A Favorite China Moment

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

Lately I’ve been much too busy to write any new blog posts so I’ve decided to repost one of my old ones from my Blogger site. Enjoy!

Communication barriers can get quite amusing. I remember one specific encounter, which will always remain in my mind as one of my favorite “China Moments”.

At the veterinarian’s office, I asked my driver to come in to assist with translating. At that time, my Mandarin was mediocre at best, and I definitely had not studied any medical terms that would relate to animals. My driver would much rather stand outside and smoke but he reluctantly followed me through the old, rickety door to the busy office. Much faster than could have happened in an American clinic, we were shown to the doctor’s exam room.

Dr. Cao was nervous to have a foreign customer and fluttered about the room as if he had consumed one too many cups of Green Tea. Something about the shiny black hair, super-thick eyeglasses and long, supposed-to-be white lab coat reminded me of Jerry Lewis. To add to his already comical presentation, his wandering left eye made it very difficult to pinpoint exactly what or where the sweet-natured young doctor was looking at. Getting right down to business, the doctor gave the pup a quick once-over.

Max, my puppy, was very sick and between the Chinese/English dictionary, my driver and the small amount of English the doctor knew, we were doing okay with our interaction. However, towards the end of the examination, things got complicated.

Trying to be resourceful, the veterinarian pointed to the word specimen in the book and told me to bring it in the next day.

“What kind of specimen?” I asked my driver to ask the doctor.

The doctor looked very perplexed and thumped the word specimen in the tattered dictionary one more time, obviously believing the more he pointed it out, the easier it would be for me to understand.

(Things were about to get embarrassing for the clueless American and the frustrated doctor.)

“Does he want poop or pee?” I just came right out and asked my driver, trying to maintain a serious face and a strong hold on my wiggly puppy. I wanted to be sure; after all, it is not easy to get a specimen from an animal!

My driver’s English vocabulary was also lacking in bodily function verbage, so he translated for about five minutes to the doctor. (How do six words take so long to convert to the Chinese language?)

The doctor struggled to think of the correct English word, but after an unsuccessful attempt, he snatched the puppy from my arms, flipped it around, jerked up his tail and pointed to his little butt. “From HERE,” he said with total exasperation.

He stomped away, probably wishing that when Waiguorens decide to use his services, they would at least attempt to learn the language!

Do Not Worry!

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life


Over the last few years I have been invited and accepted many speaking engagements. It is always hard for me to get up in front of people to tell the story of my time in China. However, that was a promise I made to the children I knew and loved–that I would tell their stories, so whenever I consider declining I remember that vow and go through the fear and anxiety all over again. (Public Speaking….who likes that??)

This weekend I was the guest speaker at Camp China in Black Mountain, NC. The drive up was just Ben and I and it was a great three hours to just talk and enjoy the scenery. Once there, we checked in and unpacked and then wandered around to explore the campus.

The site has over 100 years of history and boasts beautiful mountain views, ancient trees and original housing structures. Robert E. Lee was the biggest connection to history and if the walls could talk, oh–what a story they’d tell.

We got the opportunity to see the children enjoying the evening, watching a movie and some just playing in the outdoors. Parents were practicing Chinese knot tying and calligraphy, so intent they were! The whole place had a feeling of joy lingering around.

As night fell, I became more and more anxious thinking about my presentation scheduled the next morning at 9;15. Though I have spoke many times in front of big groups, this is the first time to direct my story to so many adoptive parents of Chinese children. As hard as it is for me to tell it, I knew it would be harder for them to hear parts of it. I obsessed and worried over which stories to revisit, or which ones would be too painful for them, and how they would accept the way I explained some of the things I saw. By nightfall, I had worked myself into quite a nervous state and we retired to our room.

The room was cute in the way we felt like Ricky and Lucy in our matching beds.  (I thought about moving the nightstand and pushing the beds together but the thing was bolted to the wall!)  Ben wasn’t bothered, though. Much to my dismay, he quickly went to sleep. [It’s camp so there was not a television and we could not get wifi so his Ipad was useless–sleep was the only thing he had to do.]

I, on the other hand, took the time to go over notes and review what I would present. I really wanted to get to sleep early, because it had been a very long day including a long drive. However, four hours later my mind was still reeling with what to say and what not to say! I could not go to sleep, even with a mild OTC sedative. (A few times the snores from the other bed almost prompted me to try smothering sweet hubby with a pillow as punishment for his easy release into sleep..)

Earlier in the day when we were unpacking our car, I had grabbed a few small torn bits of paper from the very back of the car to use as bookmarks for the excerpts I was going to read aloud during the presentation. They were two pieces of white paper with red polka dots–I assumed something Amanda had left from school. These slips were moved back and forth as I continued to change my mind about the best excerpts to use, they almost appeared to have feet of their own as they hopped back and forth between chapters.

As I lay in bed for the 4th hour with no sleep, one of those slips fell out of the place I had marked. Grrr! Which one had I chosen last? Now I’d have to go back over the whole entire presentation in my mind to refresh my now feeble memory. I picked up  the slip and noticed it was actually folded over. As I grumbled about my weary but unyeilding brain, I unfolded the slip and this is what I found inside:

Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I laughed and joked with God for a few minutes, closed the book and put away my notes. Twenty minutes later I was asleep. This morning I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. The presentation went very well and yes, there were tears from me as well as the parents in the crowd. There were also smiles at the ‘good’ things I relayed to them. My words came naturally, as they usually do when I hand it over to the one who wants me to give the message anyway.

I reminded everyone that my story is that of one group of children from one specific orphanage and may not have been anything like what their children experienced. After over two hours of talking with them, I walked away feeling as if I made a lot of new friends and a few more advocates to educate others about institutional care in China. If we can help one child—it is worth all the anxiety I needlessly heap upon myself.

