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Creating Cultural Connections: Children Adopted From China, Families Celebrate New Year

  • Narissa Willever of Woodstock holds her son Kai, 3, and laughs with her daughter Ari, 1, while listening to a performance of Chinese music during a Chinese New Year celebration at Orient in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 264, 2014. Upper Valley families with children adopted from China and international students from Dartmouth College and Kimball Union Academy gather at the restaurant yearly. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Narissa Willever of Woodstock holds her son Kai, 3, and laughs with her daughter Ari, 1, while listening to a performance of Chinese music during a Chinese New Year celebration at Orient in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 264, 2014. Upper Valley families with children adopted from China and international students from Dartmouth College and Kimball Union Academy gather at the restaurant yearly.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kimball Union Academy students Charlotte Jia of Beijing, China, foreground left, and Lydia Huang, of Shanghai, China, middle, perform on the erhu and pipa respectively for a community of children adopted from China and their families at Orient, a Hanover, N.H. restaurant on Sunday, January 264, 2014. From right, Emma McKim, Stella Pinto, and Annie Preece listen to the music during the Chinese New Year celebration. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Kimball Union Academy students Charlotte Jia of Beijing, China, foreground left, and Lydia Huang, of Shanghai, China, middle, perform on the erhu and pipa respectively for a community of children adopted from China and their families at Orient, a Hanover, N.H. restaurant on Sunday, January 264, 2014. From right, Emma McKim, Stella Pinto, and Annie Preece listen to the music during the Chinese New Year celebration.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Narissa Willever of Woodstock holds her son Kai, 3, and laughs with her daughter Ari, 1, while listening to a performance of Chinese music during a Chinese New Year celebration at Orient in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 264, 2014. Upper Valley families with children adopted from China and international students from Dartmouth College and Kimball Union Academy gather at the restaurant yearly. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Kimball Union Academy students Charlotte Jia of Beijing, China, foreground left, and Lydia Huang, of Shanghai, China, middle, perform on the erhu and pipa respectively for a community of children adopted from China and their families at Orient, a Hanover, N.H. restaurant on Sunday, January 264, 2014. From right, Emma McKim, Stella Pinto, and Annie Preece listen to the music during the Chinese New Year celebration. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Hanover — The food was coming out, but Kai Mitchell seemed more interested in the menu. He held it in one hand while wagging a colored pencil around in the other.

“I’m going to draw on the menu,” the 3-year-old said excitedly, tracing a haphazard path in the air with his pencil, then running around tables at Hanover’s Orient Chinese & Japanese Restaurant as waiters laid down plates packed with edamame and dumplings.

Sunday was the first time Kai participated in a Chinese New Year celebration held by the Upper Valley chapter of Families with Children from China, a loose volunteer network of parents and their adopted children. Narissa Willever and Brian Mitchell, of Woodstock, adopted Kai in early 2012 but had just recently heard of the organization.

“It’s fantastic,” Willever said. “Having that network out there is wonderful.”

About 60 Upper Valley residents and their children came to the Orient on Sunday for one of two annual events put on by the local chapter. This one celebrated the Chinese New Year — the year of the horse will begin on Friday — with a meal and crafts for the children, who ranged in age from preschool to high school. In September, the group will celebrate a mid-autumn “moon picnic” at a Weathersfield campground.

One of the main goals of the get-togethers, said parents at Sunday’s event, was to foster a sense of community among adopted Chinese children in a racially homogenous area, as well as keep them connected to their culture.

“It’s really invaluable,” said Marianna McKim, of Meriden, who came to Sunday’s event with her daughter Emma and husband Reinhart Sonnenburg. “It would be a very different experience to be isolated.”

The Upper Valley chapter has remained active for years, said Kathy Meyer, the chapter’s point of contact, with fluid membership numbers. Currently, she said, 72 people are on a mass email list she curates. The group’s early new year celebrations were held in a Grantham church, she said, but then moved to the Richard W. Black Center in Hanover because of space constraints. The group has used the Orient as its venue the past two years.

For Meyer and her husband, David Wysocki, of Hartland, who adopted their daughter, Anna, when she was 10 months old, the adoption process is more than just bringing a child from another continent to this one.

“You adopt the country,” Meyer said.

Keeping the culture alive, therefore, is important. But it’s just as important to find a balance between two distinct cultures, said Max Liu, a senior at Dartmouth. He’s part of the school’s International Friendship Family Program, which paired him with Meyer and Julie Lannen, of Weathersfield, as a way to get acquainted with Upper Valley families.

Liu, an international student who grew up near Hong Kong, met the two families when he was a freshman and has cultivated a relationship with them since. On Sunday, standing in the dining room of the Orient, he agreed that the organization is an important outlet for adopted Chinese children.

“It’s important for kids to know that they’re not the only one,” Lin said.

Before the food came out on Sunday, most of the kids flocked to tables that were crowded with crafts. Coloring book pages touting the “Year of the Horse” sat next to origami books and in-progress paper lanterns.

Away from the table, Maely Brightman, 10, thrust a Chinese paper yo-yo out in front of her, and began to dismantle it, unrolling the paper until it was just a flat sheet.

“I like the crafts and seeing everyone,” Maely said. “It’s fun.”

In Mandarin, the phonetic pronunciation of Maely’s name means “beautiful,” said her mom, Nancy Brightman.

That, initially, was a happy accident. Brightman and her husband, Jerry, planned to name their daughter a variant of Mae; it wasn’t until they went to China that they realized the connection.

The Brightmans adopted Maely when she was a baby and have attended the organization events with her every year since then.

“I don’t know how it’s happened,” said Jerry Brightman of the strength of the group, “but I’m thrilled that people started talking with each other.”

Editors note: Those interested in joining the Upper Valley chapter of Families with Children from China can email Kathy Meyer at kathyameyermsl@yahoo.com.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

CORRECTION

Max Liu, an international student from China, is a Dartmouth College senior. An earlier version of this story misspelled his last name.