Sunday, December 2, 2007

What the Year of the Pig Brought

Last night an angel fell asleep in my arms. >>Sighhhhh<<

Yesterday was unbelievable. At 8:36am we met Sabrina in the lobby (and were warmly informed, "You are six minutes late," - so much for being a yekke). The drive to CHI's foster care center was no less than a tour of typical everyday Beijing. As scene after scene of an Amy Tan novel unfolded before our eyes, we saw sidewalk snack kiosks; hordes of commuters on bicycles; architecture from all epochs and dynasties (didn't matter to me which was authentic and which was refurbished). Our first stop was to purchase snacks for the kids for a party they were having to celebrate Xiao-Ling meeting her new family, and to commemorate her departure, which we knew would be bittersweet. With Sabrina's help we chose some sweet, some crunchy, some gooey - all of which turned out later to be messy (that was probably the idea in the first place). All the while we were being filmed by Sabrina and our driver.

Presently we came to a neighborhood where all the houses were painted a vibrant shade of clementine. As a few neighbors and three dogs somberly looked on, we emerged from the van with our hearts beating loudly. Carrying a huge packet of baby wipes for CHI and a stuffed pig and Donkey (the latter from Shrek) for our daughter we cautiously, mindfully entered the courtyard where we would meet our daughter for the first time in all our lives.

Mark spotted her first. As I followed his gaze, a pair of huge dark eyes peered over the top of the screen door window. It was all we could see of her but we recognized her immediately, even in the swarm of children and caregivcers (called "ayeh" or aunties) that surrounded her. As we sank to our knees and dropped our bundles to open our hands to her, I could hear my mother's voice cautioning me from our last conversation, "Be gentle. Let her come to you." Then we both said her name and, with the speed of an antelope the door opened and she came running into her father's arms with a great big smile caroling, "BaBA! BaBA! - (Daddy, Daddy!)"

After those first magical moments with the love of her life, she released him from her hug around his neck and turned to me. I murmured, "Wo shi ni de Mama" (I am your Mama) as she fell into my arms with a laughing cry of "Mama!" It was like hugging a sunbeam when the sunbeam can hug back. She is, as the song goes, "as graceful as a grouse" - and as strong as an ox. Then she hauled us to our feet (yes she did!) and beckoned us to come inside. She insisted on Mark carrying her and he happily complied.

Entering the house took forever because everyone was so excited to see us that the doorway was blocked with happy people, both big and little. Some of the wee ones had already run up to us to check out the snack provisions and we'd let them carry some of the loot inside for us (in this case, both host and guest thought they had the better end of the deal). Off came the shoes (no problem for this Tennessee hillbilly) and in we went. As we beheld the party decorations, Xiao-Ling directed our attention to the gold banners festooning the ceiling from wall to wall in every angle that crossed the room. She wanted to make sure we liked them, and we did.

Immediately a huge, low table of goodies was carried in by two or three ayehs. Someone else came in with an enormous cake box. None of the kids got in the least bit excited (that last sentence was a big fat lie). We were still in a daze as we sat on the floor behind our daughter's seat as she handed us cookies, clementines, and crackers. Other kids did the same. There is a huge element of hospitality in Asian greeting from cradle on up (btw we recalled that, when we were in the process of adopting Harry, we learned that the traditional Korean greeting, no matter what the relationship, actually means, "Have you eaten well today?"

So as we sat being royally served by enthusiastic two-to-five year olds, we feasted solely on the sight and sounds of children falling on a feast of sweets. Xiao-Ling finally handed me a wrapped sweet and asked, "Da puh te?" (Open this please?) With pleasure! Then she made the same request as she handed me a thimble-sized container of a gelatin snack. After I got the lid off, she grabbged my hand and deposited the contents square in the middle of my palm. Still grasping my hand she bent over it and slurped up the sweet stuff in one efficient, Hoover-esque galoop. This was even better than when the lorikeets ate nectar out of my hands at Butterfly World in Florida (no offense to Mark's grandparents intended)!

By this time a lot of American volunteers were trooping in for the festivities. With them came Melody Zhang, co-founder of CHI. Sabrina had already asked us if we would make a speech (which she would translate) for everyone present. She also asked if I would sing. The chattery room grew quiet as I serenaded with, "Getting to Know You," from the King and I. Then I asked whether the childrfen would sing. Immediately they launched into something with their aunties that had the tune of "Shalom Chaveirim." When Melody translated it for us, we knew its Mandarin text was identical to the Hebrew one.

Then our daughter began to sing all by herself. We were caught up in our own special paradise as she relaxed in my lap, gave her father one of those devastating smiles, and began to sing a folk song about "there is no love like Mama." She put every ounce of her soul into it. Since no one wears shoes inside, she also likes to bond physically by stepping all over our feet when she's maneuvering in or out of a lap. It doesn't hurt at all and feels like holding hands (only it's feet).

All of this went on for quite some time, followed by the tour of the facility that Mark mentioned earlier. What he didn't say was that a certain princess made him carry her everywhere we went, as she declared to everyone over and over that we were her parents ("Wuo de BaBa, Wuo de Mama!") The reason Xiao-Ling had to urge me to hurry up and get ready to leave was that I was being dressed by a couple of the babies. This is true - they had brought my sneakers (probably thought they were gunboats) and refused to let me put them on; no, they themselves had to untie them and put them on my feet themselves. Then after I tied them, they had to untie them for me so I couldn't go. Oh, my heart.

There were gifts galore - photo albums signed by (or on behalf of) every child and auntie; a soft fuzzy blanket from the volunteers; clothes of course...

When the aunties bade her an emotional farewell, she staunchly said, "I won't cry." Then she once again made her father carry her in triumph (like he objected!) as the entire entourage followed us to the van with a crooning processional chorus of "Hau hau Mei-Mei" (yes, yes, little sister). It was very difficult to see everyone crying as they waved goodbye. We promised that we would send pictures, emails, and lifelong correspondence. Xiao-Ling has a new family now, but so do we - and we will see to it that she never loses touch with them.

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