Sunday, February 20, 2011

E has always wavered a bit on China. Some mornings she'll tell us she is leaving for her country, alone, and that we are not to follow. She assures us not to worry, she'll be back soon (sometimes in just one hour *smile*). Most of the time she worries over returning to this mystical place that exists only in her memory. She questions if she has to go back "to stay", and struggles with the concept of even a visit, a topic we bring up once in awhile as we prepare for that eventuality. She shies from Chinese people in crowds, especially if she hears the language. She recently removed all her pictures of her favorite nanny from her bedside wall and has no interest in replacing them with others. This saddens me deeply, though I understand it is part of her growth, her development and her need to feel secure where she is now, with us. I only wish she could understand (and I hope one day she will) that her country is entirely hers, that she can have both without losing one or the other entirely (I say this because truthfully she has lost so much of her culture of origin, and I know she will never be able to regain those losses).

This morning while she was waiting on her pancake, she was playing with Jiji on the floor and then picked up a heart shaped rock I'd given her for Valentine's Day that has "LOVE" written across it. It has long been her favorite word and in the last several months, hearts have been her favorite shape. I too have a rock that is similarly shaped, but was found along the coast of California... she picked this one up too and looked at me and said, "Mama. This one is mine, this one is yours"...

Mama: "Yep. That's right. Yours has the word "love" on it".
E: "Yeah, and mine is big, and yours is small".
Mama: "Mine is smaller, that's true. Do you know mine came from the beach? From far away, all the way in California."
E: "From before I came here?"

(This is the first time I've heard her phrase a question this way, and while I have always known she understands there was a time before us, a time when we first met, and then this time, I am still always amazed at her ability to really grasp that at 4 and 5 years of age).

Mama: "Yes, from a long time before you came here. I think from before you were even born".

She then goes on with her play and I hear her giggling, which usually means she is thinking of a scene from T*y Story. I ask her if Buzz is making her laugh again and she says, "No Mama. One time I tear a napkin and I give it to Jie Jie. Not cat Jiji, my Jie Jie"... and I reply, "Oh, you mean your Jie Jie in China?"

E: "Yes. And I say 'gay nee' and give her the napkin"
Mama: "You said what to her sweetie?"
E: "(shy, sheepishly): "Gay nee (with emphasis on the gay, a softer nee), like that, in Chinese".**
Mama: "What does that mean sweet pea?"
E: (thinking hard): "I think it mean like I found it or somethin'"

Of course, later, in my search for "found it" in Chinese, there was nothing that came close to my phonetics above. But how incredible that she recalled this moment with someone that she loves, that it brought her those same giggles that only Buzz L*ghtyear can produce. And that though she has lost so much of her spoken first language, it is still there inside of her, still very much a part of her. And while she may not remember what the phrase meant, or doesn't have the ability to translate it, she knows what she said to her Jie Jie in that moment.

I said to Garth last week that we have got to search for a Chinese tutor for her. We have no money, we are struggling paycheck to paycheck right now, but it is the one place I will make the sacrifice. She has no interest whatsoever in learning her language again. (Even though she tries, with those shy smiles, to sing along with the Beijing Angelic Choir). Today she told me, "You and Baba can speak Chinese, I don't want to learn it". But she'll thank me for forcing it later. This is one area where I won't compromise and everyday I feel like we're losing time and I wish we'd started a year ago.

We'll do it as a family. Because her culture is ours. It's too easy to forget that. Too easy to take for granted that she has become "American" by adoption and become complacent and lazy about keeping her culture in the foreground and not the background. I don't ever want to let that happen.

***we have found the meaning (and correct spelling) of "gay nee" thanks to this blogger! She is probably saying "gei ni" which means "give to you" or "I am giving it to you"/"please take it". And as A (the person who emailed me said) this makes absolute sense in the context of the story E was telling me, that she tore the napkin and handed it to Jie Jie and said, "gie ne". To hear E pronounce it though, with the right inflections and with that perfect accent, to hear her say a word I've never heard her use in her language, it has unlocked something in me and I feel completely emotional about it. I can't exactly describe why. I only know I am all the more determined to find a tutor for her (us) and begin this lifelong journey of rediscovering/growing her roots... and that begins with language. her language.


