An adoptee blossoms into a passionate adoption advocate seeking to find true loving families for children in China.
“Settle down, it'll all be clear. Don't pay no mind to the demons; they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down and if you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you're not alone, cause I'm gonna make this place your home.” – Home by Phillip Phillips
It’s hard to imagine my life if I hadn’t been adopted but I know that I’d be missing so much. Having been adopted at fourteen months, I was one of the lucky ones. I was raised almost from infancy by my two loving parents who made sure I had everything I needed. They did whatever they could to ensure I was happy, raising me to be polite, well-mannered and incredibly sarcastic. I was told every day how much I was loved and wanted and that I could do anything. I was always reminded to be thankful for what I had and encouraged to use my advantages to help others. It was very important to my parents I grow up to be cultured and knowledgeable so I was shown the world – all its beauties and harsh realities.
My childhood was filled with baggage claims, TSA announcements, and bad airplane food. My sister and I have heard Big Ben’s chimes, wandered the incredible Anne Frank House, gasped at the beauty of the Taj Mahal, safari-ed the great Maasai Mara of Kenya, drifted down the Li River on bamboo raft, trekked the Mayan ruins of Belize, and swam the blue waters of Cozumel, Mexico. We’ve also seen the crippling poverty and sadness and know that the world can be cold and unfair. The streets of India gave us a glimpse of life’s cruelty. It was shocking to see so many people, young and old, on the streets in such poor living situations. Looking out at the hungry faces just broke my heart. It is these moments I will never forget; they stay with me and remind me that it’s important to help those who cannot help themselves.
My sister and I were both adopted from China and our parents always encouraged us to love our culture. On Chinese New Year, we would dress up in our little, silk dresses and go to the party held each year for families of adoptees. There was food and activities like piggy bank painting (during the Year of the Pig) and a New Year dragon parade (of course, during the year of the Dragon). My sister and I would also give our classmates red New Year envelopes full of chocolate coins and my mother would share a presentation on Chinese culture. I was very proud of my heritage and was always very excited whenever I’d learn we’d be travelling back.
In 2006, my parents organized a heritage trip for my sister and me to see our orphanages. I got to sit on the dusty steps I was abandoned on and meet my dedicated amah (nanny) who took care of me for fourteen months. I saw the bamboo crib that I’d shared with another little girl and I had my picture taken next to the very tree that was in one my parents’ earliest photos of me. It was very surreal seeing my orphanage, a place that was merely the setting of a story I couldn’t remember. Suddenly it was real. There were real rooms and real nannies. And there were real babies, crawling on the floor and crying in their cribs - desperate for attention and love. I remember thinking to myself, “I was one of them; I was just like them”.
For fourteen unremembered months, I’d sat right where they’d sat and cried just as they’d cried. It was in that moment I had the very powerful realization that while I was taken from this place of hard floors and bamboo furniture to the open, loving arms of a forever family, some of the children I was looking at may not be so lucky.
This harsh truth stayed with me, ever present in my mind as I grew up and I’ve always been thankful for how lucky and blessed I am.
Let’s fast forward to November 2015, where I got the amazing opportunity to participate in the Children’s House International (CHI) Linyi Orphanage Winter Camp! This camp was for children from the Linyi orphanage who were difficult to place for adoption due to their special medical needs, or, for some, because they were older than three years old. My Dad and I, along with eleven other advocates, were attending to learn about these children first hand, and then return home and advocate for their adoption. Being able to go back to China and bring joy to the lives of the orphans was a dream come true and I was completely over the moon excited.
Upon meeting the Linyi orphanage directors, we began to understand how muchour volunteering really mattered to them. We’d just got off a bullet train and were walking towards the exit when a gasp rang out over our group! Right in front of the exit, there was a big, loud crowd. The Linyi orphanage directors were waiting, ready to welcome us and so happy to meet the Americans who’d come to help their children. We walked over and were completely swept into the excitement. There were many greetings in broken English and several hugs. We were surprised by their incredible kindness, enthusiasm, and dedication to be up at 12:30am - excited and welcoming unknown strangers. They were just as excited as we were it seemed and it really made a statement about how much they truly cared about their children.
