I huffed and puffed my way up the five flights of stairs at the sweltering hot Hangzhou Civil Affairs office as Doodle raced ahead, anxious to meet her mei mei. Tianyu and the orphanage officials weren't there yet so I had a few minutes to catch my breath and calm my nerves. For the first few minutes I only had glimpses of my new almost 3-year-old daughter as she hid behind and clung to the nanny's skirt, clutching a bag of potato chips. My plan to lure her over to us with food was foiled because she liked the potato chips better. She did come out of hiding to look at the backpack of toys we brought for her but she quickly retreated to her safe spot. I could see that she was incredibly beautiful and that her hair was elaborately done in at least 20 braids, caught up into pig tails. Her Velcro like grip on the nanny would have been comical if it hadn't been so heartbreaking.
One hour later, Tianyu was entranced by the trusty magical Magnadoodle and blowing bubbles (after howling the entire short taxi ride back to the hotel and peeing on me as we approached the hotel). If you asked Tootle to tell the story of our meeting for the first time, she would tell you about the pink sneakers that I bought for her later that day and which she didn't want to take off that night. The days that followed brought an increased understanding of each other, a vomiting incident in yet another taxi, much giggling and some tantrums too, a visit to the orphanage where I was the recipient of the Velcro like grip, and the celebration of a third birthday with pastries from the White Swan bakery (the green tea ones rock).
I had a few jealous moments at the White Swan as I watched how easy everything was for the parents of infants (they didn't have a child who cried hysterically when I removed the wrapper from a slice of cheese), and as I fondly remembered my trip to adopt then 7 month old Doodle in 1998, but I wouldn't trade places with them for anything. Tootle came to me with a much more formed personality but I still have had the chance to experience plenty of firsts: the first band aid (or at least she acted like it was the first one), the first time swimming, the first bike ride, and of course the first kiss and I love you. Now almost five, Tootle—in the 100th percentile for height and weight—has a big personality, a big heart, and a big fan club. She likes to race down the street on her scooter with her sister, ice skate or swim for hours, do 100-piece puzzles and play endless games of Chutes and Ladders, pretend that she is Lava Girl, and play with friends. She is healthy and has endured three surgeries (two for ear tubes and one for her cleft palate) with nary a complaint. The parents of her preschool friends marvel at how much she has learned in two short years. In the fall her world will get even bigger as she starts kindergarten.
Tootle turns 5 in six days, and she is beyond excited about her birthday party with all her preschool and neighborhood friends. She won't talk to me about her first three years in China except to tell me that she is happy in our house and being in our family; her memories appear to start with our arrival. I hope that she remembers her foster family and will talk to me about them someday. Unfortunately we were not allowed to meet them. We are fortunate to have a short video in which the foster mother appears but even that has not prompted Tootle to talk except to say that she remembers her foster mom. Her foster family clearly did an awesome job because she was so ready to be a part of our family.
Tonight we will celebrate by swimming at the pool after a pizza dinner. We've postponed our traditional Chinese dinner until the weekend. Last night we looked at the book I created about our journey to bring her home. It was very hard to get her to sleep because she wanted to hear more about her story, and I couldn't say no. She seemed to enjoy her sister's account of the story best because it emphasized the victimization of me as the repository of pee and vomit.
Today I give thanks to the foster family and the orphanage officials for taking such good care of my little girl for almost three years. I'm so honored to be this awesome girl's mother forever.
Photos: The picture on Rainbowkids that led me to contact CHSFS and begin the journey to Tianyu (Tootle is 2 here); Tootle blows bubbles in the hotel room a few hours after we became a family; sisters (Tootle's bond to Doodle was nearly immediate and made the transition to our family much easier)