Five little ducks


(#8 in the Annie series)

As Annie napped on our third day in Changsha, I looked through her scrapbooks. She came to us with two of them in her pink Hello Kitty suitcase—one from her first home at The Butterfly House and the second from her most recent home at The Lighthouse. There must be a Chinese character for “beautiful” and “heartbreaking” together—at least, I hope there is—because these scrapbooks are both.

They are, among many things, testament to Annie’s life before Nikki and to the many people who have loved her. They are filled with letters in Chinese and English from her ayis and volunteers and staff who have deeply cared for and adored Annie. There are photos of Annie at all different stages of her life and written stories about her, too.

Here’s one of her scrapbooks:


Is this sweet or what? It was kept by The Butterfly House, the hospice where Annie lived when she was found May 22, 2010. Her age was estimated to be 1, and her birthdate was assigned exactly a year on the day she was found—May 22, 2009. For three years the good people at The Butterfly House loved and nursed little Annie, and, when she was doing well, she was moved to The Lighthouse, where she spent her most recent three years. She turned 7 on May 22 this year.

There is so much to ooh and ahh over in these precious volumes. But the entries that really tug at my heartstrings are the ones about her wheelchair. Annie didn’t have a chair for the first few years, and because she can’t sit up on her own, it meant she spent most of her time lying down or being held. She had a stuffed hedgehog named Wei-Wei that supported her head while lying, I learned from her scrapbook, but, as is true now, she had no vertical stability.

Enter a volunteer from Hong Kong named Andy, who spent time with Annie, charmed by her “megawatt smile,” it says in the scrapbook. (That bright smile has grown even brighter as she’s gotten older.) “He was captivated by Annie’s loving heart and wanted to do something significant to help her.” Apparently Andy (I don’t see a last name for him) returned to Hong Kong and with his wife Lesley raised money for a specialized wheelchair for Annie—the one she has now.

“Annie loves people, and we think her own chair will increase her interaction with visitors,” it says in her scrapbook under her photo with Andy. “She will be able to make eye contact more easily, and volunteers will be able to take her outside for a walk.”

We have learned this, too: She loves walks. Her chair made that possible.

Andy and Lesley and some Hong Kong scouts raised money for Annie’s wheelchair, which is a sporty, aluminum-framed model. Nikki is certain that it must have cost several thousand dollars. And the entries in her scrapbook about getting that chair leap off the page with joy:

“Her specially made chair has arrived, and she absolutely loves it. We are so grateful to Andy, the Hong Kong scouts and all friends who contributed to this incredible gift. Thanks to you, this unique and precious child can feel the joy of greeting her friends at eye level. She can see the world like other children, instead of always looking up. She has the ability to move within her environment instead of having to wait and hope that others will move to her.”

On another page with a picture of a smaller, happy Annie in her chair, it describes her as “sitting up like a queen in her new throne.” And a very good writer has added:


Photos from Annie’s scrapbook.

“This chair has changed her experience of the world and opened up a new perspective for her. But even more than that—it speaks to her heart and tells her that she is valued and that she is worthy. And that is a message her heart can always hold on to.”

I was sitting on my bed in our hotel room in Changsha, looking at this story, reading bits of it to Nikki, trying not to let my tears drip on the scrapbook. It is a most incredible record of Annie’s life. The idea that someone is an “orphan” can summon some horrifying images. While it’s true that Annie was abandoned, she made a new family at two different places that became home to her, filled with adults and other children who love her and will think of her wherever she goes.


A younger Annie.


When Lucy brought Annie’s medications to us the day she was delivered to Nikki, Lucy suggested that we come to dinner two nights later with some of the staff of The Lighthouse. She offered to set up a dinner at a restaurant near us so we could join their weekly gathering. It turned out to be very close—just across the street, though we had to walk a couple of blocks to find a safe place to cross the street at dinner time/rush hour.

We were a bit late, and it turned out that The Lighthouse folks had reserved a private room upstairs in the restaurant—up stairs, literally. No elevator. But Lucy, a can-do woman from Singapore, seemed undaunted by the barrier. She convinced Nikki that they could carry Annie up two long sets of stairs, and a couple of The Lighthouse folks came to ceremoniously escort the queen and her chair to her dining room. There we met the other staff members who had come for dinner, a very nice group of people who have made it their life’s work to teach and support the children of the Lighthouse.


Lucy (right) feeds Annie dinner at the restaurant.

Lucy had ordered a variety of dishes that were brought in and placed on what we might call a large lazy susan—a circular tray that turns in the middle of the table. We ate family style after Clive gave the blessing, and Nikki caught up on news of people who had worked at The Lighthouse.

When we were done, Lucy and a couple of the other staffers stood up and, looking at Annie in her chair across the table, burst into the five little ducks song in English:

Five little ducks went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack,”
But only four little ducks came back

Here’s the amazing thing: Not only does Annie love this song, but she also sings along! Lucy paused before she got to the “quack quack quack quack” part, and all heads at the table swiveled to Annie. Much to our surprise, we heard her say, “quack, quack”! It took her a bit to get the words out, but they were a recognizable “quack.” Nikki and I were as delighted as if Annie had up and recited a whole poem.

She knows a song! In English! She can sing along! Lucy continued with great flourish and arm motions:

Four little ducks went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack,”
But only three little ducks came back

Lucy has been saying to Nikki since we got here, “Annie is very smart,” and we are seeing this, too. She’s tracking with everything being said in Chinese, and she understands more English than we realize.

Three little ducks went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack,”
But only two little ducks came back

Clearly this is true. As my father used to say, “There’s nothing wrong with her thinker.” Lucy kept singing and so did Annie:

Two little ducks went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack,”
But only one little duck came back

And the saddest verse:

One little duck went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack,”
But none of the five little ducks came back

Lucy sported her saddest face at this development, none of the ducks coming back. But then, she wound up for the big finish:

Sad Mother Duck went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack,”
And all the five little ducks came back


Much rejoicing at the happy ending. And as we’ve learned, Annie loves a big finish when it comes to songs. She quacked for all she was worth on the last verse, and at the end there was much laughter and applause around the table from some of the adults (and two kids) who knew her best.

The queen’s entourage carried her down the stairs, too, when it came time to leave, and everyone bid Annie a fond farewell. After we went out into the steamy Changsha night to walk back to our hotel, Lucy strapped on her helmet, got on her scooter (a primary mode of transport in Changsha) and waved at us.

“Bye-bye!” she said, which, it turns out, means the same thing in Chinese as it does in English.

Annie grinned at her computer teacher. Nikki and I waved, and we walked to our temporary home carrying in our hearts a familiar tune that we can sing—not just to—but with Annie.


About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
This entry was posted in Bringing Annie Home. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Five little ducks

  1. CorinneL says:

    What a lovely party and sweet send off. This kid is gonna be all about musicals! I bet she will learn lots of English through songs.

    • janishaag says:

      Thanks, Corinne, for not only being such a loyal reader but the one who can straighten me out about all things WordPress/blog. What would I do without my social media guru? You!

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