Annie update: a month at (her forever) home


Two Joyful Purple Dragons

I lie awake in a trundle bed next to Annie, listening for her in the dark. As she sleeps, she periodically cries out as if she’s hurting, and when I rise to look at her (as her mama does many times every night), Annie is sound asleep, eyes closed. Is this a bad dream? A muscle spasm? No one knows, but this is one of the things that has yet to be determined about Rosie Suzanne Cardoza, once known as Long Xin Zi (Joyful Purple Dragon), now called Annie.

What I do, when Annie cries out, is to rise from my place on the trundle bed next to Annie’s, check on her and perhaps turn her to her opposite side since she can’t turn herself. She sleeps propped up on one side or the other. Or, if she’s rolled on her back, which she can do, perhaps straighten her body. Annie has a tendency to pretzel herself into some awkward positions with her crossed legs. She sleeps with a foam pillow between her legs to help with that a bit.

During the deep of one night, close to dawn, Annie cries, and Aunt Jan first tries some reiki, then a little head massage. I stroke the side of Annie’s head and make small circles at the base of her skull. I silently call on all the angels and saints, gods and goddesses and unseen helpers to help ease this child’s passage into sleep. I do the Buddhist lovingkindness practice—may you be peaceful, may you be at ease, may you be free from suffering. Who knows what works or doesn’t, but Annie does relax and sleep in her cool house on hot Sacramento summer nights.

And, if everyone is lucky, Annie sleeps long and well… and Nikki does, too.

As of today Annie has been in her new home with her mama, Nikki Cardoza, for a whole month. And what a month it’s been!

I’ve recently stayed overnight a couple of times so Nikki could get some uninterrupted sleep. No matter how old the new child you bring home, it seems, you’re in for a period of very little sleep. This has been true for Nikki, who maybe sleeps a few hours at a time. Annie is sleeping better; Nikki not so much. When you’re a single parent, this can be overwhelming. Nikki is handling it like the trouper she is, but she has been grateful for the break.

So Aunt Jan, who is currently not teaching, occasionally takes the overnight, as we used to say in the wire service business. We figure that Annie knows me and won’t be startled to find me in her room in the night. If she wakes and realizes it’s me (“Ayi Jan,” I whisper to her), she gives me her throaty “heh-heh-heh,” and then I have to coax her back to sleep. Best not to say anything, I’ve learned, just turn her and let her fall back into a deep sleep.

I go over to their house about 8 p.m. Nikki puts Annie to bed and reads her a story 8:30ish and by 9, the house is dark, and Nikki and Annie are on their way to sleep. (Last night Annie crashed by 7:30 p.m.) Not so for Aunt Jan, who is a later-to-bed type, but that’s OK because I read until I’m sleepy. And, like any good sitter, I’m on Annie patrol throughout the night. I don’t expect to sleep much. I’ll do that the next day when I go home.

I lie in the dark on the trundle bed closer and read one of the books I’ve downloaded on my new iPad (purchased specifically for the China trip). Its darkened screen with white type doesn’t awaken Annie, which is a blessing. Nikki is sleeping soundly, I hope, in her room next door, and I drift off here and there, but mostly I’m aware that I’m on nightwatch and what an honor that is.

In the mornings when Nikki and Annie are awake (once by 7; today Nikki got to sleep till after 8 a.m.), I am ready to crash, which I do when I go home. But first we all chat. Annie has her morning medications, Nikki whips up some oatmeal for Annie, whose current favorite programs on her mom’s iPad are “Mickey’s Clubhouse” and “Bubble Guppies.”

And look at what Annie can do, a month into her new American life:


I can hold my own SPOON!

—She tries to feed herself, which is tricky, because the darned spoon needs to go in the mouth horizontally (sheesh!). But she’s making progress. (I laughed out loud when Nikki sent me the photo above, with no accompanying caption. Very big deal!) Annie also tries to hold juice/applesauce pouches as someone squishes them into her mouth. And, just days ago, after Nikki placed a ball in one of Annie’s hands, she very slowly and intentionally brought it to her nose, then chortled about her accomplishment… as well she should.

—She can count to ten and identify numbers and shapes. Aloud. In English, though it comes out a little garbled. Still, she’s got a lot of the right sounds and inflections.

—She happily sings along to the ABCs song and “Twinkle Twinkle,” which, I’ve just realized, are sung to the same tune. She’s chirpy even in the early morning. She laughs when Aunt Jan lies on her bed and tries to sing “Good Morning to You” (“we’re all in our places with sunshine-y faces”) and croaks on the high notes. (Aunt Jan does not have the musical range she once did… especially in the early morning.)

—Annie’s gaining weight, which can be seen in her cheeks and around her ribs. She loves to eat most every food she’s given.

—She has visited the pediatrician and is being evaluated to go to school (people who know her skills say that she looks ready for kindergarten), for physical therapy and other services. Mama does home PT every day, including putting Annie on her tummy on a big bolster and urging Annie to lift her head to build up her neck muscles.

—She rides in the nifty child jogger, pushed by her mama, which puts Annie to sleep unless she’s wearing her headband earphones so she can listen and sing along to Chinese music.

—She has a new sitter (so Mama can get out and about alone a bit) and will attend daycare at a place for kids with special needs.

—Nikki figured out that Annie’s wheelchair does, in fact, fold, which would have made things a lot easier if we’d known how to do that in China and Hong Kong. Nikki had to watch a YouTube video, but she’s got the chair thing down now.