And from now on, I’m putting that polka dotted slip of paper under my pillow the night before an event and in my pocket when I stand behind that podium.

Dull, Unfair and Unbalanced? I think not, but That’s just My Opinion.

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

Review as posted on Amazon: “I am neither American or Chinese, but have lived in the States and now live in China. I found this quite an interesting and eye-opening read in terms of content. I have many friends with adopted children from the area including China. I can only praise the efforts of the author to do this volunteer work and eventually convey the message to the outside world. However, the writing was average, a little dull sometimes, with less and less new and interesting information towards the end. Since this was her first foreign posting I can imagine the difficulties adjusting into a new culture (and that showed quite well), especially in some parts of China. What mostly struck me throughout the book though was the following. Living abroad has tought me to be more critical towards my country of origin as well, regardless of country I live in. No place on earth is perfect, that’s one thing I learned for sure. While reading this book, all negativity was focused on China, never on the US. I found that weird. I can see great things in China, Chinese culture, even Chinese food and habits (not always for sure!) and many horrible things too. I absolutely love the States, and would love to return one day, but there are many things wrong with the US as well, very wrong. I love my home country for many different reasons, and I “hate” it because of others. Throughout this book, I continued to have the feeling that the US was portraited as perfect while China was mostly the “third world country”. I don’t think this is fair. I am not sure if it makes sense what I am saying, maybe I read it differently as a non-American and non-Chinese while having lived / living in both places. Again, I thought it was useful information, the author did great work, but the writing could have been better and more interesting. Didn’t regret reading it. Felt it could have been better balanced, fairer and maybe more critical across the board.”

This blog post is a bit out of the norm for me because I usually don’t respond in any way to reviews on my book, Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. I remember when the book first came out and someone wrote a scathing, vicious personal attack and tried to pass it off as a review on Amazon. I read it and my body reacted in a very negative way as my brain took in the ugly words. I felt light-headed and nauseous and my first instinct was to pull the book and revoke the privileges I had given the world to peek inside my mind, my life and share the heart-aches I experienced in China. I called my husband at work and crying, I told him to go read what they had written about me in the review. [I was looking for some serious emotional support]

He talked me off the ledge, so to speak, and I’ll never forget what he told me, “Honey, the people who know you love you and understand what it is you are trying to do with this book. Why would you care what a complete stranger says?”  As I licked my wounds, I began to take to heart what he said and since that time have slowly built a defensive wall around me to deflect the barbs of cynicism thrown my way. To make it a bit easier to swallow, without any persuasion from me, the review was removed from Amazon because it did indeed attack my personal character rather than give feedback on the book content itself.

Over the last few years, I have asked readers who have contacted me after reading my book to submit reviews. So many of you have blessed me with your thoughts and opinions, and I especially appreciate when you write what Silent Tears did to help you understand your own adopted child, or when you state that reading my book prompted you to adopt, foster or support orphans in some way. Thank you! I also respect the reviews that are not so positive, because I believe everyone should be able to express their own views. Through it all, I have been determined to keep my promise to the children to tell their stories to the world. No amount of negativity or attacking my character can take me away from that goal.

The latest review posted [seen above] was interesting to me for several reasons. First let me say that the reviewer gave my book 3 stars, which is definitely better than 1 or 2 stars. I respect their opinion and to be honest, everyone has a different perception of what they read and the way they process information. This reviewer says my writing was only average and even a little dull—I can only respond to that description with the explanation that I did the best I could to keep everything completely accurate with no embellishment. If that comes across as dull, then so be it. It wasn’t dull when I was living it, to be sure! The reviewer also states that my words came across as portraying the USA to be perfect while describing China as a third-world country. In answer, the definition of third-world is ever changing so I won’t defend or deny that statement, but I honestly don’t remember ever insinuating America is perfect. Perhaps I need to go back and read my own story but I do remember I purposely stayed away from political topics and the only references I can recall about the USA was describing my bouts of homesickness. Ironically, after a few years abroad, I began to mentally consider China my home. For it was—at least for the time I was there and had made the decision to embrace it.

However, that being said I will publicly state I am proud to be an American. That does not mean I feel we are any better than anyone else in the world—because we are not. I think we should all be patriotic and claim our countries or get involved enough to help change things or just plain get out, but feel something! The reviewer says they hate their country and love it, too. That might be a common feeling by many but I was writing about our life in China—not America. I could give you an entire laundry list of what I feel needs to be changed in the USA, [half of it would be from the daily rant my husband gives me about America’s current state of affairs] but that is not what I am about or even the message I wanted to put out there. I believe I expressed in my book a balance in my thoughts about China. I tried to honestly describe the hardships of learning to live in a foreign country. As I became more familiar with the people, customs and history, I also conveyed the positive aspects that were becoming more visible to me the longer I stayed there. By about the middle of our assignment—a few years in—my love for the local Chinese people became evident, or at least I hope it did. Describing the foods and such was not an insult but rather an attempt to accurately describe what I was experiencing.

Did I criticize the government and policies that made it so common for abandonment and infanticide in their country? Darn right I did and I still do. I make it clear that the Chinese government can and should do more to make it possible for couples or single mothers to keep their disabled or unplanned children. Give them access to family health care, raise the one-child policy to two, extend services for prenatal care to the poor and educate teens about birth control. I don’t know the answers to their issues; I am not a politician and never want to be. I am only one person who has decided to be a child advocate for those who need it most—whether it is here in my ‘appreciated’ home in the United States of America or half way around the world in the enigmatic land of China. Take it or leave it—that is who I am. And to the reviewer above, thank you for your review. Your words once again fanned the flames of the fire that fuels my passion to do my small part to educate the world as to the travesties of the institutional care I personally witnessed in one Chinese orphanage.  ~Kay Bratt

Mysterious Ways

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, How You Can Help A Child

Some call it fate, I call it God working out his plans for Fu Ji through me.

