Sooner than I am ready for the time to be here, my family and I will be on a big ol' jet airliner heading for China. You may be thinking, "Oh, man! She's so lucky to be going on a fabulous, exotic vacation like that!" And I am (thank you airline miles that I've been hoarding for years!), except that I really wouldn't call this trip a vacation in the true sense of the word.
This journey is our first return to China since we brought PunditGirl home and made her part of our family in 2001. I really can't believe it's been that long, yet I also feel like it's been a lifetime since we stepped off the plane at National Airport, our lives changed by a baby who spent the first year of her life in an orphanage with about 100 other children and about eight caregivers. We've talked for many years, as our PunditBaby grew into a PunditGirl, about the amazing things we saw and experienced in January of 2001 when we brought our daughter home from Hunan Province.
I keep trying to come up with the usual PunditMom fare to write about in these days before we get on that 15-hour flight, but with the pressure of a book deadline fast approaching, as well as this trip of a lifetime almost upon us, it's hard to focus on the health care summit, financial regulation or any of that other stuff that usually gets me all riled up!
So I've decided not to fight it, and to give in to the need to write about the trip. PunditGirl can hardly contain herself as we are finishing up our preparations -- getting our visas, buying a snazzy new polka-dot suitcase for her, and thinking about how much rice (her favorite food in the whole world) she'll be able to eat while we're there.
And I've promised myself, I am buying that Mao watch this time!
But there's much more on everyone's minds. PunditGirl has confessed that one reason she's excited about this trip is the fact that for the first time in her life she will be surrounded by people who look like her.
"Now you and Daddy will be the ones who look different," she's repeatedly told us, her chest puffing up with pride at the thought of a whole country full of people who share her skin tone and facial features. We've made many efforts to make sure that her world has Asian friends and families in it, but our neighborhood is not the most diverse in the world, so for better or worse, she sees many more Caucasian people than Asian.
Aside from her apparent joy at being the one who will not look different from everyone else, there's also a good dose of anxiety that's showing itself.
"What if China Mom and China Dad show up and decide they want me back?" A question full of so many things -- the longing for her birth parents to take back a decision they made 10 years ago, the need to know that, as her parents, we would never allow anyone to take her from us, and the age-appropriate fantasy about what her life would be like if she had grown up in the country where she was born.
Yes, we'll be doing the tourist highlights -- the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and the panda preserve. But we'll also be spending a few days in the city where we met her. We'll visit the baby home, though it's not in the same building as the one she lived in. We'll see the babies who are there now and waiting for parents, though today, almost a decade after we adopted PunditGirl, more Chinese families are being encouraged to adopt these children rather than Western families. And, if all goes according to plan, we will be able to visit with the woman who was the head "ayi" (nanny) when she lived there, and who brought PunditGirl (then known by her Chinese name that translates as 'eternal river') to us, dressed in worn but clean clothes that we had to return so another child could get some use out of them.
I'm anxious, too. As an adult, I'm logically able to understand the historical reasons that so many Chinese girls have been available for adoption. When I look at PunditGirl's face or watch her wake up in the morning all warm and snuggly from her sleep or watch her race across the soccer field determined not to let the boys outrun her, I can't imagine being the mother of any other child. But I know for her, no matter how much she nods and says she understands why China Mom and China Dad couldn't keep her, I also know that the thought remains in her head, "But maybe they could have if they'd tried a little bit harder. Maybe they would have kept me if I'd been a better baby."
I'm bracing myself for the possible emotional fallout of these thoughts colliding with the reality she sees in China. PunditGirl has struggled with questions about attachment and permanence -- I'm not sure if this trip will help heal those issues or exacerbate them. But in my heart and my gut I think this is the right time to make this first journey to where she was born -- to see the baby home and possibly to visit her "finding place" (I think I'm going to need more tissues than I can carry with me for that moment).
Right now, we're trying to keep it light -- talking about whether she can play the games on my iPhone on the plane, wondering how far up the Great Wall we'll be able to hike, what it's going to feel like to hold a baby panda (yes, that WILL be our holiday card this year!).
But I feel the low level anxiety starting to creep in for all of us. I have half of a Xanax left from a procedure I had last year. That's definitely going in my carry-on. After that, I'll have to find other ways to keep my emotions under control so I can help PunditGirl with hers.
Joanne Bamberger is a writer and political analyst living in the shadow of the nation's capital. You can find her political commentary at her place, PunditMom. Her work is featured in the forthcoming Courageous Parents, Confident Kids. Her book about mothers' increasing political involvement will be published later this year by Bright Sky Press.
Photos by PunditMom, copyright 2001, 2008, all rights reserved.
Photo of Mao watch courtesy of ChinaSprout.
Follow Joanne Bamberger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JLCBamberger