Falls' soccer player Woodson thanks woman who helped her out of China
Chan sees her play, then graduate
Menomonee Falls - Working through the adoption agency Holt International, Tucker and Shelley Woodson of Menomonee Falls went to China just after the country had opened to investment and visitors. They started the process in summer 1993, got a referral in August 1994 and made the trip in October 1994.
Hampered by infertility, they wanted to give their young birth son, John, a sibling. Shelley had worked her way through nursing school at a Chinese restaurant and so in a hopeful young couple's silly quirk, an opportunity for a far greater life was born.
"Because of that, we just decided to adopt through China," she said. "It started as a joke with us, but really it wasn't."
So, child number 76 from Guangxi province, found Oct. 16, 1993, in a box at a train station in Nanning and given the birth date of Sept. 16, became overachieving, soccer-loving, honors student Jenna Woodson of Menomonee Falls, Wis.
What was destined to be a short, unhappy life was gone, and in its place blossomed opportunity, love and a better life. Fortune had smiled, the world had turned.
Private orphanage saved her
But not without the help of one Kit Ying Chan, a Chinese woman of Christian values. Chan found Woodson in a state-run orphanage as an infant, back when the mortality rate at those places was ungodly high. She took her to the private orphanage she helped found called Mother's Love.
The Woodsons, along with five other couples, first went to Hong Kong, where they met up with Chan. There they flew to the "Mother's Love" orphanage in Nanning and met facilitator Matthew Xiu.
As well as the future Jenna.
"Then for two weeks we had to go through the entire bureaucracy," Shelley said. "We needed to get her (Jenna) a passport and we had to pass physicals to see if we were fit parents."
Shelley's parents were taking care of young John in Detroit, and when the Woodsons arrived back in the city Oct. 30, the first thing they did was take both John and Jenna out for Halloween.
And with it, a storybook life began.
They kept up with Chan through holiday cards, emails and with regular contributions to "Mother's Love." The family stayed involved with various adoption organizations always supporting those who want to give a child a better life.
Chan and Jenna formally met in 2008 when the family flew back to Hong Kong for a visit. There Chan presented the girl athlete -- the one whose mother has to arm-wrestle to convince her to wear dresses -- a beautiful set of pearls.
They were another symbol of hope.
Delved into background
After that moment, Jenna started investigating her history and heritage and what it must have been like to have been born in China during the worst part of the One Child Only population control policy that China introduced many years ago. Then, as now, sons are preferred.
A compilation of anonymous stories from Chinese birth mothers called "Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love" has informed her thoughts greatly.
Jenna also started contacting Chan on her own and also began working in earnest to get Chan to come to the states and see what kind of life she had helped create for her.
That tenacity paid off last week, when Chan was in town to witness various rites of passage for Jenna. She watched Jenna play her last game of high school soccer on June 7 for Menomonee Falls High School (a disappointing sectional semifinal loss) and then observed her as she graduated with honors on June 9.
Consider it a gift repaid.
" It's a girl," the midwife says.
I am sure the look of shock in my husband's eyes mirrors my own. The midwife must be lying to us: we are not supposed to have a girl. Ever since the One Child Policy, every traditional Chinese family is supposed to have a son. The son can carry on the family name.
"Should I dump her," she says as one of her hands searches for the bucket (full of acid, which would kill the baby)."
"No!" I say. "I want to keep her."
That is how Jenna envisioned her birth and her precarious immediate future in an essay she wrote in an advanced composition class at Falls this spring. The child in her story, just as Jenna was, is eventually abandoned at a train station by the heartbroken mother with the words "Keep safe" written on a note.
That child is eventually taken to an orphanage where she faces an uncertain future. Woodson closed the story this way in the mother's voice:
"If she ever questions why I did this, it is not because I did not want her. All I want her to understand is that I did this out of love. I love her."
Something that Jenna has understood since the day the Woodsons brought her back to Menomonee Falls where the flower that is her life has started to bud in earnest.
A true jock, she was captain of the Falls soccer team and will carry her athletic talents to UW-Whitewater to play soccer and study business.
Tomboy vs foo-foo girl
The soccer bit was something of a shock to Shelley Woodson. She didn't think she would have an athlete on her hands (Tucker frequently had to shovel the driveway vigorously in the winter so Jenna could play soccer outside).
"Oh this kid," laughed Shelly. "Truthfully, I'm all this foo-foo kind of girl. A girlie girl, and all I wanted was a princess (for a daughter). Well, what we got was a little tomboy. I had to learn so many new things. I had to become a more athletic mom and she had to learn to wear dresses (laughs)."
Love presents opportunity and offers a few challenges along the way.
All out of a tiny box found near a train platform on a chilly fall day nearly 19 years ago.
When Jenna thinks about Chan and the life she helped facilitate for her, a world of emotions threaten to swallow her up. She tries to fight back the tears but can't. The only words she can get out are the following:
"Without her, I wouldn't be able to play soccer," she said.
Chan, who also stays in contact with other children she helped place, did not leave the Falls empty-handed. The Tuesday group of senior women at the Falls Community Center knitted a number of blankets for her to bring back to the Mother's Choice orphanage/social service center in Hong Kong that Chan works with.
"It is an amazing situation," Shelley said. "She's (Jenna) come to terms with who she is. She's thought intensely about it and is in a real good place with it."
"None of us could have written a better script. … We feel blessed to have remained in contact with Kit Ying and the culture that Jenna came to us from."
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