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Friday, July 29, 2011

Mei Mei and Marlin

This past Sunday, Dory, her husband Marlin and their two girls Fin and Nemo, stopped by the house for a visit.  Dory and the girls have seen Mei Mei several times, of course, but poor Marlin had yet to meet our little Squirt.  We really wanted the two of them to have some time together because - duh - we are family friends, but also because Marlin speaks some Cantonese.  And that is the language Mei Mei heard for the first year of her life.

God surely has a sense of humor, y'all, because I've spent the past four years struggling through Mandarin classes.  I absolutely stink at the language, to put it mildly, so don't think I was all set to raise Mei Mei in a bilingual household or anything.  But you'd think, after four years, I'd be able to understand at least the basics and speak a bit.  Ha!  I managed better than the average adoptive parent, for sure, because I knew more than ni hao / 你好 and xie xie / 谢谢, but I really thought I'd understand more while in the country.

My biggest claim to fame was ordering take-out in a Beijing restaurant.

Which basically entailed me stumbling through "wo de mama / 我的妈妈" (my mother) and "chi ... wu fan / 吃 ... 午饭" (eat ... lunch) with lots of cryptic hand gestures to explain we needed to take the food with us.  I felt proud of myself, definitely, because it was more than I could do six years ago when we adopted the Tongginator, but still...  Actually, I did receive several compliments, mostly when others heard me singing Mandarin childrens' songs to Mei Mei.  Probably because you don't have to speak in tones when you are singing, although it doesn't alleviate that pesky little issue of singing in tune.  Which I can't.  Sing in tune, I mean.  Nor do I say the tones all that correctly.

I mean, if I'm being honest.

I've calculated how much I've spent on Mandarin classes, and how many words I know, and basically it boils down to approximately $16.50 a word.  Obviously some words are more important than others... knowing how to say "ce suo / 厕所" is MUCH more important than knowing how to say "zi se / 紫色."  Because y'all know that - in an emergency - frantically repeating the word restroom is more valuable than announcing to the room at large "purple."  But still... $16.50 a word.

What a bargain, especially considering our Squirt lived in a Cantonese-speaking province.


Seeing Mei Mei with Marlin, well, it brought home to me how many losses our little ones experience.  Her face lit up - absolutely! lit! up! - when Marlin began speaking to her in Cantonese.  She felt such joy at hearing those familiar sounds, seeing another Chinese-American face, she absolutely glowed with happiness.

The Husband and I felt joy, sadness and yes, even some jealousy watching the two of them together.  Joy, because we were happy that Squirt was happy, and because we felt grateful that someone in our lives shares a language and culture with her.  Sadness because of all that she's lost as a direct result of our adoption of her.  And jealousy because, well, because she was happier than she'd ever been with us while sitting on Marlin's lap.

I don't think any of those emotions are wrong, they just are.

Squirt loved, loved, loved spending time with Marlin.  She dove for his arms - a first for us to see - and happily encouraged a seemingly endless game of "pass the baby."  I believe the "pass the baby" game occurred because she really wanted to be on Marlin's lap, but she also feared that he would take her away.  She kept checking to ensure I was still close by, and that I was okay with this new person who felt like an old friend to her.

And I was.

It was a joy to see.

I'm glad I could see a hint of the joy that is Squirt.  I'm glad we watched our friend Marlin share something so special with our youngest.  And I'm glad for the reminder that Mei Mei experienced such a significant loss, such a short time ago.

It's a reminder to be patient, to be purposeful, and to meet her where she is, just as she is.


OziMum said...


Kim K. said...

I always appreciate your honesty. Another beautiful post.

Myrnie said...

How sweet!

justpassingby said...


lmgnyc said...

That's interesting because our daughter absolutely panicked the first times she heard anyone speaking Chinese. I guess she thought she was going back.

If it's any comfort to you TM, I've spent waaaaaaaaay more $$$ per word than you have and my tome makes the Native Chinese speakers in my daughter's class stifle giggles. I once spent the entire year calling the Lao Shi (teacher) a Lao Hu (tiger). No one corrected me but they sure got a giggle every time I said it.

ahhhhhh well. The joys of learning a language.

Cute pic by the way. ;-)

Briana's Mom said...

