Nearly ten years ago we traveled with eight other families to China to adopt Maggie. She was known then as Shen QiuXue. Each of the girls had the surname of Shen and so someone started referring to them as the Shen sisters and everyone in our group picked up on it.
There are two families, Hannah’s and Gina’s, that we haven’t seen since and hope someday we will.
But we have been fortunate to see some or all of the other six families almost every year since. Maggie and her Shen sisters: Leah, Erin, Kelli, Laura, Anna, and Emily.
This year these seven girls all made it to our tenth year reunion at Disney World. Seeing the girls together makes everything worth it. They are bigger versions of the people we met almost a decade ago in Hefei, China. Each child seems to be a perfect fit for their family. Their parents and us have nothing apparent in common and yet this common bond of our daughters is enough for us to enjoy each others’ company and be genuinely interested in how each other is doing.
We met in the Magic Kingdom for a special Pirates and Princesses night. For an extra fee we could be in the park for a special parade, for more fireworks, and for little shows and treats throughout the park. It was a great decision. We walked right on to any ride Maggie wanted to. We got to see two sets of fireworks from right in front of the castle and we watched as a special parade rolled by. There were dance parties all over the park with live DJ’s playing music you’d here on radio Disney. Perfect for Elena – Maggie wasn’t interested at all.
After the parade, my parents went back to the hotel. It had been a long day that had started at Epcot. We continued with the other Shen sisters as Maggie rebonded with them. She says it takes her the first night to get all of their names straight again and to figure out which girl goes with which parent.
We were able to upgrade our passes for a total of $20 the three of us were able to extend each of our passes by three days. Less than $3 per day per person – that’s my kind of deal.
With the additional days in hand, we joined the Shen sisters at the Animal Kingdom on Friday. Maggie was running out of steam but she wanted to see some more of the animals and she spent much of the day whining that she wanted to ride the river rapids ride again and get wet. Finally, I decided the sun had come out enough that we could probably ride it once more without risk of sickness. We had worn our bathing suits under our clothes so we took off our pants and got on. Somehow, the raft spun just right for us not to get soaked. We rode the ride and got only mildly splashed so Maggie was willing to call it a day. I had told her that if we had gotten soaked we could ride it a second time as we’d already be wet.
Most of the families headed over to dinner and then took a boat over to Epcot. Maggie and Kim got their second wind and so we stayed to watch the IllumiNations show again and to do some late night shopping in the world showcase at Epcot.
Saturday morning Maggie woke up determined to go back to the 3D Muppet movie at MGM. Maggie is cautious about doing something a first time but she loves to do things she knows over and over. There were still no lines in the park so it was easy for her to choose what she wanted to do. After three more times at the Muppet movie I’d had enough and she suggested we go to the backlot tour. We then went to the animation exhibit and Kim and Maggie and I sat in on a class where we drew Donald Duck in twelve minutes.
It was time to meet the other Shen sisters for the main event. We were all meeting in the China pavillion at Epcot for lunch. The girls and their parents were all wearing a shirt that Joe and Sharon had had printed with one of the first pictures we had of all of the girls together from when they were just one year old.
We had propped them up on a couch and taken a picture. Now, each year when we gather, whichever girls are there sit in the same order that they did back in 1997. In the lobby of the Chinese Restaurant the girls, for the first time, were able to figure out the order for themselves.
While they sat and smiled and teased each other, more cameras than girls snapped pictures. Laura’s sister would have to be renamed. She’d been called “baby Kelli” to distinguish her from the Shen sister Kelli. She isn’t a baby anymore. Some of the girls referred to her as “little Kelli.”
Elena used to always fuss at this point. She’d want to get into the picture. We’d always take a series with just the real Shen sisters and then we’d let the adopted Shen sisters in.
We were seated in the restaurant and the girls looked so grown up. Ten years has gone by so quickly. We each know at least one person waiting to adopt from China. These girls are the “after” picture. Bright, beautiful, bubbly girls bouncing off of each other.
I don’t know how common it is to stay close with your adoption travel group. For us it has been wonderful. These are girls with whom Maggie shares a history for her first year on earth. They may have the same questions later in life and they may be able to understand each other in ways that no one else can.
Nancy had bought eight Mickey Mouse hands and distributed it to the eight girls (seven Shen sisters and little Kelli). The Shen sisters signed each other’s hands. It’s the Disney souvenir to top all souvenirs.
After dinner we went out to the courtyard to watch a troupe of Chinese acrobats. The girls sat and waved their Mickey hands at us. Seven beautiful, happy girls together again. The acrobats came out and did a slightly different act than Maggie had seen a few days before with her grandparents. Afterwards, the girls tried to do some of their own tricks.
We headed to the front of the park to catch some of the rides. The girls wanted to ride the Nemo ride and see the aquarium. They wanted to see the talking turtle exhibit (I still want to know how that was done).
By now most of the girls had left for the night. Two of the Shen sisters suggested that they ride the Mars mission ride. Maggie shook her head. She’d been avoiding rides like that all week.
The girls assured her that really it was nothing. They warned her that the preshow would scare her but that the actual ride wasn’t bad. This was what Maggie needed. This was Elena calling out “c’mon” on her way out to hang upside down by her knees from the monkey bars.
Maggie rode with Kelli and Leah and Leah’s dad Dale. Kim and I rode in the next group with Kelli’s parents Sharon and Joe. Kim and I kept looking at each other thinking “uh oh, this is where Maggie freaked out.” She had had a few moments of terror but had more or less enjoyed the ride and hadn’t been too scared. It’s one of the rides she talked about for days.
The next morning was our last at Disney. We got up and packed and checked out. Anna and Emily and their moms Laurie and Colleen came to pick us up and drive us to the hotel where the others were staying. Laura was sick and couldn’t join us. Her parents Keith and Nancy came down one at a time to spend some time with us. Leah and her parents Dale and Darlene were heading for MGM and Maggie wanted to go back for a couple of hours before we had to catch our flight so we joined them.
While Maggie led the other girls to the Muppet movie yet again, Kim and I headed to try to get a fastpass for all those willing to ride the rollercoaster. The fastpasses were already sold out for the day and the park was pretty full with the Presidents’ Day Weekend crowd. Still we ran into Erin, another Shen sister, and her parents Jeff and Kay on the way back to the Muppet movie. We took them along to meet up with the others but they had a 1:40 reservation on the Space Tours ride.
The rest of the group rode took the backlot tour (yet again for Maggie) and then we said goodbye and Kim and Maggie and I took the animation academy one more time. Again we had the same instructor and drew a slightly different looking Donald Duck.
Maggie liked all the things we did in our week at Disney. She had a bunch of great memories. But her two favorite parts were spending time with her grandparents and spending time with her Shen sisters.