Journey to Gia--Day 4: Reunions & Goodbyes, The Essence of Bittersweet (Orphanage Visit)
*Disclaimer: The following words cannot even come close to describing what I experienced today. It is merely my best attempt. Please excuse typos, as most of this was typed through tear welled eyes.
The day after what is commonly referred to as "Gotcha" or "Family" day, is usually designated as a day for new forever families to visit the orphanage of the newly adopted child. Having adopted twice prior to this one has afforded me some of the deepest emotional experiences I have ever known. I still to this day remember Amy and I contemplating whether or not we could handle returning to Gracie's orphanage in Fuling City. How could we, or Gracie for that matter, handle the emotion? Would Gracie cry, thinking we were bringing her back? Will this be hard for Gracie? Oh and we had very similar fears when we adopted Gemma, only they were heightened by the fact that our transition was not an easy one when we first met Gemma. Further, she was much more aware of her surroundings and had an idea what was happening. We went on both orphanage visits, and found them to be deeply emotional experiences, each in their own ways, and could not imagine how much we would have missed out on, had we not chosen to do the visits. Each time we were anxious, nervous, excited, and even a little sad. We were returning to the places that our daughters had called "home" for their entire lives. We were getting a real life glimpse into each of our precious daughters' past. Both experiences were emotional days, which left us physically, and emotionally exhausted in ways we couldn't have imagined. But neither would prepare us for what we would experience today...
Our day started off with more smiles and new connections being formed. This sweet girl, Gia Pearl, has a smile that could launch a thousand ships, or melt the hardest heart, and I am not exaggerating.
Breakfast was another amazing experience. We spoiled our new little girl right out of the gate. Eggs, croissant (which was her favorite), fruit, juice, bacon, chocolate covered donuts, and chocolate cold cereal. (think Chinese Coco Puffs) Our only one hesitation was Gia's carsickness from the day before. Luckily Amy had some dramamine that we gave to Gia, and it really did the trick.
From breakfast, we watched as Gracie made up the room to near housekeeping perfection. It was a nice distraction for us while we geared up emotionally for what was ahead. You see, Amy and I have two of these orphanage visits under our belts, and we now knew how emotional, powerful, and cathartic this day was for both the parents, and the adopted child. No convincing needed, we knew this was going to be a special day.
We were able to ignore the lackluster (to put it politely) air conditioning in the van, and take in the commute as we all pondered what was awaiting us upon our arrival. Before you drop the #firstworldproblems about the paltry A/C, ask yourself, "have I ever ridden in a mini-van with 12 other people, including 2 brand new adoptees, one of which is prone to car sickness, on a 95+ degree day, in stop/go/stop/honk/go/honk/stop/swerve traffic?" If the answer is no, you may not drop the hashtag this time.
We arrived at the orphanage and Gia Pearl still seemed very happy. In fact, I noticed a definite spring in her step as we left the front office and walked towards her school and living area. It was as though she knew she was only back for a visit, and was excited to share her happiness with others. We learned that most of her "classmates" were off practicing for something so the halls and classrooms were empty. But we were escorted and kept company by the team of teachers and nannies who taught, cared, and loved our daughter for her entire life. Let me tell you something, THIS is an amazing experience. Seeing the very devoted and selfless people who took this precious little one in, and raised her with love to the girl she is today, is one of the most moving experiences I have felt in my lifetime. The nannies and teachers talked about Gia like she was their daughter, because in all senses of the word, except for the biology, she has been. My heart swelled as Gia's teacher repeated in broken English how nice, caring, and compassionate Gia is. Our tour was simply amazing. Lots of pictures, lots of laughter, lots of bonding... Gia held Amy's hand the entire time and was beaming with happiness and pride at every stop. We also got to see where Gia slept.
Then, it happened. While we were wrapping up our tour and visit, our guide Helen said, we need to go outside, Gia's friend is here. Amy later told me that Gia had tugged at her to go outside, because she must have seen or heard that her friend was coming. We simply weren't cued into this yet because of the language barrier, but Gia knew. As we exited the building, there, being wheeled in by another caregiver was a girl we learned was Gia's best friend, Shi Shu Ping. What happened in the next 5 minutes will be forever etched deep into my heart, vivid as though it happened 10 seconds ago.
