woke up in a hotel room in China, thinking about how in a few hours my life would be profoundly changed. I remember wondering, where is Jingju right now? Is she scared? Does she understand what's happening? How will we understand each other? What if she doesn't like me? I had until 3 o'clock to wonder and worry about this decision I'd made to adopt, become a parent, be responsible for another human being in such an irrevocable way. I spent the morning wandering around the People's Park with butterflies in my stomach.
In the afternoon, we drove to another hotel to meet Jingju. I walked into the lobby, and right away spotted two young women with a scared looking little girl in clothes I vaguely recognized because I had sent them in a care package weeks earlier. Hannah, my guide, kept walking and I followed her into the elevator. I didn't look back at the little girl and I wasn't sure if she had realized that I was the woman she was coming to meet. I had to wait in a room with Hannah and my travel companion for only a few minutes when Jingju walked in with her nanny. I've decided to show the video of our meeting because I remember how helpful it was to follow the experiences of other families while I was waiting for Jingju. I had so many questions and fears about adopting an older child. Jingju was 5 1/2 years old and had lived in an orphanage her whole life. I couldn't fathom the changes and losses she was about to face. As the video shows, Jingju seemed dazed and unsure. Yet she seemed to be surrendering herself to her future. She was so brave. The moment when her nanny said goodbye and left was heartbreaking. At the same time, I was relieved to see Jingju cry because it meant she'd had an attachment with her nanny, which meant she was likely to be able to make an attachment with us, her new family. I was also relieved to see that she had clearly been loved.
My bonding with Jingju was a slow and gradual process. It felt so odd to me each time my guide instructed Jingju not to refer to me as "her" in Chinese, but to call me "mama." I understood why Hannah was working on this with Jingju and I appreciated that she enabled Jingju's understanding that I was her caregiver. Still, I kept thinking, "why should she call me "mother?" We soon started to laugh and play together, and after the first few days, Jingju started to make a real effort at learning English. We had our routines like having breakfast together and washing up for bed, and games, like counting the elevator buttons. Jingju was the keeper of the room key card and she loved to run ahead to open the door. Little by little, I think these activities helped us to form the beginnings of a connection between us.
Jingju's baba and I had had some worries about her bonding with him because he was unable to come with me to China. Kevin has multiple sclerosis and he uses a power wheelchair. Jingju and I Skyped with him daily, which helped her to begin to make a relationship with him. We also had concerns about how Jingju would react to his disability and seeing him in his wheelchair. I had our guide in Guangzhou explain to Jingju a little bit about her father's condition. Kevin was at the airport to meet us upon our return home. When Jingju approached him, Kevin asked her, "can I have a hug?' and she climbed into his lap and hugged him. My first hug from Jingju didn't come until a few weeks later at Easter, but boy was it worth waiting for! Jingju and Kevin have a lovely relationship now and she is so funny and sweet with him.
When I think back now to those first days, I think how incredible and mysterious it was, the mutual unfolding of our trust, and love for each other. We are still in that process, but now we have the ability to know to some degree what Jingju is thinking and feeling. She is starting to have conversations with us about her adoption. She still has night terrors from time to time, and moments of regressed or testing behaviors. Overall, she is doing beautifully. She's in Kindergarten and loves learning and does very well. She's making friends, and she seems genuinely happy most of the time. I am grateful for her every day.
Happy Gotcha Day, darling daughter.
I will never forget the muffin. Hannah brought Jingju this banana nut bread muffin. I don't know if Hannah knew it would be soothing for Jingju to have something to eat, but it was genius. The muffin was quite large, and Jingju held it in her little hand, and nibbled it for hours.