Journey Woman
Erica Ehm


Will My Adopted Chinese
Granddaughter Remember?

Evelyn Hannon

"Here, you do it, I can't stand making her cry" my daughter Leslie says to me tears streaming down her own cheeks. "I, on the other hand, am so jetlagged from our journeys -- Toronto to Beijing and then on to Xi'an -- that I feel as if my brain is completely wrapped in wool. Things appear to be happening in very slow motion around me, however I do know my daughter is relying on me and I'm struggling to make things right for her. The last time I had to give antibiotics to a screaming child was forty years ago when Leslie, herself, was a baby.

A new adopted baby...

Now, there is this new baby -- not a newborn child but new to us since we arrived in Xi'an yesterday afternoon. Baby Lotus is Leslie's long-awaited adopted Chinese daughter -- thirteen months old with a tiny bow-shaped mouth that has now opened into an huge, ominous cavern as she thrashes her arms and legs and screams at us in indignation. The baby is sick with a very bad bronchial infection; we learned this as an aside during the adoption ceremony. A young nanny from the orphanage handed us this precious new member of our family along with packets of antiquated antibiotics and said through her interpreter, "the baby is sick."


She's called, "Little Love"...

My daughter, who is a single mother and I had a little over twelve months to prepare for this incredibly emotional journey. We began researching our destination right after her application for a Chinese daughter was submitted to Children's Bridge, a Canadian adoption agency with headquarters in Ottawa.

Six weeks before our departure, Leslie received an e-mail with a picture of her intended daughter attached -- serious eyes, a tiny pink mouth, black hair standing straight in the air and little 'sticky-outie' ears. Rings of baby fat were distributed in all the right baby places. Her given Chinese name translated to "Little Love." We were completely smitten.


Grandmothers shouldn't cry...

Today we're in our Chinese hotel room, sleep deprived after an emotional first night of walking the floor because Lotus refuses to close her eyes for even one minute. "Who are these big-nosed, round-eyed strangers who've kidnapped me,?" she must be thinking as she fights to stay awake. Not only is she terribly frightened, she's refusing all food, her fever is going up and we can't keep her mouth open long enough to sneak the medication in. To tell you the truth, I want desperately to begin howling as well but I can't. I'm the grandmother, I'm supposed to be the wise woman. I hope that what I'm going to do next will not remain forever imprinted in my new granddaughter's memory. It's for her own good, I reason with myself.


We wrap her in a blanket...

Leslie and I wrap Lotus in a blanket, her arms pinned to her sides (now I'm crying, too). I pinch her cheeks and force her mouth open long enough to pour the medication down her throat. Of course she instinctively begins spitting it out but Grandma is there with her teaspoon and as fast as baby spits, I scoop and send it back into her mouth (all the time muttering to myself, "catch it, catch it"). We unwrap our unwilling accomplice who now has miraculously stopped crying. Leslie and I look at each other. The crisis has been averted for another three hours when the next dosage must be administered. Now we take turns resting so that there is always at least one coherent Caucasian caregiver for this Chinese child that refuses to let us out of her sight. Perhaps tonight she will sleep.


We follow like little ducklings...

We are not alone in this adoption adventure. We've travelled to China with twelve other Canadian couples who will be receiving their new daughters at the same time. Once in Beijing, our group has been assigned a comfortable touring bus and two very patient guides. With yellow flags aloft they lead us through the intricacies of Chinese adoptions and on sightseeing excursions. We follow like little obedient ducklings, pushing baby strollers through government buildings, to the Great Wall and into the Silk Market. The babies are fingerprinted, the parents sign documents swearing they will never abandon their new daughters and we go out 'en masse' to eat authentic Chinese food. Together we create common memories and learn about our little girls' culture. Later, when they are older we can teach them about it. We laugh at our new offspring's antics, we cry when we and our baby have trouble adjusting to each other.


The bathroom is our steam room...

During our five days in Xi'an, my daughter and I try to unravel this adorable Chinese puzzle called Lotus. Our little hotel room begins to resemble a Canadian version of a third world refugee camp as we attempt to eat, sleep, play, do laundry and cook in the same 8 X 12 ft. space. The bathroom is our steam room where three times a day we run a hot shower attempting to unclog Lotus's bronchial tubes. She resists the moist air as her mother and grandmother sing countless off-key verses of 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' to keep her amused. The baby understands no English but is intrigued by these two strangers making very strange sounds. We wish we spoke Chinese so we could comfort her. Eventually, her laboured breathing begins to improve.

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