Fifteen year ago yesterday, we were given this tiny, timid, dirty little girl in bright new clothes and shoes by Director Ye, the director of the Shangrao Orphanage. We met them in Nanchang, the capitol of Jiangxi province, in China. We had been doing the “paperchase” for her adoption for months…then the waiting began. We lived on Okinawa, Japan at the time, and Joe was 11 and Tim was nearly 10. We got the call from the adoption agency and we were on our way. We were one of two families adopting special needs children that morning in Nanchang. The other was a little girl named Faith…going to a home in Michigan. We had met her mother while trekking the Great Wall of China outside Beijing the day prior. Little did we know when we heard that American voice and struck up a conversation, that we would be spending much of the next two weeks together…and 15 years later, would still be in touch. I have already texted their family back and forth today! Faith and Lily spent time together in two cities in China as our families accomplished all the adoption paperwork, and we even met them for lunch in Michigan several years back. Now our daughters are juniors and both functioning as only children as their older siblings have grown and left the nest. Evidently Faith is getting her nose pierced for her adoption day gift this year! Lily won’t even get her ears pierced, so I don’t have to worry about that quite yet. We were given Lily and told to go to the hotel and spend time with her until the next day, where we would go before the magistrate and she would officially become our daughter. We were given 24 hours to decide if we could do this…if we could go ahead and take her as ours.
Lily was exhausted and traumatized by being taken from her foster mother and being on a bus in the summer for 3 hours and then placed with a family that didn’t look or smell or talk like anything she had ever seen. Even the toys we brought for her scared her at first. She had never seen a stuffed animal. She was so tiny….20 months old and wearing 9 month clothing. She had never been in air conditioning. It was so hot outside and we had to dress her so warmly inside. We couldn’t get her to drink the formula we had. All water has to be boiled in China…every hotel room comes with a boiler pot to make the water potable. She wouldn’t drink it. We started feeding her rice congee….like a soupy rice mixture. We were told not to introduce too many foods at once, but she was STARVING. Literally. We mixed pieces of chicken in there…then some carrots and beans. We fed her a lot of snacks we had brought with us. Teddy Grahams were a quick favorite. We gave her fruit and veggies. She ate us all under the table….for about 6 months. We found out that the formula she had been drinking up until that point had traces of lead in it (I had heard this and had her lead levels checked upon returning home). She loved water and apple milk. Yeah, haven’t seen it since I left China, but it was a staple for her while we were there….apple milk. She was very quiet and stoic that first day….never smiling and trying her best not to cry out loud. Have I mentioned that witches in China are blond and white? Yeah, I don’t think she understood that, but still, I was the last person she wanted to spend time with. The boys played ball with her and she just watched….until suddenly she picked up the ball and threw it hard at Joe, who was so surprised, he pretended to be knocked over. She laughed. We all just stared. The ice was broken after that with the boys. I knew enough Chinese at the time to tell her that they were her brothers and what their names were. She loved her Baba (Rich – her dad). They snuggled together and she crashed hard that first night. For a guy who wasn’t sure about all this daughter stuff, he sure was wrapped around her little finger pretty quickly. He wasn’t around very much when the boys were really little because the Air Force had him flying all over the world. I could tell he was going to make it different with her as much as he could. He was giving her a bath that first night….it had been weeks since her last one…her feet were so dirty and the dirt in her toenails…ugh. I was working with the translator to get paperwork signed ahead of time for the adoption the next day. He came out in a panic. First of all, Lily wouldn’t sit in the water. She just stood. She was afraid of it. He thought she had pooped in the bathtub and was freaking out. False alarm…she had been holding a teddy graham in the crook of her sweaty arm and it fell into the tub water. The whole thing still makes me laugh. He tried to brush her teeth…something totally foreign to her. He also let her watch him shave by putting white shaving cream all over his face. She DID NOT like that at all! So today is the official day the Chinese government gave her to us to be our daughter. She stopped being Ling Guang Su and became Lily Su Grace Messina.
I don’t know what her big brothers would say, but Lily has definitely brought life into our family that wouldn’t have been there without her. She is so funny…so smart and inquisitive. Lily is now 16 and a half years old…driving with a permit and working at Rich’s store. She is a junior and loving her classes, especially psychology. Lily is unabashably afraid of bugs of all sorts. She is the queen of miniature origami. She is NOT a morning person and can pop up with weird facts about all sorts of things. She makes my day better and I wish that her teenage years wouldn’t have been marred by my cancer diagnosis. I am super honest with her about all that is going on with me. Although she never buys much of anything or asks for anything, she is so much fun to go shopping with…or on a photoshoot with. She has a great eye with composition for photography. Lily is also a fantastic artist. She blows me away with her talent. She is also in German IV, which I find amusing that my Chinese American daughter speaks German. Lily has been a great travel companion on our trips here and there. She left Canada a few years ago with a love for Tim Horton’s, maple candy, poutine, and Banff National Park. I am so very blessed to have had her as my side kick and daughter for the last 15 years. My life is so much fuller for it.