Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dancing Girl

Many know that I have started a sister-blog for families with a story to tell -- stories of joy, frustration, happiness and challenges. Entitled "After Stories", it is intended to give the adoption community place to voice their stories in anonymity and without fear of retribution. I encourage readers to visit (and participate) in this blog. What follows is my "After Story".


The anxiety and ambivalence gave me a feeling of deja vu, bringing my mind back to the moments before Meigon entered our lives. Today, my fiance' Lan, Meikina, Meigon and I stood on a street corner, our jackets wrapped around us against the cold, patiently waiting for the arrival of our newest family member, Meilan Lili.

Meikina and Meigon could hardly stand the wait, repeatedly petitioning me with the "when is she coming?" until I thought I would lose my patience. Lan also bore the expressions of excitement, anxiously looking at each passing car, a look of expectation always in her eyes.

I have forced myself through experience to blot out the faces of the kids we see from my mind as we tour the orphanages we visit. For me, to look into their eyes is to invite memories, to bring eternal and unanswerable questions as to the ultimate fates of each of the precious faces that intently watch me as I record their presence through the lens of my camera. It is the only way that I am able to continue doing the research.

So I was caught a bit off guard when Lan asked me if it would be possible to foster a three-year old from the orphanage we had just visited. "Who is she?" I asked, not even having noticed her with a child. As she described her feelings over the next several days, it became clear to me that Lan wasn't thinking of fostering, but rather adopting this little girl.

We returned to the orphanage and spent some time with the child, an obviously bright and precocious little girl. I was drawn to her as Lan had been. We learned that she was from another orphanage, brought to this orphanage to participate in the preschool program. We were told she was not eligible for international adoption, and that her prospects of ever finding a family were nearly non-existent. She was classified as a special needs child due to some seizures she had had early in her life. It seemed the only families that could adopt her were Chinese, and very few of them were interested in adopting a child as old as her, or with potentially catastrophic medical issues.

Over the next month Lan and I spent hours discussing our coarse of action. Lan filled out the required paperwork needed to adopt a child domestically, since she was still a Chinese citizen. I investigated what would be needed to obtain a visa to bring her home to the U.S. (Being married was a required step!) Eventually, there was nothing left to do but make the decision.

And we did.

So now we stood on a cold February morning waiting for our new daughter to be brought to us by the family with whom she had spent Chinese New Years. In my heart I knew it was the right thing to do, but like three years ago when I had adopted Meigon as a single Dad, my head was filled with conflicting emotions.

Meikina had summarized it perfectly when I had announced Meilan’s upcoming adoption over dinner. When I asked her what she thought about it, she turned to me and said, “Daddy, I think things are just perfect the way they are.” I admitted to her that I felt things were perfect also.

Meikina warmed to the idea, and soon became excited to come with me to China to participate in Meilan’s adoption. Meikina had been a true ice-breaker in my adoption of Meigon, and she would prove to be so again.

But her words echoed in my mind as we waited: “Things are perfect the way they are.” Things were perfect for me. I have two amazing girls: loving, compassionate, intelligent; everything that a parent hopes for. I asked myself, why risk upsetting this boat by bringing in an unknown child?

When Meilan finally arrived, she looked a bit dazed and confused, far from the excited and friendly child we had met before. We were told she had just woken up and was still sleepy. She clung to the woman as she was handed to Lan. Meikina and Meigon immediately tried to interact with her, but it would be nearly an hour before at long last Meikina brought a smile to her face. Once that smile appeared, the girl we knew and expected roared back, and soon she was running and laughing with her new sisters.

Meilan is not like either Meikina nor Meigon. She is very determined and strong-willed, and I can already see that parenting her will be a greater challenge than I have known so far.

Every time we got into a taxi those first few weeks, Meilan would anxiously ask us if we were taking her back to the orphanage. Finally I turned around to Meilan, explained that we loved her, and would never leave her. "Here," I said, reaching out my pinky finger, "in our family a 'pinky promise' is an unbreakable oath. I 'pinky promise' you that we will never leave you. You will never go back to the orphanage." Meilan reached out and we sealed our oath.

The next months were difficult as Meilan adjusted to her new family, and there were many moments when the only thing keeping us together was that 'pinky promise'.

Meilan recounted many stories that explained how she came to be who she is. Stories of abuse by the other orphanage children, the need to 'stand out' in the crowd, an ingrained desire to please. Many of her less desirable qualities have faded in the intervening two years since she has come home to Utah. We tried to teach her English in the 15 months it took us to get her visa to come home, and she would have none of it. "I'm Chinese," she would proudly say. But the day she stepped off the plane in Salt Lake, she never looked back. She learned English quickly, and never had a desire to speak Chinese again.

Today Meilan is an exceptionally well-adjusted, if somewhat moody six-year old. She excels in her first grade class. I no longer harbor secret doubts as to whether we did the right thing, or whether she belongs in our family. But I still often reflect back to the time when our daughter was a young toddler dancing for us in the orphanage.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Brian!


Shari said...

You have a gorgeous family!

Donna said...

Beautiful! There's a world of difference wanting to have a baby and wanting to be a parent. Most embark on their adoption journey with visions of diapers and bottles and other baby things in their head (and that's perfectly okay) but the truth is that babies don't stay babies for very long and then you better be prepared to be a parent! And that's not easy! However, it's the most rewarding and important and deeply satisfying thing anyone will ever do.

Thank you for sharing a glimpse into such an intimate chapter of your life. It's a lovely story -- even the "unglossy" parts.

(in Hong Kong today and happy that I can read your blog here!)

Jeff's Place said...

I am always a lurker here on your blog.
Today I come out of lurking and say,
"Thanks for posting your story!"
There are a lot of new parents that have thoughts like, "Oh my, am I or did I do the right thing?"
Hopefully all of them will only start a great lifetime of adventure!!

Anonymous said...

I love your site. it is very informative. can you tell me more what happens to older orphan girls who don't get adopted, since the max.adoptable age in China is 13 year-old.

Research-China.Org said...

I have met dozens of children who have aged out, and all have led productive and fulfilling lives. Many stay in the orphanage and get jobs as nannies, others date and marry and leave their areas. It would be interesting to do a scientific survey of these children, but from what I have seen they lead happy lives.


Kim said...

I was adopted from Seoul Korea and have a small marking on my left butt cheek and a large burn mark on my left heel.