‘Girls adopted from China explore Asian culture, find friendship in Daisy troop’

By NANCY CHURNIN / The Dallas Morning News

Scurrying eagerly into the spacious Dallas home of Debbie Sheehan, the Daisies of Troop 3352 seemed to be focused on how many chances they would get to pet Sheehan’s dog and jump on the bed before the meeting began. Quite a few, it turned out.

Those missions accomplished, they lined up eagerly beside the stairs to hear Mei Lin Saunders, a 15-year-old Girl Scout cadet from Carrollton, who had brought her old Brownie and Girl Scout vests festooned with pins and badges to show them how they, too, can progress through the ranks.

“What do you all have in common with Mei Lin?” Daisy Troop leader and mom Kimberly Powell asked the nearly two dozen girls, dressed as differently as their personalities: one in a flouncy dress and clutching a purse, many in jeans and shorts, some with polished nails on bare feet, others with shiny patent leather shoes and a few with unlaced sneakers.

“We’re all Girl Scouts!” chirped one little voice, with the others murmuring agreement.

The parents chuckled softly.

“Yes, and you’re all adopted from China,” Powell continued.

This time the girls murmured “Ahh” and looked up at Mei Lin, who usually goes by the name Jamie, all the more intently.

“I hope some day you’ll all be wearing a khaki vest like mine,” Mei Lin told them. “You will give back to the community. You will have a lot of fun. You will meet new people. And you will make friends.”

They stared as if they couldn’t get enough of her.

Mei Lin’s mother, Susan Saunders, nodded, understanding what was going through all those little heads, as she looked proudly at her daughter.

“They want to see what they will look like when they are grown up,” whispered Saunders, watching from the kitchen.

Powell, of Dallas, is one of the mothers who organized this troop last year for children adopted from China. The girls, who are in kindergarten through second grade, come from Dallas, Plano, Rockwall, Mansfield, Coppell and Denton with the goal of learning about Asian cultures through traditional Girl Scout activities and programs. Already, the girls have learned the Chinese Tea Ceremony at one meeting with Kyle Stewart, one of the owners of the Cultured Cup cafe in Dallas. They celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival in Irving in May. They planted Chinese vegetables and exchanged valentines with a Daisy Troop in Indiana that is also made up of girls adopted from China.

Powell and her husband, Thom, like all of the adoptive parents with the exception of one Korean mother, are Caucasian. And while these parents have introduced their children to a new world, their children have returned the favor. They have inspired the parents to learn about the country where their children were born.

Part of the motivation was concern stemming from a 2000 study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute that reported on the alienation felt by adults from Korea who had been adopted by Caucasian-American families between 1955 and 1985.

Pat Felker of Dallas, wife of Shane Whisler and mother of Maddie, 9, and Molly, 7, says she didn’t want her girls to feel the way the adoptees in the report had described themselves, as uneasy in both the Asian and Caucasian worlds.

But if they began by doing it for the kids, the parents ended up feeling enriched by learning Chinese language and customs. Kimberly Powell, who wears a necklace with the Chinese names of both her daughters, Page and Rénee, enjoys reeling off the symbolism behind her decorations, from the lucky red dragons to the roundness of the moon cakes and cookies symbolizing the completeness of the family in the new year.

Misty and Andrew Woodhall of Dallas say the friends they have made through the troop have proved an unexpected treasure, too.

“It’s nice being with people who have the same history,” says Misty Woodhall, whose daughter, Fallon, 5, goes outside to pluck a daisy and puts it gently in her mother’s hand, bringing tears to her mother’s eyes. “We can relate to each other better.”

The children relate to one another easily, too. Some of them even knew one another before they met their parents. Powell’s older daughter, Page, 6, was in a crib next to her future fellow Daisy and best friend Libby Mosely, 6, at the orphanage. The two were born just 10 days apart.

Ann Cossum says her daughter, Andrea, 7, is one of the few who resisted the program at first. Cossum adopted her daughter at a later age than the others, 6, and the meetings with other Chinese girls made her daughter fear she was being returned to the orphanage. The director had been kind, but Andrea did not want to leave her mother and father.

Once she realized she was home to stay, she relaxed and started making friends.

Mei Lin, an only child, enjoys bonding with the younger girls in the Daisy troop, too. “All of a sudden I have all these little sisters,” she says happily.

At the Oct. 3 meeting, the troop celebrated the annual Moon Festival. The festivities began with dinner at the Szechwan Pavilion Chinese Restaurant in Dallas, where the owner, Jane Wang, sang a song from her childhood village to the girls and gave them all moon cakes – round, rich cakes made with sweet, sticky green bean paste. Afterward, at Sheehan’s house, the meeting started with Powell calling out, ” Ni hao [hello] everybody.”

After a program that included the recitation of Chinese poems and ceremonies that welcomed new Daisies and congratulated those bridging to Brownies, it was time to go outdoors to celebrate the new moon. A parade of little girls carried paper lanterns they had crafted into the night.

Rob MacEwen, the dad of 5-year-old Lydia, had spent years studying in China before he and his wife adopted their child. He taught the girls and their parents a song they would sing on their walk: Zou, zou, zou, zou, zou (Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk), Wo men xiao shou la xiao shou (Our little hands hold each other), Zou, zou, zou, zou, zou (Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk), Yi tóng qù zou zou (Let’s take a walk together).

The Moon Festival has a special meaning for the girls and for their parents, Cossum says. Not only is it part of their heritage, it is a chance to think about and feel close to those they love, who are far away.

“We know our orphanage director is looking at the same moon.”For information about Daisy Scouts or starting your own troop, call 1-800-442-2260 or visit http://www.gsnetx.org .