It has come to my attention that exactly 20 years have passed since the day our oldest daughter was placed into our loving arms. It was in the evening in a small conference room at the Majestic Hotel, located in the City of Nanning, People’s Republic of China.
One week before we had spent 15 hours in the air from LAX to Guangzhou, where we had a three hour layover before flying to Beijing. After six days of sight-seeing (and some interesting adventures) we flew back to Guangzhou where, after one day, we flew to Nanning. That evening there were about eleven families whose lives changed dramatically as their newly adopted children were handed over to them. We were the last to have that jarring, emotional, and life-changing experience.
As you might be able to tell from the photo, Aimee was none too happy to be ripped from her foster family, who clearly loved her, and given to these two strangers (one of whom—that would be me—had a face the likes of which she’d never seen before.) It would be several days before she would have anything to do with us.
At the time many of us referred to the day as “Gotcha Day”, but in the intervening years we have come to believe the term is parent-centric and ignores the real trauma our experience represents. We are actually our child’s third set of parents. We now refer to it as “Family Day”, as it is the day on which we became a family, one that has now lasted for two decades. Aimee has grown into a beautiful young woman and I am so proud of her and her achievements. She has made my life far richer than it otherwise might have been.
Yesterday I posted an update to my GoFundMe campaign to raise a little money while writing my first memoir. I’m expecting it to take at least six months of gathering info/memories/photos and writing, proofing, and editing it. I may have to make several trips to the Bay Area and Bend, Oregon to interview some of the families who traveled with us in 2002 and 2006. The money I’m seeking is primarily needed to help me with those costs. What follows is my update:
Just wanted to share a little update for all y’all (such as there are.) My current plan is to make this work around 50,000 words. I have found a file with at least a dozen heartfelt emails I sent back to the states from The China Hotel, in Guangzhou, PRC, when we adopted Aimee.
I have also discovered an essay I wrote, as part of a personal ethics journal I was required to write for a comparative religions class at Cal Lutheran Uni. It is about the ethical struggle I went through regarding being a much older parent and how I thought that might affect an adopted child. It was written prior to our first adoption and I will be elaborating on it. I’ve had almost two decades to be faced with, and contemplate, that reality.
I’ve begun contacting several parents with whom we traveled and became somewhat close. For the first 12 or so years we had reunions every year. Not all the families were able (or even wanted) to make it, but there were usually at least ten of us. It’s been a few years since that happened and, of course, all the girls Aimee’s age are now pretty much adults and are striking out on their own.
I have begun contacting some of those parents in order to interview them for this memoir. I’ve always felt parenting was similar to flying in an airplane. Long stretches of boredom, intermittently punctuated by moments of sheer terror and anxiety. I intend on finding out if others have felt the same.
My plan is to provide an update each month until the work is done, after which my final update will be the memoir itself.
My deepest thanks to those of you who have contributed. You have no idea what that does for my commitment to get this done … and done well. I’m adding a photo taken just this past Mothers’ Day. Alyssa had admonished me in the past not to post photos of her, or tag her in any way on FB. While we were driving to pick up our dinner for us to enjoy with Linda, she informed me she wanted me to post more photos, which she now sees as documentation of her family life. Hence, the photo, which I really like (though I wish I was actually looking into the lens.)
I haven’t written much about my experiences with adoption, specifically International adoption, because I decided long ago that my daughters’ stories are theirs and to reveal specifics about them is not my place. However, there are some aspects of our journey I feel comfortable about sharing.
When my wife and I decided to adopt, after some research and communication with a couple of friends we knew who had gone through a similar experience, we decided to adopt from the People’s Republic of China. We were quite fortunate to be introduced to an organization that arranged Chinese adoptions, and that organized the entire trip, including working closely with us throughout the process, including translating documents and accompanying us through every necessary step.
When we began the process we also discovered there was a Yahoo group dedicated to those of us who were using this organization, which was called U.S. Asian Affairs. We used it to introduce ourselves to the group and, over time, to learn about the process and the lives, as well as the hopes and dreams, of the other families who had traveled or who we would be traveling with, as well as those who would be adopting subsequent to us.
When we were in China, at the China Hotel in Guangzhou, I spent nearly every free evening down in the sports bar, where they had a couple of computers set up and I could send emails to the group, apprising them of our progress and how were were feeling. I also continued to communicate with others for several years afterward, am still friends with many of those with whom we traveled, and also belong to a Facebook group that kind of took over for the Yahoo group.
Even though I’m no longer using the Yahoo group to communicate, at the beginning of each month approximately ten emails are sent to everyone who’s a member. Of those ten, three are from me. I’d like to share them (I may have shared one or more of them sometime in the past 14 years, but I can’t remember and don’t want to search) here. This first one is from October 12, 2005. Our oldest was a little over four years old and it would be another year before we adopted our second child.
The post was in response to a question another parent had posed, which was “Maybe some of the referrals come with information that stretches the truth, but I think that the act of being placed in our loving arms is not quite as wonderful for these girls as it is for us. Give them time.” Here is my response:
This has to be one of the most important, and profound, statements I have read on China33 in some time. We must, repeat must, remember what these children have experienced. Each of them has had to suffer two major, life-changing upheavals. The first was being separated from their birth mother (no matter the circumstances under which it took place); the second being taken from either a foster family or the only real home they have known.
We have to control the tendency to see our good fortune in finding them as the only interpretation of these events. We must fight against trying to impose our perception of reality on them. I believe the wisest thing we can do is try and understand their lives from their perspective. They may not be able to give voice to it, and their memories are almost always pre-verbal, but that doesn’t negate the powerful emotions these events evoked.
I have watched our Aimee nearly shut down in situations that were similar to the evening she was placed in our arms. A room full of children, adults, noise, and pandemonium. Even an open house at pre-school has greatly unnerved her. However, with every day she has grown a little more secure in our existence as a family and now, at over four years old, she is finding her place and blossoming like we hoped for her.
The most important thing we can give our children is the knowledge not only that they are loved, but also that they are respected. I can’t emphasize this enough. Remember the concept of “walking a mile in their shoes.” By all means, revel in the joy of finally having her in your arms; the ineffable depth of emotion you feel when holding or even just watching her (or him). Just keep in mind that you are the lucky ones. If our children were truly lucky, the conditions leading to their abandonment would not have existed, and they would still be with their birth family.
Remember, one day they will be all grown up, and they will almost certainly be at least curious about why they were separated from their birth family. You will be doing both them and yourselves a great service by keeping that day in mind – always.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.