NOTE: We don’t want to bring everybody down, but I think anybody who has adopted an older child will recognize our situation.
Well, that was one of the most brutal experiences I have ever been through.
We arrived at the welfare center (down a series of narrow, twisty back alleys in Northern Tainan) at about 9:45, 15 minutes early. My stomach was already tied up in knots. We didn’t know what to expect, but a smiling, English speaking young woman led us up a flight of stairs to a sunny, open room filled with gigantic stuffed animals, Hello Kitty dolls, and various plastic toys for young children.
We cooled our heels there, watching Ava play with the toys for about half an hour, growing progressively more nervous. Finally, our translator, a middle-aged woman wearing glasses, showed up. She talked to us for quite a while, and when it turned out the social worker and Evan’s foster mother and Evan were running late, she translated his most recent report out loud.
Then they were there. Evan’s foster mother, or Ah Ma, as we were soon to discover, was a short, stout woman with greying hair. We found out later she has at least one adult son and a grandson, and she either fosters or has fostered a number of older boys.
Evan (Chun-I) clung to her, desperately sucking a pacifier. She explained through the translator that he normally doesn’t use the pacifier during the day, but seemed to be a bit nervous. They had explained to him who we were, and he obviously had some idea that something bad was in store for him.
Over the course of several hours he slowly and reluctantly parted from her and started to play with the toys. We ever-so-patiently approached him and tried offering him toys and snacks. He pointed at us and called us, “Mama”, “Baba” and “Jiejie”, but allowed very little touching. My personal high point was when he let me throw him up in the air after watching me do it to Ava.
His Ah Ma basically took care of him the entire time. She changed his diaper, fed him a bottle, and even wiped his chin when I gave him a drink of water and tilted the cup too much. Much to our surprise, she pulled out a large suitcase stuffed full of favorite clothes, toys, blankets, and a few dozen individually packaged bags of formula/rice mix. All this in addition to the fully packed diaper bag she gave us. She made a point of showing us every toy and article of clothing and explaining how he liked to play with them. A heavy grey coat was “because it is so cold where you live”.
It soon dawned on us that she hadn’t done all this for our benefit, but for Chun-I. He had been with her since he was three days old, and it was clear despite her stoic attitude her heart was breaking. This suitcase packed to the bursting point was her final chance to care for him.
When it was time for her to leave, she hugged him, tears streaming down her face, he wailed miserably and Diana and I started to cry, too. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more miserable.
We rode in the taxi to the rail station with a devastated, screaming child (he wailed “Ai Yah! Ah Ma!” over and over and over between screams and sobs. I half expected the taxi driver to drop us off at the nearest police station). Evan kept pointing, we assume trying to tell us to go to his Ah Ma. He finally fell asleep on the train platform and slept most of the way to Taipei.
He was relatively quiet until we got to our room, then the “Ai yah! Ah Ma!” started up again. He crawled away from us and pounded on the door. Every time we pulled him back he would attempt to shut his diaper bag and carry it back to the door, wailing for his Ah Ma the entire time.
After a few attempts to engage him, Ava quietly asked if she could go to Grandma’s room. She left, and Diana was able to get Evan into the ergo carrier. Walking around the hotel seemed to make him happy, at least happy enough he stopped crying, so she spent hours doing that. I fell asleep, emotionally and physically exhausted, and woke up about nine to the sight of her and Evan sharing noodles at the tiny room desk. He was talking and pointing, and even smiled at me when he saw I was awake.
Diana got him to bed with us, somehow, and he slept fitfully through the night, waking and crying his “ai yeh! Ah Ma!” but only briefly.
He woke up at 5:30, and that’s where we sit today. He is more or less happy if you keep him moving, but inconsolable otherwise. He did okay when we went to apply for his visa this morning, but Diana hasn’t been able to get him to take a nap, or eat much of anything. He’s exhausted and in shock. I guess we all are.
I thank God my Mom was able to come with us and give Ava somewhere happy and comforting to be. I went swimming with her today, even though it’s by far the coldest day of our trip. Playing with her gave me a much needed emotional boost and some slight confidence that I’m an acceptable parent.
This is not the fun part, I guess. We really do feel he’s having a normal emotional response. I also feel obliged to remark on how awesome Ava is being. She’s completely gentle and sweet with Evan, even asking us if it’s okay to kiss him on his head at night (note he is bawling his brains out, so her hesitation is understandable). My Mom has also been a rock for us, following us all over Taiwan without complaining, and giving Ava a fun, happy companion (and safe haven) with Diana and Evan and me so frazzled and distracted. And crying all the time (so far only Evan).
P.S. I came to pick up Evan’s visa by myself (I walked from the hotel– yugh, the air pollution here would kill a horse today. How do the residents stand it?), and I was a half hour early so I went into a nearby Dante’s Coffee shop. They made my cappuccino in one of those little automatic coffee vending machines! Stick to tea in Taipei, I suppose is the lesson here.