The babies didn’t cry. When the new parents—this group was traditional couples, except for one single woman—took their daughters to their hotel rooms and held them, whispered or sang to them, fed them and played with them, you heard the parents but not the babies. We learned that in their first year of life, no one in the orphanage had responded to cries, so now these babies saved their energy.
Janice and other guides from the US and Chinese adoption agencies checked to make sure the parents and babies were in the right hands and getting along. Diapers, cribs, and formula were provided, and any questions answered.
After an hour or so, Mary and I took Xiao to the hotel’s play-room, a carpeted space marked by walls fitted with glass from the waist up. A vast assortment of plastic toys in primary colors littered the floor. The toys were day-care classics: blocks that fit one inside the other, a spectrum of donuts that varied in size and stacked on a spindle, flat boxes with knobs to turn and buttons to push; bells to ring, horns to blow, and small, muted drums.
Xiao was one-year old but looked maybe half that. Her hair was shaved in back and on the sides to avoid unnecessary heat. Most likely, she had spent most of her life in a crib. She couldn’t sit by herself yet and wasn’t crawling or standing. Two or three other new mothers and/or fathers and baby girls were in the room, trying to play with the toys.
A feeling of frustration vying with anxiously-summoned patience filled the air. Mary had invited on me the trip partly for moral support during her first days of motherhood, but also for my experience with babies. And part of the playing in that room was an unofficial assessment of whether the babies were developing normally. Could they turn handles yet; determine big from small, open from shut, a cow from a pig?
We all wish lifelong bonds arrived on cue, but more often than not, they take time. Wanting to love a child you’re unsure of is painful—no way around that. And for each parent there, getting to this moment had involved immeasurable hope and desire and heart-wrenching decisions, not to mention countless interviews and negotiations.
So the playroom was tense. Few babies were strong enough to play with the toys even with help. But I knew a game almost any baby eating solid food likes to play, and I came equipped with a baggie of Cheerios. Setting Xiao so she lay on her bent legs, I played a shell game with the empty blocks. Her eyes stayed on the block covering the Cheerio and, weak as she was, she managed to grab the correct block and eat her prize.
We played for a while and then Mary played the game, hiding the cereal in smaller, similar toys. Xiao’s hunger never failed. “Babies don’t come smarter than that,” I told my sister.
Later that night one baby cried. Soon they all cried, up and down the hotel hallway. That night the mothers and fathers carried their children through the hotel, cooing and comforting them, lulling them to sleep. In the morning, they were still crying but—also laughing.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Posted by Kathleen Maher
Blue Ribbon Blogger Tags Kathleen