Once Alison and Bill prepared the kids for Alison’s trip and the new baby’s arrival, Luke and Devon never questioned their parents beyond simple queries such as “Is China farther than Florida?” and “Where is ‘New Baby’ now?” “Because their father would be taking care of them like always, they seemed perfectly content that all would be fine,” says Alison.
The first week that Alison was gone, Bill tried to maintained the family’s regular summer program/daycare schedule. The second week, Bill took a week of vacation and took the kids to the family’s cabin with his sister, her husband and their two children. “Each time I called the cabin, either Luke or Devon would answer the phone laughing,” recalls Alison. “They would tell me that they had caught a fish, or saw a baby bear, or had gone out in the kayak. They were having a great time and I felt as if I wasn’t needed at all!” laughs Alison.
Alison called home frequently while she was gone, racking up a $700 phone bill from China to America. “What the kids seemed to focus on more than anything else was 1) how many planes I had to take there and back and in between, and 2) how many hours on each plane,” says Alison. Each phone call contained within it a variation on the theme: “Now Mommer’s getting on another plane and boy it’ll be a long ride.” According to Alison, it was their way of trying to grasp the enormity of the trip.
Alison and Bill’s decision not to take Luke and Devon on the adoption trip was also out of sensitivity to China’s one-child policy. “I can barely imagine the anguish that must have accompanied the birth mother’s decision to relinquish our daughter Min, who is a bright, beautiful and joyful child. Whatever the reason, you can be sure it stemmed from China’s one-child policy.” Alison said she would have been very uncomfortable bringing the whole family on the trip because it would continually convey to everyone they met in China that “our rules are different....we can have as many children as we want.”
Alison also had this to share with all adoptive parents of Chinese children. “I speak Mandarin and tried to answer the myriad of questions that people on the street in China asked me and the other adoptive parents in my travel group, as gracefully, gently and truthfully as possible. Without exception, people would draw me aside once they knew I spoke Chinese and tell me, urgently, how much they love their babies in China - ALL babies, not just boys - and how very much so many families would like to have more than one child. The love of children is something anyone who’s been in China knows in their gut. I would never want to hurt people by parading around Luke and Devon while carrying Min in my arms, knowing that a larger family is a near impossibility in China.”
When Luke, Devon and Min are older, Alison and Bill would like to spend a year or so living in China with all three of their children. “That would be a much better way to really understand and experience the culture of Min’s native country,” says Alison.
Sheila Carrigan and her husband Marlin Buse looked into all the travel options before they adopted their daughter Pari (pronounced: “Perry”) from China last summer. They eventually decided that Marlin would travel with his own sister Mary, who is single, and Sheila would stay at home with their six-year-old son Brandon. “It was a hard decision, but we decided it made sense for our family,” says Sheila. “We had never left Brandon for more than a week. And we worried about leaving him that long and then coming home with a sister.” Sheila says an advantage of their travel arrangement was that they could keep Brandon in his usual schedule. Also, since Sheila worked full-time while Marlin was away, she would have two extra weeks of leave time when Marlin and Pari came home.
When the time came for Marlin and Mary to leave, Sheila and Brandon took them to the airport. “We took one last picture of ourselves as a ‘family of three,’” recalls Sheila. “I was really nervous and sad as we said good-bye.” From the airport, Sheila and Brandon went to the Denver Natural History Museum to see the dinosaur exhibit and then on to a picnic sponsored by their adoption agency. “By happy coincidence, our agency was having its annual summer picnic on that afternoon. Brandon and I were so excited and happy to see all the beautiful babies and children. We felt much better about Marlin winging his way across the ocean to bring Pari home.”
Sheila and Brandon called Marlin and Mary everyday. “On the first night in Nanchang, we were shocked to hear that they had just received Pari! Marlin said that she was cute as a bug. And I’ll never forget how full my heart felt as Brandon ‘talked’ to his little sister by phone. It was really hard not to see her for all those days.”
When Marlin, Mary and Pari arrived home, Sheila says that she was awake, well-rested and refreshed, rather than exhausted from the trip and travel home. “I think it was a good decision for us. I think the transition from ‘King of the Castle’ to brother was easier on Brandon because I stayed home with him. He is sweet and loving to Pari. And she is doing really well. Also, Marlin and Mary had a great brother-sister trip together. Someday, we will all travel to China together.”
Jackie feels that the newest addition has many issues that need to be handled by the primary caregiver. “I love this time of intense bonding with no other distractions, and the ability to concentrate on and get to know each of my children before the real world intrudes. Quite frankly, I am pretty selfish about this special time. I would rather deal with the inevitable sibling rivalry at home,” says Jackie. “We are a very close family. My kids are very tight. So from my perspective, they did not need to be there from the first moment in order for them to bond.”
“We have adopted three times internationally and I really never seriously considered taking any of the siblings along,” says Jackie. “Our first adoption (daughter Kristen, now age 12) was from Korea, which required two trips. We were living in Japan at the time. My husband and I took our then five-year-old son, Ryan, with us on the first trip to meet his baby sister and do some paperwork. I returned alone six weeks later to pick up our daughter. Our second adoption was to Thailand (for daughter Katey, now age 8). Again I traveled without the kids, but my mother came along. We were in Thailand for two very busy weeks. Our daughter needed my undivided attention. Daughter number three, Kelsey (10 months at adoption), is from China. I traveled alone.”
The Szczepanik children are always very involved in the adoption process-from helping their parents get the adoption documents together, to dreaming about how the new baby would be, to looking at baby “stuff.” “We discuss the trip and how much I will miss them, but taking them along is never up for discussion,” says Jackie. “While I’m gone, the kids and their dad plan a homecoming celebration, which they all enjoy.” Jackie says that the highlight of the kids’ time at alone with their Dad was their time spent alone with Dad. “My husband took vacation days, so they had him all to themselves.”
Jackie says that one of the best things she did to prepare her older children for the new one’s arrival was to carry around a sack of flour in a Snugli. “I was doing this to get in shape for lugging a baby around China,” she says. “The ‘baby’ first weighed five pounds, then 10. It was so silly and we had some very funny comments and reactions to the ‘baby.’ We kept it a secret that the baby wasn’t real because the girls were very embarrassed that their nutty mom was actually going out in public with this ‘baby.’ But the laughter opened the door for some good and honest discussions about the upcoming change in their lives,” reflects Jackie.
While Jackie was gone, the kids and their dad planned a homecoming celebration. “That’s always fun for them,” she says. To keep the kids and dad up to date, Jackie sent faxes after each important step: when she first arrived in China, when she met Kelsey for the first time, when the adoption was final. “I wish I had sent a fax daily to the kids. They would have felt more a part of the process that way.”
After Jackie returned, the kids were asked to help with the baby and were expected to help in any way they could. “They were great! The oldest drove his siblings to their activities without arguing. The girls jumped in and did chores without being asked! It was wonderful while it lasted,” laughs Jackie.
“Each of my daughters know that I went alone to get her. I have told and retold the stories of my grand adventures to bring them home,” says Jackie. “It’s just the way it works in our family. Some moms go to the hospital to have babies ... their mom hops on a plane. The end result is the same.”
Mary Ebejer Petertyl is a professional writer and editor, and the mother of three children, two “home-made” and one “made in China.” She is also the author of a new children’s book, Seeds of Love: For Brothers and Sisters of International Adoption, which she wrote to prepare her own daughter for their extended separation during international adoption travel.
© Mary E. Petertyl