When I adopted my son in 2010, I did the “marathon tour” of Beijing before heading to his province to finalize his adoption. (Which I recommend all adoptive parents do at least once, by the way. It’s a huge insight into your child’s birth culture.) Included somewhere in that two-day blur of sight-seeing, our group visited Tiananmen Square. During the 30 minutes or so I had to wander around Tiananmen, the one thing I noticed on the face of all the Chinese people was national pride. And it occurred to me on that day I needed to instill not only an American pride in my son…and later daughter…but a Chinese pride as well. Thankfully, I fell so in love with China on that trip it hasn’t been a challenge.
Not long ago, our family sprawled out in our living area to watch the (newest) Karate Kid movie together. And since it was filmed in Beijing, I took the opportunity to generate excitement through the movie. Letting my kids know that is really THE Beijing airport and I’ve had people waiting there with signs for me, too. I stayed in a hotel across the street from that building, or I rode in a taxi like that one or toured that place. And since Cora was fostered in Beijing for the three and a half years prior to us adopting her, I tried to include her in the excitement. Reliving her preschool field trips with her, or even pointing out that the Kung Fu master Mr. Han’s house had a courtyard like “Cora’s house in China”. I thought it would be a fun, exciting thing for her. Instead, I got a lot of head shakes along with “No like it there.” and “Cora no like it.” There was one scene that Cora did like, though. The train ride. When the aerial view of a train following the tracks through China appeared on the screen, I followed my tradition and excitedly announced that Cora had ridden trains in China. And she took it from there.
It was amazing how quickly her face lit up and her speech became animated. My baby girl came to life as she told the story of riding the train to find Mommy and recounted the train ride from her foster home in Beijing to her home province, followed by the details of our “Gotcha” Day. The funny thing is, though, while her details were fairly accurate they didn’t line up with mine at all.
My “Gotcha” Day story is a hard one. Meeting an unaffectionate little girl who was trying so hard to stay strong. Watching the tears slowly begin to fall. Then it reaching the point that I had to literally pick my screaming, kicking, crying child up off the floor of Civil Affairs and carry her screaming, kicking self out of the building to hail a cab back to our hotel. I was rejected. Then I was tolerated. And finally I was loved. But it was a journey. A journey that involved help from our social worker, videos and stacks of books on attachment, support from family and friends, hours on my knees in prayer, and a lot of sacrifice on my part. Cora’s “Gotcha” Day story is totally different from mine. Hers is the story of a little girl who set out on a great search to find her Mommy. Of a little girl who was giddy with excitement when she did finally find her Mommy. She remembers the events, but the emotional climate she has built around that day isn’t correct. Is it possible she really felt excitement in coming to “find” her mama but those feelings were hidden deep down under the emotions of the day? Or is her story perhaps based on her current feelings for me…not the feelings she actually had for me then? I can’t tell at this point.
But I remember so clearly sitting in our hotel room only hours after I had taken custody of Cora and watching her take a nap. She had fallen asleep in a chair, still wearing her coat, with a lollipop in her mouth while she was coloring. I was relieved to finally have a chance to take a break from pouring myself out on a child that hated me, and to grieve the fact that I had been rejected so thoroughly. In those few quiet moments I had before she woke up screaming even worse than before, I could have never fathomed that only a few short months later she would follow me from room to room in the house cheering “Mommy, I found you!” Or with love for me written all over her face, tell me about the day she rode a train to find me. After all, I’m the one who traveled halfway around the world to find her.