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Saturday, January 19, 2008

What's a Tongginator?!?

On February 28, 2005 my husband and I first saw our daughter just outside the doorway of a hotel ballroom in Nanchang's Gloria Plaza Hotel. We'd traveled halfway across the world to adopt this little girl: a tiny, nearly one-year-old who peered at me with curious eyes. She came to me easily, with no tears, just a wide-eyed stare. Within seconds she showed me why: she wanted to play with my glasses. And she smiled when I pointed to my husband and myself, explaining, "Ba-ba. Ma-ma. Wo ai ni."

Our journey to become parents was long, but somehow I knew that this round-cheeked baby girl had traveled much further. She'd been through too much already, more than I could imagine, and I felt shocked that she smiled and giggled during our first few minutes together. The four other girls in the room from the Tonggu SWI also stared at their new parents, but tears streamed down their faces and their bodies arched away from their new mothers' arms. Yet our daughter touched my face with curious hands and tracked my every movement with her eyes. That first day, our travel group dubbed our daughter "the happy baby" while I secretly fretted. It couldn't be this easy, could it?

My premonition proved true. I now believe God gave us those precious days together in China so that my husband and I could fall in love with our daughter. Our China adoption trip proved almost embarrassingly easy, while our travel-mates struggled with tough transitions. Yet once we all arrived home, our travel-mates' daughters slowly adjusted to their forever families, but our family felt as if we'd slammed into a brick wall.

Our daughter stormed into her new life with the sheer force of her personality. She loved to bounce to music, mimic faces, and giggle. She also loved to slam her head into things (or people!), hang upside down, squeeze others a little too hard, and spin round and round. Sudden changes in noise or visuals sent her into hour-long melt-downs. "Severe sensory delays," the experts diagnosed. Strangers around town sometimes asked me if she was autistic. Our daughter worked very hard to catch up to others her age: overcoming her oral aversions by 16 months, walking at 18 months, gradually adjusting to new sights, smells and sounds during our first year together.

Our daughter also showed her strong-willed, forceful personality soon after arriving at her forever home ... during our fourth week together, she quietly announced her disapproval of subtle dietary changes with a three day hunger strike. The terrible two's began at 20 months and lasted until well after her third birthday. Anxious attachment also appeared during the year she was two; I didn't go anywhere by myself for seven long months.

As time went on, her sensory issues slowly lessened. Her anxious attachment also eased. Yet her "I'm here - the party can start" personality continued no matter the circumstance. Most times she whirls into a room with the full force of a tornado. She loves meeting new people and instructing others to follow her lead, no matter their ages.

We call our daughter by many nicknames, but the one which seems most apt is the one we use the least. She is our Terminator from Tonggu County ... she is our Tongginator.