I actually began writing this letter to you in my head years ago. I started it as we boarded the plane from China to bring you home with us to America. You grabbed my hand tightly and I wondered who was more afraid: you or me?. You were five years old at the time and we had known each other for about 10 days, although the calendar in my heart would disagree and say it had been forever.
You were just so brave ― leaving behind your caregivers, your friends, your birth country, language, food and everything else familiar to you. You walked so boldly into the future, armed only with your faith in me and your Dad to make life turn out OK. I was terrified as a first-time mom, but already knew I would gladly give my last breath to protect you from harm. From the moment you broke free of your orphanage caregivers and ran into my arms, all I’ve wanted to accomplish with the rest of my life has been to keep your happy spirit alive and your smile kindled sweet. I prayed that the unfaltering love of a family could accomplish that. We know I’m not perfect, but Sweetie, you just may be.
For the past dozen or so years you have been the light of our lives. Yes, of course, your brother is that too. And I really don’t think he means it when he says he’s claiming your room as soon as you leave because the WiFi is better in there. He will miss having you around. While he has more than once rushed to protect you with his fists, he has also learned forgiveness from you. Do you remember that girl in second grade who bullied you and stole the luggage tag off your violin, threw it in the cafeteria trash can? When we all met up in the principal’s office where she was made to apologize, you hugged her and asked her “why does being mean to people make you feel good?” The jaw of every adult in the room dropped to the floor ― including mine. Your wisdom will always be your guide. Trust yourself.
I also need to commend you on your work ethic. You aren’t a quitter, no matter how hard your learning challenges were to overcome. If it was tough, you just dug in deeper. I would find you passed out at the table surrounded by textbooks and you never complained. Not once. You never blamed a teacher (OK, I did that for you), you never asked for special considerations (yeah, guilty there too), you just worked harder than anyone I have ever seen.
And then there is your heart. Remember when we went to China when you were 14 and we revisited your orphanage? Pretty heavy day, if you recall. You used the visit to make peace with your past, to accept all the pain and loss that comes with adoption that people don’t like to talk about, forgive and move on. When you look back, it is to help those left behind. It’s why before we said goodbye that day to your former crib-mate, you pledged to come back and help Fu Hui get the surgeries she needed to repair her clefts. And you did it, Baby. You did it. You applied that “won’t take no for an answer” attitude and channeled it toward making a difference in that one starfish’s life.
You rallied Chinese adoptees from around the world to raise money and “help the sisters left behind.” And while I know you did it for selfless reasons, selflessness had its own payback in this case. You wrote your college essay about Sophie’s Project/Love Without Boundaries and the colleges, well, they pretty much were tripping over themselves to get you as a student. You done great, Kiddo.
And now comes the best part: In a few days, we will deposit you in your new college dorm room. I have to admit, it’s been a little bittersweet shopping for dorm refrigerators and microwaves. Your school isn’t all that far away but I can tell from the links you’ve been sending me about how important it is for freshmen to get involved on their campuses that you won’t be coming home every weekend. I hope my efforts to get your local babysitting clients to use you on weekends weren’t too obvious. In the meantime, thank you for teaching me how to text and skype.
There are no words for how much we will miss seeing you every day. But I am oddly at peace with your leaving for college. I know you are ready and I truly can’t wait to see how you make this world better ― which you absolutely will because you already have.
Go forth, my Peanut. You got this.
p.s. No, I won’t let Simon have your room.