Monday, January 19, 2009

Tough Topics

I was recently reading some posts on Rumor Queen, and I came across a post referencing the writings of an Adult Adoptee from China. Seemingly her Chinese name is Tai Dong Huai and she was adopted by a Caucasian family (American? Canadian? I am not sure.) when she was a bit older (maybe around 5?). She is apparently in her early 20's. Let me say that this young lady is clearly a very gifted writer, and I think she has a bright future ahead of her in regards to her literature. Evidently she is currently working on a book to be titled, "I Come From Where I've Never Been." Such a profound title.

Rumor Queen shared the links to some of her writings, and I read through a few. The following is one of Tai Dong Huai's short stories that really took my breath away. I suppose it hit home for me since I have a teenaged daughter (Lindsay, bio), and I also have two daughters adopted from China (Olivia & Sophie). It really made me think 'down the road' a bit to when Livie and Sophie are teens themselves. It also made me think about all the little girls I know who came to their families via China adoption. This story could be the story of any one of these little girls.

That makes me cry. This is the 'ugly part' about International Adoption. This is the reality of thinking beyond the paperchase. Beyond the referral. Beyond the packing list. Beyond the White Swan. This is what lies down the road as we parent our children adopted from China.

I hope I am up to the task.

I hope I am helpful to my girls. An encouragement. Their defender. A great listener.

I hope I don't screw up.

By Tai Dong Huai
You don’t know why, but you refuse to allow anyone to touch your ankles. Not the shoe salesman at Macy’s, not the nurse at school, not even your Aunt Rachel who presents you with a thin gold ankle bracelet which you put, untouched, in your jewelry box. You avoid all boots, most shoes, sneakers. You would be content to suffer the most wicked New England winter in no more than split-toe socks and flip-flops. Then one hot day in August, something happens. Along with your adoptive mom, you visit her ex-college roommate who lives in Larchmont, New York. Her name is Linda, she’s a recent divorcee, and she has a son who, at sixteen, is two years older than you. You’ve seen his picture on a Christmas card. When you meet, he’s handsome and funny and it’s summer and who’s to say? “Hot enough to deep-fry a turkey,” Linda says just before she suggests you all go swimming at her new country club. “It’s one of the perks of having a blood-thirsty divorce lawyer,” she smiles.You’ve known about this possibility and you’ve hoped for it. You’ve worn your one-piece swimsuit under you t-shirt and cut-offs. You’ve brought a towel, an eco-friendly one, the one made from organic terry cotton. And you’ve packed sun block – Bull Frog SPF 45 – even though you never, ever burn, hoping he might ask to rub some on your back.The pool water is as clear as those pictures you’ve seen of the Caribbean Sea near CuraƧao. The area around the pool, as well as the pool itself, is surprisingly uncrowded. A life guard sits above it all, and somewhere close by a Beach Boys CD plays “Fun, Fun, Fun.” And while normally you might feel some disdain for these privileged few, today you are accepting because today there is music and a bright sun and a good-looking boy. You’re standing in water four feet deep. You’re adoptive mom, back by the Pepsi machine, is calling to you. “Did you bring any change?” she wants to know. And before you can answer, before you can call to her to look in the ladybug purse in your straw bag, it happens. This boy – Chandler – this boy who has gently teased you all afternoon, swims up behind without your being aware. He moves rapidly under water, and before you are sure what’s happening, he maneuvers between your slightly parted legs and playfully lifts you up and out of the water. Instinctively, your mouth opens and your hands wrap around the top of his head. Your knees cling just above his ribs, and he squeezes your ankles beneath his armpits.Someone gleefully shouts, “Chicken fight!”And just before you scream, the lifeguard -- standing straight up in her chair -- points at you and blows her whistle. Later that day, as you ride north on the Merritt Parkway, your adoptive mom says, “Come on. It’s not the end of the civilized world.”And you say, “I peed on him.”“What?” your mom says.“Right on his shoulders. All across the back of his neck.”After a moment hesitation your mom says, “You were in the water. He probably didn’t even notice.”But you know he noticed. By the warmth. By the odor so close. By the way he unceremoniously dumped you backward after you screamed. “What is it with me?” you ask.Your mom says nothing for a second, and then she lets out a puff of air. You are familiar with this gesture. It’s the same one she used just before explaining your period. The same one you heard prior to being told that you, unlike your cousins, were not Catholic. “I guess I should have told you this before,” she says. “When you were in the orphanage there was this – what would you call it? – this ‘practice’ they had.” She looks directly at you and says, “There were so many of you and so few caregivers.” Her eyes back on the road, she continues. “Three times a day they would put those of you who couldn’t walk onto potty chairs. Regular wooden chairs, actually, with a hole cut in the seat and a pot underneath it. You were kept from falling off by straps tightly fastened around your ankles.”“How do you know this?” you ask.“You know me,” she smiles. “I researched.” The smile fades. “You still had the marks on your ankles for five months after we brought you home.”“Why would they do that?” you ask.“In the interest of time,” she says. “They trained you all to relieve yourselves simultaneously.”“But how?” you ask.“Like Pavlov’s dogs,” she tells you. “They blew a whistle.”You both ride in silence. You glance down at your ankles, and for a moment you think you see them. Dark leather straps with glinting metal buckles. But no. It’s only shadows cast by the sun as it sets behind so many seemingly identical trees.You almost laugh. And then a bud of hope begins to grow. You look over at your mom, so protective, so naive. And you think that tonight, once you are both home safely with your adoptive dad pouring wine and boiling spaghetti, that you might try on that ankle bracelet.
About the Author:
Tai Dong Huai was born in Taizhou, China. Fiction has appeared, or is scheduled, in elimae, Hobart, rumble, Underground Voices, Wigleaf, Word Riot, and other terrific places. "Ankles" is from a collection in progress, I Come From Where I've Never Been.


Teresa =) said...

Wow. I don't even know what to do with that. But I'll tell you one thing, made me cry. Right here. Sitting in Panera, working on my laptop.

God give me the strength and wisdom to deal with these issues as they arise...which they surely will...

Teresa =)

Carrie said...

Oh Mary, I feel so sad. To think of these children.I hope I too am able to help our children.

Nicole said...

Wow... I don't know what to say. What a talented writer. There are so many things that I'm sure will come up over the years... I just pray God will grant me the words and strength to help Katelyn when needed.


Tammie said...

Gee. I can't breath. I'm holding back the tears so Erin & David don't see.

G-d help me, I hope I can answer Erin's questions when she asks them. I hope I have the answers.

Vivian M said...

Wow. That was powerful. She is a very good writer. And I hope I have the wisdom to help my daughter through the tough times.

AZMom said...

WOW! That is a great story. I am going to have to find her book. Where did you find this online?

Mary said...

Her book is apparently still a work in progress, and if I am understanding correctly, many of her writings which are on the internet (just go to the RQ site - link is on my blog - or google her name to find) will be included in her book.

malinda said...

She's amazing, isn't she? There are some great voices out there talking about the adoptee experiences of those from Korea and Vietnam, and now we're on the cusp of hearing from many Chinese adoptees! How wonderfully helpful that will be as we help our children work through their feelings about being adopted.

Life with JJ, Starr and Spice said...

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Jill said...

Oh, thanks for sharing is profound...makes me think...I too, hope I am up for the task.