Saturday, April 4, 2009


My toenails. They're shiny.

Not just regular, fresh-from-a-pedicure shiny.

Twinkling shiny.

The lady at the pedicure place put rows of tiny diamonds along the edge of my freshly painted toenails today. For free.

This is how it happened:

Olivia came in to visit Christina and me while we were getting our toenails done. She had been playing at the indoor playground down the hall with her siblings, but she came in for a few minutes and was pretty jealous that we were getting pedicures and she wasn't.

She looked awfully cute today, wearing a flowery dress and her hair in two braids. The pedicurist commented on how beautiful she was.

"Thanks," I said.

A little while later the lady commented again, "She's so cute. American children are so cute."

I smiled. "She's Tianjin ren." Meaning, she was born in Tianjin.

"Shi ma?" cried the lady, her eyes getting big. Really?

I swear, half the time -- no, more than half the time -- when people here talk about Olivia, they don't realize she's Chinese. They just make comments like, "Her hair is darker than yours," or "She doesn't look like you." Then they're absolutely amazed when I tell them she's adopted. Flabbergasted, in fact.

"Yes," I replied. "She was in the Tianjin Orphanage."

The lady promptly gave me the thumbs up. "You're wonderful. You're wonderful." Her eyes were wide as she looked at me; I thought she might start crying. "You're wonderful."

I don't know how to respond when people say this to me. Usually I just try to defer the praise to Olivia. "She's wonderful. We love her." I want people to know she is a blessing, a gift, a fulfillment of a dream to us, more than we could ever be to her. After all, we chose her, not the other way round. Getting her adoption finished after all those years of waiting was nothing short of a miracle. We are thankful, brimming-over thankful, that she's our lawful child.

But my Chinese isn't good enough to say all that.

The pedicurist continued looking at me with round eyes, looking at Olivia, teasing her, spoiling her. Olivia even got a free nail painting.

And before I knew quite what was happening, the pedicurist was edging my toes with diamonds. When I asked why, she looked at me and said, "You're wonderful."

All I could do was shake my head, severely humbled, wishing I could give praise where praise was due.

After all, Olivia's adoption was so much more than simply bringing a child into our home. It was a journey, one that started for me long before Olivia was born.

As a senior in high school I visited an orphanage in Fujian province. Wandering the halls, I heard a sound coming from a room that at first appeared dark and empty. When I peeked in through the cracked door I saw there was a baby with a cleft lip and palate left there to die because it "couldn't eat." I left that orphanage sobbing, praying, wishing I were old enough, rich enough, powerful enough to scoop that baby up and smuggle it back to Hong Kong with me. I wasn't and I couldn't.

Seven years later I moved to China and met Olivia in the baby room of the Tianjin orphanage. I looked at her lying there in the crib, six weeks old, with her bright black eyes and fell heart-stop-beating in love. Her cleft lip and palate just cemented it for me. This is the baby I want.

Seven years later Aaron and I finally finished Olivia's adoption. That was a year ago this month.

Phew. It gives me goosebumps. This has nothing to do with me. I couldn't have come up with a story like that, not to mention timing like that.

I feel touched when I look at my twinkling toes. Maybe that was this woman's way of saying thank you to me -- xie xie. For what? For cherishing one of our children....

All I can say is, "Bu yong xie." There's no need to thank. Believe me.


Summer Recap

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