The day we met our son is a day that we still remember like it was yesterday, and yet sometimes forget because it’s hard to believe that he hasn’t been with us forever.
The anticipation and excitement of that moment juxtaposed with the deep grief of him saying goodbye to all he knew, his safety net, is still a feeling that has not left us.
But our journey didn’t start in that government building in China.
We think back to the day we received a call and first saw a picture of a little boy and how we were caught off guard and unprepared to commit to a referral, especially one with so many unknowns. After months of working hard to get a paperwork ready to send, how could we be not ready to know who our child would be? We were scared.
We remember how we didn’t understand the depth of the various special needs of children who needed families. We remember the following day where we hesitantly said, “no,” to the referral. We remember how his face would not leave our minds and the day several weeks later when we asked if he was still needing a family and might there be any updates to his health records.
We remember with joy the day we knew this was the child God picked out for us, even though we were slow to realize it.
We remember the day we received confirmation from the government that he would become another part of the fabric of our family.
So many of the events between saying, “Yes,” to this child and our arrival in Taiyuan, China have begun to blur together…
The kindness of strangers to notarize documents for us.
The days and months of waiting.
The surprise donations that people gave us as they saw our adoption garage sale.
The conversations late into the night about what it will all be like when we are all together.
The stories and struggles you hear from other families.
The questions you silently wonder about but don’t have the courage to say aloud.
The morning we left the hotel for the drive to the government building was surreal. We had arrived in China a few days earlier so it wasn’t all new, and we fully realized that everything would all change after this day.
This was the day that had been in our mind from the moment we said, “yes,” to adopting.
This was the day for which we had traveled across the world with our two other kids.
Doubts, admonitions, and fears were filling our minds as the taxi drove us through the morning traffic, passing the lion statues guarding buildings.
“Would he like us?”
“Remember not to scare him or crush him with hugs.”
“Would he really be there waiting?”
“Would we leave China with our son?”
The bland nature of the building, with smoky halls and the normalcy of the employees in it hid the fact that on the third floor, lives were being changed by the hour.
As we made our way off the elevator and through a dimly lit hallway, we passed a new family and the weight of what was about to happen hit us deep in the gut. The all-too-new mom was doing her best to comfort a child who was struggling with the reality of their new situation. We saw the pain in her eyes as she so badly wanted to hold this crying child, yet unsure if that would help or harm the situation. This was the child she had been waiting for, praying for and now was incapable of caring for. So, unsure of what to do, she waited, ready to embrace and comfort and yet allowing space and time as needed. She waited. She waited until it was her turn to provide the love and comfort that they both needed.
As we walked into the large room, our faces were immediately drawn to our son, while everything else faded into the background. There he was. The tears that were hiding behind our eyes began spilling out as we did our best not to run and embrace him.
Here he was, so close, sitting next to a caregiver on the fluffy beige couch, and yet still so far away.
Did he have any idea about a family or the changes in store for him?
When his caregiver saw us, she excitedly went through his photo book that we sent him and helped make the connections between his book and us in real life. She kept pointing to the book and then to us. She pointed out that our daughter had cut off her long hair since we sent the book.
Then she spoke with our guide, answering our list of prepared questions, while we slowly tried to break the ice and start to build a bond with this little stranger who would soon be our responsibility. We gave him a gift. He took it. Our daughter showed him how to use it. He played with a toy car. Out other son joined in. It was so hard not to hug him. Instead, we shook his hand and spoke in a language he couldn’t understand.
We remember our son’s caregiver. How she held him, understanding the finality of the moment. Grieving herself for the child she cared for who would soon be gone from her forever. Celebrating for his new family and the future he might have. She needed to tell us how special he was. From her heart and through our guide, she said that even though he looked different, he was really a smart child and so good. We remember how she left the room after one last hug and affirmation.
The reality of our own newness as a family hit us the moment our son’s caregiver left and his tears began. They were quiet and subtle at first but rose to hysteria as we picked him up and headed to the taxi. The reaching of his arms toward the door along with the wiggling and kicking were sure indications that he desired to go back with his caregiver, and not be in my arms. The doubts rose and showered me in the depth of his loss.
We piled into the taxi and went to take our first family photo. (It is required for the paperwork to be processed and the adoption to be finalized, but it surely seemed forced and out place.) The next stop was the Chinese version of a Walmart to buy whatever we needed to care for our son for the next few days.
Through each aisle of the store, we tried to see what would interest him. Did he like peanut candy? How about a ball? How about pastries? Anything? Please stop crying. We would have bought him a boat if we thought it would have made him happy.
Our older kids were trying to entertain our new son, and at one point they pointed to their mom and said, “There’s Mama.” Well, our son thought that meant his caregiver was nearby. He got all excited and searched for her. Then cried even harder when he realized that these strange kids were only referring to that different lady who was putting things into the cart. The cries of Huí jiā (go home) spread over the aisles in a crescendo of emotion.
Back at the hotel room, we watched a little boy rock back and forth at the window, clutching his orange Telcom bag that held all of his belongings, looking out at the city scene, searching for a familiar site, and longing to be back in his home. At one point, he took his bag, put on his shoes, walked over to the door and again spoke “Huí jiā.” We knew very little of his native tongue, but we responded gently, “Xin jia” which means “new home.” With the utterance of these words, a torrent of tears left our son’s eyes as the reality of his situation settled in.
Since that first day when we met our son, we’ve had some good days and some hard days.
We went to the park and blew bubbles. It was so much fun.
We flew on a plane to Guangzhou and he was afraid of the seatbelt so he cried for the last hour of the flight. That was challenging.
He warmed up to the idea of swimming. He hesitantly went in and held onto us. He laughed and splashed and had fun. This was what we hoped for and was a much-needed affirmation!
He was scared on the subway. He screamed so loudly that the train stopped and the security guards asked who he was and if he was ours. How do you explain adoption in a foreign language? That was terrifying.
We were delayed leaving Guangzhou and almost missed our plane out of Bejing. The airline held it for us. That was a blessing.
After a few months being home, we printed pictures and noticed a smile on the face of our new son. We realized that was what was missing in the photos from the orphanage. And it was missing from the photos while we were in China (except the ones from the pool). That smile was in place now.
That was a miracle.
As we look back on those early days and think about it all, we’re struck but the feeling of being pulled in two directions – deep joy for all we’ve been given and a deep sadness for what our son had to leave behind.
While he no longer asks to “Hui jia”, he still misses his native country. He would like to go back and see his caregiver. I try to remember this feeling of being torn when things are hard – for him and for us.
– guest post by Michael and Julie