Lil Beans is 17 now. That is what I call her, and her birthday was yesterday. Well, we will never know her real birthday. October 1st is the birthday given to all abandoned children in China, as that day is a national holiday, commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Lily is my adopted daughter. We adopted her from China at the age of six, because I saw her picture and that was that.
They say adoption is a beautiful thing, and yes, in many ways it is. But it also isn’t. It is also exhausting, frustrating, disappointing, and scary. Like most things in life, the good stuff seldom comes easily. It takes dedication, patience, and hard work. And it is so worth it.
People often ask why we adopted. My ex husband and I already had 4 children. All I can say is I felt the call to adopt since before I was married. It was something I always knew I was meant to do. If you have ever felt that way about something, then you know what I mean. There were nights I would cry myself to sleep, and days where I felt like I could crawl out of my skin. I believe that is God’s way of saying, “you need to do this.” I couldn’t escape it. The thought of an older child needing a home, haunted me. My husband jumped on board, which he often did when I talked about my crazy ideas, (patient man)…and I ran with it. The adoption process became my full time job, and Lily was home in a year and a half. That was unheard of at the time for an overseas adoption.
As I read every adoption book I could get my hands on, and listened to all of the advice from our agency, I thought I was thoroughly prepared to meet this child and love her like my own. After all, I had dotted every “i” and crossed every “t.” I am super mom…who could be more equipped for this than myself? I was certain when we met her, there would suddenly be a rainbow in the sky, and beautiful music playing as we walked out of the Chinese government office, hand in hand, all of us crying tears of joy. Turns out there were tears, but not of joy. This terrified child was hungry, dreadfully thin, and confused. (Her new parents were also…minus the dreadfully thin)
If you’ve been there, you get it. We watch these beautiful videos of people making the long, exhausting trip to China, after sometimes years of preparing….the camera starts rolling as their new love is brought to them in a tiny little office half way around the world. Tears stream and everyone is smiling. I can’t speak for Lily’s father, but this was not my experience.
By the time we finally reached “Gotcha Day,” (that is adoptive parents’ lingo), I had had enough of China. I missed my children back home immensely. I was getting depressed. The food was not good. We were never in a big well known city. We were absolutely foreigners and the only people speaking english. We had a guide with us at all times. At first it was entertaining walking down the street, feeling like movie stars, as people giggled, pointed, and waved at us. They hadn’t seen a lot of blondes. After a while though, it felt creepy. At one point we were on a street corner waiting to cross a busy intersection, (this can take a while, because the drivers….wow), and the crowd had gotten so large, we were beginning to feel closed in as they all began turning and looking at us. An interesting experience for sure. It is true that if you want to learn a lot about yourself, travel outside your country.
So here we were, in a cramped little office. Nothing glamorous at all. At one point, while waiting for Lily to arrive, I needed to use the restroom. A nice lady told me where it was, and I headed down the hall to find it. I had gotten used to basically using a hole in the floor while visiting China. I thought for sure in a government office there would be a toilet. No. The odor was so bad, I couldn’t do it. I walked back in to the office, and the kind woman looked at me and smiled, “Can’t do?” she said with a giggle. No I could not, and I felt like a spoiled princess from America.
So there I sat, nervous as hell, having to go to the bathroom, listening to all of the languages being spoken. I longed for another American couple to walk in, but there were none. I remember a couple from Germany, and another from France. I wondered what their journey had been like. I also began to worry, A LOT. Often times in life, it is the journey that is the joyful part. I was finding this final day to be anti climatic. What if they bring us the wrong child? Why are we trusting these people? How could this all have worked out so smoothly? What if something goes wrong and we have to stay longer? I really felt like I couldn’t take any more. I was about to snap. Then I saw her coming down the hall. She was real. It was our Lily. She was wearing layers of clothes, including a pink sweater she had received from us. Her trademark, tiny little ponytails were bouncing. We were told she was healthy, but I immediately wondered what was wrong. She was 6 years old and could barely walk.
The other couples were receiving swaddled babies, too young to show their opinions. Our daughter was standing there looking at us with a frown. Can you imagine? Why should she trust us? I hate to admit it, I really do. But the fact is, in my dreams, she was going to wrap her arms around us and be so thankful we were there to save her. The reality is we were ripping her away from the only people and places she had ever known. And if what everyone says is true, her care takers had probably been telling her she would now be wealthy and vacationing at Disney World every year. I am certain they told her she’d never go hungry, since the first thing she told us is, “I’m hungry.” (not in english)
A year and a half of preparations, and a 13 hour plane ride home to midwest America, and Lily was now our daughter. As we hunkered down on the plane along with many other Americans who were bringing home their once orphaned children, we had our first rush of parental pride with her. Most of the other children were behaving terribly. You can’t blame them. Lily sat there with a scolding look on her face every time the little Chinese boy in front of us turned around and stood on his seat. She only wanted to watch movies and eat. We were learning quickly that she was smart, food was very important, and she had no time for silly, childish antics. To this day, Lily doesn’t know how to be silly. It is apparent that for her first 6 years of life, this was not allowed.
We would come to learn as Lily grew and told us things, that she was not allowed to get out of her chair she was placed in every day. She was given piles of school work, so she did become very good at studying. It was all she was allowed to do, and it was also the cause of her inability to walk correctly. After a month of running around with her new siblings, she could walk just fine. She learned english so quickly, it is hard to remember how long it took. We never had a problem communicating with her. Everything was new and exciting. I wish I had videoed the first time we put her on a swing. She screamed with joy, curled up her legs, and we couldn’t stop laughing. It was the craziest thing she’d ever done.
We also learned that in China she had one meal a day, and it was some sort of watery soup from how she described it. It has taken many years for her to understand that she can have whatever food she wants here and she doesn’t have to eat every bite.
Here is the hardest part and perhaps the most discouraging of adoptive parents. If you go through a good agency, and we certainly did…they will tell you, you can expect bonding to take as long as the age of your child. In other words, Lily was 6 when adopted, so we needed to not be surprised if it took 6 years to feel bonded with her. Being the over achiever that I am, I knew I would be different. My heart is huge, and I would bond instantly. Wrong.
I would say that theory is absolutely correct. It took six years , and I remember noticing it. I remember around her 12th birthday, having a warm feeling, knowing she finally felt like mine. I finally knew I loved her just as much as my biological children. I knew I’d defend her with my life. I felt like her mom – finally.
Lily is now beautiful, kind, smart, polite, and will be a blessing to this cold world when she flies my nest some day. Her dream is to be a pilot in the Air Force. I have no doubt she will do it.
People love to pat me on the back and tell me I am an amazing person to have saved this child from having no chance in the society she was born into. I actually shudder when people say that – kind as it is. Lily saved me. I have learned patience through adoption. I have learned to love a child who didn’t grow inside of me. I found out I am not super mom. I am only human. I felt shame when I couldn’t love, even resented in the beginning. I think many of us adoptive parents are afraid to admit that, for fear of being judged. But the truth is, it was one of the toughest life choices I ever made. I felt like a failure for years. But I kept at it. Lily kept at it. We all did. Adoption puts you in a position of choosing to love every day, even when you don’t feel it. That is an incredible blessing, and I now see it overflow into other areas of my life.
I could write so much more about this journey, Lily, and adoption. I would encourage anyone considering adoption, to go for it. In the end, it is two sets of people – parents and children – all messy, all scared, but all willing. I am older now and my nest is quite full. I wish we would have adopted more when it was feasible. Everyone deserves a loving home. I am so thankful our Lily taught us all how to love in a way we wouldn’t have known without her.