Our last few days in China.
We took daily walks to Starbucks, our little piece of home turf in the foreign land; but candidly, the westernized island on which our hotel stood felt not that foreign. Many ambassadors had once been housed on the island, and the architecture felt more like Europe than China.
I wanted a taste of real China and felt that could only be experienced off the island, on the other side of the bridge. In our subset group of adoptive parents, there was one other guy, from Britain, who was game to explore. Everyone else seemed content to remain on the island; but Brit and I kept glancing across the river murmuring curiosities. We plotted an expedition, a walking tour into the streets Guanzhou; shared our plans with the group, no one wanted to join us, so off we went.
Over the bridge, off the island, the landscape changed dramatically. Side streets, narrow alleys. Shops were tiny garage stalls, true Chinese food stores, vendors squatting next to white plastic buckets teeming with edible groceries: snakes, frogs, turtles, reptiles, crickets…
Chinese men, sinewy and stern, stared hard, flat impenetrable expressionless faces; and yet responded beautifully to yankee charm. Our smiles were nearly always met with a pause, stare, flicker of surprise, and then smiles back with shining eyes, often with nods & elbows to their buddies, points, nods & smiles. A stray few looked away and remained disengaged, but most were first stone-faced, curious, then reciprocal in their smiles.
We walked a dozen blocks or so—a fun, albeit short, adventure—then crossed back over the bridge onto the island, conquering heroes, bold adventurers, thrilling expedition burning in our chests, glowing; set apart from the now pale group of timid souls who had not seen what we saw.
On one of our final days we were invited to a Chinese Spa to get a massage, rumored to be phenomenal. But what about our son? Would there be childcare?
“No,” said our tour host, “just bring him, he won’t be a problem.”
What?! You expect our 2 year old son to sit complacently in a stroller for 90 minutes while we get a massage? Yes, that was exactly what she expected—and exactly what he did. While we were massaged, he simply sat and stared, nary a peep nor a squiggle.
Finally, homeward bound. To think: halfway around the world we received this young orphaned child—orphan no more! somehow selected, somehow delivered, now being taken to his new home in California, to be an American! Profound: the boy gets liberty!
The long, very long flight was grueling. Casey was frightened, and unlike the day at the spa, not in a mood to sit still. Piercing screams on take-off. We gave apologetic grimaces to passengers seated nearby. Finally, at altitude, seatbelt sign turned off, Susie picked him up. He stopped crying. She handed him to me.
“He’s yours,” she said, and promptly fell sleep.
I walked the aisles. Every time I tried to sit Casey into his own seat he cried. I held him until he was asleep, tried again to set him down—he’d burst into tears and screams of “No, no, no!” So for hours through the long dark night, I held him. I walked the aisles, carried the child; stopped in the galley, mooched several shots of whiskey from the flight attendants—burning hot, bracing.
Only in retrospect did I realize how foolish it was for me with my newly adopted son so distressed to be drinking whiskey. Fool! I should have made him drink it instead.
The long flight through the long dark night—did I mention my arms ached mercilessly, cramped and stiffened into an oblique set of pincers from carrying that little orangutan.
Finally dawn! Finally descending. On our descent into LA, Susie woke up, yawned, stretched, rubbed her eyes, and said, “Gee, I’m tired…”
Oh. You’re ‘tired’? I stared at her like a Chinese shopkeeper, then set my heart darkly on transitioning ‘the problem’ her way. I knew Casey would cry if I sat him down, but I also knew he would no longer be my problem, so I plopped him into his seat—perhaps a scoosh too firmly—and buckled him in.
He began to cry.
Calmly, I said:
To my son, “%#$ you.”
To Susie, “He’s yours.”
Casey stared at me saucer-eyed, blinked twice, stopped crying, folded his hands upon his lap and stared straight ahead.
…why I outta—
Three hours later we were through Customs, outside baggage claim standing curbside greeting our daughters.
What a bubbling celebration! Two weeks of daily Skype sessions turned this first-time meeting into a reunion! Those friendly faces in the flesh, hugging, smiling, kissing, laughing, crying!
On our way home we got burgers at In & Out, —or so I’m told. I don’t remember the restaurant, the food, nor the following 48 hours. I do remember our first trip to the playground, Casey’s first encounter with sand, barefoot—recoiling. His first steps into grass—exhilarating.
And our first trip to the beach—rapturous.
He fit right in, character in bloom, living large, synchronized like he’d always been here. Susie accused me of having secretly flown to Asia two years earlier for a romantic liaison, calling this a trip to pick up my offspring.
Casey is one of us. He’s our gift from God, and we love him so!