The four days that followed our first 24 hours together floated by so quickly.
Each morning was a bit like Groundhog Day (the movie); starting all over again, offering ourselves to him again, and trying to earn back the relationship we left the night before. Throughout the morning Leo softens, warms up, his little smile shyly given, head turned to the side or chin pulled down. But by Friday, breakfast was a full on smile fest – a gigantic gift.
Wednesday morning I knelt before our guide as she was eating breakfast in the dining room. She asked me how things were going and when I told her that so far we had only had one little smile and no sounds, I choked, tears coming from out of nowhere. She said that his was very normal for an orphan from Luoyang, though she didn’t know why this was. (She is so comforting and calm; the perfect person for her job.). His hard life and this grief had sucked everything right out of him and it just hurt so much to see.
The night before I had made the decision that I would not go to his orphanage to visit the next day as was previously planned. Our guide cautioned us all to think about what would be best for our child, reminding us that we could come back at a later date to visit the orphanages, but of course most people don’t have any assurance that they will be back and they desperately want to fill the holes they have about their child’s life so most choose to go. Some families have said that taking their child back to visit in the company of their new parents provided closure for the child, while others said that it invoked trauma and was a huge setback.
It had been less than 48 hours since we’d met him – everything held together by tenuous threads. He was clearly shut down from the trauma of adoption so we certainly didn’t want to take him back to the orphanage to visit and risk causing more confusion, and then I couldn’t go alone because on Tuesday Leo just clung to me and wouldn’t let Mike hold him or even touch him so leaving him with Mike for five hours wasn’t going to work. Each family had to make the right decision for themselves after meeting their new child and there were a few families like us who had to say no.
Luckily a fellow adoptive mom, a new friend, in our group was going to visit as her daughter was in the same orphanage, the same room even, as our little guy, and so she took lots of pictures for me (his crib, his nannies, etc). Between her pictures and report, and talking with the guides, I feel that I have a solid idea of his environment for the last two and half years that I can speak to him about one day.
So instead of going on the orphanage tour, one of the guides took us to a park. It was a beautiful park, long and winding. Concrete paths meticulously escorted by native greenery, shaded by lush willows, vines, and other beautiful trees. There was a small lake that filled the interior of this park and the path wound around it. Across it ran wooden bridges connecting the two banks, and lily pads and lotus flowers decorated its surface. It was exceedingly hot so we walked from shade spot to shade spot, relaxing there and taking in our environment. There were many benches and small sitting areas, one hosting a lively game amongst friends.
Along the path hid many little trails, beckoning for wandering feet to tread. Some of these we took and I was always so happy we did. Each trail, though sometimes quiet short, showcased its unique beauty and these little diversions made the main path feel fresh and interesting – for who doesn’t have a soft spot for hidden paths?
We were quite a spectacle walking through the park; a large group of foreign families, each with a Chinese child under its wing. People smiled at us, and often took our picture. The American children that were present were the most frequent models, and often a Chinese parent or grandparent would encourage their child to stand right next to them and smile for a picture. Leo and I were included in one such photograph. It feels odd to be photographed entirely because we look different, but we do and it is kindhearted and everyone rolls with it.
Not even once during this walk did Leo get down from his carrier. He was not comfortable in the slightest unless he was tucked safely against my chest. The only exception was when I took him on a tiny ride in a little part of the park designated for fair type rides. I placed him in the car and of course climbed in with him. He made no sounds, nor did his expression change, but his body language seemed to tell me that he was enjoying it as he comfortably sat against me while we went around and around and around for close to ten minutes until finally another little family asked to come on and then we were finally allowed to get off. Then it was back into the carrier until we were safely back into our hotel room.
Once in the hotel room, Leo’s first mission is to take off his shoes. We put our shoes next to each other and then playtime can begin. Mike bought him a little red electronic fire truck that speaks in Chinese and English. It sings a little song after it counts to seven and Leo really likes it. He and Mike pressed the button so many times that before too long, Leo was cracking big smiles. When he smiles, he often turns his head to the side or looks down, but he is not quick enough often so you can see his happy smile before he tries to hide it.
That evening for dinner we went with two other friends to a Hong Kong style restaurant. The atmosphere on the way to and from dinner was magnetic with the amount of people and activity encircling us. The food was wonderful, Leo ate very well, and then as usual, he slept like a rock. We felt like we made real gains that day in our relationship growth – the smiles had jumped from one to several.
The next morning, Thursday, started as usual with a very quiet, mellow little man, happy to sit on my lap and take in his world, but before we were even out of bed, he hit a milestone. Mike passed him a puzzle we had picked up the night before and while he was trying to figure out where to fit the pieces, he began quietly speaking in Chinese! His first words uttered in our presence. It was awesome to hear.
Another step forward happened soon after as he held my hand on the way to breakfast and all the way to the dining hall without wanting or needing to be carried at all. Then during breakfast he began smiling without provocation, just if he caught our glance.
It was a free day for us until the evening and so Mike and I decided to take Leo to the park by ourselves this time.
Once we were there, I got him out of the carrier to see if he will be willing to walk around the park and walk he did: he walked that whole park over. He still had to hold my hand but he was so independent in comparison to just the day before.
We decided to try another ride like we had done the day before. It was not a huge success as Leo did not seem to either like or dislike it, but the 4 year old little boy in front of us certainly adored that we were on the ride with him as he chatted me up in English nonstop, trying out all the words he had learned in school.
All along our walk that day we were greeteed by parents and grandparents with little children. Leo didn’t answer when they spoke to him as he has yet to answer one question posed to him in Chinese but I would say Ni Hao and Hello for him and wave his little hand while their little ones would practice too. There was such a feeling of camaraderie as we all attempted to bridge our worlds, helping the kids to greet one another in both languages. We smiled and nodded at each other each time, thankful for the encounter.
Leo continued to walk until we got back to the metro where he passed out in the carrier from all of his walking.
Back in the hotel room we did another carpet picnic followed by lots and lots of playing, learning his siblings by name and pointing to them in pictures, and lots of smiling. Some of his smiles were even full faced, no head turning or bowing, and a few so big that we saw his teeth – those of course I did not get a picture of – bummer!
Later, we completed more paperwork, ate another yummy Korean dinner, bath, more playing and then off to bed.
As I mentioned before, Friday morning was a smile fest: tons of open faces smiles, even at other people a few times. He just seemed relaxed and more at ease.
That morning we took him to an exposition area to walk around. It was incredibly hot and we just walked around looking for anywhere to cool off. We stumbled upon a Starbucks so we went in, drank an iced coffee and then trekked it back to the metro station. That day concluded with Leo’s first bath that he really enjoyed. He truly played, letting water fall on his face from the toy car as he lifted above his head. It was a joy to behold.
Saturday morning was a break out morning in the daddy department. Mike turned up an Usher song and he and Leo danced the whole morning away. It was so neat to see Leo running to Mike, arms open wide, doing his silent laugh with his face fully lit up. After that, Leo was all about daddy, wanting to hold his hand, letting him hold him, stretching for him when he was in sight, etc. Daddy was now the favorite. 🙂
That afternoon we traveled to another city; Guangzhou; the city where they issue travel visas. It was Leo’s first flight of course and he was awesome; busy but sweet and mellow like always. Instead of pretzels, the flight attendants passed out cheesy peanuts – basically peanuts stuffed in a cheeto – they were amazing.
Each passing day with Leo has brought such significant relationship growth and encouragement. We are so grateful that he is a part of our family. Here’s to hoping this week passes quickly so we can get him home to meet the rest of his crew!