Thursday, July 26, 2007


I've been thinking about this post for weeks without knowing exactly how it would begin. So many kind people have encouraged me to keep writing about our experiences bringing Henry An home to America that I wanted to make sure I told the real story of what we have been through so far.

I think the word that sums it up best is this: water. If there is one word that best describes Henry An and his relationship to the world it is water. He has a deep and endless love for water in all of its forms. It is ingrained so deeply into his personality it's a wonder he isn't actually a river or stream running and crashing through a deep forest somewhere. If he is nowhere to be found, he can usually be located at a water source: the bathroom sink, the wading pool in the back, a washtub filled with water also in the backyard, in the bathtub at any possible moment, at a little fountain running on the deck, gripping the hose, watering the plants with Mollia. He simply can't be in or around water enough. It is a true love but also a living thing that seems brings him peace during this time of transition.

And water is a word that accurately depicts our sense of being somewhat adrift in this new world where we have two children, one of whom speaks English, the other of whom speaks only a few words. We pretend that he has more language than he does, but ultimately we realize he doesn't. We are all dreaming of a common language, especially Henry An. It's so obvious that he longs to be understood, and so some of what we've been through has been difficult and painful. A four-year old who cannot make himself understood is easily frustrated and inconsolable. Together, we have had many trying moments, to be sure. But something about them is different than when Mollia and I alone struggled to soothe or console Greta when she was younger and when we were just guessing at what might be wrong. Now, we are a family, a loving group of individuals working together to find balance and harmony. So while the work is nothing less than full-time plus, it is a new kind of work that demands subtlety and intense observation and patience and lots of love. Mollia and I both get very tired at the end of the day and particularly at the end of the week, now that I am back to work. I continue to remind her that it won't always be like this. We won't always be a family struggling to simply communicate and work through conflicts in such a complicated way. Soon, we will be a family that shares a language that will color and deepen our daily rituals.

So, we have been trying different ways to bridge the gap. Nothing works quite well enough, I must say. Language is pretty much the only thing that substitutes for language. Everything else is simply one big misunderstanding. What is frightening, perhaps, is that since he can tell us next to nothing about how little we are understanding him, we don't even know yet how badly we are screwing up. So, you see what I mean about feeling lost at sea at times.

But then there are the moments of revelation, like when he started saying "Mama" to Mollia over and over, like he was just discovering the word and the meaning of it in any language for the first time. Now, he shouts it at the top of his lungs, "Mama!" like a declaration of his existence. And there are numerous other words he knows but is reluctant to try, because he is shy.

More than any of us, perhaps, Greta wishes for this barrier between her and her new brother to be torn down. Her dream of having a brother to play with feels incomplete when she is constantly gesturing or speaking to him in pidgin Vietnamese/English. Or maybe it isn't so incomplete, take a look at this shot:

They really are like true siblings most of the time, alternately conspiring against us and then squabbling over who had a toy first. I consider this to be a fairly crucial sorting out period where they are trying on different parts of this new relationship. Neither has been a brother or sister before, and now they have been thrown together without your typical infant introduction. It's clearly not easy for them, but I'm impressed at how determined each one seems to be to make this work. At some fundamental level, they seem to know that they have one another, that they belong to each other, and that is both reassuring and a little bit scary for them at times. Mollia and I have to remind one another to try to be patient with them during this process. It can be exasperating at times, but when you see pictures like this one:
You know it's all going to work out in the end.

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