As most of our patients and their families are aware, our family has been preparing for the addition of our fourth child this spring. I would like to thank all of you for being flexible the past several weeks as Julie and I have flown to China to meet her and finalize the adoption process! We like sharing important events with our family of patients and friends in Castle Rock, so as I travel back to the States (I am currently somewhere over the Pacific in the midst of a very long flight!), I will write a bit about our new family member and our adventures this past week.
Julie, my eight year old daughter, Nina, and I arrived in China last Friday, and we were taken to our hotel near downtown Beijing. We had Saturday and Sunday free to explore before we were to meet our new daughter on Monday, and we were excited to see the sights of Beijing. Unlike the glittering cities of Shanghai and Hong Kong, Beijing has a more historic feel to it, with a relatively sprawling, less vertical architecture than these other large cities that have skyscrapers dominating their downtown areas. We were excited for Nina, who we adopted from China as an infant 8 years ago, to see this country for the first time. On the first day we explored the Forbidden City, where dynasties of Chinese Emperors used to reside. We learned an early lesson on how tourists that stick out like a sore thumb can be taken advantage off – we took an unknowingly VERY costly ride on a motorized “rickshaw”. At least Julie was told she was “very, very beautiful” before and after we learned our lesson! The breakfast buffet at our hotel was wonderful, and served a variety of food that was very non-traditional for Western breakfasts. Nina and I loved the station where we filled a metal bowl with noodles, greens and mushrooms, then handed it to a cook who submerged them in boiling water, placed it in a bowl with broth, and we then topped it with red chili, cilantro, tiny salty dehydrated shrimp, and soy sauce! We spent Sunday afternoon wandering an enormous outdoor and tented market, weaving among the 3000 vendors that were selling small sculptures, teapots, beads, jewelry, art work, clothing, books, and hundreds of other items. Those of you who know how social Julie is may find this amusing: At the very FIRST vendor we approached after entering the market, she started talking about where we were from to the vendor who knew little English. As we tried to move on the woman followed Julie with a calculator for 30 minutes trying to get her to buy items. The woman loudly fended of other vendors as they crowded around Julie, as surely this nice lady who had proudly described Colorado and Castle Rock (to someone who didn’t understand her) within seconds upon entering the market must want to buy some goods. Alas, Julie finally succumbed and bought a bracelet that was too large for Nina, and learned not to make eye contact or make small talk unless she wanted to attract a crowd of “friends” listing prices on calculators!
We woke early Monday morning and met our adoption coordinator, April, and a very nice family from Hawaii that was adopting a son from the same orphanage. We drove together to the outer suburbs of Beijing where the orphanage was located, and we were unsure exactly how we were going to meet our new daughter for the first time. It had been seven months since we had made the decision to welcome a new family member. Her name is Dang Li, and she is a thirteen year old girl with spina bifida that had been abandoned soon after she was born. We had seen photos and videos of her, and could see that despite her diagnosis, she was full of energy and life. For a time period in China, the name Dang was given to orphans, and through letters she wished to change her name Vivian Li before moving to the States. We had also “met” one another (including Stanley and Mabel- she had never seen dogs before!) using FaceTime and an interpreter several weeks ago.
When our van pulled up to the orphanage grounds and we started to unload, there was no time to wonder as we were met outdoors by the two children and their caregivers in a sea of welcoming greetings, Julie and I received hugs, but Vivian and Nina immediately held hands and headed down the sidewalk towards our meeting area, where we signed documents, gathered Vivian’s belongings (so little), and headed back to central Beijing for more official documentation stops, bonding over McDonalds (Nina was thrilled with Mc Macaroons) and then back to our room.
What a brave little girl. Can you imagine at the age of 13 leaving the home you have known for your entire life, with very foreign looking people that do not speak your language (and are very tall and dress funny)? Then she has to immediately stay with us in a hotel room (her first night ever out of her room she shared with five girls) in close quarters. Julie and I were afraid that if we snored she would be terrified! Luckily the other couple that traveled with us to adopt their son were both language teachers, and the husband, Thomas, is currently an English as a second language teacher at BYU Hawaii. They were so helpful and filled with knowledge about the process of integrating an older child into a family with a new language. They had adopted a 12 year old son from China the year before, and they helped us download an amazing translating program to our iPad that we used to communicate with. She knows so little English! And we know so little Chinese! We jumped right in and we will patiently learn a bit more every day.
We hear all the time, “She is going to be so happy to leave with you and move to Colorado”, and there is a part of that that can be true. But people who are familiar with adoption, especially with older children, know that we hope to see that she is sad as much as she is happy. This means that she has formed bonds with the people in her life and a healthy connection to where she is from, which are just as important as physical well-being. The better she was taken care of, the harder it is for her to leave, but the easier it is to adjust well in her new life ahead of her. We returned to Vivian’s orphanage on Thursday, as her caregivers wanted to have us all for a farewell lunch, and we learned what a best case scenario this orphanage has been for her. Given the hardships that that all the children there have endured, they were nothing but smiles and energy, and the caregivers were laughing with them and treating them as family members. Goodbyes were difficult, but this was encouraging.
Julie will finish with legal work in China this coming week, and will return with Vivian and Nina this Saturday. We cannot wait to share our experiences with you all, and I’m sure Vivian will often be present around our office to say hi!