Their story with us didn’t start at the beginning. I think we jumped in around chapter 3 or 4. Much like opening a book midstream and trying to piece together a plot, our adoptions began with many unanswered questions and many holes that I knew we could never fill.
Yet at some point, I knew my girls would yearn for more. Questions like “Where did I live?”, “Who cared for me?”, “Where was I abandoned?”, were all things they wondered about. Even if they couldn’t share a lot of the details about their earlier life, I knew those memories were imprinted on their hearts. So my goal in taking them back to China was to help fill in pieces of those missing chapters.
A few years ago, I was able to make that trip with my 3 biological kids, our 4 adopted girls and a couple of extra friends.
We had three weeks.
We began in Beijing with a few days of adjusting our time clocks and just being tourists. We walked through The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, rickshawed our way through the historic HuTong and stood on the Great Wall soaking up the vastness of beautiful China. What a fabulous way to begin our journey.
Within a few days though, we were headed off to Hefei, where my daughter Jadyn was born. She was nine on our trip and wanted to see her orphanage, where she spent the first two years of her life, find her place of abandonment, and walk through the city. So we did.
She was stoic. There was no emotion that day, absolutely none. No tears and no smiles, just a quiet little girl taking it all in and asking lots of questions. She’s my cerebral one, processing life internally all the time, and holding her emotions close. We never met her nanny who cared for her, and no one seemed to really remember her. It was a stark reminder how difficult it is to stand out among the vast number of kids who have traveled this same journey. But by the end of the day, she was back to smiling again and said, “I’m glad I saw it all but I’m happy I live in the US”. And that was it. She had seen enough and was happily ready to move on.
Our next hometown stop was to Changshu, my daughter Malea’s hometown. A very excited director, met us at the gates and proceeded to shower us with gifts and then more gifts. Malea was thrilled with all the attention, and I wondered how much she remembered of her. The director shared stories of our little girl with clubfeet, about her failed foot surgery and 3 month hospital stay, showed us her crib and told us how much she had loved her. As the day progressed, the bond these two had shared became apparent.
But, when it came time to say goodbye the floodgates opened and out came the tears. We watched the director and Malea struggle to say goodbye to each other yet once again. It was hard to watch her grieve so deeply and try to process what she had heard and what she was feeling. So, for the next 6 hours, as we made our way to Shanghai, all I could do was hold her, allow her to feel it all and wipe her tears.
After a very long emotional day, and a longer travel day we landed in Guilin, where my oldest daughter Allie was from. Allie had met her foster family and visited her orphanage on a prior trip to China, so for our time in her hometown we planned it to be a bit different. We wanted to spend one full day at my non-profit An Orphan’s Wish “giving back”.
In the extreme heat and humidity, that southern China is known for, we spent that day cleaning, unpacking, assembling, rearranging, and organizing. And then we got to play with some very special kids. Seeing them smile and hearing their laughter was music to our ears. We gave what we had that day, in hopes of making things just a little brighter for the kids still waiting for families.
Guilin is one of the most picturesque places in the world, so we decided to spend a few days sightseeing. It was spectacular! One day, in a very spontaneous moment, we changed our plans, jumped on scooters and toured the Chinese countryside. What a blast! Eight hours later, we’d shared one of the best days as a family, which we all still talk about today.
With only a week left, we still had one more orphanage to visit. Wanting to travel like the locals do, we booked ourselves on the 15-hour overnight train to Jiangxi, where my youngest daughter was born. Averi‘s biggest wish was to see her foster grandma again. And to our surprise when we walked into her orphanage there she was… waiting for us.
What a priceless moment! There were tears from a foster mama who thought she would never see this child again, laughter and joy at how much Averi had grown and just quiet moments where the only thing they could do was hold each other. “I told you she was old,” Averi beamed, “I’m so glad I got to see her again.” When it was time to say goodbye her foster grandma pressed a tiny note with her address into my hand with a plea in her eyes to keep in touch.
We left through the cold metal gates of the orphanage and came across one of the caretakers. After a brief exchange, we realized on a cold February morning three years earlier, she was the one who had found Averi. Wrapped in layers, nestled in a cardboard box, left with a tiny, penciled note, she was that same little dark-haired girl with only one eye. Only God could have arranged that meeting.
Our trip was coming to a close, and like all our adoption trips, we ended it with a few days in Guangzhou and a stay at the White Swan.
We shared so many incredible experiences in those three weeks and saw so much of China. To say it was spectacular, is an understatement. As a family, we laughed together and we cried together. Visiting their abandonment places, meeting the people who cared for them, and seeing the reality of orphanage life, my girls came face to face with the harsh reality of their first few years of life.
But through it all, there is now a new sense of peace and lightness for them. They have a deeper understanding of how their story began and a renewed love for the country they first called home.
– guest post by LeeAnn