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Adopting an Older Child from Vietnam: Yes!

By Steven C. Murray

I wish I could tell you, without sounding trite, maudlin, or overly sentimental, what a wonderful, blessed experience it has been being Lee's dad.

Like many of us who adopt, I had the familiar questions: Will I be able to love an "older" child, especially one that is not "mine"? What if she has developmental problems? What if the separation is too painful?...

After we met Lee and began the adoption process we compiled a photo album with pictures of all Lee's future cousins, grandparents, the home where we were living, etc. We sent the book to a wonderful, elderly Vietnamese man who took the book several times to where Lee was being cared for and talked about the pictures with her. This did not diminish the pain of the transfer ceremony. Lee sat on the lap of the young girl who was providing for her throughout the ceremony and then abruptly we here hustled into a car, Lee was placed on my wife's lap, and the car took off for the four hour drive back to Hanoi.

For the entire ride Lee shrieked and kicked and I swear to God I thought I could not go through with it. For the next three days back in Hanoi as we awaited clearance of her paperwork she was in a real funk. She clung to my wife and would not let go. The guest house where we stayed was owned by some lovely people who helped us translate and we began to establish communication.

What was hard for me was that Lee, understandably, did not readily accept me, as she had not had much experience with males, especially ones who look like me: white, 275 lbs, 6'3", beard, etc. When asked what she thought of me by the translator she said "He is too big and too hairy."

We learned a modicum of Vietnamese phrases such as, "Do you have to go to the bathroom?," "Are you hungry?," Mommy and daddy love you." Of course, given the quizzical looks she would give us I have a feeling we may have been saying "You look like a chicken" or something equally ridiculous...

Just after Lee's adoption we moved back to the U.S. from Singapore (to Ohio to be exact). This turned out to be one of the most blessed, fortuitous changes for us. We put Lee in a daycare that was near Ohio State and which had a wide range of kids, includingAsian kids whose parents were getting graduate degrees, etc.

After about two months in the U.S., Lee had a pretty wide range of vocabulary but was mainly doing two or three words at a time. Then, one evening at dinner, I asked my wife a question and Lee answered without looking up from her plate and then continued to chatter on in English about her day. We sat there, mouths agape, and from that day on have been thoroughly amazed at this child.

We established a friendship, through a local refugee center, with a Vietnamese family with teenage kids who had been in the U.S. for a only two years. Our idea was to pay the kids to help Lee retain Vietnamese and we would, in turn, help them with English. As it turned out it was much more the latter than the former. Lee wanted nothing to do with speaking Vietnamese (understandable now that we think of it, as none of the kids at preschool or in our neighborhood spoke it). However, I have this wonderful audiotape of her when we were still in Hanoi, singing kids' songs to herself and even the Vietnamese national anthem. Every so often she asks to hear it and laughs and covers her face as she cannot believe that tiny voice was her. Those Vietnamese friends proved to be a godsend as they took to Lee like she was their own and they taught her about Vietnamese food, gardening techniques, and much else. We always celebrated Tet with them, Lee dressing up in her "special" ao dai (she is on her third one) and accompanying them to the temple...

I don't know what else to say except that if you are half as blessed as we have been you are in for the experience of your lifetime.

We adopted our daughter Lee when she was 3 and a half years old in 1996. She is now 8 and a half years old.


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