Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From the beginning

Recently I have been contacted by someone who is adopting a 13 year old daughter from China. She has lots of questions that brought back so many memories for me that I thought I would write them down and share with you some background too.

My little sister Jana had "female" problems at an early age and after surgery to correct the situation was told that if she was ever going to have children, she needed to hurry. Well at that point in her life she was all about career, education, and who ever she was dating, she knew she did not want them to be her children's father.

Fast forward to where she finds her "then" Prince Charming and the race is on to have children.

My niece Gillian is the result of the power of prayer. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that is the only way she is here because Jana had endured more than 5 years of medical intervention trying to get pregnant and when she stopped, she got pregnant.

But Jana wanted Gillian to have a sister and after researching all the options, chose to adopt from China.

At the same time, I had started my job and in those days I had time to sit and talk to the older adults who came to my programs, which is the biggest drawback to my program getting so large. I loved to talk to one man who was still so in love with his wife who had passed away, Gracie. He touched me with the stories and his love and I thought Gracie must be special, so I begged Jana to name her daughter from China, Gracie.

Jana, of course, had other ideas and soon my beloved niece Darcey arrived from China.

As I have told many, I have been around children all my life, but something happened to me the first time I saw Darcey and now I believe in love at first sight. She captured my heart in a way I had never felt. Jana told how a friend of mine had also adopted, a friend I knew was single.

Without drawing too much attention to the idea, I made an appointment to speak to someone at Hope Cottage about adopting. She tried to encourage me to adopt from India and did not give me a lot of hope about adopting from China. Right as our appointment ended, she mentioned an agency in Colorado that was placing "older" "waiting" children for adoption.

Before I left their parking lot I was on the phone to CCAI about their "waiting" child program. I'm single, I knew my limitations, and knew a baby just did not fit and I could not imagine trying to start at my age with a baby, but this group had older children who needed to be adopted and I quickly began the paperwork.

It took a while but I knew when I opened the email and saw the first picture of Hong Hao Yuan Jie, that she was my daughter and her name would be Grace.

Whatever I thought I knew about children was thrown out the window the second I became a mom. I worried about the "big" issues, like what kind of shampoo she would use and how we would handle the grocery store, but "assumed" too much when it came to sleeping arrangements, room decorations, language differences, etc, etc!

With my brilliant artist niece, we prepared her room with a beautiful field of flowers painted on one wall and lady bugs crawling up, a wonderful four poster bed, and loads of toys.

I won't write the whole adoption trip here, since she is really more interested in what happened once we got home, which was the biggest learning opportunity I have ever had.

Jana always put her kids to bed and would sit in the doorway until they went to sleep. Of course this was after they were 3 and 7 and sharing a bedroom, but I thought I was supposed to put Grace to bed and she would go to sleep. What I didn't realize is that the painting and lady bugs on the wall terrified her, that she had NEVER slept in a bed alone, much less a room. Since this was how I was "supposed" to do it, I kept at it until we reached some level of success, but will probably cause millions of dollars in psychological counseling later in life!

School started earlier than I thought it should, but she wanted to go with Gillian each day and was bored hanging out with me, who had no idea how to handle a 6 year old, and we did not share a language, so why not go off and start learning. For her, school was great and even though she started 2 months behind the other English as a Second Language students, she caught up and passed them before the end of the year. Starting in first grade, which was where she was supposed to be, seems an easier place to start.

Then I decided Grace needed a sister, I mean, what would happen to her when I am gone? I was worried about the distant future and wanted her to have a family to celebrate holidays with after I was dead. I know, it doesn't really make sense, but it did provide me with my next daughter, whom I cannot imagine life without now.

In 2006, you could see the lists of the waiting children from all the adoption agencies, which I soon learned were lots more than I thought. I spent hours at night obsessed over finding my daughter and then one day I got an email from a group called Rainbow Kids and the featured child was my child. I knew it the minute I saw her.

In the time it took to complete all the paperwork to adopt, my sister Jana passed away suddenly and we moved. All of which brought us to our current home and two years of so much emotional turmoil, at times I am not sure that I have ever fully recovered from.

Without Jana being my guide, I had to make my own gut decisions on so many things about my new daughter. The first of many was choosing a name.

I loved the idea of having Faith and Grace or Hope and Grace, but Grace had VERY strong opinions on most names I came up with and could make them sound like they totally would not work. She had her own ideas and eventually Annabel was a compromise. For Grace, we had a contact in China who talked to her about her new name, only it was translated without the vowels so it came out sounding like Gerce, but I knew she had been talked to about it and she said she was OK with it, which made me feel better about changing her name. I knew I could not pronounce Yuan Jie correctly and after a lifetime of always spelling my name, did not want her to deal with the same.

While in China she wanted and needed me to call her Yuan Jie and told the guide that when we got to the US, I could call her Grace. I still called her Yuan Jie for a long time but everyone else began calling her Grace. It was a fairly smooth transition on the names, I think. Who knows? It might also cost millions in counseling later!

 For Annabel, they translated it as Apple, but I did not have anyone to contact her and I just assumed it would be find with her to change her name. Again, I called her Wan Yun while in China and she let it be  known that I was to still call her that after we got home, that everyone else could call her Annabel, except me. With the aid of our guide, I told her we could call her Ann, Anna, Annie, Belle, or any combination. NO, it would be Annabel!

I thought I understood the sleeping arrangements much better the second time and had planned a tween bedroom for Grace and Annabel to share, with separate beds. Grace and I shared the room before we left to get her used to it. I don't think it was as difficult for Annabel and she was used to a "dorm" type bedroom from her group home.

We had arrived home two weeks before school started and I thought it would be fine to start her with everyone else. That is the one thing that I wish I could re-do. I wish I had kept her home and done home schooling to have saved her from the really bad experiences she had her first year in school. We are still trying to catch up on learning and if I were faced with the uphill battle she continues, I think I would have given up.

I cannot imagine life without either and while they share a similar background they are as different as night and day. I wish more people would take a chance on adopting the older children. It is difficult, but I have not found anyone who has children, whether through adoption or biologically, that finds child raising a simple job. BUT it is by far the most rewarding job I have ever had.

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