Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Reflections on Guangxi Province Visit

A few weeks ago I promised a look back at our homecoming trip to Guangxi Province, so here it is. We’re all still processing the trip, and will be for years to come, I suspect. The girls are still talking about the trip practically every day, and it’s been quite a springboard into discussions of their birthparents and how they came to be adopted. I think it was a really positive experience for us all.

Zoe really seems to feel good about her reception at Guiping SWI – she keeps saying wonderingly, “They were so excited to see me!” I’m not sure, though, that she really comprehended what her finding place was about. Since we’ve been back, she’s wanted to play-act several times her being left there and being found, but the play hasn’t really acquired more details since we visited Guiping. She doesn’t want to deal with specifics, it seems – at least, she doesn’t want to since she clarified that she wasn’t buried in her finding spot (I think I’ve figured out where that comes from – pirates “find” things, and those things are always buried. I’m still OK with calling it her finding place, despite this, because I think it’s better than many other alternatives, but be forewarned!). It's OK that she doesn't quite get it yet -- I have pictures and lots to tell her as she gets older. And we'll be back.

Maya seemed to have more difficulty with meeting her foster parents than I thought she would since she's usually so laid back – she’s young enough that the experience was very confusing, I think. But I still think it was on balance positive; she just needed lots of reassurances that she was my daughter forever and that no one could take her away. And it was good she actually saw that in action – here are these other people who seem to have a claim on her, but still she came home with me. And Maya has always been really good about asking for exactly what she wants – even before she could speak English, she would move my arm so I held her precisely as she wanted to be held. And her latest version of that is to put words in my mouth: “Mama, say ‘You’re my daughter forever and no one can take you away.’” So reassuring her has been easy because she tells me exactly what she needs to hear! And the requests for reassurance are getting fewer and fewer now. . . .

So were the girls too young for this return trip to Guangxi Province? Yes and no. I think they would have gotten a lot more out of the visit if they had been older, but it’s not like we can’t go back and visit again when they are older. At different ages, the homecoming trip can be about different things.

In a lot of ways, this was a fact-finding and fact-preserving mission more than anything else. I could talk to Maya’s foster mom while her memories of Maya’s time with her were still fresh, for example. I could see the orphanage file before it was destroyed (who knows what can happen – records burn in fires, get lost, or get destroyed because of changes in policy about record retention). And with all the growth and development in China, with the consequent tearing-down and building-up, we could see things that might not be there in a few years – the old orphanage building in Guiping, for example. And I could get pictures to preserve scenes that might soon be gone or changed. And I just couldn’t see being in China and NOT going back.

Being here in China, it was tempting to arrange everything on our own, and if we had the trip probably would have been cheaper. But I’m really glad we used OCDF, which handles lots of these homeland tours. I needed to be able to give the girls complete attention to deal with the emotional issues, and I had my own emotional fall-out to deal with, too. So it was really good to have someone else arrange everything for us. It was also good to have another family with kids along for parts of the trip. Having other kids to play with made it a real pleasure for Zoe and Maya. But I’m really glad we didn’t have another family with us when we visited Mother’s Love and Guiping SWI. With it being only us, the girls could really revel in the attention they were getting and see that the people there were genuinely interested in them, and only them. So we had the best of all possible worlds – a very small travel group, alone time at the important times, and other kids for the girls to play with when we needed it.

The most surprising thing for me in visiting Guangxi Province was the utter poverty of rural life in China. It’s so easy to forget that when you spend most of your time in urban China, especially here in Xiamen which has really benefited from China’s economic expansion. I think I understand much better the economic devastation the fine for over-quota birth would cause; it’s easier to see the desperation for someone to care for you in your old age when there is no pension to rely on and the family seems barely on the right side of survival.

I can’t know or fully understand what motivated Zoe’s and Maya’s birth families, but being there, more than any books or articles I’ve read, showed the stark reality of rural life in China.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I showed Meredith pictures of Maya and Zoe being held by their caregivers, because I suspect she will be shy and may reject their attention. I have been telling her it's okay, that if she let's them hold her, they will give her back to me. She is a little worried about that, even in the U.S., I think. Sue

Wendy said...

Thank you so much for this post. We are taking Madeline back to China for several trips and I think this has helped me to come to some conclusions on timing.
It is so interesting about Zoe, Madeline is VERY interested right now in how she came to be our daughter--why the birthparents left her, how did "mama" her foster mother come into the picture, and why we had to wait so long to get her (she was 25 months). At three years and two months old I guess I didn't think it would get so deep, but it has. I give her what I think she needs and add with her questions; I try not to overwhelm, but I am very honest with her. I think all this has come to a head because my sister is having a baby and she is trying to figure how this all works since she is keeping that baby and all, and also we have contact with her fm and that confirms much of her story, but also adds a layer.
Thank you also for sharing about Maya's reaction to the ff--I often wonder how Madeline will do, she talks of her fm often and has a pic in her room (and also a lot of pics in her books), but being there is a different thing. We really found this out when her fm sent us a video email--Madeline wanted to know why she didn't call her Madeline and also why she wasn't speaking English!
Thanks again.

If you ever make a Guiping photo album, I would love to have downloads of the pics, especially of the old orphanage.

Salome's Mom said...

Love your blog and your children are beautiful.


mimifrancoise said...

I was really surprised that the girls reacted so well to the foster family visit as well as the Guiping orphanage visit. I know how amazing they are, but still I expected some apprehension or fear. We are really counting the weeks till you are back home. I won't let myself count the days until we get into July!