In fact, things are pretty great.
Little X (who yes, still lacks an American name) is a true delight, a scrumptious little ice cream scoop of giggles and mischief. Steve and I are completely in love with him. He’s experiencing a lot of things for the first time: pollution-free air, sustained, one-on-one attention, dog kisses, peanut butter. It’s so cool to watch him explore, and see his face light up.
Steve is off work until April 13, and so we’re both getting a lot of time to bond with him. Each day, we learn a little bit more about each other. Little X does not like strawberries but he will eat bananas all day long. He loves the song “Happy,” which proves that Pharrell has indeed achieved world domination. He likes stacking things. He likes pizza.
Communication can still be a challenge. He understands Mandarin and speaks a few words, but some of what he’s saying is just kid babble, according to our guide in China. We’re not sure if that’s because he lived in an orphanage for three years, or because of his cleft palate. Steve and I have learned a few key Mandarin words — “No,” “Potty,” “Wait,” “You’re cute.” We’ve also taught him a few signs.
We talk to him constantly, and I do think he understands most of what we’re saying. He sings the ABC song (although some of the letters are unintelligible), and he knows how to say “Big Brother, where are you?” among other things. He likes to walk around the house singing: “Xiao-Jie, no no no,” probably because he’s heard it a lot. He always accompanies this song with a devilish little grin. He’s definitely a smart cookie.
Bedtime is hard, as I noted yesterday. We’re trying a bunch of different things, but bottom line, he needs to sleep. It’s our job to make sure he gets enough rest, and let me tell you, this kid will nap for three hours if we let him. So it’s not a question of not being tired. His meltdowns around bedtime seem more mad than scared, but we’re seeing the adoption medicine doc we’ve consulted with all along on Wednesday, so we’ll hopefully get some solutions there.
I’m a little nervous about that appointment. Though little X seems to be perfectly healthy, other than his small size and repaired cleft palate, he hasn’t seen an American doctor yet. Our neighbor is an ER doc, and he says that X seems bright-eyed and engaged, and reaching out for Mom and Dad when he feels unsure. These are all really good signs. But I’m sure we have many more doctor visits in our future. Bini, who was absurdly healthy, had to see an eye specialist and a hearing specialist once we got home, just as a matter of course. X may need additional surgery, and he will almost certainly need speech therapy and orthodontia.
Four months ago, X was just another compressed file from The China Center of Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA). We’d seen five other such files before him, so when the phone call came in from our agency that November day, I let it go to voice mail. We’d said no to yet another little boy earlier that morning, and I just wasn’t up for a chat. I listened to the message while wheeling my cart through Metropolitan Market, and I just knew. I raced home, crying all the way. “Let this be the one, damn it,” I yelled to God, or whoever was listening. “We are such good parents. Please, let this be the one.”
Steve told me later that if X hadn’t been the one, he was going to suggest that we stop. But the compressed file was my precious, beautiful little X, who is (finally) sleeping upstairs. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that he existed all this time, and we didn’t know him.
Sometimes, I catch Bini watching me interact with X, and I wonder if he’s remembering what I remember: I was not as patient with him when he was a toddler. I can give you all the excuses in the world, but bottom line, I did a lot of things wrong. I didn’t know how to slow down, or reflect back his wonder, or talk in gentle Mommy voice. I have few regrets in life, but that’s one of them: That I couldn’t stop being selfish long enough to be the mother that Bini deserved in that first year. I get a second chance with little X, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bini got the short end.
Speaking of short, we have a short list of American names for X, but nothing is sticking. His Chinese name is Xiao-Jie, which means “Little Hero.” I would love to keep it, but I do think that might be a challenging name here in the U.S. This was disputed by a snotty little 14-year-old we met doing a heritage tour in Xi’an, who told us that we absolutely shouldn’t change X’s name. We had to decide on an American name when we took custody, for the paperwork. But that name, Theo, completely doesn’t suit him. He calls himself Xiao-Jie, and that’s what he responds to. I feel a little bad about renaming him, and I think Steve does too. So we just haven’t.
Tomorrow, I’ll write about the flight back. I know everyone wants to hear about that seventh circle of hell.