Most of you know that I have been working behind the scenes for years to free Xiao Gou from her life sentence behind the cold walls of the orphanage.

Well, she was transferred from the orphanage that I knew her in to a very poor, isolated orphanage very far away. After some sleuth work and endless emails, inquiries, phone calls and prayers, we found her. However, this post isn’t about her–instead it is about meeting a silly, hilarous, happy little girl named Fu Ji

When I visited Xiao Gou last October, we were honored to meet her roomie. An adorable little girl about age 5 that was full of song and laughter, who when it was time for Amanda and I to leave, pleaded with us to “Hui Lai, hui lai..” [come back, come back] I can’t even find the words to describe how amazing her spirit was and how her disability didn’t seem to bother her. When I asked about her condition, I was told she was very fragile and could never go to school or even walk. That concerned me and if any of you know me by now– you know it was not to be the end of it for me.

Fast forward to a few months later and a man contacted me who had read my book. His name is Lou and he is a Chinese/American who lives in Texas. He wanted to know if I knew of other orphanages that could use his help. Lou is a very interesting man. He was born in China but came to the states many, many years ago. He never forgot his heritage and using his hard-earned financial means, he goes back to China often to do humanitarian projects; mostly in the Tibetan mountains for the really needy villages.

I told him about Xiao Gou and he and I have joined together to continue fighting for her rights. He went to personally meet her several weeks ago and I asked him to check on Fu Ji while he was there. It was my hope that he could get a better translation on what her actual disability is and what her prognosis is.

Lou came back with a report on Xiao Gou’s status, of which I still cannot discuss publicly, (But we are working on it!) and also was quite captivated by Fu Ji, just as we were.

Together we both tried to think of a way to help her. I remembered that I had once made the contact of an American doctor who came to operate on Xiao Gou while she was in China. Later, he was the doctor in America who did more for Xiao Gou when she came over to be fitted for her leg. I emailed him and told him about Fu Ji and asked his advice.

Coincidentally, when I discovered where Xiao Gou was last year, I had contacted him and he went to see her at her current orphanage to do a medical exam. While there, he got medical reports on many of the children. He looked through his files and located Fu Ji’s documents.

To make a long story short, Lou will be traveling back to China in May to again check on Xiao Gou, and the doctor will already be there with a foundation group to do some medical outreach in another region of China. The doctor has graciously offered to travel back to the SWI where Xiao Gou and Fu Ji live to meet Lou and examine both girls, and see if it is possible to set up a medical plan for Fu Ji.

Two little girls who would have never met if not for one fateful car accident several years ago. Without Xiao Gou coming to room with Fu Ji, who knows what heartbreak her future would hold.

As for me, it is just a miracle and a blessing to me that I am still able to find a way to make a difference from the laptop located on my table in my cozy kitchen in the beautiful countryside of Georgia, USA. And admittedly, I am really nothing but the simple conduit that brings remarkable people together who use their gifts to help children. And a huge thank you to the Children of China Pediatrics Foundation. They have already done so much for Xiao Gou and other children in China.

A True Love Story

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

After two weeks of hospital sitting, hospice visits, negotiations and red tape, it was time to move Harold and Lea from the rolling hills of West Virginia where they have lived all of their life, to the South Carolina suburbs. Unfortunately, after 62 years of marriage, this time they would not be going together or living under the same roof.

For years, Harold has cared for his bedridden sweetheart, but after many decades of being a strong and dedicated coal miner, and more years of recovery from various back surgeries, his body decided it was time to hang the white flag and surrender. The doctors say maybe cancer, plus a worn out heart, but the bottom line is the fight is winding down and Harold has been forced to finally give in and allow those around him to care for him. Throughout all of the hospital tests and relentless poking, prodding and being shuttled here and there, only one thing has been on Harold’s mind—his bedridden wife, Lea. With the onslaught of illness, others have taken his place to make sure she is clean, fed and comforted. But we all know that no one can take the place of your mate, especially the one who put that ring on your finger over 62 years before. Theirs is a true love story—and the tragic death of their daughter, long illnesses and other hardships have tried but never been able to break the bonds they have built together.

Their son, Dave, and his wife, Lisa, have traveled back and forth for weeks to care for and get the next stage over with in order to get both parents settled and comfortable. It has been a hard time of ordering medical supplies, interviewing caregivers, setting up a room, negotiating costs, and accomplishing so much in a short time that has also had to be split with comforting both parents. It was Dave’s hope that this move would mean he will be able to be with his dad when he draws his last breath, and ensure that mom is taken care of under his own supervision.

With the fulltime assistance of his wife, Lisa, who has taken a leave of absence from work, they plan to give Lea the care she deserves. The day had come and Dave arrived at the hospital to witness a heart-warming scene. The staff member who has been caring for Harold since his arrival was giving him a bath to prepare him for his trip to South Carolina.

As Dave walked up, he could see Robert, the caretaker, gently washing his father as he whispered to him how much he is going to miss him. Harold responded to him that he was going to miss him, too. What a contradiction to see tattooed, pierced Robert—all 6’4”, 325 lbs of him, shedding tears as he finished and watched Harold being rolled out the door, to the tune of the whole staff singing him Happy Birthday. Harold, as he has done for many years, had made quite an impact on those around him. And here on the anniversary marking his 85 years on this earth, they all knew they were sending him home to die. They also knew his story of being married and loyally caring for his wife for so many years, and knew that he would not be returning to her. Harold would unfortunately be going straight to a Hospice house, while his wife, Lea, would go to live with her son, Dave, in his home in South Carolina.

