You have been home three months now and we share the easy familiarity of family, interrupted only by the occasional feelings of awe, wonder, and stupified surprise that one white family from all-over, happened to find one Zhuang girl from southern China, and that somehow we fit perfectly together despite all our differences.
We speak a simple mix of Chinese and English, interspersing words and phrases in both languages. You understand so much of what I say, but I often repeat my words in Chinese just to make sure. I am still learning new vocabulary from you but not nearly as often now. You choose to speak English with us more and more often. Your phrases cause hilarity as you command us to: Closin da eye! open da Mou! (close your eyes and open your mouth!) among so many others.
In the pool, you suddenly decide you are tired of your flotation device and take it off to discover that you can swim across the length of the pool, head underwater most of the way. You are a prodigy, my daughter, conquering life because you are both fearless and perseverant. We clap loudly for you and you vibrate pride and triumph, thrilled to be the victor.
At night, we lie in bed together, reading simple board books about fruits, animals, the weather. We share the words, me teaching you English, and you teaching me Chinese. I see the puzzlement in your face when you have sometimes forgotten a Chinese word from too little use. You pause, think hard, and then strangely admit that you do not know. This hurts my heart and I grab my iphone, using google translate to look up forgotten words. Like a treasure seeker, you grasp the words tight, repeating them, sure not to forget again. I am just as intent on helping you keep your Chinese as I am on making sure you learn English. And you float between these two worlds, employing all your wits towards this great leap in culture and communication.
You find my black journal and I see, copied over in your handwriting, my words from a summer list. Ava: learn to read! And I have to laugh out loud. You are getting ready for that leap – writing out words and listening to me sound them out. You are beginning to understand that anglo writing combines sounds rather than whole concepts, like Chinese characters. Your journey to reading is so much more complex than most childrens, but your curiosity and intelligence makes it a race to new knowledge – an eager endeavor.
In the bathtub, we talk about your memories of China. These days you share more stories with me, answering my questions a few at a time, then deftly changing the subject to something less intense. I gather up facts about your old lives and worlds with hunger and deep sadness. Sitting tub-side, I hold back tears at what you have lost. I feel great anger at the system, at the brokenness that has caused such injustice, at all you have had to endure.
I teach you emotion words, the words my Chinese friends sometimes said I should not bother learning because Chinese culture does not really allow for emotion. But here we welcome it, and I teach you happy and sad and mad, and happy comes out first, of course. Because despite all life has thrown at you, you carry the gift of joy, full of hope and wonder. You refuse to stay sad or mad for long – and your earnest optimism teaches me.
These days your sister can babysit you for an evening and you adore being pampered and loved on, in only the ways she does. Each morning I find you and your brother cuddled together on the couch, sharing books, ipad or movies – his arm wrapped tightly around you and your head resting on his shoulder. In your Daddys arms I see you, proud princess, sure of his love for you, not afraid to ask for more. You demand his time and attention.
But it is when you feel proud of yourself that I see you regress the most, using baby talk and expressions to distract yourself from the uncomfortable reality that you want to be noticed. You do this too when you are around new people, when you are unsure. Suddenly, you are three again, and sometimes I fight back my own juvenile annoyance. Surely this is simply you learning to inhabit your own skin in this new land of acceptance and love – I choose to welcome the three year old.
I am ready for you. Ready to watch you fly past me in accomplishments, ready to listen, ready to hug you and hold you bazillion times a day, ready to tell you over and over that America and China are different but they are both wonderful worlds. I am ready to nurture your strength and fight for your acknowledgment, to wonder at you and to protect your heart and those things you hold most private and secure. I am ready as your wings unfurl and the great sun dries them, to see you soar.