Olivia’s Adoption Diary

Wednesday March 15, 2006

A reunion. A feast. A final goodbye.

  • Olivia taking a well deserved rest.
  • The young lady in red.
  • Olivia’s past and future meet.

Today we went to visit Olivia’s orphanage so she could say goodbye to her old home one last time. The orphanage visit is always the most emotional day of these journeys, but also the most necessary. You can get a lot of insight into your child’s formative development by seeing the conditions in which she lived, how she interacts with the caregivers and other children and an overall impression of the quality of her life that she grew up in. Obviously, in Olivia’s case, because she spent the first six years of her life in this place, the impact that it will have on her going forward will be much greater than in the situations of our other children, so Dorothy and I felt very strongly about making this pilgrimage.

Not to say that we both weren’t petrified as to what was going to happen on this trip. I think we both shared the same horrific nightmare of having to drag Olivia back into the car as she wailed that she wanted to stay and her fingers left grooves in the floor as she clawed her way back to the life she didn’t want to leave. As it turns out, all of our fears were for naught, but I get ahead of myself…

We met Anna in the lobby this morning around 9:15 for the ride to the orphanage. We were a few minutes late because Olivia was packing every last item that she possibly could into my backpack, leaving nothing to chance. After grimacing through the hernia that I received from lifting up my 800 pound bag we eventually made it downstairs and got in the car for the hour and a half drive to the orphanage.

We made sure that Anna explained to Olivia where we were going and what we were going there for. We told Olivia that we were only going for a visit and that she would not be staying but leaving with us after our visit. She seemed fine with all of the explanations as she returned to defying my attempts at stopping her from kicking the driver’s seat in front of her.

Let me explain, Olivia is trying to figure out where her boundaries are right now. She is very familiar with “no” and will usually stop doing whatever it is she is doing when we ask her to, but occasionally she still tries to see how far she can get before I bring the hammer down and seriously, seriously ask her very, very forcefully to stop. This was one of those cases. The problem was solved once I too her lollypop away (kids are the same no matter where they were raised or what language they speak) and I know she’s not deliberately defying me just to break my shoes, but we are all just trying to find a clearly demarcated line of no return where, once crossed, behavior becomes unacceptable. With a little luck, we will figure this out by the time she is in her early thirties. I just lost consciousness there for a second. Sorry.

The drive was surprisingly relaxing, from a fear of impending death standpoint. Either I’m getting used to how the Chinese drive or, well… actually, there can be no other explanation. Its probably some type of traumatic stress disorder desensitization thing but I’m not even a little put off that we can never find seat belts any more. By the way, no accidents at breakfast today either. But I’m convinced that the only reason for that is that we were there well before the start of rush hour.

Our trip took us through some very scenic mountainous country side until we arrived in Tong Lu, a tiny, but busy city, where we would find the orphanage. After a couple of directional inquiries and a phone call or two to the orphanage for directions, we eventually found our destination.

Olivia started to tense up as she realized where we were, and by the time we got out of the car, Dorothy was wearing her like a second skin. Olivia was clinging to Dorothy for dear life as she started to cry. She started to worry, according to Anna, that she was coming back to stay and that she didn’t want that, she wanted to stay with us. And when I say “us”, I of course mean Dorothy. I am pretty sure the direct quote was “I want to stay with my kind and beautiful ma ma. Oh and if that ba ba guy needs to be there too I guess I can live with that.” Anna didn’t translate it exactly that way, but she was probably just being kind. I would be lying if I didn’t say that we felt tremendous relief by Olivia’s reaction and more that a little pleased that we had bonded as a family so quickly.

We were greeted by a bunch of people, among them the orphanage director (a very nice young lady who shares an obvious bond with Olivia, né Duo Duo), a few gentlemen of influence from the welfare institute and the local TV news camera again. What I mean by welfare institute is that, here in China, the orphanages rarely are stand alone operations. They can, as in this case, also feature homes for the aged and infirm and schools as well. The grounds were very nice and well maintained and we were made to feel right at home as soon as we got out of the car.

We first were led into the director’s office where we were offered some tea and chatted briefly. Olivia was still clinging to her mother for dear life although she had stopped crying and seemed to be accepting of Dorothy’s assurances that we were not going anywhere without her. Not that she could really understand what Dorothy was saying but a lot of our communication with Olivia is done through tone and facial expression, and we all usually get the gist of what the other is saying if not the letter of it.

After pleasantries were exchanged we were brought upstairs to see the room where Olivia slept. We met her caregiver there and a few other ladies who all fawned over Olivia who eventually became comfortable enough to leave her mother’s arms and go to her nurses. She always kept an eye squarely on us and seemed just a little nervous when out of our grasp.