—Annie has been to a family reunion in Watsonville where she was warmly welcomed by many people.

—She loves to swim, which we learned in Hong Kong, but on hot days when the water is warmest she also loves to jump into the pool in Nikki’s arms. Still no problem with splashing or going underwater. And look at her cool floatie device:


Oh, and the Cardoza kitty (also named Rosie), who mostly hides under Nikki’s bed when strangers are in the house, is getting used to her new roommate… and company, too. Last night Rosie wandered into the living room as I sat on the sofa reading before I went to lie down in Annie’s room. I knew not to make a big deal out of it or exclaim, but I was tickled when Rosie, in mid-stride, turned her fluffy black head to look at me, noted my presence and walked on. Later she sat on an ottoman across the room to keep an eye on me.

I was not the only one on nightwatch—Rosie and I stood sentinel over the household along with all the companion spirits.

And on this night, I thought of my father, who died in 2004, whose 86th birthday fell after midnight. How much he would get a kick out of Annie, how touched he would be by Nikki and Annie’s story. And I realized… duh! He knows all this—he was along for the China journey, cheering us on the the whole time—as were so many of the unseen helpers of Nikki’s and Annie’s, too. As they will continue to be.

We are so very held, even when we forget that we are.

Amen. Or as they say in Hawaiian—amene (ah-men-ay).

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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20 Responses to Annie update: a month at (her forever) home

  1. Connie Raub says:

    Thank you DEAR Aunt Jan!!! What a treat to see and hear about the life Annie has here in the United States. How good of you to continue to spend time with Nikki and Annie – how could you NOT, but still. . . . . you are sacrificing sleep time. You might not be able to do that once school starts for you, but you have made such a profound connection with Annie it is hard to think that you would not always follow her progress, and she yours! You have given us such a gift through your writing, reading stories and stroking her head. We know more about a child, a person, a culture and YOU through this journey. Thank you for being vulnerable and exposing truths that let us, in some small way, to understand the greatness of humanity and the glimpse of a cat’s connection. I believe I speak from many in your community when I say thank you for sharing a life changing experience in ways that will send ripples beyond our wildest imaginations! Thank you!

    • janishaag says:

      Oh, Connie… how eloquent you are! Thank you for such an outpouring of appreciation. I’m gonna have to frame this! What a lovely piece of writing of your own! I love “the glimpse of a cat’s connection”… among many other phrases. Love and hugs!

  2. Betsy Brundage says:

    Thank you for sharing your story of beautiful Annie. I, too, have an Annie from China (and a Bethany and Jack). They are 14, 13 1/2, and 13. Our last journey was in 2008 and reading this brought back many memories. You write beautifully and I hope you will continue to update Annie’s adventures. Best to you all!

    • janishaag says:

      Thank you, Betsy! So nice to know of your Annie from China. Are Bethany and Jack from China, too? I will continue the updates!

      • Betsy says:

        Hi–Bethany and Jack are also from the China Waiting Child program. We went to China 3 times in 3 years, quite the whirlwind! I still can’t believe I am lucky enough to be their mom 🙂

      • janishaag says:

        Wow! That is quite cool. Hope you write about your experiences with all three… that must be a great series of stories!

  3. Lynda Tyler says:

    Until I saw the flash about an update I didn’t realize how I’ve been ‘left hanging’. I knew what a success the journey to bring Annie home had been. I’ve reread all installments three times. Like replaying a favorite old classic. But imagination couldn’t take me any further.
    Thank you for sharing this intimate glimpse into the homecoming, the progress and the love!

  4. Donna Just says:

    Go girl go!


  5. Hilary A says:

    Read slowly, with such satisfaction! Blessings on you all! xo

  6. Kathryn Hohlwein says:

    Is she now more “Rosie” than “Annie” ??

  7. Vonnie Madigan says:

    So amazing. She is quite the little girl. And her momma is beyond wonderful as is her Auntie Jan.

  8. Kristine says:

    Wow. Just wow. I just binge read all of your posts from beginning to end today. Thank you for the lovely writing, the descriptions that made every event come alive, and most of all, for so beautifully capturing the spirit of this journey to make a family. I’m in the process of adopting a little girl (we’ve been matched!) who also spent the first year of her life in the Butterfly Hospice. Reading through your journey and experiencing Nikki’s fortitude, your unwavering support, Annie’s trust (and breakdowns!), has granted me the most precious gift of all – a detailed guidebook for a future previously wrapped in mystery. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea the immensity of your gift to me.

    • janishaag says:

      Thank you so much, Kristine! Your note touches me deeply, and I’ve shared it with Nikki, too. Congratulations on being matched to adopt one of the rare and precious butterflies! We will follow your story with interest, too, if you care to share it with us. Hugs and best wishes to you and your soon-to-be daughter.

      • Kristine says:

        Thank you, Janis! I’m now waiting for i800 approval and preparing my China dossier. So much paperwork! I like to think I’m pregnant with paperwork, and once the “labor” pains are over, I’ll finally get to hold my daughter! Yes, I’ll definitely keep you and Nikki updated as to my journey. If you’re ever down in Southern California (Los Angeles area), please reach out! I’d love to take you to dinner. Good luck with your auntie duties! It sounds like you’re doing a pretty fabulous job!

  9. janishaag says:

    Hooray, Kristine.. and you certainly ARE pregnant with paperwork! It’s an exciting time for you! Nikki is curious about whom you’re adopting, so I will put you two in touch!

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