Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gotcha Day


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.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Easy Rider

I woke up this morning with the idea to take Jingju to the park to try riding her bike without the training wheels. The sun was finally out and we'd all been cooped up indoors for far too long. Jingju wasn't sure at first if she was ready, but brave girl that she is, she agreed to give it a try. I removed the wheels and we practiced for about fifteen minutes with me running along side her holding her at the waist to keep her from tipping. She was giggling a lot and struggling with staying balanced, and I was beginning to think that she wasn't going to be able to collect herself to pedal on her own. Then at once, she seemed to be leaning less on me and I lightened my hold on her. "OK mom, let go" she said, and so I did, and so she went... and went... and went. It was really quite a magical moment when I realized she wasn't going to stop and she wasn't going to fall. There had been an elderly couple watching us from a park bench and I could hear them cheering and clapping, and Jingju was squeaking with laughter. I stopped running after her and just watched her knowing that she was going to be OK. I had a fleeting moment of the awareness of the thought, "she doesn't need me," a thought I know I shall experience again and again as my amazing girl takes on her life.

I've been struggling in recent months with a kind of low grade melancholy. I think with Jingju's arrival I've been brought back through an accounting of my own childhood and am grieving time lost. I've come a bit late in life into the role I've always wanted most for myself. To be a mother. It almost didn't happen at all. And now, here's this child, who thankfully, radiates with self-confidence and courage, and I am so relieved for her. And then there's another awareness I have--that for the first 5 1/2 years of her life, Jingju had no mother or father to applaud her or encourage her or console her. When Jingju first came home and I would say, "Wo ai ni" (I love you), I was speaking her native language, but I had the sense that the meaning of the words was foreign to her. When I kissed her goodnight tonight, I told her how amazed I was that she was able to ride her bike so well today. She responded with, "I love you mommy," which I interpreted as "I love you for loving me," and that seems just right.

I don't know why my videos are showing up black, but click on them, they do work.