The hardest thing about these visits is seeing the other children in the orphanage who are not being adopted that day. There were about 5 other children — all babies — in this room and it was heart rending to look at them laying bundled up in their cribs. Dorothy picked up a 2 month old infant who immediately stopped crying once in her arms, and I am sure, that had everyone in the room turned their backs momentarily, this baby would have found her way into Dorothy’s bag and a trip back to the States with us. Dorothy keeps saying that Olivia is our last kid, but that theory flies out the window once she gets in a room like this.

Eventually, our visit to the baby room was over and we all worked very hard to pry my wife’s fingers from around the cribs so we could go downstairs for some lunch. Olivia came right back to us and seemed none the worse for wear as I carried her downstairs. She seemed a little relieved once we were out of the orphanage building and made our way to the cafeteria, not due to any type of bad memory of her former home or anything, but simply because she figured that she had it better with us. There was obvious affection with everyone she met but when it was time to leave she was more than ready to go.

We went into a private dining room and about nine of us sat around a large round table with a lazy-suzan in the middle. One gentleman asked me us if I would like to try the local beer. I asked him if the pope was catholic and nodded yes. He filled both Dorothy’s glass as well as mine and toasts were made all around. We thanked them for the gracious hospitality and for taking such good care of our daughter these past 6 years and they thanked us for giving Olivia a home and promising to take care of her in the future. We assured them that we would and that we would not let her forget about where she came from and would always teach her about her Chinese family here in Tong Lu.

Then they started brining in the food. And then they brought in some more food. Then they brought in a few more plates of food. And then, just in case a regiment of the PLA showed up, they brought in a bit more food. This was a feast fit for a king, and I imagine that it was as much a celebration of Olivia’s new life as a sad goodbye to her old one. Anyway, we started to eat. The way you do it in China is that everyone just picks directly from a vast collection of dishes on the lazy susan with your chopsticks and you sample whatever happens to be in front of you at the time until the next time it is rotated. The food was outrageous. There was a spicy beef dish that was among the best things I have even eaten in China, we also had salt cured pork, whole fish, shrimp, a few different vegetable dishes — among them some sautéed bok choy, bamboo shoots and a lima bean dish unlike anything I have ever had before — an outstanding roast duck plate, some pig kidney and sliced sow’s ear. Everything was delectable, although I found the cartilage in the sow’s ear to be a bit too crunchy for my taste. Dorothy and I were truly humbled by the amazing hospitality these people were showing us, and how genuinely grateful they were to us.

We ate and chatted, mostly about Olivia who was very content to sit there and tear the heads off of and peel about 20 pieces of shrimp before devouring them. A side note about authentic Chinese cuisine, it is considered good fortune to serve dishes whole whenever possible. Hence the intact shrimp and whole fish. I look at it this way, if it doesn’t affect how it tastes, what do I care if it stares at me while I eat it. Dorothy tends to be a bit more western in her philosophy of having the head of her dinner left on the kitchen counter, but she was more than gracious and managed to muffle her screams of horror so that no one noticed. Our glasses were also never allowed to get empty. It seemed that after every sip, our glass was topped off. Eventually I had to tell the man pouring the beer that I could not possibly have any more, and when I say “I told him”, I of course mean that Dorothy told me to tell him, but it was probably best to stop then before I had a few more and started asking where the karaoke machine was. I did comment on how tasty the local beer was and the man doing the pouring immediately told me he was going to give me a few bottles to take home. I gracefully declined. He offered again. I again said thanks, but no. He insisted. I accepted. When next you are in China, remember that you should always refuse a gift twice before accepting, its just good manners. Conversely, do not be put off if someone declines your initial offer of a gift. They are only being polite by not accepting it the first few times. Hints on Chinese etiquette, courtesy of Mark…

After lunch it was time to head back home. Many heartfelt goodbyes were said as Olivia couldn’t get back into the car fast enough. We thanked everyone one final time and we left, emotionally drained but content. It had been a pretty perfect trip. Our daughter, who continues to surprise us with her wit, intelligence and strength of spirit acted exactly as we had hoped: like our daughter.

We got back to the hotel and Olivia and I took a nap (once I convinced her to stop throwing toys at my head as I slept) while Dorothy went out and did whatever it is she does when she goes out with money. Later that evening, we all went out to dinner at a local Korean restaurant with Anna. We figured that we owed her the opportunity to actually eat a meal rather than sit there and try to shove food down her throat in between translating what the crowd of people around her are all saying to each other. Again, another fabulous, if not gratuitously gluttonous feast, after which, we returned to our room and crashed for the night.

As expected it was an emotional day, and as unexpected, it was better than we could have hoped. Olivia is fast becoming a Congiusta, which is difficult even under the best of circumstances. She is definitely our daughter both legally and emotionally.

Tomorrow we will do some sightseeing with Anna, so hopefully the weather will cooperate, although rain and even colder weather is in the forecast. Ah well, not everything can be perfect…

Familial bonding. Tong Lu style…