The Doig family visits their daughter’s foster family in Thailand — a reunion that shows just how meaningful and enduring the foster experience can be.
Being back in Thailand — once again riding in a van with two HSF social workers to our daughter’s foster home — was surreal. Six and a half years ago, we took this same trip in a similar van, after just having met our daughter for the first time. I still have vivid memories of that day, working our way through Bangkok traffic with our grieving daughter sitting on my husband’s lap. I was nervous, uncertain what to expect, and yet eager to glean any information I could from our daughter’s foster family about her personality and the place she had lived the first year and a half of her life. That first visit, when we met Elizabeth’s foster family for the first time, we watched as our daughter relaxed and became at ease as she navigated her familiar environment. She blossomed and came to life that first visit, and it was our first glimpse into her true personality and an introduction to what her life had been like before we met her.
On this trip, though — almost seven years later — our daughter was nervous, not sure what to expect or what would be waiting for her.
She had thought we would be visiting her brother’s foster family first, and was caught off guard when she was told there was a last-minute change of plans and we were driving directly to her foster family’s home that morning. She said she had wanted her brother to go first so she could watch his visit and have a better idea of what to expect. It turns out this last-minute schedule change wouldn’t be the only surprise in store for us this day.
The next surprise of our return journey came when we neared our daughter’s foster family’s apartment complex. As we drove past an open air market several blocks from the apartment, Elizabeth suddenly perked up and pointed out the window to the market.
“I remember going there with my foster mom!” she exclaimed.
Elizabeth was 17 months old when she left Thailand to join our family in the U.S. By that time, she had already had countless experiences in the months leading up to her adoption, so many day-to-day occurrences that we were not part of and therefore could not help her recall or hold onto. The first unexpected gift of this trip was the return of some of those memories — memories she hadn’t even realized she’d lost.
When we pulled up outside the foster mom’s home, Elizabeth’s foster mother and her older foster sister were waiting for us. We made introductions and politely asked questions to try and bridge the gap between that initial visit over six years ago and the present. It was awkward at first, with no one quite sure what to say or do. But then the neighbors started coming out.
All Thai children have nicknames and my daughter’s nickname is especially cute. Guay Tdiew, or “Noodle” in English, was repeated with excitement from neighbor to neighbor as word spread that we had arrived.
“Which foster child is this?”
“It’s Guay Tdiew!”
“Oh, Guay Tdiew! I remember you!”
While my daughter was prepared to meet her foster family, she had not been prepared for the sudden onslaught of attention and excitement coming from the neighbors. They had stories they wanted to tell us of how when “Noodle” was a little girl she would walk down the row of apartment doors, listening for music. When she heard songs coming out of a door, she would stop in the doorway — it didn’t matter whose apartment it was — and start to dance. They also remembered her thick glossy hair, and as they talked with us, they gently ran their fingers through her hair once again, nodding in confirmation that it was exactly the same as they remembered.
Elizabeth’s foster sister asked her if she’d like to see the hammock where Elizabeth used to be rocked to sleep. We left the group of neighbors and took off our shoes to enter the bottom floor of their apartment, where a young neighborhood baby was resting in a small hammock in the corner.
“Would you like to rock him?” Elizabeth’s foster sister asked her in Thai, our HSF social worker translating the question into English.
Elizabeth’s foster sister handed her a scarf that was tied to the hammock, and Elizabeth took the scarf and peered into the eyes of the little baby boy and began gently rocking him back and forth. The boy looked at her with wide sleepy eyes, and gave a little smile.
“He likes me!” Elizabeth exclaimed as she turned and beamed at us.
Her brother, also a Thai adoptee, took a turn rocking the little boy as well. Our children later told us it had been like they were rocking their younger selves back when they had been babies in Thailand.
Elizabeth presented gifts to her foster family and we were treated to our fill of spicy Thai spaghetti and fresh fruit dipped in a traditional chili/salt/sugar mixture. Elizabeth’s foster mom had gotten up early that morning to prepare the noodle dish, which she told us was Elizabeth’s favorite meal as a toddler. Elizabeth and her brother Alex finished every last bite and both swore those were the best noodles they had ever eaten.
When it was time to say our goodbyes and our van began pulling away from the foster family’s apartment complex, I was struck by the realization that Elizabeth hadn’t just been part of a foster family, she had been a beloved member of this close-knit community. Adults from neighboring apartments remembered Elizabeth — loved Elizabeth — and were truly delighted to see her again. Elizabeth had memories of the local market, where her foster mom had taken her shopping nearly every day. Elizabeth would always be a part of this place and these people’s lives. We had returned to Thailand so that Elizabeth could see her foster mother and foster sister, but the connections that existed for Elizabeth to this place and these people had turned out to be more deeply ingrained than any of us had expected.
As Elizabeth’s adoptive parents, we had always taken great comfort in knowing that until we were able to hold our daughter in our arms, she was being cared for by a loving foster family that would raise her as their own daughter. After returning to Thailand with our daughter, we realized that the foster experience was more than keeping Elizabeth safe, healthy and loved until she joined her permanent family. Being in foster care meant Elizabeth had relationships to and connections with not just a loving Thai family, but an entire neighborhood and community. Elizabeth’s memories of that time, and the community’s memories of her, are a loving tie that will forever connect her to this specific, special place in Thailand — a place that will always belong to her.
Susie Doig | Holt’s Senior Director of Adoption Services