Welcome To Life With Tom

Our life with Tom began in 2014, but our relationship started earlier than that, back in 2011.

How I became his Mum, or Mom as he calls me, is a long story, which I'll post on a separate page, but this is about the future, the way forward and how we get Tom from one place to another, hopefully better one.

Tom is many things, sensitive, simple, complicated, kind, funny, happy, sad, confused, insightful, and did I mention blind?

Being blind doesn't define who he is, nor should it. It shouldn't limit his options, but it does.

We are learning as we go, and will continue to do so for a long time!

We hope you will like the page, join the discussion, and become part of our world too.

Kind regards

Julie and Tom

Tom on the beach at St Annes


Taotao summer 2012
front and centre with the ladies as always! The lovely Nicola and Ivy, with Mingming on the right

How did we get here?

Since sometime in 2010 I've been involved in a small NGO here in Shanghai which provides support to orphanages in rural areas, and also in Shanghai.

One of our projects is Boxes of Love, and whilst delivering to a Shanghai Orphanage, I was introduced to a kid several of our volunteers had talked about.

They told me he was funny, they told me he was smart, they told me he was cute. 

I had no idea what this kid was going to do to my life! 

I went back to the orphanage in early 2012 when we were opening Shining Star (if you want more info on this stuff check out www.mifanmama.com ) to meet the kid again.  He was known as Toto, a skinny little kid with a big head and some very odd mannerisms.

Negotiations were ongoing with the director of the orphanage and in late June 2012 said kid moved into our foster home for blind orphans.

He had friends, he had champions, and so he became part of all of our lives.  What would have become of him if he had stayed there forms another part of the story.

Toto or more correctly Taotao (means great ocean wave - yep somebody got that right) moved into the home on 28th June 2012.  He was small, scared, overwhelmed and under packed!  He arrived with a very small plastic bag containing a pair of socks and two pairs of undies plus what he stood up in.

Taotao could speak some little English, and we had several wonderful volunteers who were bilingual and could help out when needed.  A week after he arrived, we had a 2nd Birthday Party for the first little girl who joined us, Panpan.  With help from a volunteer, Taotao asked me "Julie auntie, do I have a birthday?"  I was a bit stunned to say the least, Taotao was, after all, almost 8 years old. I managed to reply with a cheery "Yes, darling of course you do!"  Which of course was followed in his usual way of following a question, another question!   "When is it?"

I promised to find out, and I did.  It is his birthday and it is the most important date on his calendar.  The cake, the validation, the fuss, the guests, I don't know what it is, but he has a birthday and immediately starts planning the next one.  This year he wants a skateboard.....

The following month was August, typical Shanghai hot and humid, and enthusiastic fools that we are, we took the kids to the zoo.  That was an interesting experience.  For all Taotao could talk, and he was chattering away in broken sentences by this point, he knew so little of other things, there were words but no context.  For example he knew the word for tree in Chinese and English, but he had no concept of what one is, what it does, or how it feels.

That day we started to explain things with examples and so began an understanding of the level of his isolation from just about everything so far.

Time moves on and Taotao stayed in the foster home, making friends and having good exeriences, learning about the world outside the door, growing in confidence, and starting to learn Braille and self care skills to better equip him for life.

In 2013 came the phone call we'd been dreading.  Taotao was being recalled to the orphanage.  He would be relocated who knew where and we would never know what would become of him.  We talked to the orphanage, and managed to get a stay of movement for a year.  Life carried on for Taotao, but I always knew the day would come when the phone would ring again and he would be lost to us. 

Radical action was needed, I talked to friends and family and worked my way round to the subject with Steve, (the most wonderful husband on the planet for 30 years now), that was a bit of a roadblock initally, but all plans are achieveable if you just stick with it.

The phone call came in Spring 2014.  Taotao would be moved in the summer to a work farm.  He would never go to school and would spend his life as an agricultural labourer.  I don't decry that as a way of making a living, but Taotao and I had just spent a rainy afternoon listening to Rachmaninoff and I knew there had to be a different ending to the story.

I also knew what I had to do.  When I visited the UK I started ordering up duplicate birth and marraige certificates, and we all know where that was headed!  I came back to China, and tackled Steve.  Dead End. 

What to do?  One day Taotao came to visit and the guys did some DIY and a BBQ together, and a couple of days later, Steve mentioned adoption (it had become a bit of a taboo word). Steve mentioned it in a positive way.  I asked, shocked, "does that mean yes?", yes said "yes it does, but I have concerns".  Always cautious is Steve.  I had concerns too, lots and lots of them, still do, but what the heck!  But we started the papertrail to adoption.  First I went to the orphanage.  No problem there.  Full support.  Great.  Asked friends who'd already been there and done that, got the process started.

Then the roadblocks started, there were delays in Taotao's paperwork, and we thought it would never happen!  Then came the point we had to come clean and tell him what we wanted to do.  Taotao was 10 years old by this time, and that is the legal age where he has some say in the matter of his adoption.  We talked to him about it in Chinese and English and he was, I thought, somewhat underwhelmed.  It now seems this was fear of it not being real, that it would be another broken promise, another idea not followed through.  Not on my watch.

Winter 2014 dragged on, and on, and on. We went away for a few days, leaving a very annoyed boy in Shanghai!  We returned, and Tom moved in with us on a foster care placement. 

I can clearly remember the morning I sat on the edge of our bed and listened in tears as he asked Steve if he could call him 'Dad'.  It was a lovely moment, and one I will never forget, Tom sounded so nervous and scared, a fear of rejection which is still with him, and will be a work in progress for a long time.

By March 2015 things were occuring at a good pace, and finally on May 5th 2015, we had our Gotcha Day!

The adventure begins.........


Gotcha Day

So May 5th 2015 was what is known in many adoption circles as 'Gotcha Day'.  We had done the legal stuff, paid up like good little citizens and Tom was finally our son.  Now what do we do?

Well, we started with a party.  We had a turkey, chinese dumplings, and a BBQ, and lots of people came and ate lots too.  We were so thrilled to be joined by not only friends from Shanghai, but Dot from Wuhan and Alistair from the UK.  It made a special day even more memorable.  I'm happy the day was a success, and Tom does cope pretty well with groups of people if not crowds of strangers.  We had a great day, we even had our own song (thankfully I don't have a copy of the video!). 

This has been a huge adjustment for all of us, but Tom has youth on his side!  Steve has been a revelation and includes Tom in everything possible, like gardening and DIY and they are developing a great relationship.  What about me?  I'm just the baddie who wants him to do well and puts the full weight of expectation on him.  Poor kid? I don't know.  Is it wrong to want him to do well and to try everything I can to get him to learn and want to do things for himself?

After the legal complications and delays we were happy to get on with the start of our family life, but there is still so much to do, mainly a lot of adjustment to Life with Tom, and I really feel that New Year 2016 marks the real start for all of us.

I've promised to start a blog and so in 2016 I will - I hope it lasts longer than the usual diet/exercise promises 🙂

There are those who say I should and those who tell me I shouldn't and those who tell me I don't have time.  They're probably all right, but lets give it a go and see where we land.