I met my daughter when she was 10 months old and I traveled to China to pick her up. As beautiful and profound as everyone says it is, our relationship is tinged with a fundamental sadness that covers me from head to toe every single day of our magical lives together: on the day she was born the woman who gave birth to her, or someone close to that woman, picked up this baby, wrapped her in a blanket and left her outside on the ground in front of an orphanage.
Nothing I can say or do from that moment on can mitigate this basic human sadness. Who or what would make a woman abandon her baby? I cannot even begin to guess. Well yes, I can. I can and I do and I believe that as my beautiful daughter gets older and begins to understand she will ask me and I must be ready to give her answers.
I don’t feel like an heroic person who swooped into a backwards country and made some child’s life magic. I cringe when people tell me how lucky she is. It is I, in fact, who is the lucky one. I feel like I stole something primal and important from a country that is just beginning to find its feet and understand itself. Sometimes I must confess, I feel like a thief.
A friend and I were discussing adoption one day, she herself is adopted, and she said to me, you have started telling her, her story, haven’t you?
“Um, no,” I confess. “I have not. I thought I would just wait until she asked. I figure she will ask questions because we do not look alike.”
“No,” the friend said, “you must begin to tell her now. This is her story, you must have her hear it and know it before it becomes a big deal.”
The weight of this story and its import to my girl hangs low and heavy over us every night as we lay down to read. I know without careful consideration that my friend is right, and it is a story she must know as she grows, so that it becomes a kind of backbone story and she can gradually hang other details onto it to eventually create the full and rich story of her life.
So I say to her one night as we are lying in bed, would you like to hear the story of how we met?
“Yes,” she says and now you must know that my girl is not one to climb into bed and wait patiently for her story and then roll over and sleep. My girl jumps and moves and tosses and turns. She is motion, so I begin to tell the story to a moving target. I say it low in an almost whisper so she will strain to hear it, but really I think, I am sad to tell it, sad for her to know the truth. I almost hope she does not hear me.
Flash forward two weeks and I’ve told her the story now many times. In fact, after the first time I told her she began to ask for it by name: tell me the story of the time we met. And so I begin every night…A long time ago in a far away place there was a little girl named Yi Xiao Jian.
It is at this point that she always interrupts me to tell me her favorite detail of the story. It is not that we flew on a plane to get her, or the fact that we met in a big conference room, or that we were there with all her friends' mommies and daddies, or that she was first in the room carried in the arms of her nanny. No, the detail she always remembers and tells me herself, before I even get to the end of the story is that Mommy brought her goldfish crackers.
So the story becomes the time I brought goldfish crackers to a very faraway place, and I can see in her eyes that she is making a memory for herself. Years from now, long after I am gone, she will remember our meeting not because she remembers, but because she has told herself a story again and again, making the memory more and more vivid as the time wears on. Her small fist filled with orange fish shaped crackers and the laughter that came easily as she ate every single one.
Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse