By Nico Zulli
All of the toddlers in the room ran around by themselves, ditching their parents to go play and wander around. But not David.
During the Chinese New Year celebration at Baylor on Feb. 6, the 2 1/2-year-old boy never left the side of his immediate family, including his dad, Steven Cates, a senior lecturer in the mathematics department.
David yelled and beamed as he clapped his little hands together in excitement at an elaborate Chinese dragon costume.
Then he hoisted himself onto the makeshift stage set up for the program’s performers and began to dance. Cates and his wife, Cindy Cates, danced with him.
“We are excited to introduce David to his Chinese heritage,” Mrs. Cates wrote in a blog post on Feb. 4 titled ‘Journey: Chinese New Year~Year of the Horse.’ “China has such a rich culture and Chinese New Year is the most significant holiday.”
The Cates family welcomed David from China a year ago.
The international adoption process began on Jan. 9, 2008.
The Cates’ waited in line for a little girl for four to five years, but in the summer of 2012, they heard about a waiting list for children with special needs.
“If you adopt from that list, it’s sometimes quicker, and they ask you what kind of special needs you are capable of handling,” Cates said. “We said we would be able to handle a child with a heart condition because my nephew on my wife’s side was born with a heart condition. So we kind of dealt with that before and felt comfortable with that situation.”
On Oct. 3, 2012, the Cates finalized their paperwork for the Waiting Child List and were called back the same day with a match.
“They told us it was a little boy with a hole in his heart,” Cates said. “We were told it was really small and that it might close up on its own. But, if not, he might need an operation.”
New Day Foster Home staff sent the family a picture of David, who was known to his New Day Foster Home family as Calvin. The Cates had chosen the name David for a son before they even married.
“There’s just something about it when you finally see him,” Cates said.
Soon after, they discovered that the New Day Foster home was a Christian foster home run by Americans in China. According to its official website, New Day’s core mission is to provide life-saving surgeries and a loving home for orphans with special needs from around China.
“We were excited to know that David had been able to experience all of the Christian traditions and holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving,” Cates said.
The Cates were unable to physically visit David due to Chinese government regulations, but this did not stop them from sending packages to him and learning everything about him possible through their adoption agency.
“We found out that he was born on our anniversary, Aug. 2, 2011,” Cates said. “We also sent him a package with a teddy bear and a child-sized Baylor Bears t-shirt.”
Finally, the time came for the Cates to receive their son, on what many adoptive parents consider ‘Gotcha Day.’ This is the day of celebration in which adoptive children are placed into the care of their adoptive parents.
Although David had initially been in foster care in Urumqi and then transferred to New Day Foster Home in Beijing, Cates said it is protocol for the adoptive child to be sent back to its city of birth to be received by his or her adoptive parents.
David was transferred back to Urumqi, and the Cates prepared for their flight back to the city of David’s birth.
“It was very hard all this time to only be able to interact with him indirectly,” Cates said. “And New Day was very up front with us and said ‘you cannot see him until the day he is officially given to you’.”
But, as the Cates boarded their plane in Beijing on April 21, 2013, something unexpected happened.
“We board the plane, me going on first with Steve and then my parents following,” Mrs. Cates wrote in a blog post on Sunday, April 21, 2013 titled ‘Journey: to Urumqi (Day 4).’ “As I entered the economy cabin, who do I see? David! Yes, David was on our flight from Beijing.”
Mrs. Cates said it was the hardest thing not to grab him and hold him tight as she watched him wave at her wearing the little jacket she had sent him back in December.
As they rode the elevator to the fourth floor of an office building the next day to receive David, Mrs. Cates said they were not sure who would bring him or what to fully expect.
“I had his backpack full of snacks and some toys including bubbles, which seem to be a big hit for most adoptive families,” Mrs. Cates wrote in a blog post on Monday, April 22, 2013 titled ‘Journey: Gotcha Day Part 1.’ “We got to the floor, they took us into an office and handed David to us just like that, and he was ours!”
When the Cates did finally receive David on April 22, 2013, they considered it the completion of their journey and the beginning of a new one with their son.
“We kind of wanted him to cry, because it would be therapeutic for him,” Cates said. “We wanted him to miss New Day. And the first day we got him, he was upset and cried for hours.”
Cates said he and his wife were glad David was able to process through the difficulty of what mimicked another abandonment situation for him as he had to leave his New Day family behind.
David did stop crying at one point, but when he was shown the teddy bear that had sent to him at New Day, he began crying again.
“I attended an adoptive parents seminar before we received David, and I will never forget something the program director said during that seminar,” Mrs. Cates said. “And it was, ‘I want you to remember that your best day, when you meet your adoptive child for the first time and receive them, is going to be their worst day ever.”
David did eventually stop crying and smiled.
“And he hasn’t stopped smiling since,” Cates said.
Cates said if God had answered his prayer to allow an adoption to happen quickly for him and his wife, they might not have ended up with David as their son.
“The fact that He knew we were supposed to wait,” he said. “Thank God for unanswered prayers, but really he did answer my prayers, and now I have a healthy little boy.”As members of the First Baptist Woodway community, the Cates family said they are heavily involved in fellowship and that they intend to return to Beijing for a new purpose.
“We are planning on going back to New Day when David is a teenager to volunteer,” Mrs. Cates said. “A lot of people from Baylor do it as well.”
Today, Mrs. Cates maintains connection with a few different adoptive parent groups, mostly via Facebook and other online forums, which serve as a helpful community resource.
Cates said there are many community members at First Baptist Woodway, Baylor students, adults and families alike, already involved with New Day Foster Home. One of these members is Hewitt freshman Hannah Johns—the adopted Chinese daughter of First Baptist Woodway youth director.
“I’m actually interning with New Day this summer,” Johns said. “I will be leaving as soon as school lets out in May and will be there through July.”
Johns said she would be completing a photography internship, where she will take photos of the children at New Day and serve as an extra set of helping hands.
“I do definitely feel a connection to other kids in the similar situations that I was once in myself,” she said.
Johns said she was adopted from an orphanage in Ma’anshan, Eastern China when she was seven-months-old, but first heard about New Day through Dr. Chris Kearney, associate professor of biology, and his wife Virginia Kearney, a part-time lecturer in the English department.
Johns said she has forged a bond with the Kearneys’ two daughters, who were also adopted from China.
“It’s an incredible experience to meet someone who was also adopted and that’s why I decided to be a social work major, so I could do just that,” she said.
As Johns begins to pursue her service-centered career plan by taking her first step in heading back to China, she believes she takes along with her the strength of being able to relate on a personal level in giving back.
And while David is only two-and-a-half, the Cates hope to return to China as volunteers with David to do the same – to give back.
But, for now, they simply enjoy watching their adopted son grow, learn, and live life to the fullest.
“I think I am going to start him in gymnastics,” Cindy said. “I could see him being really good at gymnastics.”