Just over a year ago, a little boy strutted into the Civil Affairs Office in Wuhan, China. We had
waited and worked and struggled for him for two years. We had at one point nearly lost him because of immigration SNAFUs. He was the last child to arrive that morning, the morning of the spring equinox.
He was holding the hand of an older gentleman in a leather jacket, flanked by two women who had obviously cared for him. Fittingly, he wore a tracksuit with question marks on the chest and hip. Indeed, he was an enigma. I’ve said before and will say again, I didn’t know what I was getting into with this kid.
But from the moment I laid eyes on him, that moment when he side-eyed my daughter until she held out the appropriate toy, I knew it was going to be an incredible journey.
It’s nearly my son’s birthday, and the tales of his finding seem almost mythical to me.
Officially, he was found outside the gates of a secondary school in a small town in Hubei province. But that’s not the story the director of his orphanage told us. He told us that he was found on the altar of the Earth God of the local temple, a story which our guide spent the rest of the week attempting to debunk, which makes it all the more true to me.
Wherever he was found, he is no less than a miracle. And though I was not present at his birth or finding, I recently witnessed him being reborn.
My son has been through two major surgeries in his life—one at five months, and the most recent one in February. I don’t know if the surgeons in China just simply knew his other issues were beyond them and decided not to address them or if he was still too small. In any case, last July we found out he would need more surgery and it was a race against time. If we waited too long, he would lose all the hard-won function he had so gained.
My son and I left for Boston on Feb. 6. I left with a child mostly whole, a child delighted that his own special airplane was coming for him. On our second hop from Manassas to Boston, we watched the sky fall over the North Shore in angles of purple and gold.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude when Nancy Werlin appeared right at the door of our apartment with groceries as soon as we disembarked from our cab. She helped us get our bags in, got us set up, and departed with all an angel’s saving grace. She checked in on us daily, got us to the library, took us to the aquarium on the weekend—I can never thank her enough. (And buy her books, by the way! They’re wonderful!!!)
Our apartment was ten minutes away from the hospital and underground, which seemed mythically fitting to me. We went to a library program, got a few books, and then we holed up mostly until surgery time with the exception of a lovely aquarium trip with Nancy, which included penguins, much to Jupiter’s delight.
My friend Loree Griffin Burns (another excellent writer whose work you should check out), brought us a home-cooked meal and picked us up from our clinic visit. While Jupiter slept in the car, Loree and I sat like teenagers in the front seat for what must have been hours, wrapped up in glorious catching up and writing conversation. I’d really missed her, and was so thankful to her for her generosity, too.
I’ll spare the hairy details of the surgery. The facts are that due to some complications, a normally three-hour surgery extended into seven. If my aunt had not come to stay with us during the worst of it, I don’t know what I would have done.
By about the third day in the hospital, after my aunt had returned home, I realized that I would not be able to get this child home by myself. I had been trying to be strong and thinking I could do everything. I would take him and bring him home. I would do this all alone.
But no child should be born alone. True rebirth takes a village. And here my village stepped in again. When one friend had offered to do a meal signup for my family left behind, other friends stepped in and said, “We are not local, but we want to help. Where can we donate?”
I didn’t want to fundraise for this. We had insurance. We had elected to do this surgery in Boston; we should have been able to cover it ourselves, especially with the help of organizations like Hospitality Homes and Mid-Atlantic Angel Flights. But after some more gentle nudging, I set up a site for what I thought we might need. My friends and some family members nearly quadrupled the amount I shyly requested, and in doing so, made it possible for my entire family to be together.
It was such a tremendous gift for our son, after three weeks of awfulness, to see his father and sister again. He had been reluctant to try to walk again in the hospital. He needed his entire family to help him push through the pain. And I needed to hear my friends remind me when things got tough, when I agonized over the suffering that I was causing him, “You are witnessing his rebirth. That doesn’t happen without pain.”
Even after we got out of the hospital, when I couldn’t imagine that anyone could do more for us, our friends were still there. One of my friends (Ellen Kushner, who happens to be in Paris!) ordered a delicious meal of soup and dumplings for me and Jupiter on our first day out of the hospital, and subsequently conjured another lovely friend to bring us ice cream. (And this friend also brought the entire family a meal!) I am still flabbergasted at the kindness.
When we arrived home, books were waiting on us from my former editor, the fabulous Navah Wolfe. More meals came, and when my son needed to go to the ER after the first weekend because of complications, friends offered comfort, meals, whatever they could.
I am still not sure how to adequately describe how much that support meant to me, how it was like a raft over a dark sea, helping me carry my son to the next shore.
In the last eight weeks, my son has learned to walk again. He’s decided to potty-train and is so proud to be in “big boy panties”. He’s dancing; he says “his songs are returning.” I have witnessed an absolute rebirth of this child, and while there will always be scars, hopefully this means he has a chance at the life he has always deserved, that he has suffered far more than any child should to claim.
“I love you more than seven,” he will say. “More than cupcakes.” That’s some pretty big love right there.
Such love is humbling. I have honestly never known this kind of pure love in my life, and I feel that I fail at deserving it every day. And yet the grace of this rebirth lives there, in that little hand in the morning reaching for my nose, that little voice quietly saying, “Boop. I got you.”
And I’ve got you, son. My unexpected gift. The miracle I surely don’t deserve but am so deeply grateful to have.
Thank you to every single one of you who made this possible. You know who you are.