  1. i'll say it again...what a glorious mama you are


  2. I totally agree. And for the tutor, you will somehow find a way.

  3. Wow. Memories from her time in China have persisted much longer than what I could have ever imagined. There's also a strong emotional element that envelopes all of these memories. This is where I become completely useless- I wouldn't know what to do! Obviously, you want her to remember where she comes from and to honor her heritage, but that plain in littered with emotional landmines waiting to go off.

    I know this is hard for you both, but nevertheless, I'm glad it's in your capable hands. As E verbalizes her memories and her feelings about her past, only love will help her (and you) deal with them appropriately.

  4. This is so special. And the act of giving such a sweet gift - it so fits with my daughter's memories of your daughter. My girl only returned to the main home 3 weeks before she was to leave for her SWI. Her foster placement wasn't working out. So she had hazy memories at best of all the kids, even when she first came home. Except for two - Mei Mei and Le Le. My girl knew Mei Mei's name and told me she was kind. She smiled and touched the screen when we looked at Mei Mei's pictures. And for the longest time she asked " Mei Mei's family there yet?". I'm so glad that Mei Mei's family found her, and that she is loved so well. I know she showed love to my daughter who was scared, and I am forever thankful for that.

  5. mncfi,
    i wish so much i had a way to email you... i can't tell you how your words touch me every time you leave a comment here. i would love to hear how your daughter is doing. you can find my email in my profile...

    all the best to you guys,

  6. I used to have lots of websites that teach chinese. Games songs etc? If you are interested I will forward. I need to find them again first.

  7. If you ever have any questions on what you think she is saying please send me a email. My husband is Chinese and when I repeated to him "GayNee" he said Give me:)

  8. Fabulous! And you will find a way to get a's too important not to.

  9. I have lived these kind of experiences and I know how intense and humbling it is. My little one (then 3 or so) started drawing on a steamy kitchen window. I was about to correct her when my husband asked...what are you doing little one? And she replied- numbers. In fact, she was finger writing numbers in Chinese character onto our foggy window. If it weren't for my husband I would have wiped those marks away. Never knowing. A few years later I recounted this little story to my oldest daughter ( who was her foster sister) and she casually said- Oh yeah. I taught her how to write her numbers when we were in China together.

    K- Take a look at this as food for thought about language issues-

    Native language as a trauma trigger has been a real issue in our home. I have needed to be very tender and cautious about how I approach the re-introduction of native language to my oldest. I haven't given up but I have waited much longer than I originally anticipated (a couple years). It has been a very slow and safe introduction through DVD and PC games.

  10. I love hearing Hannah chattering away in Slovak even though it means she is having conversations I can't understand :) Good luck with finding a tutor who is a good fit for your family.

  11. You can try by showing her some youtube videos of Chinese bedtime songs and nursery rhymes. My daughter does not understand everything she is singing along with, but I am happy that she has favorites in both languages native to my family (English and Mandarin). Here's an example

  12. Thanks Serline... she actually has several DVD's in chinese (Dora and some we brought home from China that were favorites there). She still watches Dora now and again (it has very little English in it too). She is less and less interested in these things and hearing from Diane on this and remembering her experience at culture camp last summer, she has a point- to proceed with caution remembering that language is a trigger for trauma. She is showing interest though despite her claims that she does not want to learn Chinese. we'll take it slow and follow her lead and try to guide as best we can. and for sure if she will have it, we'll start with these cartoons!

  13. I know rudimentary Chinese (I'm an ABC and sure wish I knew more) and when I began to read your post I thought, "Wow, she remembers exactly what she said, 'Give you,' even though now she doesn't even remember what it means." What an amazing and complete memory. I am sure she still has a lot of Chinese still there. Best of luck finding the way to help her keep it.

  14. Hi, I have visited often and love hearing about your family. My daughter is 7 and attends a full immersion Chinese magnet program. (We were blessed to get into) It has been awesome and she loves going. (Even if she hates the homework) One of the web sites they recommend for summer is You have to pay a fee but it is great and my daughter loves it. If I think of some others I will let you know. My daughters school only celebrates Chinese holidays and all the teachers are from China. It has allowed me a way to keep her connected to her birth country which she is very proud of.