When Kristi Mathia and her husband read a waiting child story about an older boy from China, they knew he would be their son. They also knew that adopting an older child might have some challenges. While they were prepared for the challenges, they weren’t expecting the abundant rewards.
Child Hand Off Day. That was the name given to the monumental day we would meet our youngest son, the child who we had prayed for, chased an endless paper trail for and — most of all — loved and cherished. We had thought and dreamt about what this day would be like. We were told that most children cry painfully. Not our little guy. He ran to us with open arms and full of joy. I was blessed to be the first to walk into the room where he was waiting. He hugged me and called me “Mama.” Next, my husband lifted our son up in an embrace while being called “Baba” (Daddy) and our oldest son was called “Gah Gah” (Brother) while being hugged.
After such a wonderful union, we started the incredible adventure of becoming a family of four. We arrived home from China in November of 2012 and we just celebrated our one-year anniversary as Xin’s (Sheen) Mom and Dad. He was 9-and-a-half years old when he joined our family, and he has enriched our lives in countless ways.
Our adoption journey began more than 10 years ago. We first learned about Holt at a Winter Jam concert. As child sponsors, we enjoyed reading our Holt publications and seeing the bright, beautiful faces of the children who were adopted. In 2011, we read a blog by Holt’s managing editor, Robin Munro, about a little boy on Holt’s waiting child listing from China who had been waiting many years for his family. After we read Robin’s profile about “Jack,” we knew that we would be abundantly blessed to be his parents. The day we decided to adopt, we put on special necklaces that we didn’t take off until we arrived home in the U.S. with our son. The necklaces were our daily reminder of our commitment to our little boy in China.
Like many families who consider adopting an older child, we had concerns about attachment issues and also Xin’s adjustment to so many changes. While waiting for all our adoption paperwork to process, we read numerous books on adopting older children and also on Chinese culture. We did our best to learn how to help Xin face the challenges of living with a new family, in a new country with a new language and culture. We were nervous, but knew that we would just take one day at time.
The issues that we were concerned about prior to our adoption never occurred. Xin ran toward us when we first met, and he seems to have never looked back. He has such a wonderful personality. He is a little guy who embraces each day with joy and does the best he can do with the challenges he faces. Xin was born without ear canals and is very hard of hearing. He also has underdeveloped ears and a small jaw on one side. Despite these difficulties, he is very comfortable with himself, very confident and very happy.
We have learned so much about life from adopting an older child. Xin has taught us to appreciate life. He is filled with joy from the “little things,” like a plate of food, a new sweater or a trip to the movies. He claps his hands and his happiness bubbles out. One moment that I will always remember happened after his first day of school. He looked me deep in the eyes and said the most heartfelt “thank you” I have ever heard. He was so glad to have the opportunity to learn.
Xin is very kindhearted and loving. He cares deeply about people. Xin had been home a couple of weeks when he said his first words in English. We were having a snow ball fight when I saw Xin slip on some ice. Without thinking, I went running over to him, and — of course — slipped on the same sheet of ice. Being much older and larger than Xin, I didn’t land as gently as he did. After the “little blue birds” stopped circling my head, I opened my eyes to see his concerned little face. He kept saying, “You alright?”
Of course, like all major changes in life, adoption has brought challenges. Our son, who I love with all my heart, is in many ways a mystery. We know almost nothing about the first nine years of his life. When I look at Xin’s shiny black hair, sparkling brown eyes and mischievous smile, I wonder what his birth parents looked like. Were they bold and self-confident like Xin? I wish I could tell them that they created an awesome child. I wish that they knew that their little baby’s disability doesn’t hold him back. I wish that they knew that his years in the orphanage and in foster care made him extremely strong and resilient.
When I tuck Xin into his warm, snuggly bed at night, I wonder where he slept the first nine years of his life. I wonder who taught him how to tie his shoes, who hugged him when he was sad and who taught him such good manners. I wish that I could — somehow — tell the orphanage workers and foster parents that they raised a kindhearted and loving little guy.
When I listen to Xin sleeping so peacefully, I wonder about his future. Will he be able to “catch up” in school enough to choose any occupation that he would like to do? Will people treat him differently because he has an accent? I wish that he could be judged by his character and not by stereotypes. When I see Xin gazing out the car window, deep in thought, I wonder what he is thinking about. I wish he could tell us his deepest thoughts and concerns. I wish he could tell me about all his experiences in China.
Has this past year required a lot of effort? Yes. Yet, with great effort comes great reward. Having Xin’s as our son has given us rewards beyond measure. In one year, we have watched as Xin was fitted with hearing aids and began to hear well for the first time in his life. Even though Xin is an older child, we have many, many “firsts” — swimming, snow skiing, riding a bike, his first Christmas, his first day riding the bus, first time on a sports team, and his first English words.
Editor’s note: If you are interested in adopting an older boy, you can contact our Waiting Child Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.