Meanwhile back at their home, the other ambulance had picked up Lea and was sitting beside the interstate, waiting on the ambulance that carried Harold. Dave brought up the rear in his truck, hooked up to a car trailer with his Dad’s truck on it & both trucks loaded with heavily with personal items of Harold’s and Lea’s that was too precious to leave behind in an empty home. The caravan would travel together and then part once they hit the South Carolina line.

Dave was surprised when the ambulance carrying Lea pulled off to the emergency lane. He immediately feared the worst and pulled behind it, got out and met the driver between the vehicles. This lady didn’t normally go along on transports, but instead was the office clerk responsible for helping Dave work through all the logistics of the transfer. She told Dave she didn’t want to miss this, so had asked permission to join this transport. He told her that was great, but wanted to know why they had stopped.

She said, “Look, our company won’t expect us back until close to midnight, so we were all talking and were wondering if instead of immediately going to your house as planned with your Mom, if you’d be okay with us taking her to Hospice, too & unloading her to spend a little time with your Dad one last time?” Dave had successfully kept up the stoic exterior until this moment, but when he realized that complete strangers were volunteering to add more time to what was already going to be an extremely exhausting day for them, to selflessly allow the couple to say goodbye to each other, the emotions he had built up flowed over. Through his tears, he told her that would be wonderful and they once again set out on the road.

They arrived in Rock Hill almost four hours later, and both ambulances pulled up at the Hospice house. The crew unloaded Lea, and then Lisa and Dave told Harold they had a birthday present for him. Harold, expecting something trivial that would probably sit unused at his bedside, murmured okay. The drivers, crew and Hospice workers joined in another round of Happy Birthday but in the next moment, no one could finish the rendition. Harold was the only one singing softly to himself when he was unloaded from the ambulance and saw his love, Lea. As his stretcher was pulled up next to hers, his eyes lit up and his only thought was holding on to her hand as tight and as long as those around him would allow. The two sat staring at each other in the beautiful balmy fall weather, as everyone around them struggled to control their emotions while witnessing the touching scene.

After a time, Dave told his dad that they had to go and get him settled in his new room, and take Lea to settle her in her new room. Harold’s reply was this, “Okay, especially mom, just take care of her, okay?” Her comfort was still the number one priority for him. Harold and Lea’s withered, clasped hands had to be pried apart so that they could be led away to their separate, final homes.

*Special thanks to Bryan, Leanne and the rest of the amazing crew of Best Ambulance Service.

This story is true and my connection is that Lisa is my twin sister. Today they will be attending the funeral of Harold, her father-in-law. He died less than 48 hours after his last reunion with his lifelong love, Lea. I know you may not know this amazing couple, but Harold’s son, Dave, has given me permission to write this tribute and if you’d like to leave an online condolence, you can do so here.

Online Condolence for Harold Akers

Mr. Grumpy Pants and Me

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

A long walk to our mailbox is many times a way for me to get my thoughts together. As is the case for most working mothers, my days consist of task after task until the time that all energy is sapped away and I fall into bed seeking the peace that only a deep sleep can bring. I am luckier than some, because we sacrifice a lot so that I only work part-time hours in order to fulfill my passion for volunteer work and be home for my daughter in the afternoons. However, I definitely stay very busy with my connections to China’s orphans, my CASA commitments and caring for my family and pets.

So every minute of quiet I can find I take advantage of and one of those moments is the half hour after I arrive home from work. I slip into the house, change into casual clothes, pop a microwave lunch in, and take Riley out of his playpen for some outside time. While he is doing his business, I make the long walk to the mailbox and mentally line up my afternoon tasks that I plan to accomplish.

Today my list was interrupted as a truck came screeching to a stop on the road in front of my home. The driver, a man I’ll call Pops, is quite a character. When we moved in a year ago, he welcomed us to ‘his’ neighborhood by inviting us to his annual fish fry. I believe they said Pops had been putting on the event for 20 years and does all the fishing for it himself. At 84 years old, he is a spry fellow that seems to have more energy than I do. He sat down in our living room, introduced himself and told us that most of the people on our road were related to him. He invited us to the fish fry and then told us, “Now don’t go inviting nobody else or bringing anyone to my fish fry. I am inviting YOU and I don’t want any unexpected strangers showing up.” I thought that was hysterical and loved that he was bold enough to tell us not to be bringing any party crashers along.

He is a gruff old man—one that has seen many changes in this world. The peculiar thing about him is that when I try to interject anything into conversations, he ignores me! We laugh about it later, but he only seems interested in talking to my husband about fishing, cars and other mysterious man things.

This summer, he blessed us with plenty of vegetables from his garden. Entertaining to me, his offerings always come with some grumpy remarks—one day he came up and I was at the kitchen sink doing dishes. Through the window, I saw a truck outside but no one was around it. I went to investigate and found him in our garage, knocking on the inside door. I told him, “Pops, I can’t hear anyone knock on that door, because it leads into the laundry room and is very separate from the rest of the house.” He replied that “real neighbors’ don’t use the front door—they always come to the back door.” He had a point and I conceded. He told me that he had a bunch of cucumbers he wanted to give us but they had spilled out in the back of his truck. I climbed into the truck bed and began picking up the cukes and throwing them into his bucket. He looked at me and said in his gravelly voice, “You can pick those up but you ain’t getting my bucket.” I laughed and told him I’d get my own bucket out of the garage.

The next week he brought us a bucket of okra and again, he was very possessive of his container but I was ready with my own—and Ben got to can okra for the first time. These exchanges happened several times during the peak garden season.

