You’re never fully dressed without a smile


Rosie Suzanne Cardoza… aka Annie.

(21st in the Annie series)

Sure, “Tomorrow” is one of her “Annie” songs, but it was not until I came home and looked at all the photos that I realized Annie’s real theme song might be this one. Just look at that megawatt smile, as the Butterfly House folks wrote in her scrapbook.


Annie on the day she came to Nikki, June 20, 2016, Changsha, Hunan, China.

And boy, do these lyrics to “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” fit this Annie:

Hey, hobo man,
Hey, dapper dan,
You’ve both got your style,
But, brother, you’re never fully dressed
Without a smile!


Annie enjoys cartoons on the iPad, Changsha, Hunan, China.

Your clothes may be beau brummelly
They stand out a mile,
But, brother, you’re never fully dressed
Without a smile!


Annie and Nikki Cardoza, Changsha, Hunan, China.

Who cares what they’re wearing
On Main Street or Saville Row?
It’s what you wear from ear to ear,
And not from head to toe,
That matters.

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Annie playing one of her favorite iPad games.

So, senator,
So, janitor,
So long for a while.
Remember you’re
Never fully dressed,
Though you may wear your best,
You’re never fully dressed
Without a smile

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Annie and Nikki Cardoza, Changsha, Hunan, China.

Despite all she’s been through, despite the challenges that await her, Annie’s bright-eyed optimism shines through and, according to all who’ve known her, this is what has been evident since she was found and brought to Butterfly House six years ago. Her strong spirit is clearly what has sustained her, what has helped her survive and grow to be 7 years old and a new American citizen.

She is one of only 18 Butterfly House children who have been adopted by their “forever families,” as they call them. (Butterfly Hospices, at their two locations in China, have cared for 170 children over the past 10 years, 104 of whom “have passed away peacefully in their ayis’ or nurses’ arms,” according to Katie Hill, head nurse at Butterfly House in Changsha.) Annie has beaten tremendous odds, this little survivor… and her infectious attitude of gratitude and joy makes everyone who meets her smile, too.

Nikki Cardoza is my hero for so many reasons. Adopting Annie is just one of them. Nikki’s can-do spirit and determination are exactly what will serve Annie so very well. Nikki is one of the strongest, kindest, most loving people I know—and a very good writer who has an incredible memoir to set down on the page… when she gets more than a few minutes to breathe. It is hers and Annie’s story to tell one day. I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten to share a bit of their new life together and record it here.

It’s been my honor and my privilege to go along on this journey of a lifetime—for Nikki and for Annie and, it turns out, for me, too. I wouldn’t have missed it. Not for all the tea in China!


Annie and Nikki ride the Star Ferry, Hong Kong.

About janishaag

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

9 Responses to You’re never fully dressed without a smile

  1. D'Niece Hall says:

    I love your very eloquent writings and stories of Annie and Nikki. Please keep em coming.

  2. Kathryn Hohlwein says:

    Dear Jan — So glad and impressed that you returned with such a positive take. ( Not that I could expect otherwise from you ! )

    Is it This Sunday then, in July????

    • janishaag says:

      Thank you, Kathryn. I suggested this Sunday, yes, but I haven’t heard from Connie if that works for her. We can wait until August, if that’s better.

  3. Cora says:

    This is definitely a keeper. You’re right, Annie’s smile is infectious and I hope she continues to be fully dressed forever. Hugs!

  4. Connie Raub says:

    Did you happen to see Anastasia Somoza, the beautiful young woman who spoke yesterday at the National Democratic Convention? She and her twin sister were born with Cerebral Palsy and Spastic Quadriplegia. She serves as an advocate for Americans with intellectual and Developmental disabilities. She was an intern for Hillary Clinton when she was a U.S. Senator. What a great role model for Annie to believe that all things are possible – But Annie already knows that. That is why she smiles and lived to meet her new mother. What more is ahead, we will be glad to witness! Annie already has the outfit!

  5. I came across this blog when I’m supposed to be applying for jobs – but your writing had me glued to my laptop, and in tears halfway through the blogposts – probably tears of joy and inspiration, as well as tears of nostalgia for China – despite its complexities and frustrations.
    Thank you for sharing this heart warming story and I expect you never expected you would be helping your friend Nikki in such a practical way on an adventure across the other side of the world.

    • janishaag says:

      Thank you so much! And you’re an Anna, I think? Practically a sister to our Annie! I appreciate your kind comments and glad you could relate as one who knows China.

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