Yesterday was a big day for all of us. We were up and out in a taxi by 7:30am. We traveled to the train station where we got to ride the Bullet Train. Boys, it was pretty cool. We were traveling at speeds of up to 300km/hr! Whoa! And it felt like silk. We sailed along on a very smoggy, grey-sky day, past cities and farmlands to the town of Liddy’s orphanage, Xinyang. The city is home to some 7 million people.
We arrived to a government building where we needed to present some paperwork for Lydia’s passport. It turns out they had already taken her passport picture, but we did have to take a family picture, not sure for what purpose. It was a quick visit. Lydia was not herself during the trip. She was sullen and sleepy and it occurred to us that perhaps she felt unsure about re-living a trip she was on only two days prior. Same taxis, same train, same building… Who knows what babies can take-in and understand. But, no doubt, she was rather quiet while in Xinyang.
Then it was back into a taxi and off to her orphanage. We passed bridges and tall buildings. One building sign read, “Center for Breast Disease Care” another “Rural Credit Union”. On we went, maybe 25 minutes and then I read a familiar sign. It was the address I had written on the care-package I sent a couple months ago. “Bao Si Bridge” I think. And we turned left and there it was. The orphanage, and for Lydia, also her ‘finding place’. The place she had been found by orphanage workers one day in early April, 2012.
My mind was spinning as we pulled-up. Suddenly every person I had seen on the streets of Xinyang was important to Lydia’s story. Any one of them could somehow be her relative, her sibling, her father, her mother… Any one of them could have been the one to bring her to the orphanage that day in early April. How desperate it feels to not know. How painful. I can invent stories in my head, but the truth is we will never know and it would be unfair to Lydia for me to even guess. That reality is one she will have to work through on her own as she grows. The not knowing.
I got out of the car and was ushered passed the entrance to a set of concrete ramps leading to the floor where Lydia lived. We passed by a floor where they housed a preschool. It looked well supplied with artwork on the walls. We got to Lydia’s floor and I immediately recognized the outside hallway, from the picture we were sent with her update. Where she stood in puffy red over-alls. First we were shown the play-room. A 10X15ft room with foam play-mats on the floor. There were cubbies but no toys, except for two plastic rocking horses. (her development update said her favorite toy was a rocking horse) Were these the only toys? I am hopeful there were other toys elsewhere. The nannies were in the room holding babies. They were smiling, very sweet. Our CCAI representative said to one of the nannies that I had adopted DanQing. She smiled broadly, nodding.
While we were standing there, taking in the room, there was a commotion in the hall. A film-crew was filming something for a local hair salon. They were suddenly in the room and filming another CCAI mother and me. Very strange.
Then it was on to see where DanQing had slept. We walked down the hall into a small room full of metal cribs, we counted twenty. The cribs were tied together end to end. Three solid rows with enough room to walk in the aisles between. I knew this would likely be the case, a room full of cribs, but somehow I had secretly wished for better.
The sleeping room I had visited in college was in a brand-new orphanage in Gejiu, China. It looked like a castle, with big open rooms, high ceilings, muraled walls and colorful play-mats and lots of sunlight. The cribs were blue plastic and all was clean.
I was overwhelmed as they showed me her crib. Had this really been her home just three nights ago? No blankets, just a bottom sheet. The babies were interested in us, some standing, some sitting, others crying with the commotion of visitors. I did ask to meet and have a picture with the nanny who primarily cared for Lydia. They went and found her for me. The other nannies whispered to one another and one finally told me how ‘young and beautiful’ I was. Oh my. I smiled awkwardly. We commented to the one nanny who spoke English that we were amazed to see so many care-givers. She said, yes, and that all had been trained by Half-the-Sky, an organization that works with Chinese orphanages to teach child-care techniques and developmental programming, even starting preschools. Then in came Lydia’s nanny, a woman with a sweet face. She seemed a bit annoyed to have her picture taken. Maybe it was bad-form for me to ask. Or maybe she didn’t want her day to be disrupted, she was busy I’m sure. I’m glad I asked, because I want Lydia to have that picture. I did not get her name.
