Adoption: Casey’s Story Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Finally, the long, long flight to China.

We asked our doctor for a sleep aid, he prescribed some ‘anxiety relief’ drug which helped very little—only thing I was ‘anxious about’ was not sleeping! For most of the flight I sat slumped, stared at mindless entertainment and mulled the hours away. We connected in Tokyo, then on to Beijing.

The agenda, mandated by the Chinese government, was tour Beijing for the weekend [aka spend tourist dollars], acclimate to time zone, then on to Guanzhou to pick up our child and spend 7 days together at The Swan Hotel before return flight to US.

We toured the Great Wall—huge, beautiful, impressive— then got walked into a tourist trap where unbelievably hard-core sales people pressure twisted and thoroughly manipulated us into purchasing a silk bed covering. We felt used and demeaned; yet over time that purchase turned out to be one of our all-time favorite household items! Cool in the summer, warm in the winter, we’ve cuddled under that silk bedcover for 8 years and counting.

Several shopping trips to crowded malls, mazes of fabric, products.The store clerks were worse than vultures—they didn’t just hoover, they pounced. Cheetahs on the prowl. Snag, guide, drag—look here, this is great product, you buy this now. Courtesy was ineffective, pleasant declinations were ignored. We had two choices: use icy-faced neglect to deflect clerks,—or cave and be manipulated.

The Forbidden City was awesome. Massive architecture, grand scale, open courtyards. But my favorite part was at the end of the tour, walking out the gate onto roof-steepled walkways where town folks loitered for their Sunday leisures. Old people playing well worn chinese board games, smoking cigarettes. A choir huddled on a small section of the walkway, a group of neighbors who hooked up to sing traditional chinese songs. They were joyful, captivating, and good! I walked right into their midst, as if I were one of the choir, soaked and rejoiced in their sounds. They seemed to enjoy my presence.

We went to a spa and got an awesome massage.

We left Beijing early Monday morning and flew to Guanzhou in south China. Shuttle to our hotel—the drive was so profoundly distressing. Poverty and city squalor under rainy skies. On an elevated freeway we drove past old, tired, brown & gray apartment buildings. One building—who knows what happened, but six stories up, like a sectional cut-away of a doll house, parts of the WALL was missing! We had a literal view into their apartment, adults sitting on their chairs reading newspaper, kids on the floor playing games, 12 feet away from open air death drop. No playing fetch with fido.

Onto the island where the White Swan hotel stood, and suddenly the neighborhood looked like 19th century Europe, like buildings in Paris.

The White Swan hotel was western luxury, purportedly one of the finest hotels in China, particularly well-suited for westerners. President Ford had stayed there, and they still boasted of his presence in photos honoring his stay.

When do we get the child? We’d been told the process varied each trip, but essentially what to expect was stork-like delivery to the hotel. A knock on the door, open it up—handed the child with a smile and good-day nod, and bingo you’re a parent! When do they deliver? Who knows.

We had asked if we could pick the child up at the orphanage, the answer had been an emphatic no. Yet when we arrived at the hotel, the staff asked us why hadn’t we wanted to pick the child up at the orphanage? We did want to do that but were told no! Oh really? Sorry…that opportunity is no longer available—your child is en route now, we will  be leaving the hotel this afternoon at 2:00pm to pick them up at the administrative building.

Today!? This afternoon!? Gulp!

Nerves set in, Susie freaked out and started trembling. And kept trembling. I’d never seen her this nervous. The moment was here and she panicked.

“I want some potato chips”, she said.

Ok. I asked the concierge where could get some chips. They said at the 7-11.

“7-11? Here in China?”

 Yes, just across the street. We walked over; Susie was a trembling mess. Bought a bag of good ol’ Lays, —but wait: they smelled funky, kinda like sardines. Never had that happen before, nor since—only in China.

Tossed the chips. Still a trembling mess. She needed help. We remembered our ‘sleep aid’ travel tablets. She took two. They didn’t help me sleep on the flight, but they sure calmed her down!

By the time we got onto the 2pm shuttle to go pick the child up, she was herself—she was more than herself. Susie was chatting away, Miss Cheerful USA.

As we drove, she pointed and monologued,  “Oh Wow, look at that! Interesting!—hmm, what’s that over there?” She chit-chatted the whole way over, at one point asking the driver if, after picking up our child, we could ‘stop on the way back for a little shopping’

“Wow,” he said, in broken English, “I never see anyone as calm as you on way to pick up child. You are one cool customer!”

Finally to the pick-up spot, a government building. Linoleum floors. Officials. Passes and badges. Small clunky elevator up 7 flights, into a waiting area—us and another couple.

The moment: We’re told, ‘Here he comes.’ Around the corner, two adults—an older, sadder looking dark haired man with sorrowful eyes and tired face; and a younger woman, smiling with eyes sparkling like she’d been let out of work for the day to run errands.

And the boy, so tiny, holding their hands looking around and walking bow-legged like a chimpaneze. Wait—wasn’t he supposed to be 2 1/2 years old? My gosh, he’s so tiny! And walks like he’s got polio or something! Why didn’t they tell us?!


He was wide-eyed, cautious, uncertain. They walked him over to us. He stared blankly. The woman bent down and said something to him in Chinese—he stared, blinked, looked directly at us, and started to cry. They pushed him into my arms. He began to wail. I picked him up, someone took some photos and I had a monstrous grin while he shrieked. Clearly we were both ‘out of sorts’. He cried some more, sniffled, and then like a crab burrowing into the sand, sunk into a state of shock and despair. Sorrowful, downcast, gloomy.


We sat on a sofa—Susie, me, our boy, and his delivery people happy girl and sad man—and posed for a picture. We all looked happy except for Casey and the man.


Back to the hotel (no stop for shopping), to our room; then to a play room downstairs that the previous night had been empty, now full of kids. We brought him there to play, and he did so, but reluctantly. Sorrow. A long, sad sorrowful night—but no more crying, nothing more out loud. Just downcast sadness and sorrow, resigned and dejected.

The next day, I booted up the laptop and Skyped home with our three daughters, my Mom and sister Suzanne, and introduced them to Casey.


The girls were bubbling and beaming, cooing and smiling; on our end, Susie was putting tupperware on Casey’s head while he stared at the screen. He lifted the tupperware, locked eyes with our daughters..and smiled. Then Giggled. Then Laughed.

The tupperware and the girls became a game of engagement, and in that moment we got our first glimpse of the benchmark of this special boy’s soul, his baseline attitude: Joy.

Dirk Mullenger

Raised in NY, college at University of Iowa, year abroad in Paris. Tight with my wife and 4 children. Business, writer, guitarist, skier, drives a convertible. One person’s hindsight is another person’s foresight.

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5 Discussion to this post

  1. renida says:

    so so so beautiful, truly touched, I have always thought I want to adopt some day, reading your story after seeing Casey in Nikkis videos is remarkable, what a journey!

    • Dirk says:

      Thanks Renida, I really appreciate your commenting, your good words and your heart. ….I don’t know what the question is, but the answer is Love. :}

      Love to you, Renida.

  2. Julia says:

    This is amazing! Will there be a part four to this story?

  3. […] Previous parts to this story: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 […]

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