Dinnertime in our first full day with Yun means back a taxi ride to his group home, the one he and his sister shared for more than six years. We have been invited to share dinner with his family of forty kids and seven adults. It’s a miracle, really, and I feel the intensity of all we have been offered, of this chance for Ava to reconnect on a real level with her old “family”. This stuff really just doesn’t happen for adoptive families, this level of connection and welcome. We have faithfully kept in touch with the directors of the group home, skype’d emailed and sent many pictures. We have kept the connections strong despite very little response from the other end and now that we are here in person, they are keeping the connections strong too.
We arrive to a crush of children at the front door. It’s an ordinary apartment complex in the midst of Nanning, no sign that it’s an orphanage or children’s home except the children spilling out of doors everywhere. In one-child China that itself is a sign and a wonder. We are invited to sit and our visit begins quietly, us feeling each other out, all communication happening through the translation of our amazing adoption agency guide. We give out gifts of chocolate, more chocolate and Perler beads sets for them to make. Ava is reminded by our guide that she must give her gifts in two hands or risk offending the giver. She looks humiliated and angry but I pull her aside and softly tell her ‘that is the China way and we are in China now, no problem. Just do it the China way.” She calms. This is the life of my TCK. Walking this line as a Chinese born American. She is forever making mistakes in both worlds but I hope some day soon she will realize that she is forever making things right in both worlds too.
We reconnect with the little “twin” girls who we had been pursuing adopting before they became unavailable to our agency. After meeting them while adopting Ava, we worked towards them for many months and Jing Yun was our surprise gift when their adoption fell through. But we feel all the feelings as we see them and learn that they will not be adopted together but are instead going to separate families. Naomi grieves hardest, these little sisters that she never shared a name with but nevertheless gave her heart too. How much loss all this has cost us. How much love we have given away. I can never tell the stories, they are too deep.
Dinner is shared communally at several low tables brought in to the main room. We are not visitors now, we are family, and as dusk falls, heaping plates of duck, pork, chicken, dumplings are brought in. Rice and broth wait on a nearby table to supplement the food. We use our chopsticks to dig into the same bowls they do and we can feel all the distance melting away as we do. Sharing food, sharing bowls, sharing life, we feel them receive us, know we have passed one of the ultimate tests that say that we feel safe with them. There is an intimacy in a shared bowl that speaks of life long connections.
Ava and Yun sit near us with the children at their own table, Yun completely at home, Ava starting to really relax into this old familiar routine. We watch our son being himself in a way we may never see again once he leaves this old life. We watch our daughter shine. My heart is so full. This is so difficult, so painful, so rich and so raw.
At the adult table, they question us about our choice to adopt, ask us why we choose these older children, the ones so few have wanted. We try to share, simply, how we are moved to do it, how we love them. And their eyes tear up and they simply say “so much compassion” as they beat their fist against their heart. I ask them too why they work here in this group home where the demands are so great and the cost to their heart so high. And of course compassion moves them too.
How can I tell the stories of that evening, the hungry way some children watched us and the way my heart broke as they did. The littlest baby, perhaps only two months old who let me hold her and the way I wondered where she was found and if her mother’s breasts still ached. Ge Ge, with CP, waving and smiling to me from his chair, an old friend from our last visit, now finally preparing to be adopted. How Jing Yun introduced his father, all proud and fierce. The way that Ava ran in the door from visiting a favorite tree with her old friends, her face shining with something so deep and so beautiful that tears sprang to my eyes and I had to choke back sobs. How can I tell you what it meant to see this group home living as a family. The way my heart hurt that we live with our children so many thousands of miles away. How much I wanted for them to share this world regularly, to be able to see these friends on a whim, to be able to bring over brownies and stay to eat fruit. Instead, after this magical evening we will sweep our two kids back to a new world where this one will be only a dim memory.
I make a vow to visit every two years by God’s grace. To come with only our Chinese two if needed and to stay here long enough to hug the ones they love. I will do whatever it takes to tell my Chinese children how much I honor the many lives they have led, the many people who have made them well, the many ways that they are connected to the world.
They give us gifts as we leave, an old journal they had for Qiao Qiao that we have never seen before, entries made out carefully in Chinese by hand. Photos fill the pages. Treasure. A flash card full of photos of Yun from his youngest childhood – the stuff that other adoptive families only dream of. And the children receive gifts too, from their friends, the ones who live with almost nothing, who own only their underwear with their names embroidered on for hygiene, and a tiny locked box of special memories. Even clothing is shared here. But as we leave Yun clutches a handful of special round cards, like pokemon cards but different, so well worn I can not make out the print. Ava carries boxes of special things: a shell, a necklace, some candies, all so carefully packaged and so beautifully given. My heart breaks for their scarcity and the abundance of their generousity.
I bring home a different daughter. One who knows how well she is loved in two worlds. One who remembers that she carries two identities. One whose heart is more full than I alone had the power to make it.
Grace continues, abundant. And we walk forward towards Guangzhou.