Wednesday, August 27, 2008

O is for Olympics

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

My first glimpse of a Beijing Olympics souvenir caught me off-guard. My husband and I were walking through Tiananmen Square on a pre-adoption tour six years ago when we met the men selling Olympic ball caps.

“Wow, these guys plan ahead,” I thought, distracted by more pressing matters like whether I’d packed enough formula and what my soon-to-be daughter might be doing at that very instant.

A few weeks ago, I watched the opening ceremonies with Jie-Jie and realized China had been planning for that moment her entire life. She beamed when I told her China was named host country the same year she was born – two special moments forever connected. In an instant, the ceremonies became more than a chance to stay up past bedtime.

For families with kids adopted from China, the Beijing Olympics have been a great springboard to exploring the country where their own story begins. Soon we were huddled around our desk globe, finding Beijing and seeing how far it is from the provinces where they were born.

We reread One Year in Beijing, a picture book I bought when Jie-Jie turned 6. We’re big fans of illustrator Grace Lin, and this book shows us China’s capital city through the eyes of an 8-year-old girl my kids can relate to.

Later we reached for C is for China, a book we like mostly for Sungwan So’s photos of day-to-day life in China. But we didn’t get past “A is for …” when Jie-Jie jumped up to grab the wooden abacus a friend from Hong Kong gave us. I couldn’t resist sneaking in some playful math, but we eventually made it to “Z is for Zen.”

While we continued our reading frenzy, another home-school friend with kids born in China stretched a strip of masking tape across their living room carpet so the three girls could do gymnastics like the Olympic athletes. They somersaulted, tumbled and walked the “balance beam.” Inspired by trampoline competitions, they bounced on a smaller model meant for exercise. (Their mom drew the line when the budding Olympians dipped into a box of powdered sugar to chalk their hands.)

When they spotted athletes from cities the family had visited on their adoption trips, the connection helped bring China to life for kids who don’t remember their time there. Other friends are recording the flurry of China-related TV specials to watch later with their kids, learning about the Chinese flag, and talking about things invented in China. Think fireworks!

Jie-Jie and her little sister were especially enchanted with the drummers and dancers at the opening ceremonies, so I pulled out our copy of Color & Learn: China and they colored pictures of ornamental fans and dancers wearing traditional costumes. (As a mom, I appreciate the educational paragraphs under each picture.) We added their creations to the three-ring binders holding their favorite art, handwriting worksheets and activity pages related to China.

It’s been fun to watch my daughters splash in their grandmother’s swimming pool, more determined than ever to learn to swim. I have to think Michael Phelps had something to do with that. And the Olympics definitely boosted their enthusiasm about the gymnastics classes that will be part of their P.E. this fall.

Now, some of our China-theme books are back on the shelves for awhile, and the powdered sugar is tucked safely away in the pantry. One adventure ends, and we’re left with room for another. As I think back to that day in Tiananmen Square, I can hardly believe the long-anticipated Beijing Olympics are ending and the baby daughter I hadn’t yet met is starting first grade.

Two big moments, forever connected.

Read-Aloud of the Week:
The First Olympic Games: A Gruesome Greek Myth with a Happy Ending retold by Jean Richards

Quote of the Week:
“If you break a law, do they have to fix it?” - Mei-Mei, 5.