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
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.........