Aelex’s Adoption Diary
Wednesday February 26, 2003
You can never go home again. Well maybe just once.
Today began like every other day here in China, up and about before dawn. Actually we are starting to get a little better at this. Dorothy and I stayed in bed until almost 7 A.M. Aelex slept from 9:00 the night before to 7:30 this morning (what are the odds that this is going to continue to be the case?) She got up a few times briefly during the night as she has a slight cold and is pretty stuffed up. At least this is what Dorothy tells me. Being the sound sleeper that I am, and Dorothy being unable to sleep through the sound of snow falling gives us both different perspectives on a good night’s sleep. Aelex takes after her dad in one respect, she snores too! If I do not return home from this trip and Dorothy tries to pass off some crazy story about an accident or a kidnapping, do not believe her. She will have killed me in my sleep for snoring too loudly. It must be hell being married to me. I on the other hand am well rested and cannot understand my wife’s exhaustion.
Another run of the mill breakfast at the buffet downstairs precedes our trip to the orphanage. Our group meets at 10 A.M. in the lobby to meet Dr. Hong for our departure. Making up our group is: us, a family from Manhattan (Bruce, Barbara and their new daughter Anna) and a family from Philadelphia (Paul, Leslie, Leslie’s Aunt Joan, their young daughter Clara — adopted from China almost 5 years ago — and their newest family member, Tilly). A finer group of people one could not ask for and cuter children do not exist on god’s green earth. These are facts, I do not trade in hyperbole.
Dr. Hong is late, which is surprising, considering that the man walks at a pace just slightly under the speed of sound. He is a really nice guy who is acting as our facilitator/translator/guide here in Nanjing. He was one of the founders of the Brightside China adoption program and has been in the game for quite some time. He has a very friendly manner that makes you think you have known him your whole life. We are lucky to have this man on our side.
Once Dr. Hong arrives, we pile onto the bus that will take us to the orphanage and start the hour and a half journey. Our driver is apparently the less sane brother of our driver in Beijing, the madman Wang. It would probably simply be easier to rig the horn to honk continuously and push on it in those rare moments when the madderman Wang is not honking at someone or something to get the hell out of his way. I would offer this suggestion to him right now except g-forces are keeping me pinned to my seat and I cannot get up to talk to him.
Just a side note on getting gas in China. Apparently when you tell the attendant to “fill ‘er up” here, the method that is commonly used to ascertain when in fact “she” has been filled up is to insert the nozzle into the gas tank and begin fueling. When a geyser of gasoline comes shooting out of the tank your car has obviously been filled. The simplicity of this system is brilliant. I cannot believe that I have yet to see someone die in front of my eyes here in China. These people defy death on a daily basis.
Regardless, we eventually arrive at the orphanage and meet one of the assistant directors and are given the grand tour. Now, for obvious reasons, I am going to suspend all sarcasm to treat this event with the gravity it so obviously deserves. We are all a bit shocked (happily so) at the attractive grounds that houses the orphanage. Spotless and well manicured roads and gardens were not what I expected anyway. We are given a brief overview of the whole operation and then offer our gifts to the facilities workers.
The basic background on the gift giving is as follows, in China it is considered good manners to thank or repay a kindness by giving gifts. This can also happen as a form of introduction but now we are offering tokens of thanks for the workers and caregivers who have looked after and cared for our daughters these previous months. The gifts are small; stationary sets, makeup, keychains and postcards from your hometown. Nothing too fancy. I suppose that we average about 8-10 gifts per couple and they are all given to a caregiver to, I assume, be distributed amongst the staff later. We all also gave some gifts to the orphanage itself; clothes, diapers, blankets. All to be used for the children.
In return, we are given a certificate with our names and our baby’s Chinese name, commemorating the adoption as well as a totally awesome stamp with our daughter’s name in Chinese carved into a stick of granite. This was unexpected but very special. Surprisingly, Dorothy started crying. (Dammit, I tried so hard to do this without being a smart-ass!)
After the gifts, we were shown to the building that our daughters had been raised in. I kid you not when I say this place was absolutely spotless. As soon as we entered the front door the whole staff came up to us to hold our children and say goodbye to them one last time. I saw more than one of these women shed a tear. They were so obviously happy for the girls that it was truly touching. All of our daughters also showed each and every caregiver such obvious affection that we have no doubt as to the genuine caring and love that these ladies showed for each and every child in their care. Dorothy and I are so much more at ease after seeing this. Any worry that we had about how Aelex was treated in the orphanage are gone.
We were then shown into the bedrooms and taken to each child’s crib where they slept. The rooms were crowded but not overly so. And again they were all spotless. All of the children seemed very healthy and well fed, none were crying and all stared at us with immense curiosity. And if anyone tells you anything, it was my allergies acting up, I swear. My eyes get very watery from allergies. Dorothy was prepared to take 6 or 7 more children home with us right then and there, and I have to say, it would not have taken much convincing to get me to go along with that plan.
After spending more time with all of the staff, each one holding and cuddling each of our children in turn, it was time to leave. I again have to reiterate how impressed Dorothy and I were with the orphanage and the caregivers. On our way out, we were each given a little photo album of our daughters lives in the orphanage from the time they were brought there until they were brought to us this week. We could not believe this and were overjoyed to have these pictures. We all also bought copies of the music tapes that the children listen to in the orphanage. In addition, one of the caregivers, came over to us and discreetly handed Dorothy a little red heart on a string necklace. She explained through Dr. Hong that sewn inside the heart was a lock of Aelex’s hair from the first haircut she received in the orphanage. Our minds were blown. We could not have asked for anything more touching.
All-in-all, I have to say that a day that I was dreading turned out to be an amazing experience for us all. Not only are we all more comfortable with our children’s upbringing, all of our nagging questions and doubts have been answered. We know that one day in the future when we tell Aelex about this day, she too will be glad that we went.
After some final goodbyes, we strapped ourselves back into the Rice Rocket and prepared to hurtle back to Nanjing. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will go sightseeing and perhaps have, as Dr. Hong put it, “a beer party.” Have I mentioned that I love this man? I could have kissed him when he said that. So until the next entry comrades, signing off from the heart of the dragon…