Another Piece of the Puzzle
A Holt adoptive family meets their daughter’s foster family in China — filling in another chapter of her adoption story, another piece of the puzzle. A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Adoption Today.
by Jennifer L. Padgett
In March 2011, we received our travel date to fly back to China to adopt our second daughter. The wait was finally over! However, I had a dull ache in my heart, and her name was *Jillian, who we adopted from China in 2008. I wasn’t obsessively concerned about leaving behind our boys – biological sons *Jon, age 12, and *Jack, age 8 – as they stayed home when we traveled to China the first time. Now, though, Jillian had begun to regress by showing signs of clinginess, nail biting, and a quivering bottom lip – behaviors running rampant in this five-year-old’s demeanor.
Not long after receiving our travel dates for China, I was sitting on the edge of my bed, tying my shoes, when Jillian crawled into my lap. Facing me, she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and, with intense articulation, pleaded, “Mommy, I can’t let you go. You have only been my mom for three years, and I cannot live without you while you are in China getting my new sister.” Then . . . the gut-wrenching sobs came.
Somehow, I knew that part of Jillian’s journey was to travel back to “Her China” — the nickname she often called her birth country. Our daughter has always been very inquisitive about her past—her foster family, the orphanage, her birth parents, and Chinese culture in general. The confirmation came when I found out that Jillian’s Chinese social worker was in the states. I contacted him, requesting that he ask Jillian’s foster family back in China if they would like to meet us. He agreed, and when I received a resounding “yes” from these surrogate parents, I knew that the “three” of us would be traveling back to China. My husband and I would adopt our new daughter, and together with Jillian we would personally thank Jillian’s foster family for taking such good care of her!
May 2011, Guangzhou, China
We are now in “Jillian’s town,” finalizing the adoption of our second daughter. So far, my oldest has embraced both her Chinese culture and her people – although the stinky tofu on Snack Street in Beijing wasn’t a big hit! Even though I still have some concerns about her going through a new season of grief and unfamiliar emotions, adding another piece to “her adoption story” trumps the decision.
The afternoon finally arrives, and we all cram into the back seat of a taxi, holding our daughters on our laps while our guide sits in the front. As we zip down the highway, which seems to take us all the way across the city, our guide chats away on his cell phone in Cantonese. On the other end of the line is Jillian’s foster father, trying to give more specific directions to his home.
Finally, the taxi comes to a halt, and Jillian’s foster father stands waiting for us. He has so much compassion and happiness etched on his face. I can tell immediately that he wants to scoop up our daughter and carry her back to the apartment. But I can also sense Jillian’s uneasiness, as she clings to her daddy’s leg. Without delay, I speak to our guide, asking him to tell Jillian’s former foster father that she may need some time to adjust before she grows fully comfortable with him again. My husband scoops Jillian in his arms, while I carry our new daughter in mine. Together, we follow our guide and Jillian’s foster father through the weaving alley-ways that make up the neighborhood. The tall, eight-story apartment buildings are all similar in appearance. They loom over us as we walk, making me wonder who is watching us.
I know we needed to do this for both closure and healing. Finally, after climbing many flights of steps, we meet our destination: Jillian’s Chinese foster home.
As we walk inside, we see the same set-up of furniture and décor from our daughter’s pictures of her time in their care. It is all very surreal. Jillian’s foster mother is pleased to see us and shows us to the living room. Immediately, the mother tells our translator that the fruit on the coffee table is for us to eat. She then sits next to her husband. As we begin to ask questions about Jillian’s time with them, the mother leaves the room and brings back pictures of our daughter. My eyes tear up; I never thought I would see baby pictures of our little girl. Because they had kept these pictures of Jillian and did not give these pictures to us, it was clear to me that they still loved our daughter deeply.
Though they did not share stories about Jillian, the father, who did most of the talking, wanted to know what Jillian liked to do and if she was in school. Proudly, we tell them that she takes ballet lessons and loves school so much that she did all of her homework on the plane. Shyly, Jillian gives them a letter she has written, with a Cantonese translation, and a picture album of her new family. The father reads the letter and a big smile crosses his face. He and his wife immediately begin to look at the pictures from the album; a happy, but private, conversation emerges as they flip through the photos.
Before we have time to give our tokens of gratitude, they bless Jillian with a singing pink poodle. She is so delighted with this present! Then, we present our gifts from Maine: salt water taffy, handcrafted jewelry, and other little trinkets. The foster father asks where Maine is, so we write our names on a world map that hangs on their living room wall. While we do this, Jillian begins to relax and play with her new sister.
Suddenly, a miracle occurs! Jillian squeals with delight and pulls out a stuffed cat wearing a jogging suit from the toy box. This was the childhood toy we had often seen in her pictures. She loved this toy and would often point it out to me. We had even tried to find her one of these stuffed animals in the states. Fortunately, this family had two stuffed cats and happily gave Jillian one of them! Finally it is time to call a taxi and head back to the White Swan Hotel.
After the visit, I feel mixed emotions. I could tell that Jillian was happy to have met the foster family who cared for her until we could “fly over on the big plane,” as she often said. But I also feel nervous about the long-term emotional impact this meeting will have on her. As we said our goodbyes and took pictures, Jillian’s foster mother handed her a huge tin of cookies and a fiery red, Chinese New Year envelope with 200 Yuan inside, which is equal to about 32 dollars. Jillian’s Chinese family had fostered over ten children but told the translator they had never met any of the families. Caring for the fatherless was their livelihood, but I knew our meeting was more like a family celebration. Their son had shown up and addresses and e-mails were exchanged. A year later, my daughter would receive two beautiful cross-stitched pillows, and to this day, we still exchange pictures through email several times a year.
I will never forget the look this foster mother had for Jillian; the love and affection in her eyes will be ingrained in my heart forever. Just as we love Jillian now, our daughter had also been deeply loved in China.
Home Once Again, Winter 2012
Now that we are back home and have finally settled into a routine of having a new sister and daughter to love, I find myself often gazing up at the gifts: the pink poodle and stuffed cat that Jillian loves so much. Though Jillian doesn’t say much about the visit, she frequently looks at her life book, and I often find her smiling at the pictures of her foster family. One night, right before bedtime, Jillian asks who she is supposed to love now. She says she feels torn between her loyalty to us and her foster family. I tell her that she can love us both, to which she smiles and kisses me goodnight. I know that this answer is only sufficient for now. It is inevitable that Jillian will have more questions about her story in the future. Until that time comes, our family will pray for answers to Jillian’s questions – so we can fill in the next piece of the puzzle.
Jennifer L. Padgett, M.Ed., is a wife, mother of four (two adopted from China in ’08 and ’11), adoption advocate, school teacher, and writer. Currently, Padgett is homeschooling three of her children (ages 13, 10, and 7) as well as acclimating their newest daughter to family life. Read more about her family’s latest adventures at thewriteheart.com.
*Names have been changed