Our property is just over 2 acres of some very fast-growing grass. Because of traveling commitments, and some other events, Ben let one big piece of our land grow the grass a bit longer. We decided we didn’t like it and he proceeded to try to cut it down with his riding lawn mower. He continued to tell me, “I really need to bush hog this. I need a tractor!” I continued to respond, “We can’t afford a tractor.” After a few hours of attempting to tame the overgrown grass, Ben determined it couldn’t be cut with our mower. He decided to ask around about finding someone to cut it—a hard task, considering we really don’t know many people here in Georgia. Before we could begin our quest, I came home from work the next day to find Pops bush-hogging our land with his tractor, as his dogs frolicked around him. He never said a word and when he was finished, he got back on the road and drove that tractor home with his two dogs cantering behind him. No one had asked him to come over—we didn’t even know he had a tractor. He saw it needed to be done, and he did it. Simple as that.

Despite his grumpy exterior, his kindly gestures prove that he is a wonderful person. It is a rare thing in this world to meet someone who you know without a doubt would do anything he could to help you if you were in a bind. Pops is that kind of person—he doesn’t really know us but I am convinced if I called him today and told him I was stuck on the side of the road, he’d give me some colorful words but then hop in his truck and come to my aid.

So back to today—Pops came to a screeching stop and I hollered out a hello. He ignored my hello and stuck a cell phone and minutes card out his window and said, “Program this phone, please.” I went to him and took the phone and told him okay, then asked him if he wanted to wait. He said, “Nah..I’ll be back around later to get it.” Then he put his lead foot on the gas and sped away.

Well, I am really not a gadget girl. That is what I have teenagers for, right? But because Pops had faith in me, I was determined to program the phone with the minutes and service card. I called the 800 number and when I couldn’t get anyone, I went to the website. When I couldn’t find instructions on the website, I did what any smart mom does—started playing with the buttons on the phone. I figured it out and patted myself on the back for my genius moment of gadget glory.

After picking Amanda up from school, I took the phone and the card and drove up the road to Pops house. As soon as he heard my tires on his gravel driveway, he came trudging out of his workshop. “Did you get it done, girl?” “Yep. I figured it out.” I was just tickled to death that he was talking to me. Then we stood under his trees and had a very long conversation about all kinds of stuff. He told me one of his dogs was missing and I could see that he was very concerned that something had happened to it.

The subject turned to China and the orphanage, as it does so many times. After I talked for a bit, he weaved a very interesting story about a time he was in the service and stationed somewhere around Italy. He said it was 1945 and he came to know two poor, hungry village children, and shared his lunch rations with them every day.

As he talked about those kids, he voice got more mellow and quiet than I had ever heard. He wasn’t looking at me as he talked, but instead staring off in another direction and seeing a landscape in his mind that I will never see.

He then asked me, “Do you know what I most regret?”

“What?” I softly asked, mesmerized by the thought of this one lone man holding so many interesting tales that many will never hear.

“When I found out I was leaving to come home, I told them kids I wouldn’t be back. I told them I’d be leaving the next day at 4 in the morning. I didn’t think I’d ever see them again, but you know what? The next morning when we were pulling out, that 9-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl came to see me off. And I didn’t even get their address. I think about them all the time and I just regret that I all these years I haven’t been able to know how they are doing.”

Grumpy-Pants-Pops pulled his old-fashioned handkerchief out of his pocket, mopped up his tears and blew his nose.

At that moment, I felt a kinship with Pops. After 65 years of a very active life, the two impoverished children who touched his heart remained a vivid memory. For me, it has only been a short few years since I held my China girl close to me, but I do predict that 40 years from now, I’ll still see Xiao Gou’s tiny face and remember the impact she made on my life.

A Soldier, A Gypsy and Rosebud Pajamas

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, Orphanage Flashbacks

After a harrowing ride from the quiet (civilized) community I live, through nightmare traffic (uncivilized) and kamikaze drivers trying to bully me out of their way, we finally arrived at the Atlanta airport. My daughter and I searched and searched for a parking spot but one that would fit my over-sized tank was not to be found. (Once again I cursed my impulsive decision to buy the SUV and wished I had gone with what I had always wanted—a smaller Honda Accord with a sunroof and spoiler on the back) Short on time and patience, I carefully eased through the too-close metal dividers and drove to the highest level of the parking deck and maneuvered into the first space I found. Finally on foot, we made our way to the filthy elevator and went down a level, played Frogger as we dodged cars to get to the terminal, and then asked directions from an airport employee who was hanging about outside with a cigarette in one hand and a vampire novel in the other.

An escalator ride, a few more direction-asking-moments and we finally (miraculously) stood in the Arrival Lobby to wait for the moment when Amanda would be reunited with her best friend from China. Since leaving the expat life in China, the girls have gotten together numerous times in various states—Michigan, Texas, South Carolina and now Georgia. Their bond is one I know will never be broken, as they share many memories from all over the map. Amanda was so excited that I could not persuade her to go for a bathroom detour, and her eyes remained fixed on the hallway the new arrivals were streaming through. Knowing the first thing she would notice was Madi’s naturally platinum hair, she relentlessly searched the crowds for each blonde and scrutinized her face before moving on to the next stranger.

