We have been home for two weeks and I marvel at the fact that Lydia is an American. Just like that she became an American and now she has the diet and experiences to prove it. She loves mac n cheese, she enjoyed shopping at Target, she even ate a hot dog at Costco (well part of one). 🙂 She has seen some part of Star Wars Episode One, thank you Quinn and Albin for exposing her to America’s film culture so young. She is all-in. She’s even cheering on the American Olympians with us as we are enjoying the Winter Olympics. And she’s loving it. The food, the sights the sounds of suburban American life. And one day, much to her mother’s delight, she will have her very own American Girl doll. I’m already much too excited about that shopping trip, and even purchased an American Girl doll, Chinese silk dress while in China. Yep, that happened.
And while I am thrilled for her new identity as an American, I can’t stop thinking about China and feeling some loss for dear Lydia.
On the day we flew out of Henan province, leaving for Guangzhou, Lydia and I both had tears. Lydia sobbed for the first 20 minutes of the flight. Maybe it was her ears, maybe the loud sound of take-off, maybe she was over-done with the stimuli of the airport. Who knows. She finally settled as I held her in her blanket and then suddenly I was overcome.
I began to cry, silent heaving sobs the kind that took me by suprise. Lars leaned over asking if I was okay. I wasn’t but couldn’t figure out why. I continued to cry, and then it occurred to me, I was feeling a sort of grief. We were leaving. We were leaving Lydia’s province, her city, her very birthplace behind. All the things that were so tied to her identity, the things that made her distinctly Chinese, we were leaving. And the truth is no matter how we try, we won’t be able to recover her identity as a Chinese person. As someone from Xinyang. Because that is no longer who she is. And as much as I wanted to get to Guangzhou, have that consulate appointment and get home, I was so aware that something needed to be grieved. There needed to be a leaving before there would be a cleaving to a new identity as an American. So I cried. I cried on Lydia’s behalf as she slept in my lap.
Once we landed in Guangzhou, I had had my tears and felt a new sense of purpose – let’s get home. I didn’t revisit the emotions of that plane-ride after that, but in the last few days as I have watched the Chinese olympians compete with Lydia by my side, I have begun to wonder at how she will engage with her Chinese heritage and identity. I wonder at the complexity of her teenage and young adult years as she tries to understand her identity as an adopted Chinese American. Is that even the right terminology?
And as I have pondered these things, something occurred to me, that felt rather revelatory. Lydia and I are not so different. We are both Americans, who have to work to learn about and celebrate our cultural heritage. And just as my parents worked to keep our heritage alive, bringing us to visit both Sweden and England, Lars and I will one day do the same for Lydia. We will return to China. She will experience Chinese culture, visit Xinyang, possibly even see her orphanage.
And as much as my childhood was filled with markers of my heritage by way of a Swedish smorgesbord every Christmas Eve, dala horse decor and goofy British humor, Lydia’s childhood will be marked with Chinese Artwork in our home, celebration of Chinese festivals and New Years traditions and trips to ChinaTown.
And then there are our names. I am Katie Lyn, named after my two grandmothers, Carolyn and Gwendolyn, one Swedish, one English. Lydia’s middle name DanQing, was her given name in China, kept as a way to honor her heritage. Our very names call us to recognize where we came from, the heritage that marks us. And every time she fills out a form she will be reminded of her Chinese roots. Of the Chinese nannies and orphanage officials that cared for her and named her after the color combination of reds and blue-greens used in traditional Chinese paintings. How beautiful. We hope she sees her name as a gift, a way to honor the land of her birth. Or at very least a piece to her identity puzzle.
So as I reflect on my tears as we left Henan Province, I feel glad to have grieved on Lydia’s behalf, committed to keep her heritage alive for her as she grows and thankful for her new identity as an American. She is indeed our little American girl. An American girl who looks like some beautiful combination of her Chinese birth parents. And who will undoubtedly eat both Swedish meatballs and fried rice. A girl who will dance around a maypole at family Midsummer gatherings, and receive red envelopes on Chinese New Year.
And we are certain Lydia will do her own grieving and celebrating as she grows, but for now she is just a happy toddler with darling black pigtails running around in pink Osh-Gosh overalls. And life is good and simple for this little American girl.