Extended family

A Craig couple finds enrichment through the adoption of four girls from China

About six years ago, Dave and Mary Pressley were watching a Denver news station and it showed a clip of a couple getting off a plane in Colorado carrying a baby it had just adopted in China.

The 30-second news clip caught Mary's attention.

"I said 'Dave, this is what we need to do,'" she said. "He looked at me and said, 'Are you kidding?'"

Dave and Mary had three teenage boys, two who are now in college and one who is a senior at Moffat County High School.

But Dave's initial reaction changed and a week later he asked his wife if she had been thinking of girls' names.

That's all Mary needed to hear.

"I knew he was hooked," she said.

Mary called the news station and found out who she needed to contact to talk about adopting.

The couple was almost finished raising one set of children, and prepared themselves to start all over.

And start all over they did.

Six years later, the couple has four girls whom they adopted in China.

They are Jennifer, 15, Lisa, 14, Marianne, 6, and Sarah, 4.

Mary's original intentions when she got the idea was to just adopt one child but circumstances and an incredible love for each adopted child motivated the couple to continue adopting.

The coupled boarded a plane in December of 1996 to go to China and adopt their first daughter, 8-month-old Marianne.

It wasn't long after they had begun raising the baby girl that Mary got the itch to adopt again.

Before adopting Marianne, the couple had planned on building a new home on property they had just purchased.

Their boys were grown and the couple was going to do things for themselves, she said.

But Marianne changed all that, and they decided she needed a little sister.

Dave and Mary sold the property and used the money to return to China in 1998 and adopted another 8-month-old girl, Sarah.

In a meeting with the orphanage director in a China hotel room, the Pressleys were given a picture of their soon-to-be daughter.

While admiring her new baby girl in the picture, Pressley's eyes wandered to the young girl holding Sarah.

"When I saw the pictures, I just knew that the girl holding Sarah was our daughter," she said. "We didn't know her name or anything about her, but we recognized her immediately. She was our daughter."

So a year after adopting Sarah, the Pressleys returned to China to adopt 12-year-old Jennifer.

"People had wanted to adopt Jennifer before, but they told us she was always too scared," Pressley said. "We're grateful that we adopted her."

After adopting Jennifer, the Pressley's received word that a couple in Arizona had adopted Jennifer's lifelong friend and roommate at the orphanage.

The two girls would be able to keep in touch and see one another, Pressley said.

But the couple in Arizona didn't think the adoption would work.

So in an effort to keep the girls together, the Pressley's decided to add one more child to their family.

They adopted Lisa a year and a half ago.

The family is now complete, and the girls have adapted to life in the United States.

Lisa and Jennifer are involved in 4-H, play sports and involve themselves in extra curricular activities at school.

Because the two younger girls were just babies when adopted, they know nothing but life in the United States.

But the two older girls, who had spent their entire lives in a Chinese orphanage, have had to adjust to not only a different country and culture, but also life in a real family.

One cultural difference really stuck out to Pressley when her two oldest daughters arrived.

"In the United States, it seems kids grow up a lot faster," she said. "These girls were so innocent when they got here. They played hop scotch and jumped rope things that kids at that age just don't do here anymore."

Both girls said school in the United States is a different experience.

Lisa and Jennifer said their classes in China could have anywhere from 45 to 70 students to one teacher.

At the start of each school day students would rise and simultaneously say "good morning" to

their teacher and at the end of the day they would rise and "good-bye," Lisa said.

There was also more play time during the day at school, she said, but school didn't get out until 5 p.m.

Pressley said from what she's seen during her visits to China, her daughters led a more "care free" life in their previous home.

"Their society is much simpler and the neighborhoods are very close and cohesive," she said. "Here we're more private and independent."

While the girls had a good upbringing at their orphanage in China, here they have a family, Pressley said.

"In the long run, they will be better off here but they left a lot behind," she said.

One of the important people the girls left behind was Huang Wen Lan, director of the Onguan Social Welfare Institute, an orphanage in Pingxiang, China.

Huang Wen Lan runs an orphanage that cares for about 50 young girls.

Girls at the orphanage refer to Wen Lan as "Huang mama," Pressley said.

Wen Lan has given the orphanage as much of a family feel as she can.

She's "mama," while other workers are all referred to as "aunt" and "uncle."

The children consider one another brother and sister, Pressley said.

Wen Lan has helped to place almost 100 different children in families in seven different countries.

She raises them like their her own children, Pressley said, then passes them on to appropriate families when they become available, often saying goodbye to her children forever.

Pressley has never been able to visit the children she places in homes until last week.

Dave and Mary paid to have Wen Lan flown to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they drove to pick her up about a week ago and reunite her with their children.

"The children were so excited to see her," Pressley said. "The visit has been wonderful."

Wen Lan said she thought Colorado was a "beautiful, nice place," and said she was happy to see the girls were in a nice home and family.

Speaking through Lisa and Jennifer, who interpreted, Wen Lan said she would never have to worry again because she saw what a good life the children were leading.

Through 4-H, the girls have learned cooking and stitching skills.

Wen Lan said she was happy the girls have opportunities to learn new talents, an opportunity they did not have in the orphanage.

Seeing the good lives the children lead, she said she wished all the children she raised could get the same opportunity.

Despite having children scattered across the globe, Pressley said she is amazed at how Wen Lan remembers to write to the children on birthdays and special occasions, even after they've been gone for years.

Wen Lan was happy that the children are happy.

Pressley said the children aren't the only one's who have benefited.

"We learned that adopting our daughters was infinitely more important to us than having a beautiful home," she said.

"The girls have taught our boys about fatherhood and have strengthened our family. We never dreamed our lives could be so rich."

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