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Forever family

Seven years in and I still haven't quite worked out the criteria for which children have their adoption paperwork completed and which children don't.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to be able to support families to remain intact ... this would mean that children wouldn't need paperwork at all ... they could attend school during the day and return home to their parents each evening. But this isn't always possible. The next best outcome would be for these children to find homes with Chinese families within China - they retain their language, their culture, their homeland. This happens occasionally, but not often. Most of our adopted children go through the international adoption route and go home to their forever families abroad - America, Sweden, France, Spain and other countries too ... but not Australia.

I don't really 'get' why some children are deemed 'adoptable' and others not. When my husband and I were going through the international adoption process in Australia, we were asked to indicate which 'special needs' we were willing to consider ... why is it, that with adoption, families are able to choose whether or not to parent a child with special needs ... aren't all children special? Don't they all have needs? (That's another post!)

One thing I have noticed in the last few years is an increase in the number of children who are having paperwork completed. It is interesting that the children that are selected are those who have attended our school from a young age. My guess is that because these children are closer to meeting developmental 'norms', they are deemed more 'adoptable'.

Some of our children won't ever have their adoption paperwork completed though ... for a multitude of reasons ... they are already older than 14 years of age (the cut off age for adoption in China), they don't want to be adopted, they have complex needs, they are medically too sick ... whatever the reason, they won't ever have a mama and baba of their very own.

That doesn't mean that they don't have a family though ... they do. Eagles Wings is their Forever Family. They are our Eaglets and they are very very loved. Children in our Eagles Wings homes live together in family groups. They have consistent ayis (aunties) who are at home when they arrive home from school each day and are their 'parents' in every sense of the word. They are the ones that serve their dinner, help them bathe, put them to bed each night. They are the ones who comfort them when they are scared at night and they are there when they wake up in the morning. They are the ones who take them on outings on the weekends and holidays and the ones who play and talk with them. This grouping of children has evolved over time from larger groups in almost 'dorm' style homes almost ten years ago to our current 'family groups' (we have been like this for several years now). The families stay together as much as possible and minimal changes are made to ensure that consistency and stability is maintained.

In addition to their ayis, our other MengLin staff are extended family. Our directors XiaoGuang and LouHuan are affectionately known as gege and jiejie (big brother and big sister) and the rest of the staff (admin and teaching staff) regard our Eaglets as family too.

Linda (our International Director) travels to China several times a year and is NaiNai (grandmother) to all of the children. They adore her and the feeling is mutual. Linda openly says that she loves each of her Chinese grandchildren in the same way that she loves her biological grandchildren.

Many of the COAT committee are regular visitors too - we all leave a piece of our hearts behind with the children when we return to Australia.

This visit, I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter (this seems to happen most times I come). The reporter asked me why I keep coming back and I told her that my heart is here in China. She asked me to give an example of what I meant ... and (through tears) I told her the story of a little boy.

My first visit to Eagles Wings was in 2009. On that visit, I met a two year old boy who wrapped his little arms around my neck and whispered into my ear. In the course of that visit, he also wrapped himself tightly around my heart. He would ask me to hug him as soon as he saw me each day. He called me 'mama' from the moment he laid eyes on me. He would cry and want another hug and kiss each night when I put him into his cot. I didn't know any Chinese then (except 'thank you', 'hello' and 'goodbye') and he didn't know any English, but I would spend time each day holding him up to the window and telling him that although I loved him, I was not his mama ... I told him that his mama was coming for him and one day he would go to America. There was a painting of the world map on the wall and I showed him how he would cross the ocean and go home to his family. He loved to be held near the window as we talked and I know that he listened to my voice as he gazed into my eyes intently and gently touched my lips as I spoke. I didn't know anything about his adoption status ... or even if he had paperwork completed, but I knew he was destined for greatness. Leaving that little boy behind broke my heart. I loved him completely - just as I loved my own biological children. I left part of my broken heart behind in JiaoZuo for him, but also for the other children I had met and fallen in love with - QingQing who wore knee pads on her knees and made her way down six flights of stairs two times each day to go to school; XiaLan who wouldn't talk but had the most beautiful smile; MiaoMiao who loved to giggle and play hand games; JiaLe who was clever and quiet, but loved to have her nails done; HuiHui and XiaLi who traced around their hands and wrote their names on them for me to take home (yes, I still have that piece of paper) ... I can name them all ... and their faces are etched in my heart.

A month after I returned home, I found out that he did indeed have a family - a mama, baba, gege and jiejie of his very own in America just as I had told him. My broken heart healed a little knowing that he was going home. I was blessed to be able to return to China a few months before he went home forever. I spent more time with him - laughing, playing games, taking him for walks, showering him with love. I took video footage of him for his family and took as many photos as I could. Just after his third birthday, he went home to America. He is nine years old now - clever, articulate, amazing ... all the things I knew he would be. The first time we Skyped together, he put out his hand for me to play "Round and round the garden" together like we had so many times in China. I have found a wonderful friend in his beautiful mama and I adore his whole family. He still has my heart ... and he always will.

Through the wonders of social media, we have been able to remain in contact with the families of many of our Eaglets. We are able to see them grow up, to know that they have received medical care and therapy ... and we are able to share their photos with the Eaglets who remain with us in JiaoZuo. The ayis who cared for them as young children also delight in seeing their 'babies' grow up. They exclaim about how beautiful they are and how clever they are and remind me about what they were like when they were with us here in JiaoZuo.

I feel like I am coming home when I return to JiaoZuo. My heart is here, my Chinese children are here. When I arrived here this time, I dropped my bags off in the visitor apartment, got changed and went straight to the homes. It was Mid-Autumn festival so there was no school and everyone was home. I was met with smiles, hugs, squeals and excited voices calling "MiXia, MiXia" (XiaLi has given me this Chinese name as she has always had trouble with the ending of my Australian name).

These children are my family ... they are family to each and every one of us on the COAT team. They are dearly loved. Their accomplishments are celebrated and every day with them is treasured. They may not have a mama and baba of their own, but they do have a family ... forever.

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