We had only been home for a few hours when our first visitors arrived to welcome us back. I still remember how Jing Yun didn’t look at them much, talk to them, or even hang out in the same room for long. After they left he muttered to Ava – “who were those people?” “Our friends”, she said. “You mean your classmates?” “No, just friends.” “What do you mean, “friends”?” he asked.
Eighteen months after Ava’s arrival home, I have learned a lot about the group home world he and Ava lived in in China. There, friends aren’t really a thing. I mean think about it, you have forty or so kids, sharing an apartment, going to school, coming home, playing, eating, bathing, and going to bed. They’re ALL friends – who has time for more? But they’re family too – it’s a different life. A beautiful one in it’s own way, but so different than what we live here.
For Ava, this has been one of her biggest challenges over the last year, making friends. It took constant guided effort on my part to teach her how to reach out to a kid on the playground, learn to first parallel play and then play together, learn to ask what her friend wanted to play, then how to tell her friend what she wanted to play. We’ve walked through it all, step by step, and 18 months later she has one, for sure, “real” friend. And she’s beginning to have more real friendships with a few others too. That’s how foreign this friendship concept has been for her.
In her first few weeks and months we carefully shielded her from too many people, following the traditional adoption advice to “keep their world small.” But with Jing Yun, our family is bigger and our children older. Friends are an intimate part of our daily world and a small closed life without friend visits seems untenable for the rest of our family. So, welcome to our world, son. Friends are here ALL the time and I am so thankful.
Every time a car pulls up and Jing Yun asks “your friend?” and I nod yes and smile, I wonder, how must it feel to him to know this great family of friends surrounds us? He sees meals delivered daily, flowers dropped off. He sees me cry in my living room with a friend’s arm around me. He notices that they all know his name. He sees how they bring him gifts and new clothes, how they watch him and admire him and make him laugh.
The other day when my friend Juliana stopped by, bringing with her her six year old son for the second or third time since our return, I told Jing Yun “your friend is here! Go jump on the trampoline with him!” And he smiled and jumped up and did just that. Just like he has always known what friends are for.
I think in this new life of his, friends are one of the biggest, best and most beautiful gifts we have been able to give him.
Friends change everything. Friends hold us when we feel we can’t go on. They cheer us when we succeed. They laugh with us. They cry with us. They hold us.
Friends bring us life.
And you, my friends, are bringing this little boy back to life, right alongside us.