We were all extremely eager to meet the kids and most of us weren’t prepared for how emotional it would be. After jumping up and down all morning with excitement, we were so happy when we finally arrived to the Opening Ceremony. We were taken into a large, decorated room with a stage at its front. There were children and nannies in all the seats, waving and smiling. We took our seats which were indicated by little name tags, teacups, and pins, each with a picture and the name of the child assigned to us. We pinned them on and turned to find our kids in the sea of orphans. The scene was incredibly overwhelming with little babies all bundled up and older children with heartbreaking smiles from growing up in an orphanage. Being there, able to physically see all the children without families to love them and hold them and tuck them in at night broke my heart. We were all crying and aww-ing at all the cute babies when we were told the ceremony was about to begin. There were speeches upon speeches by important people. We were told how appreciative they were for our visit and how we were saving their children. Suddenly, the trip seemed like so much more than I’d dreamed it’d be. When the speeches ended, the children were brought up to the stage and we finally got to meet them.
I was assigned FengFeng (American name Joplin), a ten-year old with a repaired cleft lip and unrepaired palate. I gave him a hug and he gave me the little book he’d created full of information about him. He also gave me the crayon drawing of a house and family he’d made. A translator told me he wanted a Mama and Baba so badly, he seldom ever drew anything but families he wanted (and the occasional monster truck). My dad was assigned a five-year old little girl named XiXi who had cerebral palsy and needed a walker to get around. XiXi was cute as a button and completely terrified of Dad. Not being cared for by men, she was very wary and scared so Dad asked me if I could help. I showed her her backpack, pulling out the unicorn stuffed animal, fluffy blanket, and Barbie sunglasses we’d got her. She perked up once I gave her a lollipop and put her Frozen bracelets and lip gloss watch on her wrist. FengFeng wanted a bracelet too so I gave him the one of Kristoff and he loved it. We sat together and looked through their All About Me books as I praised all their lovely drawings and the cute pictures. It was great just sitting and holding them. It was unbelievable that these children I’d just met but already knew were absolute angels were without families.
Soon it was time for us to go so we loaded up the bus. With Xixi on my lap and FengFeng by my side, we drove away from the orphanage and off to the hotel where the children would be staying with us. When we got there, the children were amazed at the shiny floors, high ceilings, and beautiful Christmas display complete with a two-story tree that we took a group picture in front of. We took the kids to the dining room for dinner and we filled up our plates. There was soup, dumplings, beef, fruits, noodles, vegetables, and French fries. We all sat together in a back corner designated just for us and I fed XiXi, making sure the portions weren’t too big. She helped cut the food, guiding the knife in my hand. She was so sweet and was like a bottomless pit, always hungry for the next bite – especially if the bite included whip cream as her chocolate cake desert did. FengFeng was just happy to be given attention and always made sure we were there, ready to watch him. He wanted to badly to please us and it took a while for him to relax.
We did a lot of hanging out at the hotel due to the recent snowstorm (the first of the year) that made the roads dangerous. We got to spend a lot of time getting to know the kids and quickly fell in love with their energy and joyful natures. During playtime, the entire hallway became our domain. Everyone would leave their doors open so everyone could run about and it was the perfect kind of chaos.
There was coloring and stickers and someone printed out paper turkey glasses for the kids to decorate. The business of finger nail painting had never done better; every single adult and kids – man, woman, boy, girl – sported sparkly bright colored nails. A bag of ring pops was discovered at one point and from then on, there wasn’t a time XiXi didn’t have one upon her finger. Often you could find her with two or three on one hand. She also loved to sport her tiara I’d searched desperately to bring for her, so with her crown, pink sunglasses, Frozen bracelets, lip gloss watch, and candied rings, she was sufficiently bling-ed out. Someone brought balloons and we blew those up and hit them around the rooms and hallways. XiXi loved to crawl after them, along with the wind-up toy cars we’d set loose to give her a little high speed chase. She’d scoot around, melting your heart with her cheerful giggle and easy smile.
FengFeng and his little buddy, Link, were usually running from room to room, taking pictures with Clara’s Leap Pad and Joleigh’s little purple digital camera. They documented everything and once we showed them how to turn the camera around, we unleashed new selfie-masters unto an unsuspecting camp. They had so much fun and it was really special to see them have fun. And fun was definitely had.
The rooms looked like hurricane zones with toy cars, half-eaten dum dums, balloons, PlayDoh, multiple crayons, and more scattered across the floors. Activity was everywhere with cute kids wandering from room to room. Grown-ups laughter and little kids screeches of “Mama” and “Baba” filled the air. Giggling kids engaging in fierce tickle-fights, lining the hallway and their laughs warmed up everyone’s heart.
