One year ago today I was standing in a very cold government office in Wuhan, China, completing the paperwork for our son’s adoption. The photo above was the first view we had of him. We had come up the stairs and Taylor asked me if he needed to get the camcorder ready. I told him he could probably wait until we got inside the offices themselves, but as we came up the final staircase, there was Caleb, coming around the corner with his two orphanage directors. This photo was actually taken inside the Civil Affairs office, but it is exactly how I remember Caleb from the moment I first met him.
For over a year, we had looked at pictures of Caleb and even requested updated pictures from the orphanage a few months before we traveled. No photo prepares you, however, for the flip in your stomach when you first see your child-at this point still a stranger-for the very first time in person.
Unlike the many babies and toddlers who are adopted from China, a child who is over nine years old must give their consent to the adoption. After we signed paperwork to take guardianship of Caleb for 24 hours, we returned the next day and were asked if this was indeed the child we had been told would be ours and if we wanted to go ahead with the adoption. I can’t imagine what it would be like for either the family or the child to say “no”, but I do know that it has happened, mostly when the child had special needs for which the family was not prepared. We told the officials that yes we did want to proceed with Caleb’s adoption, and then they asked him if he wanted to be adopted by our family.
What a frightening question that must be for an 11 year old boy. What goes through a child’s mind at that time? “Do I really want to go with this family whom I have only been with since yesterday? They don’t even speak my language, we have to gesture and use a picture dictionary to communicate, and they live in an unknown place on the other side of the world, of which I know nothing about. They did feed me, however, and bring me new clothes and showed me my home through pictures, telling me that they want me to join their family. I don’t have a family here and have always wanted a mama and baba, so I guess it’s worth the risk”.
That’s a little bit of what Caleb has told me over the past year as his abilities to speak English improved. Yes, he was very frightened but he was trusting that we would love him and care for him. So, “sign” he did on the paperwork, by putting his hand in red ink and then placing a handprint on our legal adoption documents.
Caleb’s life has changed immensely in the past year. He has experienced his first Valentine’s day, Easter, Halloween, Christmas, and a first ever birthday celebration. He sadly has lost quite a bit of his ability to speak Chinese even though he has attended Chinese school once a week. He still reads books in Chinese daily, however, and watches movies often in Chinese. Friends who speak Chinese have told me his comprehension when they speak to him in Mandarin is still about 90% there.
He has loved hugs and kisses almost from the day we met him and is very affectionate. Chinese friends have been amazed as most culturally Chinese people are more reserved. I figure he’s just making up for lost time.
He has experienced much loss in his life, and we are thrilled to fill that well in his heart that was empty for so long. He shared with me once that he saw a baby who was found on the orphanage steps, and then he saw that same baby die a few days later. He told me, “That baby’s mama no want her, just like my Chinese mama no want me.” It was a very painful and sobering moment as we discussed the one child policy and how his parents most likely did love him dearly and want him but perhaps due to conditions beyond their control could not keep him.
Here he is goofing around with his sister Alyssa on the one year anniversary of his adoption day. Of course he chose Chinese food. I love Chinese food, but I dislike the numerous pots and pans I seem to dirty when I make multiple Chinese dishes. We had stir fried lotus root, baby bok choy, (his two all-time favorites) orange chicken, hot and sour soup, stir fried green beans, fried rice and crab puffs. We bought the crab puffs as the last time I made them, they became soggy too quickly. And yes, for those of you who are curious, that is a bottle of Martinelli’s cider, not anything with alcohol! 🙂
I pray that after one year you know, sweet boy, that this family does indeed want you. We love you and are thrilled that you consented to be a part of our family forever.