Miss Amanda and Her Little Chinese Starfish
Written by Alli Heinzman, 5th Grade
I was about 6-years-old when I met Miss Amanda. We had just moved to Shanghai, China. My mom had heard about her through a ministry at our church. One day at the end of school, my mom and driver came to pick us up. But much to my brother Jake’s and my surprise, we didn’t go down the road that led toward our apartment. We were going to go visit and help care for some Chinese special needs babies. Jake and I love kids so we were really excited! When we got to the Chinese children’s hospital, Jake and I kept asking, “Mommy, where are the babies?” “I think we take this elevator up to the third floor,” she replied. On the way up, I realized I felt a little scared. It smelled odd and was not as clean as American hospitals. There were Chinese people everywhere, eating Chinese snacks and milling around.
When we got to the third floor, we walked to the end of a hallway. At the end of the hall was a room with a Caucasian lady, sitting with a little baby in her lap. She was feeding it a bottle of milk. This lady was Miss Amanda. She had brought three of the little babies she had at her foster home in Xian, China. The little girls were nicknamed “The Three Flowers.” The reason was because their names were Lily (the youngest one), Heather, and then Jasmine (the oldest of the three).
The big hospital room was filled with beds, and on each one was a tiny baby, waiting for surgery to change their life. See, in China, babies can’t be adopted until they have surgery to heal any birth defects. Each baby had one or two ayis (nannies’ or maids) to take care of them in the hospital. We started talking to Miss Amanda, and it was pretty obvious she had devoted her life to giving orphan babies a chance for a new life. We liked Miss Amanda as soon as we met her, but we had no idea how well we would get to know and love her and her babies in the coming years!
A week after we met Miss Amanda, we took a family vacation to Xian, China, where her foster home is. We saw lots of cool things, like the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Wall around the city, and the big Drum Tower. On our last day in Xian, we visited Miss Amanda’s foster home, called “Chinese Starfish.” We were guided to her place by 2 of her neighbors. When we got there, all the babies were having playtime! We joined right in and played with walkers, floor toys, and table toys. We even got to feed some of the babies with milk bottles. Then, after a big group picture, we left, inviting Miss Amanda to stay at our apartment in Shanghai, if she ever came for baby surgeries again. Those would promise to be my best memories of Miss Amanda. She stayed with us several times while we lived in Shanghai. There is one time that I remember best of all.
Miss Amanda came to our home with one of the cutest Chinese babies we’d ever seen! Her name was Brianna. She was recovering from heart surgery at the nearby hospital. We met them at a restaurant for dinner. We ate, talked, and doted on that sweet baby girl. Then Miss Amanda and my mom went out to have a girls’ night. So Jake, my Dad, and I took Brianna home with us. We were so excited because they were going to spend the night with us! We fed Brianna, played with her, and fell in love with her. But the best part was, when Miss Amanda and my mom got home, we gave Brianna a laundry basket bath. We dumped all our bath toys in with her, and she laughed and splashed and had so much fun until it was time to get out. After Brianna was all clean and cozy, we put her to bed and she fell into a soft, sweet sleep. That night, I lay awake wondering if there was any way we might be able to adopt her.
The next morning was a school day, so Jake and I said heartfelt goodbyes to our Amanda and baby Brianna. They were going to fly back to Xian before school ended. When my Dad got home that evening, I asked if we could adopt Brianna. He said we’d pray about it, and maybe ask Miss Amanda the next time we saw her.
On Miss Amanda’s next visit, we decided we wanted to take her to see one of our favorite parts of Shanghai. Even though she’d lived in China for several years, Miss Amanda was so busy running her foster home, she didn’t have time to be a tourist. We drove to a beautiful water town named Zhouzhuang. It’s a large, ancient water town with a canal running down its center. It’s between Shanghai and Suzhou, and looks a little like Venice, Italy. There are over 100 courtyard homes and lakes on all four sides of Zhouzhuang. The homes have aged whitewashed walls and Chinese sloped roofs. As we walked into Zhouzhuang, we saw a big pagoda painted with many swirls and lines. Beautiful! Open shops lined the streets, selling things such as trinkets, hats, scarves, bags, and old artifacts. After looking at all the assorted treats available for sale on snack street, Miss Amanda had us sample some. We tasted peanut candies, little cookies, and seaweed crackers. Some snacks that we saw but didn’t try were simmered silk worms, seasoned chicken feet, and dried baby frogs. Then we all had a gondola ride down the canal. Our driver had a pointed bamboo hat and sang to us in Chinese. We saw willow trees casting a canopy of shade over us. Also we saw red lanterns hanging on the edges of all the Chinese sloped roofs.
After our peaceful boat ride, we walked down narrow allies crowded with people. The signs to stores and restaurants were all in Chinese characters, with families running the shops. We saw elderly people playing games, gossiping, and napping.
My favorite part of the day was when we watched a Chinese opera at a local tea house. There was a lot of singing and dancing. The actors and actress’ all had on traditional costumes and makeup. I was so happy Miss Amanda was with us! She helped us understand what they were singing, and why they wore different costumes and make up. We drank hot tea and rested in the stage’s courtyard during the performance. My mom and I had fun walking through the opera museum inside, looking at lots of old opera costumes and antiques.
At the end of our wonderful day, my Dad was excited to find a man renting rides on his speedboat. We thought it would be fun to share a new experience with Miss Amanda and our driver. We all climbed in and cruised around Zhouzhang. Then, we raced back to the parking lot where our van was parked. It was nice to ride in the speedboat back to our van, instead of having to walk so far!
On the way home we were all tired, but happy with our day in the water town. We told Miss Amanda how much we liked Brianna, and that we’d talked about adopting her. We asked if she was still available. Miss Amanda said she had just been adopted by a French family. At first I was sad. Then I realized that if Brianna wasn’t with us, it wasn’t God’s plan for her or us. So I thanked God for Brianna. And then I thanked Him for Miss Amanda, who made Brianna’s life and has made so many other Chinese babies’ lives better!
(Last month was Miss Amanda’s sixth anniversary running Chinese Starfish Foster Home. She has cared for 150 babies, helped them have more than 175 surgeries, and adopted out almost 70 babies--all over the world! If you would like to know more about Miss Amanda and her little starfish please look here: http://www.thestarfishfosterhome.org/index.aspx.)