Every day, Dad and Scott would find something fun to occupy the older kids with while the younglings napped. They liked to give them stimulation when they could tell cabin fever occurred due to being cooped up inside for too long. Sometimes they went on walks to explore and once they played outside in the snow. Brilliant snowmen were created and dotted the majestic hotel courtyard. There were tales of great snowball fights where I’m proud to say Breezy, the shy twelve-year old girl, smoked everyone. When the massacre was over, the kids skipped excitedly back to the hotel rooms followed by the aching older folks who told us of the horrors that befell them. It was great to see the joy on the kids’ faces and we were so impressed by their happy, adventurous spirits.
One day, Dad and Scott took some of the boys swimming. When they got to the pool, two of the younger boys jumped right in, ready go! The other two, FengFeng and Link, were terrified, not even getting close to the water. They’d never been swimming before! They saw Dad and Scott and the two other boys laughing and playing and became braver and waded in. Soon they were splashing and having fun being tugged around in inner tubes by Dad and Scott. They absolutely lit up, having a blast with their chunk of “guy time”. They always jumped at the chance to go hang out with Dad and Scott and you could tell they respected and even idolized them greatly. Later, during an interview, FengFeng told translators that swimming was now his favorite thing to do and I was so happy we were able to give him a good time he’ll always remember.
It was amazing spending Thanksgiving in China with the kids! We spent the day at a children’s museum that was set up like a little town where the kids were able to pretend have all sorts of different jobs. They got to be doctors, news anchors, hair stylists, ink workers, nannies, teachers, archeologist, flower shop workers, chocolatiers, police men, and even prisoners. We got to go and chase fish in the aquarium shop and XiXi was mesmerized by the little gold fish. We also had fun dancing and singing at the superstar theater. A little boy named Stellin who was blind surprised us with his wonderful voice and sang us a beautiful song about wanting a home, causing us all to tear up.
Watching all the children run around and play pretend really made our hearts soar. These children were making the best of their quickly fleeting childhood and it was so beautiful to see how open to life and love they were. Acting their age and exploring the world around them is what their childhoods ought to be full of. Instead, kids such as FengFeng worried about whether they’d be adopted by a family ready to love and support them.
That night, we were given a special Thanksgiving dinner – China style. While we ate, the kids performed a little show they’d prepared for us. They started off with songs about Thanksgiving then moved to Christmas and New Years. My favorite was Little Apple, a Chinese pop song every child knew and sassily grooved to. Because she couldn’t really dance, XiXi sat with me and we danced in our chairs, arms waving. FengFeng was up on stage and even got a solo in the last song that was in the tune of O Clementine. I was so proud of him; he sang loud and proud and looked like he had a lot of fun. After the show, he came over with his face covered in makeup (blue eye shadow and lipstick) to see how we liked it. I think Dad and my applause embarrassed him. (The whistling and wooting might not have helped). When we hugged him and patted him on the back, he absolutely beamed.
Five days fly by faster than you’d think. Within no time we were back in that ceremony room, prepared for the difficult Closing Ceremony. Our kids gave us gifts, ferocious stuffed animal tigers meant to keep our homes safe and bracelets they’d made us. Then, they were called up on the stage to sing us one last song. It was a doozy called I Want A Home. It was so beautiful and so sad to see our little babies (Warning: I call all people twenty-one and below babies. It’s a fact of life, accept it) singing and dancing their little hearts out. We all began crying and tissues were being given out by the handfuls. In the middle of the song, FengFeng started to cry and I just broke down, causing a lot of the others to join in. We would’ve all collapsed into an undignified sobbing heap if not for the need to stay strong for our babies. So we stayed upright and smiled through our tears, waving and giving thumbs up to our kids who we’d soon be leaving. After the song, we were told so eloquently to “say goodbye and give the kids back to the orphanage” and so with red noses and wet eyes, we hugged our little angels goodbye. I hugged FengFeng who was still crying. We cried together for a while then I squeezed him, looked at him, and smiled. He did his best to smile back and then trudged off to say his difficult farewells to Dad. I looked down and saw my smiley little baby, trying to be happy enough for everyone who wasn’t. I took XiXi up in my arms and spun her around. Her giggle sent strikes of pain and loss though my heart, shattering it. I kissed her and rubbed noses with her and she gave me one last share of her lip gloss watch she’d insisted upon sharing with me the entire week. I let her down and thanked her nanny, who’d been there the whole week ready to help out. Then she and my baby walked out and I watched them go, missing her already. I think I could feel my heart physically break when I noticed that almost all the kids had gone but FengFeng and Laura were hugging and swaying. She was holding him as he cried on her shoulder and she just looked at me, as if telling me it would be alright but this was all we could do for him today. He’d so wanted a home and he thought he’d found one in us. I went over and hugged him, cherishing the last moment I’d be able to hold him. I told him I loved him and kissed him on the head and then he was led away by the nannies and Link, who offered him his shoulder to lean on. I watched him until he was out of sight and then just felt empty.
