One year ago today, we met Y., our 11th child for the first time. She was adorable, said hi, and shook our hands, and smiled that enormous, lovely smile of hers. We all smiled. We did a lot of smiling. There's not much else you can do with a nearly 9 year old you don't share a common language with. I briefly thought, "This is going so much better than I though it would," along with, "Oh my goodness, her walking is not as good as I thought it was." Yes it is possible to have vague panic and happiness bubbling away inside your head all at the same time. I contend that meeting your older child for the first time is one of the most surreal experiences that a person can experience.
Things went great for about the first hour as we piled back in the van and when to have the necessary photographs taken. And then we headed back to the government building to sign all the papers and the bottom fell out of everyone's world. Y., being smarter and more aware of everything than most children her age, understood the significance of going back to that office, of signing the papers, of what was happening to her. She understood that this was permanent; she wasn't coming back; she wasn't seeing the people she loved and cared about; she was going with people she didn't know at all and couldn't communicate with. Y. was terrified and devastated and began grieving with a ferocity that I have never seen. It was heart breaking to watch, to know we were the cause, to know there was nothing we could do in that moment to make anything better. The teacher from her orphanage and the government official were wonderful. They were calm, kind, caring, patient. They held her, let her cry, phoned her friends so she could talk to them one more time, cared for her. We watched... from across the room. Eventually they got her somewhat calm and she added her fingerprint to the needed paperwork. If she had been ten, the age a child needs to consent to an adoption, I'm pretty sure she would not have consented. Y. was not on board with any of this. It was hard and I questioned... again... if we were doing the right thing.
The rest of our time in China was calmer than those first hours, though had its ups and downs. When I think of it all, it seems so very far away; so distant from where we are now. This is because today I have a remarkably well-adjusted daughter whom I adore and who loves both J. and me. In the great scheme of things, her adoption and adjustment and attachment (and mine to her) has been the easiest of the five. She had melded into our family pretty seamlessly, and she and I share so many character traits, I find it a little surprising that we are not genetically related. Y. even has the language skills to discuss with me about that first day together, and my heart breaks for her all over again. I share this to prepare other parents, and to remind myself, that our culture and our children's cultures are vastly different. We cannot take anything for granted. When we think about how we would prepare a child for something as momentous as adoption, I imagine most of us think of presenting and talking about information in advance, giving the child a bit of time to live with it, to ask questions, to get used to it. This is not what Y. experienced, though she appeared ever so well prepared. Y. was told the night before that she would going to a different family and was shown the book we sent. The next morning, she was dressed in unfamiliar clothes (the ones we had sent, but she had never seen) and loaded up into a car. The things that were hers, a pair of socks from her foster mother that she was wearing and the pajamas which she wore under her clothes as a layer of warmth) are precious to her. Of course I had saved these, but it was months before she had the language and emotional ability to ask about their whereabouts. Please, parents, keep whatever you child came with, even if it seems as insignificant as a pair of socks. When I asked her how she felt that first day, she said she felt very scared and confused. She didn't realize that the place where she was living was not her permanent home, even though her best friends had been adopted a few months before. We have spent a long time discussing the whys of all this... slowly... carefully... and assuring her that even though it seems that every several years she has to move from a home she thought was permanent to a new home, she will never have to do that again. Parents, do not take anything for granted. You just do not know what is going on inside your child's head or what they believe to be true.
All this is so fresh in my mind this morning. Yesterday I was wondering if I would mention today's anniversary. For some of our children the day of their adoption is not a happy memory, so we do not acknowledge it. I think that Y. is going to fall into that category. There is not really a need for us to mention it to her at all. You see, our bodies are more connected to our brains than most people understand. Our memories are stored at a seemingly cellular level and I have watched time and again a child be completely overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings on the exact date that something dreadful happened to them. This morning was the most vivid example of this I have seen. I finish teaching my first piano lesson to come out to the kitchen to see J. holding a sobbing and extremely upset Y. on his lap. It seems that all morning long she has been flooded with memories of China, of homesickness for friends and foster family. I mention to J., (in French, our code language for communicating without our children understanding) that today is the anniversary of her adoption. He had no idea and had not mentioned it to her at all. Her body remembered and so far she has spent the day grieving all over again.
So today we will honor the day Y. became our daughter by holding her a little closer, by giving her space to grieve her old life where she was also happy, and by feeding her food that nourishes her soul as well as her body. (Spicy pork and green beans with noodles and dumplings.) We won't mention what today is for a while, but later, when this wave of grief has passed, we will talk about it.
We are so blessed to have this child in our lives. We are blessed to be the ones who will be her permanent family. We also, though, live in a funny place that we are her third best option for that permanence and must be content with that. We do not mean to supplant or replace what she has lost and what was important to her, merely we are adding, becoming more people in a long line of people who have loved her and whom she loved.