It was to be the first Christmas of our adopted daughter Maya. For so many reasons we wanted to make it right. And for one reason we could not do it. But that gets a little ahead of the story. When the one whose name cannot be spoken and I became engaged it was believed that the call up to go to China was at least six months away. It turned out to be one week away. So we rushed to get everything ready for the child who would become part of the family that had not been made yet.
And before I could turn around we were in Nanchang China in line to be registered in the hotel where we would meet our new child and finish the adoption process. I stood at the hotel registry after having discovered that my clothes had not finished the trip across the ocean and would not be here for a few days. The clothes on my back were all I had. The nameless one had prepared everything and had ensured me that I would not have to worry about the cost because she had been saving for this for years. I believed her. Until she turned to me and exclaimed I have messed up and do you have a credit card we can use to pay for the hotel. I began to calculate how much room I had on my card and looked around at the five star hotel the adoption agency had arranged for us to stay at. It was with a wing and a prayer I gave her my card. She did arrange for a money transfer from her credit union the next day. But this was not before I was thinking no clothes and I may have to skip a few meals. And the weather outside was cold.
In fact it was so cold that the babies could not make it on time. We had been waiting on pins and needles for their arrival but at last found out they were temporarily delayed because of the ice and snow on the road. After an hour more of waiting we decided we would not skip a meal. So with my fast becoming rubber credit card we went down to the hotel restaurant to eat. I was hungry because we had skipped lunch waiting for the babies and the breakfast buffet provided by the hotel had little vegetarian options. So I ordered and was glad to have some real Chinese food. My first real meal in China. I looked into my beloved eyes for a second before I forked my first bite. The smell was filling my nostrils and the fork was two inches from providing me Nirvana. Then the shouts were heard, “The babies are here. The babies are here.” She jumped up and immediately ran to the room where we were to meet the babies. I looked with melancholy at my meal and knew I would never be able to eat it. I left, choosing baby over food.
When we finally received our daughter she looked like a Chinese version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. But we soon found once we took off the many layers of clothing there was a very skinny baby underneath. The thinness surprised us, although we knew she had be living in an orphanage in a rural village. But this put my partner on alert and when the first poo came out she declared it diarrhea and was afraid she was sick. So in the middle of the night she called the nurse. The nurse ever so kind came and observed the poo and looked at new mother and with a big smile in her sweetest late evening Chinese accent said, “Normal baby poo.” In other words nothing to see here move along.
The next trauma was our first trip outside the hotel with her. Being new parents we had clothed her, we thought, very well for the cold. But we had not traveled a block from the hotel when The Chinese Grandmother Mafia informed us she was not wrapped in warm enough clothes. And everywhere we went the sight of a baby girl in a country with a one child policy was a rare sight so the Grandmothers always came to see and reprimand. Our poor daughter must have been shaking her head at what incompetent American parents have I received.
So the trials and tribulations continued until it was time to fly out of Nanchang to Guangzhou to complete the adoption process. When we finally, on the coldest day this southern boy has ever experienced, arrived at the airport there was a whiteout across China and flights would be delayed. When it was apparent that no flights were leaving soon they offered to put us up in an airport hotel. The hotel they took us to was straight out of a Kafka novel. White tiles floor, walls, ceiling with nothing hanging on the walls. The lights did not come on until we entered the room. No one but our fellow adoptees were in the lobby. One lonely desk with no one behind it. But worse of all: no heat. It was freezing. No concierge or desk staff greeted us but someone who looked like a maintenance worker led us to our room. Long halls of white with white doors which I noticed had no numbers on them. A door was opened and we were led into an igloo with twin beds. They handed us a KFC size bucket of ramen noodles for supper. There was only three thin blankets. We looked around to see how we could make hot water for the ramen noodles but there was no coffeemaker. We tried the water: no hot water. We ate our bucketful of ramen noodles mixed with cold water and one plastic spoon. We ‘ate’. And then my partner and I looked at each other as if to say, this is a little bit more adventurous than we had planned. She got in one bed with the baby with the blankets and I, wearing every stick of clothing I owned, laid in the other bed. We both wondered if we would survive the night. Three hours later they came for us; there was a break in the weather and it was now or ever. Even though we loved our accommodations we chose now.
We arrived in Guangzhou to warm weather and the famous White Swan hotel. Our daughter must have been very concerned by now about these parents and their precarious ways. But Guangzhou was a refuge from the cold and barren city we had come. We finally received the papers from China and our government that made Maya a part of our family. That night we ate at a vegetarian restaurant. I had the best mushroom dish I have ever consumed. We were the only people there and the staff, mesmerized by the baby girl, watched us eat every bite.
The next day we flew back to the United States. The way the law is written, the adopted children did not officially become US citizens until they passed through the customs gate. Maya, who had been the perfect child, suddenly at the gate began to shriek and struggle with us like she had never done before. It was as if she knew Trump would one day become president and she wanted no part of that. Or maybe she was scared to be left in the hands of these very iffy “parents.” We dragged her across the line and she became an American citizen.
Weeks later it was Christmas time in the city. We were determined that Maya enjoy this holiday, so that she could know while China may have centuries of customs we have Santa Malls. We worked hard to make Christmas day be magic. The day came and two parents were stricken with what we would later refer to as Maya’s Malicious Maladies. These were viruses she brought home from daycare and which quickly brought physical ruin to her parents. But never before or after had both of us been struck with a MMM at the same time. We languished in bed moaning and groaning and visited our porcelain collection throughout the night on Christmas Eve. So at some point the barely walking new child on the block made her way into our bedroom to inform us it was Christmas Day.
She poked me with her index finger on the cheek, as if to say, if you are alive it is Christmas Day. You know that day you have been making such a fuss about. Let me see some of your American cheer. I rolled out of bed to check the porcelain collection. She followed watching me carefully. She decided this particular Christmas tradition would not be one she would follow.
A weak cry came from the area of the Christmas tree. Let’s open Christmas presents, said the pallid voice trying to show Christmas cheer. So Maya and I went toward the faint voice. She arrived hours before I did. I did not sit but laid before the Christmas tree and the one whose name cannot be spoken said I have to go back to bed.
Maya looked at us both. These incompetent parents have strange ways of expressing Christmas joy as we heard a retching in the background. I told her to open her Christmas presents, then fell asleep. Minutes later I awoke to find her playing with her new gifts. My partner entered the room and flopped on the floor with a comforter wrapped around her. I left to sleep for an hour. This was the morning. Maya playing with her toys, us sleeping or head deep in our porcelain collection.
It was way past lunch time. We had had no breakfast and the fancy meal we had told Maya that always occurs on Christmas day was non-existent. I looked at my partner and said, “We have to feed the child. There is frozen pizza in the freezer.” I trudged to the kitchen and made Maya Christmas dinner: frozen pizza. My partner and I had no desire to eat, so we only looked at this happy and contented child as she ate. We were lucky I thought as I traveled to the porcelain collection. The pizza smell had been too strong for my constitution.
Years later on reflection of that first Christmas with our oldest daughter something must have transpired that day inside of her. She developed into the most competent and capable person. She must have figured if these are my parents I have to raise my game very high just to survive. She also insists that she puts up the Christmas tree and decorations, wraps the presents and generally likes to take charge of Christmas. I guess she is unsure if these incompetent parents can ever pull off a Christmas.
Merry Christmas to Al! Which is my way of saying while your Christmas may not be perfect, may it be good.