Both Marya and the Chinese interpreter who assisted her in [Qiuhong’s] adoption were pleasantly surprised when Qiuhong picked up a Chinese magazine from a table in Marya’s hotel room and began to read it (Qiuhong is blind in one eye). “She can read!” exclaimed the interpreter.
Later, while walking about the orphanage grounds, they met a woman who worked in the orphanage kitchen; she especially liked Qiuhong.
Through the interpreter Marya told the woman that she wanted to encourage her new daughter to retain and build upon her Chinese language skills; she hoped that one day Qiuhong would visit the land of her birth.
The woman immediately invited Qiuhong to stay with her on that return. Qiuhong did return to China and spent fifth grade living with the woman and her family while attending the same public school she would have gone to had she stayed in the orphanage.
Qiuhong is now in her thirties, working at an acute care hospital as a certified dietician.
Marya’s fourth daughter, Yü -Li, is from Tianjin, a city of 12 million people, the port city for Beijing.
Yü -Li was then and remains today so small for her given age that Marya questioned the birth date on her documents. She knew that traditionally Chinese babies had been considered to be one year old at birth.
Many orphanages, having no information about the children coming into their care, designated the date a baby or young child entered the orphanage as the date of her birth.
Several months after Marya returned to America with Yü -Li, she underwent surgery for genetic scoliosis; the pediatric orthopedist agreed that Yü -li’s bone development indicated she was considerably younger than her recorded age.
With that professional opinion in hand, Marya decided to apply for a legal change of birth and asked Yü -Li to choose the actual date. Yü -Li and Qiuhong were sitting in the back seat of the car at the time and immediately started whispering.
They announced their decision to share Qiuhong’s February birthday – until Marya reminded them it was family practice that the birthday girl would get to choose dinner for the night of her birthday.
That could be a problem. More whispering in Chinese.
Finally Yü -Li announced that she wanted to have as her birthday February 14th, the day you get to tell someone “I love you.”
Yü -Li is now 27, having spent a year teaching fourth grade in Cambodia and writing the Child Protection policy for the school system there.
When I asked Marya if any of her daughters have expressed interest in meeting their birth parents, she said no, even though she explicitly told them she would support such a search.
Marya believes that since Qiuhong and Yü -Li were born with physical disabilities which may have led to their abandonment, they would have the best chance of finding their birth parents.
Marya’s life became even fuller when she and her daughters embarked on the project of raising puppies for the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey.
It was actually the girls who raised the dogs, and Seeing Eye put together a great training program for both kids and dogs.
There was a monthly training session for the 15 to 20 young puppy raisers and several special events such as taking the dogs to a movie or on a walk through a local shopping mall.
Best of all, each summer the dog and her young raiser would go away for a weekend of “puppy camp.” It takes about 18 months to get a dog ready to return to the Seeing Eye, then it undergoes intensive training before being placed with a blind person.
I asked Marya, “Was it hard to give up the dog when it was time to be trained?”
Marya explained, “Not as hard as you might think. When the woman from the Seeing Eye came to pick up the dog we raised, she would always put a new puppy in our arms.”
How did I become familiar with Marya? Just one block away from each other, we would often chat while I was walking our bichons and she was weeding her bed of portulaca.
When my son Aaron spotted the monkey on the fence of Marya’s front yard, I asked her to tell us about the monkey. Her name is Kyla, and Marya was raising her for Helping Hands, a Boston organization that trains monkeys how to assist a quadriplegic individual.
Marya asked me how many hands does a monkey have?” I tentatively answered, “Including the tail?” Marya replied, “Absolutely.
A trained monkey’s tail can be very useful in holding things. And Helping Hands monkeys are trained to complete actions that a quadriplegic person can no longer do – scratchy itchy places, pick up things the quad has dropped, set a book or magazine on a stand and then turn the pages.
They can even follow a laser beam that the quad operates by mouth to direct the monkey to open the refrigerator, retrieve a bottled drink or prepared sandwich, and set it in a special container that the quad can operate.”
After three years of training at the Helping Hands “Monkey College,” Kyla became constant companion to a woman in Indiana; she was her best friend for 15 years until the woman had to enter a nursing home.
Marya showed me a scrapbook of Kyla’s favorite activities. She especially liked to help with jigsaw puzzles.
She was extra good at the small five- to 10-piece wooden kids’ puzzles, but those 1,000-piece puzzles Marya liked were a bigger challenge.
If Kyla couldn’t get a piece to fit – well, she’d just put it in her mouth and bite it in half.
She also got into the habit of sleeping with Marya. One night, when lights were off and Marya had settled down, suddenly the bedside light snapped on.
Kyla scampered across the bed to another light on the opposite side of the bed, snapped it on, took a drink of water, set the glass down, turned off the lights and went back under her covers.
OK, now it was bedtime! This story really does not end here.
In 2017 Marya’s daughter, Becca, made her own contact with the World Association for Children and Parents to adopt a sweet, very bright little girl – Marya’s first grandchild.
And, oh yes, Becca already has a dog, a magnificent German shepherd, the last Seeing Eye dog the family had raised.
A rich and wonderful life continues.
PHOTO CAP: Becca Hunsicker holding Helping Hands monkey Kyla, who is busily grooming a young Seeing Eye puppy, held by Marya Hunsicker.