Driving down the busy street nothing looks familiar. Mountain peaks vaguely dot the horizon, obscured by layers of smog. Signs with letters unknown to our roman alphabet senses hang from every building. The two people in front abruptly stop their strange conversing. The woman turns around to face us, smiling sweetly, "We are almost there."
What are we doing here? This morning we were a typical American couple having breakfast in Beijing. Now we are adoptive parents touring our son's home town of Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China. Aside from our crash course in Chinese history we know nothing of our son's native city. We know nothing of its history or cultural heritage. How would we, how could we, ever relate to our son? We take a deep breath and look out the window - That's when we see them.
A dozen or so horse statues in full gallop. The display, large and impressive, covers half a city block. My husband grins broadly, his smile lighting up our small van. This is the sign we've been waiting for!
Hailing from Louisville, horses and the Kentucky Derby are a huge part of my husband's world. Like most natives of Kentucky, equestrian tendencies course through his veins. We ask the driver to slow down so we can look at the display again. Taiyuan must be known for their horses! Surely our son's home province must breed the most beautiful, incredible horses in all of China! We sit back, relieved, we have something in common with our son after all.
Through the following days we hold on to this common thread. When our son screams at my touch, when my sons holds his backpack and stands by our hotel room door - desperate to be anywhere but here with us - we console ourselves with the image of those horses. Every afternoon we walk by them. Every afternoon we assure ourselves we will get through this time of transition. And every afternoon our son's face lights up as he see these magnificent horses running in all their glory.
For those fleeting minutes our son forgets his world has been turned upside down. He forgets he is in the care of well meaning strangers. And in those small moments we enjoy being a family for the first time.
It wasn't until the end of our trip that we learned the one thing Taiyuan is NOT known for is its horses. Turns out that enormous horse display was simply there to celebrate "The Year of the Horse." Despite the change in meaning, I am thankful for those horses. It was the first time I saw my son smile - and that WAS a sign of all the good things to come.