We met our son XiXi in China three months ago. It’s a trite expression but truly, I can’t remember what it was like before he came. He’s blended so seamlessly into our family and community. There are many things I can attribute this to, but one of the biggest is that he observes and then he tries so hard to do what’s expected. This summer we’ve joined our local YMCA and when I took him for his first class, an art class, I explained to the teacher that he’s still learning English and that he might have a hard time following directions. From the upstairs track, I could look down into the kids’ area and spy on our little man. He was always just a slight step behind everyone else, taking the time to first watch, but then he’d jump in and do exactly what he was supposed to do. The teacher raved about him and said they’d be thrilled to have him back any time.
In the pool, he didn’t have such an ideal experience. He loves the pool and is well behaved, but apparently he was leaning on the partial wall that separates the kid pool from the adult pool, and a teenaged lifeguard thought XiXi was planning a move from the little pond to the big. The lifeguard yelled at him, “Do not cross that boundary!” XiXi stared at him, not sure how to respond. The lifeguard said, “Are you listening to me?” and then added, “Where is your mother?” If he’d used the word “Mom” or “Mama” or “Mommy”, XiXi would have known exactly what he was saying, but as it was, he just quietly stared at him with tears welling up in his eyes. I was annoyed at the lifeguard, who I felt was on a bit of a power trip, but it was a good reminder that I can’t get complacent about XiXi’s language. Now that we’re past our initial communication issues, it would be easy to let him stagnate. At home, we know what he does and doesn’t understand, but that’s not the case with everyone else.
He was feeling sick on Sunday and I stayed home from church with him. He was supposed to be the “reverence child” and was sad to miss that moment in the limelight. As his fever worsened through the morning, I brought him some medicine. I told him it would make him feel better and without hesitation he gulped it down. Then he immediately threw his legs over the side of the bed and said excitedly, “Thank you, Mom! Feel better!” He hadn’t even put both feet on the floor before he plopped back down with a dejected look and said, “Still sick.” I laughed and told him that he would feel better later. He kept me appraised of his progress with updates about every ten minutes, “Still sick, Mom!” or “Oh, dudzuh” (stomach) and finally, “Little bit better!” When he made it downstairs and began playing with his trains, he gave me the sweetest look of happy amazement. “Better, Mom!” A teaspoon of children’s Tylenol and suddenly I’m the miracle worker.
While he was lounging in bed, I showed him a book about animals. On the pig page, he pointed and said, “Pig in China.” I asked him, “You had a pig in China?” He nodded his head and said yes. I told him that a pig says oink and he looked at me strangely, shook his head, and made the most realistic animal noise ever uttered in our household. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was in the swine barn at the county fair. I don’t doubt for a moment that his foster family did in fact own a pig. XiXi can now understand “China” and “here” and that’s been a great advance in our communication. I asked him today if he wanted to go back to China for a visit and he immediately said no. “Stay here,” he said. Then he quickly added, “With Mom and Dad and….” And then we went back and forth naming everyone in the family, including the dogs. I thought we were finished when he put his finger in the air and yelled, “And Signing Time!” No, they don’t have the show Signing Time in China and apparently he’d miss it.
Sometimes before an interaction, I’ll dialogue with him to let him practice. He went to a doctor last week and I told him that the doctor would say, “How are you doing XiXi?” and he practiced answering, “Good. How are you?” When the doctor came in, she said, “Hi, XiXi. How old are you?” Dang it. “Good! How are you?” he said with a proud smile. He was so excited to deliver his answer that I don’t think he’d even heard the question! He tries so hard.
In the afternoon, he was lying on a window seat next to me, wrapped in a blanket like a little sausage. Only his arm had escaped the blanket wrap and he kept it on me, making sure I was there. Although I certainly never want my kids to feel sick, there’s something I do treasure about sick days–that all of the mundane stuff gets pushed aside and snuggle time and stories take top priority. I think I need to treat more healthy days as sick days….. and surrender to the fact that I’ll never be caught up on laundry.