And that was it. The ‘tour’ was over. A mere 10 minutes and we were ushered out. They said, it upsets the children’s schedule to have visitors, which I totally understand. But there was no time for quesitons. No discussion with a nanny about DanQing or anything specific. I was going to ask about which brand formula she had and how much at a feeding. But, no time. On our way out we passed by other nannies with cups of rice and meat going in to feed the babies. We passed by a room with smaller babies, it had a vaporizer in it. We walked down a stairway and passed a woman carrying what looked like 2 gallons of rice in a metal bucket.
And then we were back in the courtyard. I did see a playground area, but we were told that little ones did not get to play there in the Winter months. I don’t imagine the workers have time or resources to dress little toddlers for outside play. Especially when there are 200 children to care for in the orphanage. As I walked out I did take several pictures of the outside entrance, Lydia’s ‘finding place.’ And then I got back in the taxi where Lars and Lydia had been waiting. And then I fell apart. Lydia was quietly resting on Lars’s shoulder and I quietly sobbed.
I was overwhelmed by the ‘what would have been’ verses the ‘what will be’ for Lydia DanQing. I was a jumble of emotions I didn’t/don’t really know how to process. I was struck by so many things that made me sad. The small rooms, the shear amount of concrete and grey and cold. And the toys. Where were the toys?
(Here is where I stopped writing for a while, because Lydia woke up from her nap and we took her to the park) As we walked to the park I told Lars, “I’m just holding-out hope that the Half-The-Sky organization actually came and worked with Liddy at the orphanage. I would feel much better just knowing that.” After a lovely visit to the park- a long sprawling park, with ponds and paddle-boats and carnival rides we returned to the hotel.)
We got back to the hotel, reviewed some paperwork with the CCAI reps and then Jesus gave us a gift. Our rep Rita gave Lars a packet. The packet read, “Half the Sky Foundation: Child’s Memory Book” starting 7-9-2012. And there it was. Lydia’s history in pictures and development reports. Everything. Jesus is so kind, so gracious and loving to soothe my mothers heart with this gift. There were footprints and reports listed for every ten days. Pictures of her learning to sit up, to crawl, playing with TOYS, walking outside, holding flowers, playing with friends. I am overcome with all that we now know, or rather, all that we will know, because the entire report is in Chinese. But, the moment I get home I will find my one Chinese friend and see if she can translate it for me. I may need to pay her… it’s long. 🙂 What gift for Lydia to have that memory book, some of the missing pieces to her history. And what a joy to think of sharing it with her when she begins to ask questions in a few years.
As Lars and I sat on the bed looking at the pictures together we experienced a strange combination of emotions. We were elated and then grieved all at the same time. Lars noted that we were looking at all that we have missed. We didn’t get to see her learn to crawl. We don’t know her first word. We were not there to hold her tiny hands as she learned to walk. But we rest in the peace that someone was. Nannies and the woman in the pictures with her. Someone was there to clap for her when she took her first steps, to say good job when she mastered a new skill. Someone cared, and that’s what matters.
So it was indeed an overwhelming day. And I remain sad for the environment Lydia was in, for the amount of concrete and lack of stimuli, but here are some things I am thankful for. I am thankful that Lydia was well cared for- that there were many nannies at the Xinyang Orphanage. I am thankful there seemed to be adequate food, Lydia’s thighs are a testament to that. And with our afternoon gift of Lydia’s Memory Book, we are ever so thankful to know that Lydia had a good amount of intentional nurture from trained care-givers.
And now she is ours. Ours to teach and encourage and watch grow. We get to be her cheerleaders, her encouragers, her safe-haven. And so much more. We get to tell her we love her, to hold her when she cries, to delight in her laughter, to introduce her to Jesus. She is ours. What gift, what blessing, what grace.