As we waited and I tried to ignore the traffic-induced back spasms, I struck up a conversation with the tattooed man beside me. I saw him give directions to a lost passenger and he was obviously very familiar with the airport layout so I asked if he could direct me to where to pick up Delta luggage. I knew that as soon as the girls were together, they wouldn’t be much help and I wanted to get a head start on getting the heck out of there. We began a conversation and he told me he was picking up two young men who had been exchange students at his home a few years back. Both boys were from Austria but he really tweaked my interest when he told me that his latest student was a girl from China. He said, “Jessica came over and was very quiet and timid but when she left she was a riot—I ruined her.” At this confession, he let out a boisterous laugh and I could tell he was a fun person who genuinely cared about each student. When the two boys saw him, they both high-fived him and the joy on their faces was proof that the affection was reciprocated. I realized as they walked away that I still need to work on my judging-a-book-by-the-cover-skills because this man at first was not someone I would usually approach because of his tattoos and overall appearance, but just a few minutes with him and I would bet that he is an amazing person with a collection of interesting tales that I would be honored to hear him spin.

Behind me, I suddenly heard a “Wo yao….blah blah blah” and turned to find a group of Chinese businessmen. Watching them rock back and forth on their heels, I was suddenly taken back to memories of China and the many airport trips we survived as we scuttled to and fro on home visits and rest trips to various places. Being in the midst of all the chaos of travelers, luggage and reunions, I desperately missed my expat life and the feeling of ‘doing something different’ it constantly brought us. Now back home in the states, I’ll admit that American life feels boring and monotonous, at least compared to the five years we spent overseas. While we were told that repatriation was very difficult, no one explained that years after returning home, these feelings would remain. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that once our Amanda is out of school, we are sure we will once again become travelers and I will be able to do more to feed my passion of working with underprivileged children.

The next person to catch my eye was a fascinating woman who was slowly weaving her way to the front of the waiting crowd to compete for the best look-out spot. She appeared to be approximately mid-forties and had ash-colored dreadlocks bundled with a hair tie and falling down her back. Uncaring about the out-dated clothes she wore, she was perfectly at ease in her Jesus sandals and long shorts, covered by a scalloped-collared simple sleeve-less shirt. She wore no jewelry or make-up, but her face was so interesting that that she didn’t need it. For a fleeting moment, I wished that I could borrow her confidence and walk about without make-up and leave behind all the effort it takes to do my hair and choose my clothes each day—but at this age, I know that gift will never come. If anything, I’ll try to do more to disguise the effects of age on my quickly fading youth, as that is just who I am.

Judging by the concentrated expression that Gypsy Woman wore, and the intent way she was searching for a familiar face to come through, I expected to soon see her throw herself into the arms of her lover—and I was curious to see what sort of man he would be. Would he have dreadlocks and be wearing sandals and a shirt with a big marijuana leaf over the chest? Perhaps carrying a tattered army duffel bag that contained all of his worldly possessions? Or would he be a shined-up businessman, stopping in to see his mistress who represents the opposite of all that he is and has in his other life? As we watched for our Madi, I also kept one eye on Gypsy Woman so that I wouldn’t miss the passionate reunion.

Before long we witnessed a soldier coming through. The USO representative greeted the young man with an arm around his shoulders and a comforting word as he guided him to some unknown area. At first I searched the crowd for the man’s family but soon realized he was probably on a service-related mission and was not flying in to his home. On his face I only saw loneliness and fatigue—and I said a quick silent prayer for our troops who are facing experiences that we can only imagine.

As the soldier and the story line I had begun to weave in my head disappeared, my attention was captured by a woman dragging along her little boy. She was obviously exhausted, but so was he and I thought she could have had a little more patience with the small chap. She tugged him along behind her with one hand while dragging their luggage with the other. In the hand that was not grasped tightly by his mother, the boy dangled a ragged teddy bear. When the mother looked down and sharply said, “Hurry up!” the boy looked up at her and softly said, “I love you, Mommy.” I could tell he was trying to break through and soften her up and my heart ached for him. I thought he must have been about four years old and that prompted a sudden memory of a little girl who was only four when I met her—and the way she looked at me as if she wanted my love but was not going to lose any pride trying to get it. She was the opposite of this boy, to his innocence and naivety she was strong and had battled tragedy, molding her into a tiny warrior with battle scars evident all over her body. Yes, I was thinking of Xiao Gou and before I knew it, I was trying to swallow past the lump in my throat and blink away the unexpected tears. I had a flashback of the times I would get Xiao Gou out of the bath and put her little rosebud pajamas on her. I would pull the shirt down and she always wanted her pants pulled high over the shirt—Chinese style that looked ridiculous to me but soon became part of a night-time ritual. Then she would get 30 more minutes of playtime with her box of blocks before we’d trudge up the stairs with her on my hip and make our way to the guest room for bedtime. My little Asian angel wasn’t interested in teddy bears to bring her comfort; instead she would go to sleep wrapping the threads from the blanket around her tiny fingers. I would lie beside her until she finally closed her eyes and I would wonder what sort of nightmares she faced in the orphanage during those long nights in the cold rooms.

Lately I have been trying to guard my heart against thoughts of Xiao Gou, because it hurts so much—much more than anyone could ever understand—but with the upturned face of a little boy trying to be affectionate to his mommy, something triggered those memories to come flooding back and I took a moment to put aside the guilt of leaving her, the fear of her current circumstances, and remember the times she filled our house with the spunk of her personality.

Finally just when I thought Amanda couldn’t take the suspense of waiting any longer, a familiar petite figure broke through the crowd and Amanda was like a wound-up jumping bean beside me. “There she is! There she is!” The girls hugged each other tightly while doing a combination of a laugh/scream that represented the joy of their friendship. My mother’s heart was soaring at the happiness my daughter was feeling to see her forever best friend and I readied myself for five days of chatting, shopping, midnight laughter and all those things that make best friends click.

