Several months after having a daughter we’re making an effort to become involved in a supportive community with fellow parents of Chinese children. Shoot first, ask questions later is my default MO. In hindsight I can see we should have gotten involved in this network before we had Penelope. Thankfully it’s not too late and I keep my eyes open for opportunities.
When our adoption agency, Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI) announced their first “Meet & Greet” social in Atlanta I immediately wanted to go. Jenn and I were looking forward to Penelope having the opportunity to play with other children while we met other adoptive parents. Saturday afternoon we drove to Atlanta Chinese Christian Church Northwest in Roswell anticipating great things. We were not disappointed.
When we arrived several children were on the playground with parents standing by. Inside the meeting room families lined up waiting for the event to begin. We stood next to another family and talked about our daughters.A few minutes later we spotted a familiar face. Christy, a CCAI volunteer, conducted the information seminar we attended in 2006 and again in 2011. I remember driving to the East Cobb library six years ago where she spoke to us and two other families about her adoption journey.
Jenn and I followed Penelope outside to the playground. “Great!” I thought “she’s finally going to let loose and play with other children”. But she didn’t. Penelope stood still, looking up at the playground equipment swarming with children. Some were younger than Penelope, others were ten years older. I stood a few yards away, talking to Paul, a fellow adoptive parent. “Why isn’t she doing anything?” I wondered aloud.
When this has happened at other playgrounds I’ve chalked it up to not enough/too many children being present, a new location, or the slides being too tall. I’ve got an explanation for each occurrence. I thought this time would be different. As Penelope sat transfixed I walked away and went over to her, asking if she wanted to swing. She shook her head no. “What if daddy swings and you sit on my lap?” She walked toward the swing and motioned for me to sit on the child size seat.
I sat down and lifted Penelope on to my lap. She grabbed the chains. “Don’t you want to swing by yourself like that girl?” I said looking to my right, observing another girl swinging by herself. Penelope shook her head “no”. I wasn’t going to push. We anticipated today’s event for over a month and I wasn’t going to bring Penelope to tears for not swinging alone.
CCAI representative Jaime appeared and motioned for all the families to come inside for cookies, cupcakes, and other treats. “Sugar? She hasn’t had dinner or a nap!” Jennifer said.
“It’s OK. It’s early and we still have so much to do. She’ll be alright.”
We made our way inside. I thought a few families would show up. Five or six, ten if it was a smash. Over twenty families were there, filling the entire meeting room. Jaime introduced herself and thanked everyone for being there. She said a special guest from Colorado was joining us. Sarah. This was a treat.
Sarah, no longer just the voice asking if we were interested in looking at a file for possible placement or narrator of our parent training. After she said a few words I motioned for her to join us. She extended her hand and I gave her a hug. Sarah’s voice was always encouraging and joyous when I called for help. I took it for granted that she didn’t have a clue who we were. I apologized and introduced our family. Sarah lit up when she realized this was the little girl she had only seen pictures of. I realized this room was full of children and families Sarah helped bring together. How elated she must have felt, seeing the faces of so many beautiful children and grateful parents!
As families lined up to introduce themselves to Sarah, Jenn and I went to the treat table and picked out a few things for Penelope. Panda cupcakes, a frosted sugar cookie, and water. “Fuel for the playground. She’ll burn it off.”
Jenn and I were thrilled to see Stephanie, a woman we traveled with in China. We got a chance to meet her family, including the two children she adopted during the trip. They looked fantastic and seemed to thrive with the love and attention (and food!) they were getting.
I spoke to another family while I was watching Penelope climb the ladder to the slide. Discussing where your child is from is the ultimate icebreaker with other Chinese adoptive families. I always hope I’m going to meet another family with a child from the Philip Hayden Foundation or even her hometown, Zhumadian. I said Penelope had lived most of her life at PHF when she stopped me and asked what Penelope’s name had been when she was there. (PHF always gives English names to their children.) When I told her “Shauna” her eyes got large. “We sponsored her! I can’t believe this is her!” That made two of us. I knew there were families that contributed to Penelope’s fund while staying at PHF. She got her husband and son’s attention and told them this was the girl they sponsored. “Can I take a picture?”
“Absolutely”. I was thrilled meeting another person who helped make Penelope’s life better by contributing to her surgery fund. She could take all the pictures she wanted.
The evening wound down as the sun descended and families made their exit. Jenn and I still had grocery shopping to do. After saying our goodbye’s we headed off. It was a great event and we enjoyed every minute of it. We’re thankful CCAI put it together and so many families gathered to share their stories while their children got to be children. It’s the environment I wish they could be in all the time, where they are accepted and loved for who they are.
For other adoptive parents out there, do you attend meetings to connect with other families with children from China? If so, what aspects of the meeting have you found the most successful? Does anyone have any icebreaker tips for large or small gatherings?