It was thankfully the last day of exams and we beat the adoptive crowd by going early. The consulate clinic we have been visiting is passed through by anyone Chinese from our region who is immigrating to the United States. That includes the new children of all adoptive families. About 24 adoptive families a day pass through immigration services here, four days a week, and many congregate at the clinic on Saturdays. So it was good to beat the rush. We have met several other families here at the hotel, but all of us are busy working on bonding and connecting with our own new little ones. All the other families we have seen are adopting a child just under two, all with some kind of special needs, most mild and correctable. Cleft lip and palate eye problems, missing limbs, heart surgeries; these are a few of the special needs kids and parents we have met. But when you meet them you barely notice the special need, what you notice is the joy and love of their families, the brand new world that each child is entering into, the magic of it all.
I am in the elevator back at the hotel when two more women step in at the floor just below ours. It is then that I notice that Qiao Qiao, in her passionate enthusiasm for buttons, keycards, and systems, has pressed ALL the buttons between floor 8 and the lobby. I apologize to the other two ladies and tell them she is just figuring all this out. While Qiao Qiao looks only about six, most six year olds already know enough not to press all the buttons! 🙂 The ladies turn and admire Qiao Qiao, asking “how old is she?” I feel awkward as I apologetically say “she’s nine, actually.” Their smiling eyes flit up to my face. . . .”wow, she’s tall! I brought home an eight year old last year and she is still quite a bit shorter than her!!” “How long has she been with you?” And it’s when I reply, “five days,” that I feel the reality of it all, feel the rush of the journey, the enormity of the wave we are riding, how little time has passed and how much has happened.
The women give me another smile as they wish us well and tell us to enjoy the journey! I feel warm all over and realize how different this adoption thing is. The simple act of their asking how old she is, how long she has been with us, has connected with my new-mama heart in ways I didn’t know to ask for. Yes, she is nine. Yes, I am a brand new mama to a brand new baby girl whose chronological age is nine but whose family age is five days. Yes, thank you for asking, noticing, appreciating. For meeting my eyes, and for understanding.
Naomi and Quinn have been asking for a “down day” without too much walking around, adventuring or culture crossing. Today we feel their vibe and, without planning too much, we spend most of the day in our hotel room. David goes to the lobby for paperwork meetings with other families, and the kids and I hang out.
Qiao Qiao has settled in quite a bit. She uses the bathroom on her own now, without being asked if she would like to. She wanders the hotel rooms freely, interrupting us if she wants to play. She still enjoys the “hi/goodbye” game of going in and out the doors of the room with a keycard, and noting that we are still here. She loves to look through pictures of herself, our family, her foster centre, the adoption, on our ipad and iphone. And now when I take pictures of her, she asks to see.
Naomi and Quinn are hitting some walls in their ability to be understanding with her constant needs. While Qiao Qiao, for the first time, begins to engage by herself with toys, cards and books, I get individual long talks with each of my other two kids, as we snuggle. We talk about the glue, about how families bond with a glue made up of needing attention, looking for ways to get our needs met healthily, and getting those needs met. I remind them that Qiao Qiao is using SO MUCH GLUE because everything in her is telling her to bond, bond, bond with us. About how it’s subconscious but it’s so healthy for her to be using gobs of glue because we don’t have years of glue connection in our relationship like I do with N and Q. I remind them how when they have been away from me overnight, or at school all day, they throw out big gobs of glue too, needing hugs, talk time, snuggles on the couch, mama-dates at Starbucks. Qiao Qiao is just making up for so many years of no one to throw her family glue at, I tell them.
The concept works, I’m not sure how I came up with it, but it helps me too. When she is furiously throwing herself at us for love, it is easy to be tempted to try to tone her down. But I think there is time for the glue to settle, to let it fall in sticky strands between all of us. We can always peel the residue off later. And I can tell, if we just let her get all this glue out now, she will settle into normal glue patterns later.
So we keep at it, it’s alternately the most amazing experience in the world, and deeply tiring. We pull out the rainbow loom, saved for such a time as this, and learn to use it together. Qiao Qiao is enthralled, wanting to pull it continually from my hands and I pull my rare use of “no” and wait in Mandarin to teach her turn taking. By the end of the day she has made three bracelets, which she wears to bed, turning and turning them as she falls asleep.
We have had five days together and she has learned some new English words. She says Baba (not to call daddy, but to reference him), Quinn (to call him, very occasionally!), okay, uh-oh, no (!!!! – teaching this girl boundaries early). She counts when we work on our workbooks together and the way she says six makes me cry every time. Don’t ask – I’m a hormonal post-partum mother. 😉 Mostly she speaks to us in mandarin that we are starting to pick up more. She teaches us “go!” “finished!” and “this one” as well as “nothing, no more”. She doesn’t speak to us much yet, mostly she makes eager little noises to communicate and swift head shakes. I notice this is how she communicates with the doctors and nurses and waiters too. As we were told by her social worker, she communicates well but is an introvert who doesn’t like to use a lot of words, an internal processor.
We are adjusting to each other’s smells, each other’s feels. To being family. Naomi and Qiao Qiao and I share a delicious bowl of mango and vanilla ice cream with sweet red beans at lunch time and it’s a new thing, this sharing a bowl with this child. I feel it, feel the need to step into it.
What am I trying to say? I am trying to help you feel the awkwardness as well as the beauty. I am parenting my beautiful daughter now, and she has never called me mama, though she will look towards me if others refer to me that way. I absolutely completely understand this, and yet it is also painful in some deep places of my heart, that’s the honest truth. This, again, is the reality of adoption. She has every right to wait on this . . . it is a monumental decision to love, to trust, to connect, to attach. And I will wait as long as it takes, with my whole heart open to her. Just as God does with me.
I have lived five days with a little girl who has just walked away from everything familiar but I have never seen her cry. I have seen her throw up on a taxi, endure uncomfortable medical procedures, struggle through the inability to communicate, but I have not seen her cry, I have not seen her angry. This means there is a whole world of my child that is yet to open up. Again, she has learned to cope with her sweetness, with her laughter, and with good firm boundaries. But somewhere under there is rage, grief, and fear. I am waiting for it to emerge because it too, is part of what makes her a whole person.
This is what family life looks like right now. . . . it looks like letting her be two years old one minute and nine years old the next, and recognizing that it is good. It looks like enjoying every bit of her joy, laughter and mischief but acknowledging that she has other emotions she has not yet felt safe enough to share. It means drinking in all the wonder of experiencing her but also feeling the ache of what we do not have.
So thank you, extended community, for your prayers, your thoughts, your well wishes. I feel them, holding all of us, like a big Grace-Bubble around us. There is a wondrous safety, an astounding comfort, that is truly supernatural. And I do not take it for granted, I think about it many times a day, and I know it is a force field thrown up by your endless prayers and thoughts towards us. And I am so grateful. Please don’t stop.