Editor’s note: Abigale “Abbey” White’s plans to visit China were chronicled in a June 2 Life section story. Here, White, 17, who was adopted from a Chinese orphanage, describes her return to the place of her birth.
I am told they found me next to the gate of the orphanage, wrapped in a blanket and tucked into a small cardboard box. Of course, I have no memory of the moment when I went from being my birth mother’s baby girl to becoming one of China’s many orphans.
Memory is a funny thing. One of my earliest childhood memories is of blowing bubbles in a lush green garden, the Dallas Arboretum.
Yet I know that earlier memories exist.
My mom recounts one time during a family outing when I, only 22 months old, patted a bale of straw and exclaimed “nite-nite time China!”
My mom was told that I often was taken home with one of the orphanage workers where I did, in fact, sleep on a straw bed. She was shocked that I remembered sleeping on straw and that I even knew China was a place, considering I was adopted when I was 10 months old.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I felt compelled to return to China for the first time since my adoption. I was joined by 12 other teen China adoptees, each selected by the Half the Sky Foundation, which sponsors the program in conjunction with China’s Children International (CCI).
We came from around the world, strangers to each other, with a common goal: to bring our gifts of love and compassion to orphans residing at the China Care Home, a facility which prepares children for medical procedures and takes care of them while they heal.
Most of the time, we fed, played with and taught basic skills to the children, the majority of whom were toddlers and infants. Depending on their age and development, we crawled around on the floor with them, helped them learn how to feed themselves and showed them how to blow bubbles (much to their delight).
They loved for us to sit them on the windowsill so they could look outside; this was a particular joy for them because they are not allowed to play outdoors. I taught English lessons to one of the teens there, helping her with her English pronunciation while she helped me with my Mandarin.
I was struck by how happy and content the children appeared. They all seemed to enjoy us spending time with them. A baby boy with big brown eyes especially captured the essence of contentment. Not once did I hear him cry. When the nannies turned on music, singing while waving their hands back and forth, this baby swayed with the music, rolling side to side on his tummy with a grin that stretched from ear to ear.
In a beautiful letter to the student volunteers, one of the nannies wrote, “Though some children can’t express it in words, I can tell from their eyes and expressions that they love you. The children sat in your arms, acting for all the world like children who had always been happy and loved.”
This letter gave me confirmation that we had indeed made an impact on the kids. That we were able to bring them so much joy and show them love made my heart glow.
‘Would I remember?’
Although spending time with the children was our main focus, I had hoped to glean some early childhood memory of my time spent in China.
Would I remember the straw bed now? Would I remember an orphanage filled with sunshine, attentive nannies, toys and bubbles, like what I observed at the China Care Home? Or would it be crowded and dusty? Would I suddenly understand Mandarin, even if it were only a few phrases? Now that I reflect back on these thoughts, I realize how trivial these details may seem, and to my disappointment, my trip did not trigger any insightful flashbacks.
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On the Web
Go to NewsOK.com to see a slide show Abigale “Abbey” White created to send out to individuals who made donations to help make her recent trip to China possible.