Fifteen years ago, 17 girls and their adoptive families came home from China together. Today, they still get together every year to celebrate and remember the connection they all share.
“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.” — Chinese Proverb
We were a group of 34 people representing the adoption of 17 baby girls ranging from 13 months to 2 years old. Our group was an eclectic mix of ages, occupations and family compositions — there were married couples, single parents, two grandmothers, an aunt and an uncle. For some, this adoption was their family’s first child, maybe their only child. Others had older biological children and four had previously adopted daughters from China. Despite all of our differences, we had become fast friends by the time we reached Beijing.
Prior to our group leaving for China in January 2002, we had travel meetings where we all got to know each other before leaving. Our escorts from Sunny Ridge were social workers Bethanne Gennette and Julie Betts as well as Bill Li Jian Zhong who met us in China.
Upon arrival, our three Sunny Ridge escorts were dedicated to their duties of guiding us through a maze of paperwork, endless bus rides, international flights, court appointments, places to eat and historic attractions. Our daughters came from four different places — the coastal city of Yangjiang, the forest region of Changning, the ancient city of Jingzhou and scenic city of Enshi. We faithfully followed our guides while toting our new bundles of joy, all the while chatting about feeding schedules, sleeping through the night, and anything else that had to do with our daughters. Bethanne, herself a Korean adoptee, spoke often of the importance of always keeping our daughters connected to one another. After all, they knew one another before we did and shared a special beginning. Together, we also made a pledge that our daughters would always be familiar with their Chinese heritage.
Our lives were busy once we returned home on February 8, 2002, but we held in our hearts the promise to keep our daughters connected. One of the families with an older daughter adopted from China was the first to step up and plan a get-together for our daughters. This was the beginning of a 15-year tradition of an annual Family Gotcha Day Celebration with food, crafts and games. The gatherings were originally held at the lovely Sunny Ridge Family Center’s Wheaton campus. When that location was no longer available we moved to a larger party room with an attached playground outside. As the girls grew older, the gatherings became outings such as a day trip to Chicago’s Chinatown, a baseball game, an overnight hotel stay, a bowling party and a summer swim party. Many of the girls study Mandarin and Chinese dance — several even performed at Disney World. Occasionally, some of us will get together for a moms’ night out.
Thanks to social media platforms, we have remained close and in-touch. Sadly two parents have passed away. However, the group has been blessed with nine more siblings through birth and adoption.
In January 2017, we celebrated our 15th Annual Gotcha Day with a family luncheon. Afterwards, we put together a picture book of girls’ current photos, high school info, interests and hobbies. We’ve created a picture book like this every year for the past 15 years. Our daughters are now 16-17 years old. They drive cars, think about college, work part-time jobs, and stay in touch with one another on their cell phones. We are a family unit, not by blood but by love from a special shared experience. We are forever grateful to Holt-Sunny Ridge.
Mary Sodetz and Twila Hughes | Adoptive Parents