Transitioning after I got back from my trip was tough. My world didn’t seem worth it; I just wasn’t doing enough.
There was nothing in my life that I felt made a difference and I couldn’t stand just sitting in Spanish class while millions of children’s clocks for finding a true, loving family ticked ever faster. I was lost.
Then I decided to do something. I remembered all the kids and did my best to get them all a family. There was shy little Breezy who simply lit up when she was bought a pretty dress and Lindberg who became known as the Little Hurricane – moving so fast and leaving beautiful messes in his wake. Ringleader Link was the most mature and always made sure his people were taken care of. Ava and Aidan, who had Hep B, were ready to go home with Trisha and always dropping utensils. Mellisin who had cerebral palsy like XiXi was so sweet and loved to greet people with kisses and hugs. Hallin, who’d joined the camp later in the week was the most polite young man and always wanted to converse in English with us. (He so impressed his advocate Scott, that Scott has now submitted paperwork to adopt him!). Annalise, who will be Joleigh’s daughter very soon, discovered the joy of tutus and proved to be a real cute bossy pants to her bestie Theo. Stellin who learned to properly use a walking cane (and who could navigate by echolocation by making clicking noises) sang us some beautiful songs, and Clinton and Kingzton who were a dynamic duo, remained super chill and always gentlemanly.
All these kids needed families so I threw myself into advocating for the Linyi children; posting albums on Facebook, talking to prospective parents, and writing essays about the trip. I am happy to announce that many of the children have families now, ready to come and bring them home. (My darling XiXi is being adopted by a family that has family in my state so I even may get to see her again!)
My trip to China this November was spectacular. I made some amazing friends and found myself some great role models whose compassion, spunk, and goodness absolutely blew me away. There were good times (snow angels on the Great Wall, people) and bad times (crying in a Chinese supermarket, not my proudest moment… story for another time) that I will always cherish. And I met some children I know I will never forget and will forever care about. Spending time with them and getting to know their personalities proved to be the funnest thing ever. There is not a single moment I’d want to forget nor one I’d wish to change because all of it was the best and the five days I spent at the Children’s House International Linyi Orphanage Winter Camp (quite a mouthful) were the fullest, truest, realest days in my life. They were so short but they held so much and if I could, I’d go back and do it all again.
“You know, I truly believe adoption is one of the greatest unheralded blessings in the world. Think, how beautiful it is to give a child a home and to become a family because you choose to! Maybe that's the best way to make a family, don't you think?”
Kristin Harmel, The Life Intended
While in China Kinsey met Stellin, an eleven year old young man who is blind. Together, with Glenda Scott, Stellin's assigned advocate while in China and RainbowKids, Kinsey is stepping up her search for his forever family. Please take a moment to read about Stellin in Glenda's own words:
Stellin is eleven years old and cannot see. I got to take care of him at the CHI Linyi Orphanage camp this November. I really enjoyed my time with Stellin. He is smart, sweet, and fun-loving. It was my first time spending time with a visually impaired person and I was so impressed by how intelligent and articulate he was. Stellin’s an adventurous little boy who enjoys "boy" stuff like playing in the snow, exploring the hotel and riding on a bus. He is very capable and very tidy. He takes care of almost all of his needs, which I found amazing. Even though he is blind, he easily adapts to new surroundings and people. At camp, he was taught how to use a walking stick for feeling objects in front of him and caught on quickly, zipping through the hallways going from room to room. Also, when I first me Stellin, he was easily excitable and talked pretty loud but soon, he was speaking in normal tones and calling my name ever so softly. Stellin attends school where he is learning braille and with a family who could provide him with the proper educational opportunities, he will go far. For all his life, Stellin has lived in the orphanage and he’s often expressed that he would very much love to have a family. He really needs a family who loves and supports him so he can reach his full potential and continue his education. He’s so ready to love and is waiting in China. I miss him so much.
Contact Nina Thompson to learn more about how you can begin the process of making Stellin your son.
If you know an amazing kid doing great things to change our world by making a difference in the lives of others nominate them for a RainbowKids Hope Ambassador!