When we first began the process of adopting our third child,
we queried friends who already had 3 children about how this child would
change our lives. Their frank responses were these: everywhere you go is a big
production. Expect incredible amounts of wash. A dizzying amount of activity
in even less time. But because we simply couldn’t not adopt this
child, we moved ahead undaunted. And in a short time, I can already say that
all these warnings have proven true. But none of them capture the most
significant change in our household, which is simply this: the amount of
laughter. Sometimes the walls seem to actually reverberate with the giggles of
three little girls. Because, to know Jaclyn is to know joy. This is a child
who embraces life. She runs down the stairs each morning with a smile on her
face and exuberantly hugs me. She belly laughs while teasing us with her
delightful sense of humor. She can hardly wait to see what each day has in
store for her, which is amazing given where she has been. And watching her
unbridled joy has already added immeasurably to my life.
But to know Jaclyn is also to know sorrow. Sometimes, when it
is dark, all the feelings that she cannot express overwhelm her. As wave after
wave of grief, homesickness, fear, pain and other feelings, too strong for
words, wash over her, she clings to my neck as if she is drowning. When she is
in these depths it seems she cannot hear my words of comfort. But, somehow,
she finds her way out of these murky waters, gulping for air, grasping for
safe ground again.
Jaclyn beats back these feelings, like she does all things,
with remarkable bravery. To know her is to understand what courage really is.
Once she got beyond her initial shock, she has faced the adoption journey with
bravery belying her years. She held her tears in check for weeks, blinking
them back and swallowing hard when taken from her orphanage home and family,
her town, her country, her life. And at each new juncture-the airplane, the
doctor, her new school-she sucked it up and bravely set forth with only her
eyes betraying her fear.
I wish I could say the same. Because, in knowing Jaclyn, I
have also learned about fear. The heart-stopping, choking,
sick-to-your-stomach kind. The kind I had never known existed. When I finally
found myself eyeball to eyeball with her, my legally adopted daughter, it
suddenly hit me: my long sought after child was a complete stranger. And the
enormity of what lay before me filled me with paralyzing terror. It was too
big. Or, more accurately, I was too small. When I confessed this to my
husband, he admitted he was afraid, too. Which somehow made me feel much
worse. When I finally squeaked out, ‘What are you afraid of?" He said,
"All of my fear is for her. If we feel like this, what must she be
feeling?" Yes, of course. I was the adult; she was the child. But I am
ashamed to admit she somehow seemed so much more capable of handling the fear.
I laugh to myself when people say how brave I was to adopt her; Jaclyn is the
only brave hero in this story.
To know Jaclyn is to know wonder. She had no memory of ever
being outside the gates of the orphanage and everything she saw was a marvel.
Many things in life, so routine and mundane to us that they are barely
noticed, are wonders to Jaclyn. She continued to peek under the toilet lid,
enthralled with it, finally flushing a bracelet and checking periodically for
its return. She tried to eat the ice in her drink with a fork. She squealed in
delight at french fries, eyelashes, scissors and bathing suits. One of her
first English words was "WOW! And her wonder is contagious. Our first
time in China we timidly made our way through the street markets. Some in our
group could barely disguise their revulsion at the sights. "How
interesting!" was our most enthusiastic response. This time, seeing it
all through the eyes of Jaclyn, we could hardly get enough of the street
scenes. The cornucopia of sights, sounds and smells became something to revel
in; they were wondrous.
But the journey to Jaclyn has also shown us what is ugly in
this world. Government systems that put process before life, errors in
paperwork that victimize children, the lifelessness of children who live with
no expectations, legally adopted children who are denied immediate status as
US citizens. Racism, disapproval, thinly veiled contempt. Sadly, we have been
sickened by the ugliness of all of these.
To know Jaclyn is to know gratitude. I’ll never forget her
first trip to the grocery store. I was frantically racing the clock,
haphazardly throwing things into my cart. She squealed over each item that
went in, wanting to touch and hold them all, asking over and over, "For
Jaclyn?" She watched, with eyes as round as saucers as I loaded all the
bags into the car. Then, with fierce emotion, she embraced me and said,
"Oh, Xie xie(thank you), Mama!" Her gratitude made me ashamed. She
has illuminated what was sorely missing from my own life: simple appreciation
of the abundance in it. Occasionally I find her opening the refrigerator and
freezer doors and just marveling at all the treasures in them. How can I not
But to know Jaclyn is also to know want-unspeakable want.
Jaclyn is from a showcase orphanage in China-one that they were rightfully
proud to show us. On the day we visited, they had run out of food. So Jaclyn’s
old group of friends had been ‘skipped’ at mealtime so that the younger
children could eat. And from the waif-like appearance of most of the children,
it clearly was not an isolated event. Jaclyn told her friends, "Don’t
worry. I’ll ask my mom to give you something to eat." If I had only
known; I have never felt so inadequate in all my life. Instead, she gave the
one hard candy she was holding to the oldest child who carefully divided it
with his teeth so that each of 20 children could have a sliver. The memory of
that raw need will haunt me forever. I wonder how God looks down upon these
children without weeping.
To know Jaclyn is to know the strength of love. I already knew
the healing power of love; I had seen how it restored life to my first China
baby. But Jaclyn showed me a different kind of love. This barely 4-year-old
child told us proudly about her ‘job’ at the orphanage: she was entrusted
with the care of two toddlers. She told us, "Big girls like me can take
care of ourselves. So we need to help the little ones." Her charges
shared the bed next to her so she could dress, feed, and wash them. But she
also told us how she protected them from the big kids and comforted them when
they were sad. She said she took good care of PoPo, but she gave ’all her
love’ to Shim Me Me. She delighted in telling antidotes about her charges.
In a world many imagine as loveless, a life without mothers, Jaclyn knew how
to give selfless ’mother love’. And this is how she first showed love to
me. So grateful for my loving care that she wanted to love me in the only way
she knew how- by washing my hair, covering me up, giving me her doll to sleep
But this journey has also shown us incomprehensible pain. Shim
Me Me cried silent tears when he had to say ‘good-by’ to his child-mother.
Jaclyn’s comforting rocking and loving caresses of this child, barely a head
shorter than her, were excruciatingly painful to watch. But nothing compared
to hearing her best friend wail, "I wish I had a mom and a dad!" and
the choking, heart-wrenching sobbing that followed. There are no words big
enough to describe this pain. Watching it, I knew that this is what it feels
like when your heart breaks.
Ultimately, to know Jaclyn is to see the embodiment of hope.
In the small glimpse we had of her life inside the orphanage, it was readily
apparent that this radiant little soul did not allow the darkness of her
situation to diminish her life-affirming hopefulness. As I have come to know
Jaclyn, I better understand the tears that were shed as she left the
orphanage. I know some of the sadness was over the loss of this bright light
in their lives; I am sure the darkness has become even thicker with her gone.
I know my own life has never been brighter. On our fourth day
as mother and daughter, Jaclyn turned to me, and out of the clear blue
joyfully said, "I lubba you. I LUBBA YOU!"
I love you, too, kid.
Jaclyn's mother, Cindy Champnella, would be happy to talk to
anyone interested in the adoption of older children. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org