I recently watched the film Mao’s Last Dancer which tells the true story of a boy who is taken from his parents at 11 years old to train as a ballet dancer in Communist China. After proving worthy of the training invested in him, the talented main character travels to the US and defects, realizing after his rash decision that he will not likely see his parents for quite some time, if ever again. Several years later, he is performing at a premier ballet in the US and his parents have (unbeknownst to him) arrived from China to see him. Cue sappy music: The cameras pan to two primitive looking elderly people sitting in the audience in shock, gawking at their son’s dancing (something they had never witnessed in their poverty-stricken village), crying tears of pride, and wondering out loud why he is not wearing any pants. When they go on stage after the production to greet him for the first time in several years, the son crumples to the ground.
While watching this scene, I was sobbing in that shaky way that happens when your body longs to bawl, but you fight against it like a Republican against Obama. And then I was surprised when my youngest son came into the room to watch the film with me. He was curious what ballet was all about and wondering what could make mommy as crazy as he does. At one point, the hubs had to ask me if I was okay, and this little 5-year-old nestled in my lap assured him: “It’s okay Daddy, they’re happy tears.” I wonder how he knew.
Yes, happy. But. Also curious tears. Curious about what my child’s birth mom and dad would think of him if they could see him now.
I can’t help but wonder at my son’s response in this fantasy of mine–I confess I am partly terrified that he might like to return to his birth parents. Because he does accuse me of being “mean”
sometimes often. And no doubt he has fantasies of a better life he could have had anywhere other than here. Especially those times when I demand that he use a nice tone of voice, or when I correct him for not peeing into the toilet instead of around it, or when I ask him to go to sleep. These are times when a fantasy birth mom and dad come in real handy. Fantasies never involve health or hygiene.
You see, about five years ago, the hubs and I went to China to pick up our son Thys. And every year on his birthday, I write a little cyber-note to his ‘rents, even though I know that the likelihood of them ever reading these notes or actually meeting him is the same as my bod suddenly looking like it’s 22 again.
To the birth-parents of a baby boy born with a cleft lip in late September 2006, in or around Chongquing, People’s Republic of China:
Your son is healthy, thriving and well.He reads. He plays hockey. He is Canadian now. He is in Grade One. He laughs as loudly as he cries. He is passionate. Fiery. He is a Dog, you know this of course. He loves action figures, especially knights and swords. And lions and pandas. And puzzles and ipods. He’s freakishly good at Temple Run and Uno.
He turns six today. You know this too, I know you do. You are thinking of him today and wishing him well. I know it in my bones. And I know you must sometimes ache in your bone brains while wondering and questioning and missing and loving. You must feel the reminder pangs of delivery…how could a mother forget? When a human comes out of your body, you can never pretend one did not. It is as if you deliver a part of your soul. And it lives on with or without you.
I long to reassure you. To show you: Your curious souls inhabit his little body, birth mom and dad, and is one I sometimes do not recognize. It is not mine or my husband’s. It is yours. It exists. You exist in him. And he reminds me often that we as parents are only a temporary gig. We will expire with the sun. Our job is calculable. Then he returns to the universe. To God knows where. To look for you? To find his soul?
Right now, we do our best around here. The most anyone can do as a parent on duty. He keeps us laughing… and crying… and cleaning… and he keeps us honest. His memory is impeccable. We talk of you often. He even prays for you sometimes.
I’m sorry you do not get the pleasure and pain and expense of raising him. But I’m glad that we do. He is our son too. Nothing but Ai, Ai, Ai.
Kim is a writer, a high school English teacher, a wife, a mother to two boys (one biological, and one “Made In China”) and a new Canadian. She rambles and vents on her blog www.trainsinmythoughts.blogspot.com.