Thursday, April 2, 2009

Of Loss and Joy and Desiring

She takes distinct delight in reviewing my criminal record. Fortunately, the record is clear.

She sits up high and proud in my big swivel desk chair in my office. I am seated below her, on a footstool by my files (okay, a bank of files,) and have pulled out our adoption paperwork. It’s been three days since the night she asked me about secrets. When she shared her fear I might not be who I say I am. That maybe I locked her birthmother away. I’d offered, when we had the time, to show her these papers.

Now, it’s Sunday morning and we have no plans. We can take what time we need. My goal is to be open with her, to show her I’ve nothing to hide, that I am who I say I am, that my intentions were and have always come from the heart. How else can she trust me?

She gets a kick imagining me as supplicant. Now I am the one reviewed and graded by the authorities, social workers, government bodies. She reads my application essay and references aloud. She raises her eyebrows discerningly at my medical report and giggles over my financial statement. But it’s the criminal check she really enjoys.

I share excerpts from random notes and letters, then discover the fax I wrote from the hotel to family on the day she became my daughter. I read it aloud.

... She has the sweetest little moonface!

Moonface?! she sputters, indignant.

Well.. sorry. I thought it was sweet at the time.

I go through file after file of our US paperwork, then remember a separate place I stored all our Chinese documents. She is fascinated by her passport.

Can I keep this?

Of course. I say. I kept it for you.
Later, she will store it in a special keepsake box in her closet and show me what she has done.

I find our Chinese certificates. There is one for the actual adoption, one that identifies me as the person I say I am. And one that certifies who she is. We read each in turn, silently together, including the last:

This is to certify that ___________, female, was born on January 17th, 2000 and was found to be abandoned at the No. 13 of Huangzhoudadao, Huanggang City, Hubei Province on January 25th, 2000. So far, her innate parents and other relatives could not be found.
I look up. She is crestfallen. It’s as if the light has left her face. She spins the chair round and starts playing frantic tug of war with Max and one of his fluffy toys. But there’s no joy in her play. Only nervous, upset energy.
That had to hurt, I say. Pause. You know… Its okay to be sad.


Are you sad?

A nod, yes. Tears.

Are you mad?
Why didn’t they come back for me?!

I hesitate.

I don’t know honey. I’d guess the government penalties were too severe. They were afraid. Or they couldn’t care for an infant. What if they couldn’t feed you, or clothe you, or bathe you? What if... this was a way to keep you safe?

She is silent.

I don’t know.

She lets me hold her for a bit, but then pulls away and wanders up to her room. The rest of the day is subdued. She does homework. We watch a movie. “I’m just not myself today” she offers. She seems older suddenly. I reach out reflexively, to touch her shoulder, to stroke her hair, to rub the nape of her neck.

She goes to the piano and sits. For her, this is usually play and her fingers literally fly up and down over the keys. She’s learning Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, a favorite. I love the piece too, but today, she plays it so slowly I think,

Even the piano sounds sad.

I realize how foolish it is for adoptive parents to think we can make all the pain go away by showing our children they’re not alone, that there are thousands of girls like them, that this has been happening in China for decades, and continues even today. Everyone loses a parent. Does it make it less painful when it happens to you? When our girls discover this loss for themselves… that loss is loaded down with something more crushing: abandonment. It’s the most profound rejection there is… that of a parent, when you are new to the world, when, body and soul, you’re as naked as you’ll ever be.

I look at my daughter’s face, the sag of her shoulders, and wonder when, if, how, she will recover. I find it hard to eat.

I am not religious but I do have great faith in the power of love, in the power and resilience of the human soul. My life as a parent has taught me that much. So why do I feel like I’m walking on eggshells, watching, waiting. That night, I fall into bed exhausted, unable to sleep.

She wakes the next morning, well rested. There’s a hint of the old bounce as she heads out the door to catch her ride to school. I need the day to breathe, to run errands, to catch up on the mountain of work at my desk. But I take time to search the web for books and resources that might help us on this journey. And I place a call to a counselor.

She returns home that night the exuberant child I remember. She dances and babbles on about the day, sharing fun word puzzles and math problems, hoping to stump me. It’s a relief to see her lighthearted again. But I am slow this time to trust it.

I stand fixing dinner and she marches into the kitchen with her old, well-loved, well thumbed Homecoming book. It's both photo album and story. Our story, drafted by yours truly, of how we became a family.

Come on Mom! she announces. Let’s read this aloud. Together.
I shove dishes, half chopped vegetables, a bottle of oil, a tray of butter, a container of cheese and a large cutting board off to one side -- and sit down beside her. We take turns reading the text (Sassy lass! She corrects my grammar!) and we pour over the photos. She is full of happy questions, curious questions, probing questions, some old and some new. We laugh and crack jokes. As we get to those first shots from the morning we met, she laughs at her mom’s face, red with emotion, then points to the healthy, pink-cheeked cherub held and fussed over by two adoring Ayis:

Look at that little moonface, Mom!

We bust up -- and never get to the end of the book. It doesn’t matter. We know the story by heart. We end up sporting giant red oven mitts, fencing, sparring, and slapping at each other, dancing, dodging, and bopping about the kitchen till suddenly my girl dissolves in a fit of giggles onto the floor.

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