What a sweet post.

I, for one, would probably be the one yelling "zi se/purple" in the bathroom. LOL! I pretty much know colors and numbers and a few body parts. Though - the body parts could possibly help in a bathroom. ;D

Jennifer said...

It might be that time of the month or maybe it's your moving story, but I am actually sitting here crying with you and feeling both the joy and sadness of your day.

It is beautiful to watch our children filled with delight and I hope that, through this post, some day Squirt, knows that you understand what this day meant for her.

the meaklims said...

That is so so beautiful. What joy and encouragement it must have brought to your hearts.

When our Cantonese friends spoke to Lilah, it was very tough for her, she would turn her head away from them or bury it in my shoulder. After that, it took her a good 18 months to even warm up to them.

It's good to be reminded about the loss they went through, it keeps us in check.


PS - laughed so hard over the dollar per word! That was funny!

Aus said...

Beautifully said TM - we'll do anything for our kids - to help them find joy - but I get the feelings you have too!

On a happier note - the way she was behaving is very positive - she loves her family (even if she is a little scared!!)

great stuff - happy for you -

hugs - aus and co.

The Gang's Momma! said...

Such a great post. LOVE your brutal honesty and examination of the gains and losses we traverse with these little gifts we've been given. It's a hard examination but it makes you so much more grateful, don't ya think? It does me.

Lovely. LOVELY. So glad to be reading you regularly again, too. Caught up on the last four posts all at once, as I was "saving them" for a quiet morning alone. Thanks to Li'l E's aforementioned wake-up call, this was my moment. And a lovelier one I couldn't have manufactured myself. LOVELY!

Catherine said...

Such a beautiful post with so many true, raw, precious emotions built into it.

So happy for all of you that you had this beautiful time with Marlin!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah.

It's definitely a delight for some of us adoptees to be able to hear our native languages.

Debby said...

That's so sweet about her bonding with Marlin. Mei Mei is adorable.

Cavatica said...

Sounds like a great experience for all and that you all appreciated it for what it was.

$16.50/word!!! I'm loving that. I don't know how much I've spent, but the price per word has risen considerably, as I've lost so many. I was delighted recently, when I told someone BB's Chinese name. She stared at me, so I translated, then she laughed and told me I DID say it right. With so many tones and goofy Americans, maybe there are similar names that I could have said? I wonder how often even Chinese get mixed up? Everything is so contextual. I wonder if people need to write down their names to clarify, since names are not so contextual. Oh, so many questions I have!

Suzy said...

Squirt, huh? There's a name that speaks volumes. LOL.

Kelli said...

Aiden was the same way when he heard Vietnamese. There are so many emotions as an adoptive parent to see that. A great post!

Anonymous said...

First of all, LOVE that pic and, I must admit, LOVE squirt's outfit. and that nickname!
Second, thanks for such an honest post. It's often so hard to admit to emotions, but we all have them. What makes them good or bad is what we do with them. I couldn't agree with you more.

Vicky said...

Loved the post, but the last line just spoke volumes to my heart! Thanks!

Half Gaelic, Half Garlic! said...

I agree...this post was truly beautiful! I think I would have shared in your range of emotions.

You can see how happy she is sitting there in his little lap.....and how cute that she wanted to be passed to make sure you were still there.

It is hard to remind yourself of their past and all the change they had to go through to get to us...... but it is very real and they do need the time to adjust to their new lives. I know that you know this...... I knew it too going in, but never realized how hard it was going to be until I was actually experiencing it with Reagan.

Lots of love and well wishes to you all~



bridget said...

Our daughter panics too (we have a woman from Changsha who actually works in our church nursery!) and also refuses to eat in chinese resturants, and won't look at asian adults....kids she doesn't have an issue with. It is great that Mei Mei finds comfort with your friend...and looks back for you! :)

Aunt LoLo said...

Oh my heart.

I don't know what else to say. Except that if you EVER want to learn any Cantonese phrases, or chat via webcam, I am here for you.

kitchu said...

such a poignant, important post, and one that left me with a lump of understanding in my throat.

when is that book of yours coming out?

i so rarely (so very, very rarely) have time to read blogs but when i do, i am always feeling remiss at how much i have missed out on here.