I can’t end this chronicle without giving you the conclusion of Gypsy Woman and her mystery man, now can I? Right before we walked away, I looked over to see the exact moment that she found her loved one in the crowd. The happiness that spread across her face made me instantly scan the crowd to see who she was zoned in on. Surprisingly and much to my romantic side’s disappointment, it was not her prince after all—but instead a woman who could have been her sister, or maybe a friend. What did peak my curiosity was the fact that as Gypsy Woman rushed around the roped area, the emotion on the other woman’s face was not the same as on Gypsy Woman’s face. There wasn’t much excitement or joy—only a look of irritation and a fumble to half-heartedly return the embrace that was heaped upon her. I felt a surge of pity for Gypsy Woman that her friend was not as excited to see her as she might have expected and I looked away from the public rejection of affection.

As we hurried along, a light bulb moment hit and my fairy tale continued as I realized that it may have been her lover after all—coming in person to break up the long distance relationship they had shared for years. With this new twist in the story, my imagination revved back up again and we headed out the door into the heavy Georgia heat and a two-hour return trip home with two happy fifteen-year-olds chatting behind me as I day-dreamed of another life on another continent with a different culture to appease my constant purpose-seeking spirit.—Kay Bratt

Kay Bratt Goes to Jail

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

By supper time last night I could feel my body beginning its march of rebellion.

The intense tingling and slight burning on my skin I had been feeling all day was getting stronger. The unnatural feeling that the blood in my legs was slowly hardening to the consistency of concrete became hard to ignore. As I continued to finish the task of cooking steaks on the grill, and cutting up vegetables for a salad, I contemplated the sleepless night that was sure to come sneaking in like a silent thief. Stress is the biggest trigger for my condition and managing my pain [without medication as I am determined to do] depends on being able to manage the stress in my life, I know that from years of experience but sometimes life circumstances cannot be managed.

After dinner I accompanied Amanda to take little Riley for a potty and exercise break. Trying to wear out the tiny pup, we trekked up the steep hill behind our house as he hopped over the high grass and tried to keep up. His adorable puppy antics were a welcome respite to the impossibly frustrating day I had just endured and I gave thanks for my very normal and warm home life that I was able to return to.

Though she is only 15, the realization that my daughter has become my sounding board and confidante hit me hard as I tried to convey to her the frustration of the day’s events, and the conditions I witnessed as I interviewed the family members of my latest CASA case. She laughed as I told her about getting lost in the maze of hallways in the county jail; she knows that I am directionally handicapped. Going in unaccompanied or escorted surprised me and also caused me to forget the complicated instructions to find block B2 to where Convict Daddy would be waiting for me. After a small argument about my approval to visit, causing me to pull out my court order to gain entry, she instructed me to get in the elevator, go up to the 4th floor, go down a long hallway, take a left, get on another elevator, go down to the 2nd floor, down another long hallway and take a right. Find the magic set of double doors with a speaker and press the button to ask Oz for permission to enter. —or something like that.

Walking the long hallways with nothing but black camera domes in sight was eerie and I was easily unsettled. A few times I whipped around to see who was quickly coming up behind me, only to realize it was my own footsteps and the clicking of my heels echoing around me. The stress I was feeling caused my back to tighten painfully and all I could think was, “What the heck am I doing here? This is too scary for a small town girl like me.” I am sure the way I was lost and obviously intimidated by my surroundings was entertainment for the bored employees manning the camera panels and I struggled [and failed] to maintain a professional, confident expression on my face.

As I trudged along uncertainly, I was writing a breaking news headliner in my head and it went something like this, “CASA volunteer held hostage at county jail where riot has just begun—husband called in to plead with prisoners for her release. Kay Bratt is the author of Silent Tears and ironically there will probably be many tears shed for her today…” [I had already decided Kate Hudson would play my part and Richard Gere would be my devoted husband]

I finally found where I was supposed to be and only waited for a minute or two before Convict Daddy came walking up with his stylish orange jumpsuit and sat before me. I was expecting a terrifying lump of a man to come swaggering in but what I got was the complete opposite. Surprisingly, he appeared very neat and clean, with blond hair combed over to the side in a style that reminded me of Opie Taylor. But unlike our beloved Opie, Convict Daddy had many tattoos branding his arms—but I wasn’t afraid, especially knowing there was a wall of windows between us in case I said something he wouldn’t like.

He looked at me curiously and with even a small trace of fear in his eyes. So as I’ve seen the many dramatic prison wife actresses do in the movies, I pointed to the phone on the wall. He picked up his, and wishing I had some hand sanitizer and a paper towel with me, I reluctantly picked up mine and we began the interview that would end in one of us shedding tears.

Part Two

After struggling through the county jail maze of hallways and moving beyond my initial foreboding of interviewing a man in jail whose child was my latest CASA case, I got down to business. I explained who I was and reassured him that I did not work for the department of children’s services. It took some time for him to process but he finally understood that I was a volunteer appointed to advocate for the best interest of his child. I asked him when his release date was and what his thoughts were on where his daughter had been placed as well as future custody of her. I recorded all of his answers in my handy-dandy (Target) notebook and then he said, “Can I ask you a question?” Of course he could, but I might not be able to answer it but in this case I was easily able to produce a strong response.

“When I get out, how can I get my daughter back?”

My response, “That isn’t for me to say but I can tell you that the wishes of the court is for every child to be reunited with their parents, if possible.” I explained to him about the issues of having a safe home, steady income, clean drug tests, counseling, etc. We talked about possible outcomes to the case, which depended on details I was not privy to and decisions I would not be making, as I am only a CASA. I scolded him about domestic violence in front of his children and told him, “You have a choice—you can either choose to straighten up and be a part of your children’s lives, or you can continue down the road you are on and that makes the statement that you don’t care about them.”

