We got a gift today that very few adoptive parents will ever be able to get…we spent over an hour at Yiyi’s foster mom’s house. We got to see the bed our baby slept for 5 years. We got to see the living room where she laughed and danced and sang. We got to see the kitchen where the sweet woman cooked meals for our baby for 5 years. We got to hug her and love on her and cry with her today for over an hour. It was truly an amazing experience that I prayed for but never in a million years thought would ever be able to happen.
We took a cab to the neighborhood where Yiyi lived. Neither our guide nor the driver knew how to get there, but our 10-year-old child took us on a flawless drive through the city, right to the little street in front of her apartment. She told the driver that the actual street was too narrow for the cab to fit and that he needed to drop us off there and we could walk. So there we walked, three adult people led by this child. As we walked, she was greeted by friends and neighbors. First it was the little old lady who lived in the apartment above hers. Then it was a young woman coming back home after morning grocery shopping. Yiyi was clearly belle of the ball in this neighborhood immediately adjacent to the city jail.
When we arrived at foster mom’s apartment, rather than ringing the bell, Yiyi just stood outside and shouted “mama…MAMA” until the sweet woman came to the door. She opened it and we walked down a flight of stairs, into an unlit hallway. Inside the apartment we walked. Yiyi took off her shoes and coat, just as she had a hundred times. But today, she knew, this would be the last time.
We were warmly greeted by mama and her space heater/coffee table. Mama tucked us underneath to ensure our warmth and then Yiyi began giving her the presents. First the beautiful coat, then the tofu snacks, and then the Chinese New Year cookie package we had also bought for her. We gave her a necklace that we had brought from the states for her. She was clearly touched and overwhelmed by the wonderful gifts. She said it was too much. How on earth could it have been too much? We owe this sweet woman the world.
We then asked her some questions about childhood illnesses, what she likes to eat/drink when she’s sick, what she likes to eat, what she likes to do in school, etc. We asked her what Yiyi’s fears are. First she said “nothing!” But then changed her mind, “the only thing she is afraid of is my health. She always wants to be sure I’m healthy.” Foster mom is in excellent health, young and we have no reason to believe Yiyi should be concerned about her health. But after learning more, we discovered that foster mom is a widow, who has also lost her only child, so she has nobody to take care of her…except Yiyi. And Yiyi took that role very seriously.
It all makes sense now. The way that she makes Brian give me a cough drop when I cough. The way she holds my hands to warm them. The way she makes me put on my long sleeved shirt as soon as I get out of the shower, even if I’m quite warm. The way she always shares her first bite of food with us. And the way that as we were leaving mama’s house and Yiyi, mama and I were all crying, that Yiyi ensured that Brian took care of me to wipe my tears before she let me wipe hers.
We got to take one of Yiyi’s favorite coats, her favorite dress (the white one with the purple sash), two pairs of her favorite socks, her school uniform (much to her chagrin because Yiyi said it was ugly and she wanted to leave it behind), her Braille school book (also, an unloved item that she was not jazzed we bring back), her school name tag, and a whole bag of snacks from mama. All treasures. We got to see the photo book we made for her, which mama asked to keep so she could have memories of Yiyi’s life in America. We got to see the little Chinese/English flashcard book that Heather sent to her, safely tucked into her school bag. We got to meet friends who came to the apartment to say goodbye.
We got to see Yiyi give her mama a massage. We got to see all around the apartment. We got to thank this woman for taking such good care of her for five years. We got to thank her for teaching her how to brush her teeth so well and for teaching her such good manners. Mama got to tell us that Yiyi would prefer not to eat fruits and veggies, but she made us promise that we would push her to eat them.
And we got to promise mama one more thing. We got to promise her that we would raise Yiyi to always remember her, to love China, to never forget her life before us, and that no matter what, we would never be strangers. We promised that we would encourage Yiyi to come back to China when she is older and we promised that we would let her call mama anytime she wanted. We got to tell her how much we loved this child already and great her school and life would be in the USA. We told her the school is ready for her and knows about her eye problems and will teach her English.
I truly could have stayed all day. I could have stayed forever. If I could have my wish we could all just live together forever. Both mama’s who love this sweet girl could be with her always to raise this girl to the light. But it couldn’t be. It can’t be. So all I can do is uphold my promises that I made to this sweet mama today and start counting down the days until we be together again.
We parted, all three of us (Yiyi, mama, and I) hugging and crying on her front porch, the whole neighborhood watching as they walked by. I carried this sweet baby down the stairs and out onto the street. She shouted her goodbyes to the old woman in the apartment above and goodbye to some other neighbors we met on the street. We got back into the cab and took her away from her beautiful life, again.
And as I type this and my sweet child sings the theme song to her favorite TV show and plays on her iPad, I know she’s going to be ok. I have no worries about her. She’s going to be fine. It’s me I worry about. I can only aspire to be half the mother to Yiyi as mama was. Yes, we can materially give Yiyi more than mama could, but we all know that’s not what’s important. This woman raised our child with more love than we could have ever prayed for. We are forever grateful and our hearts will be forever woven.