What does a nine-year-old think and feel about her adoption? What thoughts and feelings does she have on revisiting the orphanage where she lived during the first year of her life and meeting her caregivers?
My recent China Adoption Book Review Series (The Lost Daughters of China, China Ghosts, and Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son Parts One, Two, and Three, has covered writings by adoptive parents and from researchers, journalists and academics into abandonment, orphanage care, and domestic and international adoption in China.
With Kids Like Me in China, we get to hear from an adoptee. Ying Ying Fry visited the orphanage where she once lived in December 2000. With her mother, writer Amy Klatzkin , cofounder of Families with Children from China (FCC) and editor of Passage to the Heart: Writings from Families with Children from China, she wrote this book about that visit. The book is full of great photos, most from Brian Boyd.
“I’m Chinese-American, but I wasn’t born that way. When I was really small, I was just Chinese. Then my American parents came and adopted me, and that’s how I got the American part.”
Ying-Ying attends a bilingual English-Mandarin school in San Francisco (although it turned out to be a different dialect than her caregivers at the orphanage used) and had had the chance to visit several Chinese orphanages on an earlier family trip, but this visit to her old town and orphanage, meeting caregivers who remembered her, and spending time with girls her age who still lived at the orphanage, at their school, and with a Chinese family at their apartment brought up new feelings.
Ying-Ying describes these experiences, the infant rooms, the toddler rooms, the preschool children, the children with special needs, and the sleeping quarters of the older children, who go to neighborhood schools in the daytime and come back to the orphanage at lunchtime and after school.
Ying-Ying helps with the babies. She notes that babies are washed lovingly, but the bottles are propped up on quilts since workers can’t hold all the babies. She notes how busy the caregivers are. She notices that everyone wears several layers of clothes to stay warm, but also notes that money donated by adoptive families has purchased heaters and air conditioners, washing machines, music players and toys.
The book is written in Ying-Ying’s own voice. She tells how she sometimes had to leave the room wondering why all those girls were there (many of them had, like Ying-Ying herself, been found at the police station as a baby) when it wasn’t their fault, although she understands some of the reasons she’s been given—that family name is important, although she doesn’t really understand why, and that boys take care of their families in old age. People having more children than allowed can lose their job and house, pay huge fines, or undergo forced operations. Ying-Ying wonders about her birth mother, family and siblings.
“Sometimes I think a lot about stuff like that. But I don’t talk about it much.”
Ying-Ying travels through some of the Chinese countryside and notes that city and countryside seem like two different worlds, but not much is said about the countryside in her book.
I found it very enjoyable to hear a child’s view of adoption, and my daughter enjoyed hearing the thoughts and experiences of a child just her age who was also adopted.