He began to tell me about all of the antics his wife was up to—but I stopped him and told him that I didn’t need to hear it because it was all in the court documents. He agreed that the system had fairly taken his child because of their combined inappropriate behavior but he wanted me to know that his daughter had never been deprived. I corrected him with the statement of, “Yes, she has been deprived—of the right to a safe and healthy home and parents who strive to put her well being above their own selfish needs.” I was expecting him to get angry, slam the phone down and stalk away, but to my surprise he began to sniffle and then wipe tears from his face with his clenched fists, and I told him if he didn’t have any more questions I needed to go.

Then the big, bad prisoner said he had one more question and with a shaky, whimpering voice asked, “I am only allowed one visit a week. Since you came am I still gonna get to see my Mama on Sunday?” I tried to feel sorry for him but unfortunately felt nothing but disappointment that a set of parents has been blessed with a beautiful child and they don’t even realize the gift bestowed upon them.

I left there and headed for my next destination—the home where Convict Daddy’s baby girl was temporarily living.

Stay Tuned for Part Three to be posted later.

For The Love of Another

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

Sometimes we all do things that we don’t want to do out of love for another. This story has nothing to do with a child—but does involve an animal I love ‘like’ a child. For you animal lovers out there, you know what I mean.

Lexi was supposed to be Amanda’s dog and to an extent she was—but she and I also bonded very close. When we decided to go to the local animal shelter, we were looking for a small dog to bring into our family. As we walked down the rows of cages housing those who had been abandoned, abused or neglected, my heart broke for all the pups and old-timers whining for attention. We asked to spent contact time with one dog but once we had her outside, we didn’t really feel a connection.

The shelter volunteer had led us by a glass window that looked into a small room with a couch in it. In front of that couch was a beautiful yellow lab, with deep brown eyes that were a window to the hurt she had been through. We asked about her and were told that ‘you don’t want her, she has a lot of problems’. The volunteer told us that she had been abused. That did it for us and we adamantly asked to see her. We were led into the room and upon seeing us, the dog peed a huge puddle in the floor and shaking from snout to tail, she leapt up on the couch and buried her head in the corner. It reminded me of those games we play with our babies where they believe if they can’t see us–we can’t see them.

The dog was terrified but we were determined to see how she would react outside of the building. We asked for contact time and as the volunteer led her down past all the barking and howling dogs, she did the ‘army crawl’ as close to the floor as she could with her tail between her legs.

To make a long story short, we took Lexi home that day. It took us weeks to get her to accept a leash (we think she had been beaten with one because producing it prompted terror-stricken antics). Our first 20 or so times walking around the neighborhood was a challenge in patience, as Lexi would not lift her head or eyes and walked hunched over with her tail between her legs. But we didn’t give up trying to boost her confidence and trust.

After we smothered her with love for a few months, Lexi became the best dog I have ever known. She did not bark, chew on anything that wasn’t hers, climb on the furniture or have bathroom issues—she was the most loving creature I had ever met. She would come over to me and lay her snout on my leg and just look up at me like I was the most wonderful person on earth. (which believe me, I am a long way from..)

For two years I obsessed about Lexi and how much ‘outside’ time she was getting as well as personal family time. I and the rest of the family were gone 12 hours a day, but I spent many, many lunch hours driving down the interstate at breakneck speeds to just walk her for 10 minutes and rush back to work. On days I couldn’t get away, I’d call a neighbor and knowing it was a huge imposition, would ask her to let Lexi out. (however, it was tricky for her because Lexi would only go out if she ‘knew’ for sure she could immediately come back in and we had to use pychology on her) Though her care while we were away was a challenge, my concern was for her. She didn’t like to be left outside, was afraid of storms and was just happier in the house but definitely needed a bathroom break at least once during the work day.

Just before we moved to Georgia, we decided that we were doing an injustice by not allowing Lexi to be with a family who were home more and were also able to give her the exercise a labrador needs. So we began a search. We were put in contact with a few people, who I declined, but finally were connected with a man who had been searching for a lab to replace one he had loved years before and lost. We asked him to come meet Lexi and us. It was a good connection and we decided to let her go for a visit. One of the perks for her was the mom of the house was home earlier than I was each day, and it was a 2-child household meaning playtime for Lexi, AND….the dad wanted a dog he could take when he went exploring, hunting, fishing, etc. It sounded like a dream for Lexi.

She went for that visit and he called to ask if they could just keep her, that she was the perfect dog I had described. After hard discussions, we agreed. However, that night both my daughter and I were completely inconsolable. We cried. And cried. And cried some more.

But we did it for her. To give her a life where she wasn’t sitting in a big, empty house everyday waiting on her family to come home.

I miss her. I have (a million times) even considered calling her new family and begging, pleading, bribing for them to give her back. But I cannot bring myself to do that to Lexi. I am still living a frantic-paced life with not a lot of time left over. I am not home many hours each day. How would I feel taking her from a life of constant family interaction to a life of only-sometimes-when-we-can-fit-it-in interaction?

I was at a festival last weekend and an animal shelter had a booth open taking donations. They had with them a gorgeous brown-eyed dog named Bruce. He was standing there patiently while a stranger’s 2-year-old hugged him, pulled his ears and slobbered all over him. I was mesmerized. I wanted to bring him home—but I knew better and hoped a much better equipped family would come along. Unfortunately, the volunteer said that Bruce had been in their shelter for almost 5 years! I couldn’t imagine why, he seemed so docile and sweet.

So anyway, there really is no point to this post other than to share a tiny piece of my life with you and to tell you that sometimes we do things that break our hearts–for the love of another.

PS. If you are a family who have the time and space available to take on an animal, please consider a shelter dog. I promise you, I have had many dogs in my life but never one like Lexi, who may have not been adopted if we had not come along.