Red thread from the past…link to the future

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Through the beauty of social networking adoptive families can easily connect…amongst the commiserating and travel tips sometimes something a little more substantial pops up.

In honor of TBT, here is “one from the vault”. I wrote this in January 2013. Doodlebug had been a part of our family for about 4 months. We were already in the process to adopt Peanut but not many people knew. Adoption is a hard road but there are definitely bright spots along the journey. This is a story about one of those bright spots.

When hubs and I decided to adopt from China we knew we’d be adding branches to our family tree that we didn’t know much about. That we might never know much about. Doodlebug was 26 months old when we met him. Aside from the fact he didn’t speak a lick of English, he was not capable of having this kind of conversation with us:

“So, welcome to the family, now tell us about yourself. Hobbies? Interests? Family history?”

We accepted the unknown. Grudgingly but consciously.

A family adopting from China must submit a series of documents to the Chinese government called a dossier. This pile of paper tells our story, from where we went on our first date to the balance in our bank account. China gets a lot of information about us to use to make the decision about whether we will make good parents. China knows more about us than…well, us.

Unfortunately, it does not work the other way around.

Because of this lack of information and leap of faith we adoptive parents take when bringing our kids home we do everything we can to preserve their birth culture and find out as much as we can about their lives before us. We hire researchers to go through Chinese newspapers to locate “finding ads” which are basically lost and found notices for abandoned children. Sometimes these come with mug shots we cherish as the earliest baby pictures of our children.

Through the beauty of social networking adoptive families can easily connect. Sometimes these connections offer a place to gripe about how much we hate waiting on paperwork to process or to compare notes on places to eat in China. But amongst the commiserating and travel tips sometimes something a little more substantial pops up.

I belong to a website adoptive mommies refer to as Rumor Queen, RQ for short. It is a moderated forum where families can connect and ask various questions about China adoption, China travel and life after adoption.

Whenever I see a question pop up on RQ about Shanxi Province or Yuncheng City I try to answer it. I didn’t have a ton of information when we were preparing to travel to this relatively remote part of China to adopt Doodlebug. I am thankful for those who did reach out and give me info. You cannot place enough value on someone telling you that you need a lot of throat drops in Taiyuan, trust me. After Doodlebug’s adoption, I made the decision to stay connected to the China community and pay it forward, share what I knew.

I answered a few posts from a fellow mom who was adopting a child that was not only from Doodlebug's province but from his hometown of Yuncheng City. Not much is known about Yuncheng City because adoptive families usually don’t get to visit. It is a 7 hour train ride from Taiyuan (the provincial capital where all adoptions take place). The children being adopted are brought to the Taiyuan Civil Affairs Office on the train by the orphanage staff. Adoptions are completed on Tuesday and the family remains in the province until Friday, waiting on the child’s travel documents. A 7 hour (each way) train ride with a child you just met isn’t practical or even a good idea, all things considered.

Most of the kids assigned to Yuncheng City Social Welfare Institute live in foster care. The kids live in family settings and are generally healthy and well cared for before they are adopted, despite the extreme pollution and poverty of Yuncheng City. Shanxi Province in general is a smoggy, polluted, gray kind of place. My throat and eyes literally burned every day we were there.

Drive from Taiyuan to Yuncheng 3
Road to Yuncheng City Photo Credit: Ben Nelson
orphanage 1
Yuncheng City Social Welfare Center Photo Credit: Ben Nelson

So, back to the fellow mom adopting from Yuncheng City. I was looking at her blog and saw a picture of her new son who was about to join his new family in a couple of weeks. I recognized the place where the picture was taken (goose bump alert) because it was the same background as the photos we’d received of Doodlebug before he came home. It was very distinct background so no mistaking the location.

I had to smile at the little boy’s picture because he was wearing pastel ruffles. The first picture I ever saw of Doodlebug showed him sporting pastel ruffles. In China pastel ruffles are not exclusively for little girls.

I looked more carefully at the picture of this sweet little boy. Something else looked familiar…his face.

I dug out pictures we’d received of Doodlebug during the “Big Wait” (the 10 months between the time when we first saw his picture and when we first met him). We were very fortunate to receive periodic pictures and updates during the “Big Wait”. I found the picture I was looking for: Doodlebug enjoying some cake on his second birthday, roughly 2 months before his adoption.

Photo Credit: Red Thread China

There were 3 other kids and 2 adults in the picture. I now know the adults were the director of Yuncheng City Social Welfare institute and Doodlebug’s foster mother, but I always wondered about the kids. Two were older, perhaps 7 or 8 and one was a baby sitting in some sort of high chair contraption.

When I received these birthday pictures back in June 2012, I got an update that gave me a glimpse in to Doodlebug’s life. I learned he liked fruit, sweets and toys that made noise. I learned he slept with his foster mother and that there was another foster child in the home. The update gave the foster brother’s Chinese name, but at the time, I was so focused on my own child that I didn’t think much about this other kid.

Seeing this picture on this other mom’s blog triggered a memory that prompted me to go back to these birthday party pictures. Sure enough, the boy in the ruffles was the same boy who’d sat next to Doodlebug eating cake 7 months prior.

I put the pictures up side by side. I called in Hubs to verify this was the same kid. And then I sent an email telling this lady I had a picture of her son and that I believed that our boys were in the same foster home. I asked if she wanted to see it, and of course she said yes and a friendship was formed. For both of us, that is a puzzle piece that we’re able to give our sons. It may mean something to them later. They may not care. They may need or want a connection to their early years. They may reject it or they may be indifferent. How this puzzle piece is played is up to 2 boys once from Yuncheng City, but two mothers who are miles apart living different lives can offer it. And we are connected by it as well.

So now we have a connection to a family in Minnesota that shares part of our family’s story. Are these new friends? Foster-in-laws? I don’t know what our future brings. I’ve a hunch these boys and these moms will meet one day. There is a phrase that China moms have kind of taken over about an invisible red thread:

an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break

Ladybugs and red threads are symbols of China adoption that I always laughed off as a bunch of hooey. They sound nice and people get all touchy-feely over them but I’ve never fancied myself a sentimental kind of girl.

After connecting with this woman and securing this tiny sliver of Doodlebug’s past I’m not so quick to say “yeah, that red thread thing is dumb”. It isn’t dumb. These two little boys lived together in a foster home on the other side of the world in a place most Westerners have never heard of. Come on, have you heard of Yuncheng City? They were cared for by a woman they knew as “mama” and I have every indication she took good care of them. These 2 boys went their separate ways and may come together again as citizens of the United States.

I have no idea what made me look at this blog right before this family went to China. I’d seen the blog before – even glanced at an earlier picture of this little boy before, where nothing registered. But one night, two hours past my bedtime, I looked. And I saw. And I connected.

So maybe there is something to this red thread thing after all. But I’m still going to say ladybugs are a bunch of hooey. Maybe just on principle.

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