(#11 in the Annie series)
What girl doesn’t like new clothes?
Aunt Jan was hoping the opportunity would arise to stroll into a Chinese kids’ clothing store (or two) with Nikki and Annie and have them pick out some new clothes. Though her new Hello Kitty suitcase arrived with two scrapbooks about her life in China (the most precious things, for sure), Annie’s clothing was rather… well, haphazard. Nikki says the orphanage dresses the kids in whatever’s handy that (sorta) fits them, which is understandable.
But as Nikki also said when she saw the clothes Annie came with: “Are you kidding me with this?” In her new pink Hello Kitty suitcase were three well-worn boys’ T-shirts, one with a cartoon character toting two large guns and a pair of way-too-big pants.
Her special going-away outfit, which we think was lovingly chosen (and perhaps purchased) by Annie’s favorite ayi (caretaker auntie) consisted of long turquoise leggings, a sleeveless white top with flowers (rather pretty) and pointy-toed party sandals with a sparkly flower on them.
Nikki says the Chinese love their bling, and we do see a lot of it here. There’s nothing wrong with that—for Annie, though, it doesn’t make sense. The day after Nikki picked up Annie, Nikki went to a children’s clothing shop down the street from our hotel and found simple pink sandals with one strap around the ankle and one over the toes to allow more freedom of movement for Annie’s long toes. The party shoes definitely didn’t have much toe room.
Still, we later learned at The Lighthouse that Annie’s ayi chose the sparkly sandals, so that makes them special. This is the woman who frequently cared for Annie and who also cared most for Annie. We were so touched by her obvious affection and concern for Zuh-Zuh (I’m spelling her Chinese nickname phonetically). She did not look at Annie as just another mouth to feed—she clearly adored Annie—which endeared the ayi to us.
The problem was that Nikki had taken one of the party shoes with her when she bought Annie’s more practical sandals. Without meaning to, she left the party shoe at the store. She hoped no one would notice, but Annie’s ayi saw the new shoes when we went back to The Lighthouse. Only one of the party shoes survives, but Nikki didn’t say that, of course.
So it was clear that, as well as new shoes, new clothes were also in order. Nikki brought a few things, including new jammies, with her from Sacramento. But she’d guessed at sizes. Annie is very slender and long, so some of those clothes didn’t work all that well either.
Yesterday on our afternoon stroll (Annie loves getting out to look around, and who can blame her?) in Guangzhou, we shopped. This is a lovely district of brick sidewalks lined with mango trees), we found a Family Mart, a chain that sells kids’ clothes. Nikki, who is a champion bargain bin shopper, dove into one piled high with sale summer clothes and began finding possibilities. And here’s what I loved: She showed her selections to Annie so she could offer her opinion. Annie was delighted to say “good” (“hao) or “not good” (“bu hao”) in Mandarin, and, I was amused to see, had definite likes and dislikes.
I found a couple of cute T-shirts I thought would look good on Annie, but she nixed them. Not a problem; it was fun to discover what she likes… shades of pink, it turns out, and a red polka dotted bathing suit. (We hope to swim at John and Anne’s apartment complex pool in Hong Kong.) And, for the first time in many years, Aunt Jan got to buy someone little girl clothes.
I don’t mind saying that when my niece Lauren was born on my 29th birthday, July 30, 1987, I greeted her with, “I’m your Aunt Jan. You’re gonna love me; I’m gonna buy you things.”
I did buy her things, though I hoped she would love me for other reasons. Turned out she did (still does) and her brother Kevin, too, who came along a couple of years later, and I bought him stuff, too. I liked buying Kevin clothes, but he was far more interested in toys, especially the Big Loader with its skip loader, dump truck and tractor. Lauren had more to say about what she wanted to wear (dresses!) from the time she was about 2. I quickly learned to ask her opinion when buying things, and she was happy to give it. (And by the way, Happy Almost 29th Birthday, Lauren! You’re as young as I was when you arrived!)
Annie, on the other hand, has been mostly dressed in boys’ hand-me-downs. Nothing wrong with that, but it turns out that she really loves girl clothes. At the store in Guangzhou she really liked a sweet white sleeveless top with cherries on it as well as a pair of flamingo shorts. Her taste ranges, in other words.
We came back to the same store the next day because… well, there was more shopping to be done and (hello!) GREAT SALE! As Nikki was going through the bargain bin again looking for shorts, Annie’s eyes were riveted to a pair of dress sandals with sparkly silver on them and the word LOVE across each toe in large letters. Not really appropriate daily footwear, like the sparkly sandals, but Nikki, who scored big points for being Good Sport Mama, tried one on Annie. I held up Annie’s head and Nikki held up her foot so she could see the sandal. Big grin. She loved it.
Nikki sighed and asked a clerk for the other sandal, which took awhile since the clerks, who, the day before, had hovered around us like bees, we’re now equally aggressively ignoring us. Nikki noted that Sunday is their restocking day, and we customers were in the way. While the clerk was locating the other shoe, I spotted a pair of Minnie Mouse plastic clogs in blue and pink and showed them to Annie. She brightened. Nikki slipped one on, and success—Annie’s long toes fit nicely without being crunched in them. More practical footwear.
The clerk returned with the fancier sandals in a box. Big moment of decision. Nikki held up one fancy sandal and one Minnie clog for Annie and asked her which one she preferred, adding that she could only have one pair. There was a pause; we could hear the wheels turning in her head. Much to our surprise, she chose the Minnie clog.
“I figured she’d go for the bling,” Nikki said. “That’s very Chinese.”
“It’s very American, too,” I added, thinking of my mom, the Sweet Adeline, who loves her bling. If it sparkles or is in the rhinestone family, so much the better. Nothing wrong with that.
But in this case we were all about the practical as well as pretty—shirts with wide necks and snaps to fit over Annie’s head and shoulders, since she can’t lift her arms to easily put on shirts. Shorts with trim waists so she doesn’t lose her drawers when she’s picked up or moved.
So Aunt Jan happily bought a pile of tops and shorts on sale and one pair of Minnie clogs to add to Annie’s growing wardrobe. The hand-me-down, boy T-shirts were on their way out. But the one sparkly party shoe left from the pair Annie arrived in will go home with her.
“It’s her Cinderella slipper,” I told Nikki, “the one that got left behind at the ball. The one with all the love in it.”
Nikki liked that, both of us thinking of Annie’s ayi who bought those shoes and put them lovingly on Annie’s feet the last day Annie was in her care, who then pushed her into a reception room at the Civil Affairs Center and presented Annie to her new mama. Who will take her far away, to become American, go to school and have physical therapy and new friends and a whole new life. One with a lot of pink clothes and shoes, too, and, quite likely at some point, some fancy new party shoes.
You sure did buy us all the things! But of course we love you for far more than that. Lava you, Aunt Jan!
10Q, Nonen! You and Kevin made me into the Aunt Jan I am today! LavaU muchly!
Darling Jan — you are a marvel of making connections, just as any good writer must be.
Thank you, dear Kathryn… funny how those connections just show up as you write. They don’t usually occur to me as I’m walking around… only with a pen in hand or fingers on the keys. Love that… and you!
How sweet this is! I love the Cinderella connection and maybe Annie will become an American princess someday. (My great niece loved being a princess) You are a wonder at putting this together, Jan. We all love you for this gift. 🙂
Thank you, Cora. It’s a huge gift to me to be able to chronicle this journey… and to have such nice Photoshop cleanup by Dickie Dean gracing the photos. It is, as with many things, a team effort for us both!