Upon reuniting with Shu Ping, our precious Gia lit up like you wouldn't believe, yet she seemed unsure of how to respond. With her now was the new family that she instantly bonded with, calling us by name "Mama" (Mom) and "BaBa" (dad) within seconds of meeting us, her lifelong caregivers whom she loved, and now her best friend, Shu Ping. Gia was so happy, but it was almost as though her heart and mind were processing what was happening right there as it transpired. You see, yesterday, she knew what was happening to an extent, but probably never thought much about the leaving part. It was orchestrated... She was whisked away by a new forever family, and taken to one of the nicest hotels in China. It was probably dream-like with so much to take in. But now, reality was ever present, her worlds were colliding. As her nanny and our guide explained to us through Chinese-to-English translation, I found myself instantly overwhelmed by what felt like pure joy and happiness, seeing the girl that my new daughter loved like a sister, and then an equal amount of grief and sorrow, knowing they would probably never see each other again. All of this, and seeing this young girl in a wheel chair bravely smile for her dear friend completely destroyed any composure I had left, which wasn't much. Amy and I stood there, with smiles of joy on our faces, but also a steady flow of tears of pure sorrow. Gia must have wondered what was wrong, and her nanny also sensed our emotions. Still, even they seemed overtaken by the magnitude of the moment. As I tried to steady my hand to keep the video rolling, fighting to stay in the moment and be there for my new daughter, and somehow, somehow, comfort her dear friend, I took another fatal blow to the last threads of composure I had left. Gia's nanny told us that the bracelet she wore yesterday, was made, and given to her by this friend. I distinctly remember complimenting Gia on it the day before, as we gently took it off before her bath. That. Was. It. I. Lost It. The only thing that saved me from collapsing into a sobbing puddle, or hugging both Gia and her friend, was the fact that I was recording the video via my phone, and the smart, but heart wrenching move by the nanny to grab the handles of the wheelchair and say "goodbye!" "thank you!" in a much more composed manner, saved me from melting completely.
Aside from tears welling up and swells of emotion overtaking me inside, I was surprisingly able to finish the walk back to the car and take a few last pictures. As we neared the entrance and the van, a sudden, and noticeable breeze urged us along. It was almost as though God was whispering to me that He was there. I'm not making this up, I even remember panning the camera towards the trees to capture that as well. A few more goodbyes and we were back in the van, and on our way to the train station, to embark on our return trip to Beijing. I was both totally exhausted, but also relieved, for lack of better words, as we could now move on and continue our connection with precious Gia Pearl, who was still slaying me with her killer smile... only my heart wasn't hard... it was a puddle already. And that smile....
As we prepared to board the bullet train, Amy and my efforts and concerns immediately shifted to the car/motion sickness again. In a way it was a mixed blessing, as it gave us a distraction from having our hearts tugged and pulled all morning. As the train accelerated smoothly, Gia was captivated by the view out the window. Hey, prayers and dramamine really work, we both thought! Then it happened. Gia slowly began to weep. Amy instinctively grabbed the plastic sack, anticipating Gia getting sick, which ironically, would have been easier, but it never happened. Our precious Gia was realizing what was happening, and was grieving. I was across the aisle and couldn't see her, but could hear the soft cries and short breaths. I honestly didn't know how if my heart could take it, but at the same time, I knew, and expected this part of the process. What I wasn't expecting, was this grieving, intensified by the reunion/goodbye with her friend shortly before. What I realize now, is that Amy and I NEEDED to see the reunion/goodbye so we could fully understand what Gia was processing. Ironically, I found myself thankful for having my heart destroyed, minutes before. I was now prepared to grieve WITH Gia, and also to comfort her. I said that that experience would be forever etched into my heart, and it will. But also permanently stamped into my spirit and mind, is the sound of Gia's whimper, and the sight of my wife, comforting our dear little daughter for the entire 2 hour ride like she had been her mother for her entire life. I am not sure how it is that I have any more tears to cry... but they kept coming.
Once we navigated the Beijing train station, in true "Amazing Race" style chaos... speaking of distractions, I seriously thought I lost Gemma and Gracie 2 or 3 times in the sea of travelers as we made our way to our Beijing van driver. Holy frijoles! Although it was only early afternoon when we arrived at our hotel, we both immediately answered "Eat in, delivery," in unison, when Helen asked us what we wanted to do for late lunch/dinner. We didn't have one more ounce of energy to give, seriously.
From there, the healing continued. Love and reassurance, with help from Chinese Pizza Hut delivery, movies on iPad, Chinese cartoons on the big screen, warm showers, Legos, more blanket forts, and the evening provided us many moments that would form the foundation of the graft of Gia Pearl ChunYu into our forever family.
What. A. Day. We already love you so much Gia, more than you can possibly know... but then again, maybe you know more than we think, just like you showed us today. God, please be with Shu Ping, for she is a significant part in who our precious Gia is today. We know you helped forge that smile.... That smile....