Back at the Orphanage

It was one of those moments that seemed to hang between time and space. I stood at the front gate of the orphanage filled with excitement and sorrow. I paused and prepared my heart. Could I win over the new director? Would my Chinese handle the upcoming meeting? Would my former students still be here? Could my heart handle the new children I was bound to meet? Questions abounded. In the silence of the moment, I knew life was about to change.

My thoughts flashed back to four and half years earlier when I first entered that gate. It started as a way to pass the time while we waited for the adoption of Little Monkey to finalize. I would enjoy teaching a weekly art class that would possibly offer a bit of joy to the older children. I didn’t expect to fall in love with those kids and I didn’t expect them to fall in love with me.  I never imagined that they would anxiously wait for me calling my name, fighting over a peek in my bag of “goodies” and art supplies.

Here I was…about to walk through that gate again.

Those pensive moments were the last quiet moments of my afternoon. The rest was a blur.

You can imagine my surprise when I met the new director of the special education unit only to find that I knew her from days past. She had been a nanny. I had been a first-time volunteer in her class. Formality didn’t seem as intimidating as she told stories of the children enjoying art lessons and welcomed me back with open arms.

What she offered me – I never could have imagined.

“I saw how art helped all of the children who are not accustomed to expressing themselves. It makes them happy. I think you could have classes with all of the children in the orphanage. We will think of many ways as a team to make life better for them.”

I toured the facility and saw many changes that had been made in my absence:

  • a new group home (parents with four children in a small apartments set up like homes)
  • new therapy equipment
  • additional nurses and social workers that I was introduced to during my tour.

I was amazed that I was being ushered into areas I wasn’t allowed to see before and shocked by the presence of so many new opportunities and open doors.

My tour ended on the 6th floor.  As we rounded the ramp taking us to our final destination, I saw a crew of older children….my former students. I stopped dead in my tracks taking in the reality that they were still here waiting – as if three years had not passed. They greeted me by saying, “Hello,” in English and with confused glances at one another and shy smiles. I wasn’t sure if they recognized me, but I remembered them. Not much had changed and that made my heart so sad.

I did meet a new friend on the 6th floor. The newest addition to the children’s home. I am not really sure why they introduced her to me or why I was allowed in the baby room. They won’t be my students. But the intent of my visit was quickly revealed. I walked in and saw the tiny new infant. She was missing her ears and struggling with some facial paralysis. She was cuddled in the arms of a nanny as they were testing to see if she would suck a bottle. The nannies anxiously asked me,  “Why does she cry? You are a mom, do you know how to care for her? Does she have hope?”

She is such a beautiful infant, an infant who has already seen much grief and sorrow in her short life. It was hard to tear my eyes from her, but as I did, I noticed the others. They were not sad – but cheerfully playing in excer-saucers.  I couldn’t help but compare them with the older children in the hall. Would these dear small ones live their full lives within the walls of the children’s home? Would they live here long enough to become students in my art class?

Do these little ones have hope?

I didn’t know how to answer the nanny who was obviously so taken with her new charge. To be honest, the first answer that wanted to come to my lips was, “No. She has no hope unless a family loves her and calls her their own.”

Later that afternoon, I paused for a second time before a door. I prepared my heart and took a moment before I walked through. This time it was at the door of our apartment. Life through this door in stark contrast to the life that I just witnessed at the orphanage. I was looking forward to my four loves calling my name as I entered and smothering me with hugs as if I had been gone days rather than a few hours. Before this pleasure, I took a moment to pray for all of the children who don’t have a home or a mother to hug.




2 thoughts on “Back at the Orphanage

  1. I teared up a bit reading this. I will keep those children in my thoughts. You should write a book about you and your family’s China experience and the orphans you encountered there. I think it would open minds and hearts.

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