Thursday, January 2, 2014

Where Have You Been All My Life?


(Based on an original article by the author, first published in the Spring 2001 edition of "Circle," the official publication of Chinese Children Charities/Chinese Children Adoption International.)
"What in the world is taking you guys so long?"
 "What's the hold up?"
 "Why haven't you two heard anything yet?"
Questions. So many questions. My ex-wife and I became experts at fielding questions, it seems. I think it's fair to say, in one way or another, we probably heard it all.
"What is taking so long?
 "Why does it have to take so long?"
 "And why did you do all of this in the first place?"
 "Why adoption?"
 "And why in the world would you want to adopt from China?"
 "And, oh, by the way... What's taking you guys so long?"
Now, I don't mean to sound glib. And I certainly don't mean to sound resentful or angry, because I'm not. Such questions were well meaning, I know. In fact, it's questions like these that, in their own way, let both her and me know--during our long adoption wait--that there were many people who cared for us and thought of us daily. And that was most definitely welcome.
But to be honest, there came a point--as in most things, I suppose--when it seemed so many things had gone wrong and so many hurdles and roadblocks had fallen in our way, slowing us down to a crawl, that neither she nor I knew what to say anymore.
In short, we ran out of answers to all the questions that came our way.
In some ways, I think, it is very unfair the way adoptive parents are treated. By the "luck of the draw," I guess, adoptive parents find themselves placed under a microscope, held up to the bright light of scrutiny in ways that biological parents will never have to know. And that's just the way it is. I know. Fair or not, sour grapes or not, that's just the way it is.
We tried our best, the two of us--my ex and I--to keep a cheery outlook as we went through our own story of adopting our daughters, Eva Lian (in 2000) and Avery Reese Yong (in 2003), from the People's Republic of China. I remember how she and I tried our best, all the while, to remain as upbeat and as positive as possible--although, again, there were some days when this proved to be a distinct challenge.
From the beginning--when we first decided on international adoption and made our initial contacts with Chinese Children  Charities/Chinese Children Adoption International (CCC/CCAI)--to the days, both times, when we returned home from that faraway land in the east with our adopted daughters in our arms, the whole process took 17 months. From start to finish, those 17 months had a way of dissolving into a maze of governmental offices, and agencies, and meetings, and seminars, and parenting classes, and home studies, and health exams, and financial disclosures, and paperwork, and more paperwork, and more paperwork, and more paperwork, and more, and more, and more...
And all the while we tried our best to smile and to find answers for all of the questions posed to us every day:
"Have you heard anything from China yet?"
 "Why haven't you heard anything yet?"
 "When are you going to hear from China, anyway?"
 "And what's taking you guys so long?"
International adoption is not easy. And it shouldn't be. While waiting for the work to slowly grind on behind the scenes, it is, quite literally, a test of endurance. It's a test of faith. And of love. And it is infuriating. And exhausting. And unfair.
But it's also worth it. Every bit of it.
It is worth all the time and money invested. It is worth every scrap of paper signed. (And re-signed. And triple-signed.) It is worth every drop of sweat. Every sleepless night. Every tear that is shed. There is no price that could equal the memories of adopting my daughters from the other side of the world. Every last bit of it.
Of course, foremost in my mind are the mornings of August 28, 2000 (when we first laid eyes on wide-eyed Wu Li Yan in the city of Wuhan, in the Hubei province) and August 17, 2003 (the day we first held in our arms little Yong Yao in the city of Changsha, in the Hunan province). What can I possibly tell you about those days that most of you probably can't already guess?
I will never forget those moments. I never want to forget.
They were both, roughly, one year old on those days when I first saw them--both of the girls having spent the first year of their lives in an orphanage, whiling away their days in ways I don't even want to begin to imagine. But I'll always remember my first impressions of how pretty the girls were. And of how funny they were, too, both of them in their little baby clothes, whatever the orphanage could spare. And how unbelievably tiny, and petite, and fragile-looking the girls appeared. And how unbearably beautiful they were--and are. It broke my heart, such beauty. (It still does.)
Of course their personalities were different, from the very first day we saw them, just as they are now. Avery, our second daughter, was weaker, and more timid, and more hesitant to warm up at first. On the other hand, Eva, our first daughter, was--from the beginning--smiling, and laughing, and playful. In both instances, though, I remember distinctly how alive the girls were, how alert and watchful. Though different in their immediate attitudes, they could not be more alike in one thing: How open their eyes were, taking in the whole room, the whole setting around them, as if looking for someone, searching.
Until their gazes met ours from across the room--a world away.
"Oh, can't we hold her? Please, can't we hold her now? At long last..."
And how both of the girls looked at us then--both on their own adoption days and in their own particular ways--and how they both reached out their tiny hands toward us, their Mommy and Daddy from America, and how they smiled at both of us, ever so slyly, as if to say:
"There you are, you two... Finally! What took you so long?"