On this day last year, we met Big Brother for the first time.
It was an unusually cold day in Hong Kong. I awoke early in our hotel room to shower and pack our bags. This was it, the big day. We would be transferring our bags to the flat near the orphanage and then we would go meet Big Brother. My heart was racing and my stomach was churning. This day was 14 months in the making. Although I was very ready and extremely excited for the big meeting, I was also scared senseless. I tried to put on makeup but my hands were shaking too much. I tried to eat some breakfast, but my appetite was gone. I was just ready. “Let’s do this,” I thought.
As we made our way to the orphanage, that old but familiar feeling grabbed ahold of me. I had felt it on a sweltering Saigon street a few years earlier. The anticipation, the anxiety, the happiness and doubt…..the surreal feeling of meeting a child–your child— that you’ve only known through photos.
We were ushered into the orphanage and asked to remove our shoes and wash our hands. They took us to a room to wait for Big Brother. They would bring him in shortly, they had said. We waited for what felt like an eternity. I thought I was going to explode. We all sat there on the edges of our seats, waiting….
And then it happened. Big Brother came running into the room. There was nothing in this room except for a pair of couches, a table, a piano and few little toys. Big Brother ran right past us and gave no acknowledgement that anyone was even in the room. He didn’t see us. If he had in fact seen us, he didn’t give any indication at all. He ran to the few little toys in the corner and began to try to hang them together. Then he tried to take down the pictures on the walls. We bent down to his level and tried to talk to him. He didn’t even flinch an eye. He still didn’t acknowledge us. We tried again and again….nothing. He wouldn’t even look at us. My pulse started to quicken and I could feel my heart beating inside of my chest. I started feeling dizzy. My head was spinning. “What are we getting ourselves into,” I wondered silently.
In Big Brother’s world, we didn’t exist. In his world, adults were nothing more than untrustworthy objects that come and go and change as much as the weather. In his four years on this planet, that’s all he had known. Why should we be any different?
After about five awkward minutes of attempting to reach Big Brother, all of our efforts seemed useless. Then hubby pulled out a balloon and everything changed. We had him. He ran to hubby and motioned for him to blow it up and twist it. And then he became fixated on hubby and that magical balloon. We all sighed a deep breath of relief. We had made contact. We had entered his world, if only through a balloon.
Then some of his caregivers came and took him back to his room to get him ready for the outing we were about to go on. Hubby and I looked at each other, reassuring each other with unspoken words that everything was going to be ok. Little Man was excited that he finally got to see his brother. He didn’t mind at all that his brother didn’t seem as excited about us. We had warned him that this would be the case, and he seemed to take it all in stride.
The next thing I knew, we were getting on a bus to go on an orphanage outing. Little Man sat with Hubby. I sat with Big Brother. I sang to him, spoke to him…anything I could think of. He only stared out the window with a vacant look on his face. He never once looked at me. Another day, another caregiver….
When we arrived at our destination they strapped Big Brother, who was almost four, into a stroller. They told me to push. It was crazy, chaotic and hectic. The morning was a blur. Finally we stopped to eat lunch. Big Brother was mesmerized by Little Man. He was laughing and flapping his arms at everything Little Man did. He was smitten with his new brother. His caregivers acted surprised. I wasn’t surprised at all.
And then Big Brother looked at me. For the first time all day, he was looking at me. I got excited. Then my heart sank.
He throws his food at me and laughs. He takes his shoes off and throws them at the table next to us. He gleans at me and flashes a smirk. He tries to clear off the table with the erratic sweep of his arms. Then he laughs uncontrollably. I start to panic. I ask hubby if he’s got anymore balloons. Nope, they are all gone. Sweat drips down my face. I want to cry. I don’t. Instead, I put a smile on my face and acted like it’s no big deal. The caregivers watched me intensely. I felt like a bumbling mess. I just wanted to hold my son, somewhere away from all the chaos and watchful eyes. I knew it would be different if we were away from the orphanage staff and kiddos. But here we were, and I made the best of it.
He was testing me out. I was his new “caregiver” of the day and he was trying to see what I was made of. He was ready to see how much I would take before walking away. Oh dear sweet child, if only you had known that I was different….that there would be nothing that could make me walk away.
After the outing was over, we headed back to the flat. Big Brother stayed behind in the orphanage. We would go back the next day to visit him again and to let him visit with us in the flat. I pleaded with God for a less chaotic day. Big Brother had no idea what was going on…not the slightest clue. He didn’t know what a family or even a home was. He couldn’t possibly comprehend what was going to happen over the next few days. All he knew is that these strange people had shown up and were hanging out with him for some bizarre reason.
That night I felt overwhelmed and exhausted, but I was optimistic that the next day would be better. We would have Big Brother come to us in the flat, away from the orphanage. I knew it would help. And this time, we would make sure to have more balloons. That night I vowed to carry my faith around my body like a shield, reminding myself constantly that God was in control and it was only my job to keep on walking forward. I went to sleep with ease, ready for the beginning of a new day.
Pictures from that first day we met: