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Vietnam Adoption Journal for Ashley

By Claire Crocker

Excerpt's from Claire Crocker's travel journal which she wrote for her daughter, Ashley, about their adoption journey to Vietnam to bring Ashley home.

I'm sure my anticipation of all that will happen in the next few days adds to the general feeling of restlessness and agitation. There is a double "whammy" to this experience. The trip to Hanoi itself is a major undertaking - one which includes great expense, long flights, maneuvering in foreign countries with foreign currencies, and entering a communist country where we are totally unfamiliar with the language, customs and culture. I've done some reading, but still feel anxiety about how we will fare. The second, and more important aspect of all this, is the actual adoption. We are going to change your life and our lives forever. The trauma that you will endure when we first take you away from what you've always known will be heartbreaking. I anticipate you will be frightened, angry and stunned. Transitions are always difficult, and yours will be tremendous. I must be feeling great anxiety about being "up to" the task of doing the right things to make the transition a healthy one for you. I know you'll need to grieve the loss of your present life and all of the good people who are significant in it. How I hope I'm able to do the right things! And we won't really be able to communicate well. So many unknowns. So many worries. But we already love you so much! We will make it all work out well!

It is Friday morning and we are in a hotel in Bangkok. Since we passed the international dateline, it looks like I missed a day of writing, but I haven't! The flight from Los Angeles through Seoul and to Bangkok took over 20 hours total. What an ordeal! And you will be making that same route back with us soon. I wish it were easier to get you home.

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It's evening and we've had an interesting day. The ride to the hotel from the airport introduced us to the intricacies of Hanoi traffic. Most vehicles are bicycles and motorbikes. We were in a small van, and our driver, Dung, drove at what seemed to be a very fast speed for the conditions, weaving among the cyclists and honking whenever someone ahead of him was going too slow. There are no traffic lights and intersections are a "free-for-all", with each driver/cycler slowing somewhat and trying to anticipate what each other driver is going to do. It is a constant weaving, slowing, honking, turning tangle!

This afternoon I watched a woman dip buckets into a square-shaped hole in the sidewalk of the narrow street where our hotel is located. She brought up water and washed the sidewalks in front of her "store". The "stores" are really narrow cubby-holes where items are offered for sale. It looks like the owner usually lives behind or over the little space where the items are displayed. Watching the goings-on in the street is fascinating. People balance and carry loads on long bamboo poles and occasionally on their heads. One woman set a basket of vegetables next to the "well" of water in the sidewalk and proceeded to "wash" them with the water. I'm sure she will then sell the vegetables. People seem to be much less distressed about their state of poverty than I would have guessed. They seem to be eking out a living however they can, and accept that life is the way it is. This is much different from many poor people in the U.S. who are angry and emotionally damaged. These people seem quite happy.

Tomorrow morning we finally see you. It's finally here! We've waited so long for you to become a part of our family, officially. (You've really been "with" us every day since the day we found out about you!) We do so want to give you the opportunity for a full and happy life. It begins tomorrow.

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Such a day this has been! Such an emotional experience! After visiting Tu Liem, it is very obvious to me that you were loved and well cared for by the orphanage staff. They were full of hugs and kisses for you, as well as tears of goodbye.

At 8:30 a.m. we rode to Tu Liem in the Holt van. We saw you on the porch, but I wasn't sure it was you! Your hair was shorter than in the pictures we have, and you were wearing a satin jacket and pants suit. Without the scowl that appeared in most pictures we have, I hardly knew you!

We went into a small room where a table was set with lovely flowers and fresh fruit. Coffee and cookies were served. The director, Mdme. Thuy, spoke and Lan, Holt's Vietnam representative, interpreted. They talked about how you came to be at Tu Liem after introductions were made. We were able to ask a few questions, but my mind was tangle of so many thoughts! You were sitting next to me on a chair, but did not want to be close to me at first. One of the caregivers indicated that I should offer you one of the cookies - and I was able to hold you on my lap while you ate it and two others, followed by grapes and tangerine segments.

Outside on the porch you were given flowers and lots of hugs and kisses. The local people from around the center all came out and gathered at the gate to watch. They seemed very interested. We took lots of pictures and changed you into a different outfit. After many more happy words and good wishes, we were ready to go. You were leaving behind a great friend, Trung, a boy of 2 that you have been close with. He seemed very sad to see you go.

We had to go to immigration to apply for your passport. You and Nga waited patiently, eating pretzels and arrowroot cookies. Finally we headed back to the hotel. We were way off your schedule for lunch and nap. You did eat a little rice soup and you drank some orange juice. But before the food came, you finally got overwhelmed. When I tried to sit down at the table, with you in my lap, you started sobbing. I stood back up and "jiggled' and rocked you until the food came. You're a very big girl and heavy for me to hold!

It was obvious that you were all worn out and your eyelids were heavy. We took you upstairs and you started sobbing again, so I held you and hummed until you quieted and fell asleep. You've been asleep about 3 hours now. Isn't it time to wake up yet? As you sleep, your magic wand and new toothbrush are clutched one in each hand. You are just too precious!

You are amazing! We thought we'd have to carry you everywhere we went, but no - you held Daddy's hand and pulled him along, never tiring of being "out front".

We strolled down streets crowded with the busy goings-on of a typical day - heavy traffic, street vendors, shopkeepers, beggars, people carrying baskets balanced on bamboo poles, and... us! Although we didn't realize it at the time, we wandered into Hanoi's Old Quarter. At one point we headed down a narrow canopied alley, lined with tables and displays of the fresh produce and "catches" of the day. The sights and smells were unique to us, but so fascinating and earthy. Among the offerings were live frogs, eels, squid, chickens, and fish, all ready to become part of someone's freshly cooked meal. Many fruits, vegetables and flowers were also attractively displayed. The experience of walking up and down this incredible bombardment of the senses is one I'll never forget. It was a momentary glimpse into the daily lives of people who live their lives so differently from us - but I envied the simplicity and freshness of the marketplace. There was an intimacy among the people there - it's hard to explain how these people may not have many material things, but they do have the predictable company of fellow vendors and customers, selecting or selling items and coexisting with neighbors in close quarters day after day. It seemed like such a natural and comfortable place for them. We Americans, on the other hand, were probably curious intruders to them, not necessarily unwelcome, but certainly not fitting in- as though the whole jigsaw puzzle is complete and there we were - a few extra unrelated pieces that weren't a part of the whole.

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Last night we had dinner at the Indochine Restaurant with the Holt personnel for Vietnam: Alexander and Marilyn. All 3 families were present, minus Ha, who was not yet with the DiMascios. You and Nga had fun sitting next to each other. I would catch you smiling and laughing with Nga, but then when your eyes met mine, your smile instantly would disappear - as though someone pulled the shade down on it. But today you and I played a little kickball with the beach ball and you were smiling and having a good time with me! I've noticed that you are trying very hard to please us, and you look at us searchingly before doing anything or making any move. You're such a sweetie!

This morning we got a late start, waiting for the Kimball's to join us for breakfast. I fed you a little rice cereal to keep you going until we got to the restaurant, but you must have thought that was all you were going to get. When I walked out the door to go down to the front desk for a minute, you began sobbing. I can imagine you were pretty disappointed when you woke up this morning and you were still here with us instead of back at your safe, predictable, comfortable orphanage. You sobbed for quite awhile, laying on my chest and clinging to me. I'm so helpless to comfort you. I can only hold you and rock you and hurt with you. I'm sure you don't realize how much your dad and I feel pain each time we see your sad expression and hear your sobs. We love you so much, but it's going to take you some time to let go of your strong ties to Tu Liem and embrace the new love and opportunities we are offering.

You are not sad, however, all the time. You are somber usually, but seem to enjoy playing with stacking cups, plastic animals, and MagnaDoodle. You spend a lot of time looking at the books we brought, too. During your bath you stay busy using the stacking cups to pour and measure and play. You've begun to whisper words sometimes while you play. I'm sure they are Vietnamese. Today I think you tried to say "book" in English. I was very excited about that!

We find it a little difficult to communicate - especially with those who speak no English at all. At the French restaurant today Lucille had us in hysterics, trying to use charades, pantomimes, synonyms, etc. to ask for our scrambled eggs to be cooked more thoroughly. We finally managed with the help of my phrasebook. I went out on the street and bought fruit today. I'm sure I got "ripped off", but had fun interacting with the "locals" and experiencing the streetlife for myself. I've already acquired great affection for this city and its wonderful people. I'm even getting used to the traffic! We've learned to cross streets by moving slowly and consistently - without pausing- because all vehicle drivers are gauging their paths by anticipating where you will be if you just continue moving. Stopping in midstream upsets the insane pattern to the whole affair!

Tomorrow is the Giving and Receiving Ceremony - and your "official" membership in our family begins! I know I'm going to be goofy and cry. It's inevitable. I'm so enamored with you already - to have the adoption official and legal is just a formality. You stole my heart from the very first!

-----

We started our morning at the French cafe and then walked to Ho Hoan Kiem, the Lake of the Restored Sword. We've had such a full day today, it seems like it was much longer ago than just this morning! Along the way we found souvenirs to give to you and to people back home. It was fun selecting the items and they are very inexpensive. The lake was pleasant, and many schoolage children were running around, playing. Often they greeted us, "Hello!" "How are you?" They must be learning English in school. We wondered why they weren't in school...

It was approaching your lunch and naptime, so we returned to the hotel in a cyclo. We've decided it's the best way to travel medium distances - too far to walk but not worth a taxi. The sensation of heading through traffic on the front of a cyclo is thrilling - and for some reason, accidents don't seem to happen!

Your nap was cut short by our need to prepare you for your Giving and Receiving ceremony. You wore a new red Vietnamese outfit we'd bought that morning. What a beautiful girl you are!

We met at a government office and an official spoke with the assistance of Lan, who translated. The gist was that they are pleased we can give loving homes to Vietnamese children and that we are fortunate to have these children as members of our family. He especially stressed that they (you) should be considered exactly the same as biological children. I had to smile. I can't imagine I'll ever have to "get after you" the way I do when Danny is up to his tricks! But otherwise, I can see no difference in my affection for you. Holding you in my lap and snuggling you close gives me the exact same feeling as when I've done so with Danny. The fierce mother-love is already there.

I managed to get through the ceremony without blubbering, but I was some choked up! It was so wonderful to realize your place in our family is legal, official and permanent. This was one of those moments I wished I could freeze in time to feel the thrill over and over.

-----

Oh, my! Oh, my goodness! Today was the pivot point, I think! Do you have personality, or what???

After lunch we got on a boat tour of the bay. It was five hours long and we had hurried to get ready - never even grabbed toys or snacks! Unforgivable! What we discovered is that you find many ways to entertain yourself- singing quietly, playing with everyday items (film canisters today...), etc. When that got old, you got your personality in gear and began teasing us by pretending to go where we'd asked you not to (near the bow of the boat where the railing was lower). You eventually had involved almost everyone on the boat in your peek-a-boo play and running around. You were the only child on the boat and definitely the entertainment of the afternoon! What a smile! What giggles! What a flirt! You were all wound up and turned on for the whole 5 hours! What a girl! We just kept looking at each other (your dad & I), as if to say, "This is the same kid?".

You also broke the language barrier today. The only English word I'd heard you try to repeat up to today was "book". Well, today you began with "boat", proceeded to "Mommy", "water", "comb", and then several animal names in your storybook when we got back. You also mimic counting numbers one to ten - and your syllables are sounding very close to correct. We have practiced counting items with you, but today you seem to remember and reproduce the sequence of sounds. Amazing! You had quite the banner day!

I don't know whether to rejoice or have a heart attack - if you have as much energy and personality as your brother, Danny, I'm in trouble!

-----

Poor Dad and Mom! We're getting a little tried of the "local" food, since we're used to a much different diet. Our search for "Western" style food has almost become an obsession! For lunch today we asked where we might find a hotel for "tourists". After a wild hired motorbike ride (all of us and a driver on one bike!) to the suggested restaurant, we found the same basic menu as everywhere else. But the waitresses try to be so accommodating! When we ask for bread they send someone down the street to buy bread. The same with milk. They very much want to please us. What a lovely people the Vietnamese are! I hope you will always be proud of your heritage.

Instead of the 5 hour boat cruise offered this morning, we "hung around town". The great find of the day was a shady area near the bay that had a polished granite slide and several metal mini-cars rotating like a merry-go-round (not motorized). You loved them both. You certainly are not timid when you get warmed up! We pushed you on the merry-go-round a couple of different times - quite a while each time. It was obvious you liked it. The slide was rather slick and seemed to be a new experience for you. You went down skee-widey a few times and bumped your head a little once. No tears, tho'. Even the couple of times you fell and scraped knees there were no tears.

Tonight, for the first time, you balked at going to bed. After being an absolute trooper all day and enduring the hot, long dusty bus ride home (you sang and stayed busy with very little the whole time), you ran to the door when it was time to get into bed. You cried quite awhile even after I'd put you down. I guess you'd had so much fun entertaining Daddy and me with your
antics, that bed seemed pretty boring.

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Well, wasn't Daddy excited to find the Baskin Robbins here in Hanoi. We shared a scoop of ice cream, but you're still not impressed. What a nasty face you make when you don't like the way something tastes!

Today we visited the pagoda at Hoan Kiem Lake. You watched tiny frogs hopping about - they were no bigger than large houseflies. Then it was a pigeon that caught your fancy. The beauty of the pagoda and shrines was lost on you - you're more interested in playing Peek-a-boo behind the pillars.

The Holt staff gave us all the legal paperwork today. Inside were pictures of you at various ages, including when you were just a few months old. It is helpful for us to see what you looked like at various ages. You sure are a cutie!

After that we visited the Birla Orphanage where you were first brought. Although you were only there a few days, everyone was anxious to see you and say goodbye. You didn't want to go to them, and clung to us. It made us feel good that you have bonded so strongly with us. We felt badly, however, for the caregivers, as they really wanted to hold you and kiss you goodbye.

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Today we hired a cyclo driver to take us around to various spots throughout the morning. After a breakfast of soup (for you) and French toast (for all of us) we shopped on several different streets. It was very hot and humid, and by mid-morning we were all dripping wet and feeling drained. The Temple of Literature was lovely and peaceful, but the heat made it hard to enjoy. You ran around quite a bit, and got even MORE hot. Oh, well!

As much as we love Hanoi, we're anxious to move on. Living out of suitcases gets old fast, and we're counting the days to the next step, which is moving the center of operations to Bangkok. Then another countdown begins.

-----

What a character you've turned out to be! When we're in taxis or cyclos you sing away, seemingly happy and content. I just wish I knew the songs so I could sing along! Your dad and I constantly say how lucky we are that we have you. Already you seem so comfortable with us!

One thing we've discovered that you HATE is getting your face wet. You now dread bath time and scream hysterically while we shampoo your hair even though we are now careful not to get water on your face. We'll have to figure out a way to make bath time more fun for you. I guess we blew it when we let water run down your face while shampooing. I wonder what your caregivers did at the orphanage to wash your hair?

Every day and within each day, everything we do - we're struck by the genuine friendliness of people here. So many acts of kindness have come our way. How can we ever repay Hanoi for its kindness and the most special gift it could give...one of its precious children! And such a special one you are, too! Your smiles, laughs and giggles make our day, every day. Without you, this would be such a different, and certainly less enjoyable, experience. We're in a strange land (for us!) where most people don't understand us when we speak - and we certainly don't understand them, either!

We're having to live out of suitcases and eat meals at different places all the time. It's terribly humid and usually very worm. And in the middle of all this challenge - is a little girl who makes us laugh, smile, shake our heads in wonder. Every time you do something new or different - each time you try to say a new word in English - it's such a thrill! You now call us Mommy and Daddy, too. I don't suppose you have any idea how much you've already added to our lives. What a girl!

5/5/97 We've had our last cyclo ride and sadly bid farewell to the streets of Hanoi. Tomorrow we get your Thai visa and head to Bangkok. We'll cherish many happy memories of our time in your city. But as we rode past street stalls, crowded storefronts and the crazy traffic of Hanoi, I thought about how you could have been one of the little children living in these friendly but poverty-stricken streets. How different your life will be because your birthmother could not care for you. Perhaps in her heart she knew a better life existed for you - and if we could but find her, she'd be happy to know you are loved and well cared for. I wish we had a way of letting her know.

You had your first stroller ride today - around Hoan Kiem Lake. You liked it! I tried to keep you in the shade as much as possible. People often ask if you are Vietnamese and seem pleased when we say "yes". I will so miss the many friendly smiles, the charade-like gestures that assist with communications, the pungent odors, the beeping horns, and whistling trains. The bustle of the street below has become dear and familiar. While the silence of our country home is something I sought out, I will always hear the street sounds of Hanoi in my recollections of our time here. It is a tie that binds us as no other can. I know the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of your origins - and I love them. You will only hear positive and fond information about this place of your birth. I'm glad we all shared it together - your dad, me and you. One day we'll return and Danny will learn, too.

Read another story


The Crocker's adopted Ashey from Vietnam in April, 1997. If you enjoyed reading these excerpts, you may wish to read the longer version on the Families with Children from Vietnam website.


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