Bellybutton

There have been many surprises over the past five months – since the day he toddled into my arms.

One of the most poignant to me is how often I think of his mother.

I am his mama.  I am smooching his face, drying his tears, changing his diapers, teaching him to share, cuddling him, smoothing his hair/his heart, and showing him how we love.

But before me, for two and a half years, there were a few nannies.

And before then, for three days and nine months before that, there was a mother who intimately knew him – her sacred position, fixed.  Another woman who felt him growing inside her, who felt her son roll, hiccup, and come forth into our light.

As I touched his belly button this morning, as I often do, I could not help but ponder over the woman who once was his everything.

Does he resemble her?  Do her lips peak into a little cupid’s bow like his?  How is the curvature of her face?  Are her ear lobes petite like his?   Does she have his calm spirit?  Does she love books, animals, and being outside like him?  Does she have a contagious joy about her as he does?

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This is normal really.  A brief mention of someone wondering about their past, or a medical professional asking me about Leo’s medical history, will send me down a rabbit trail of thoughts and possibilities as to his story before me.

The questions that dance in my mind will remain unanswered, which lends itself to imagining possible scenarios.  I think I have visualized Leo’s mother in every possible social construct, wanting to connect with her situation and her decision (or lack thereof as she may not have had a choice at all).

I know I’ll always wonder and imagine.  

And if I feel this way, if I do; I cannot presume to grasp the thoughts that will one day play in Leo’s mind.

Thoughts, thoughts for years to come but for now – his belly button – a smooth, round, perfect reminder of a life that predicated his and made his possible.

…A life that we will forever Honor and hold high in Gratitude.

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On one side of the road

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On one side of the road there is

A maple tree full-grown;

Its branches wide, a canopy

Where nests are being sewn.

Containing and concealing, life

Abundant found within;

It stretches out in radiance,

Sweet shade for foe and friend.

It heralds to both eye and ear,

The seasons as they change;

From spring’s first bud to fall’s bright hues,

To winter’s empty range.

Acknowledging its usefulness

And glorious display;

It nonetheless casts its eyes toward

The tree across the way.

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The faithful pine, its color fixed,

One season its domain;

Most of the year is overlooked,

Its shape and foliage plain.

Yet by and by as winter blows

Across the narrow road;

The beauty of the evergreen

Is on display and lo;

The swollen tree laden with white,

The green just peeking through;

Holds its head high, in stoic form,

Now basking in its due.

How silly of the maple tree

Who reigns the forest floor;

To covet praise reserved for those

Of frosty winter lore.

There is a lesson found within

This tree analogy;

“Let others shine when it’s their time,”

Therein lies harmony.

New Traditions: Chinese New Year

Gong xi fa cai! 

Learning about and celebrating other cultures weaves threads of unity for our family with others across the globe, and is hugely powerful in its ability to open our hearts to people we may never met.

It is by studying what other people groups deem important, knowing the reasons behind their observance, and how they commemorate their special days/events that we can enjoy each group’s uniqueness and delight in new thoughts, images and ideas as well.  After all…

“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.” – William Cowper

With Leo’s arrival into our family, new traditions and celebrations have been woven into the fabric of our family and our celebratory life.  We recently celebrated the extremely important Chinese holiday, Chinese New Year.

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My mother in law bought the kids a fantastic book that was extremely helpful and fun to read as we readied for the New Year.

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Caroline (ever the list maker and box checker) read each page’s advice on necessary steps to take and made me a list to follow.   She was in the zone, making sure all steps were properly executed, loving the process and feeling tightly connected to Chinese culture.

After getting into their traditional Chinese outfits, Caroline and Leo swept the floors, carrying the dirt out the side door in order to sweep out the bad luck.  (Sweeping dirt out the front door means that a family member will leave.)  (Side note:  we don’t believe in luck but it was neat to learn the whys behind each tradition)

I looked up at one point and saw that Leo was branching out, sweeping and tossing the dirt outside all by himself.

Next on the list was window washing so that good luck can flow in.  This is a chore that all of the kids like to do anyway (anything that sprays is cool in their world), so this one was a hit.

Sword fighting is not a Chinese New Year tradition but the sword was from our trip to China so it was incorporated into the day, as it is almost every day of the week.  #lifewithboys

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The day began with a shopping trip to our first ever Asian market.  Upon entering, the kids remarked on the unique smell as it is distinctly different than a typical American market.  Our sense of smell is so powerful in its ability to whisk one back to a previous time/event, and I immediately felt comfortable and yet excited at the newness of this experience all at once. We walked up and down the aisles checking out the unfamiliar packages, the brightly colored candies, and once in the seafood/meat area, the fish with heads and tails still attached (popular at New Year so as to have a good beginning and good ending, and to make wishes come true).  

While shopping, I pointed out that the mandarin oranges still had their stems and leaves attached and Caroline (our walking info source) told us that they’re given out for happiness and wealth, and that when given to a married couple, it means they will have a long marriage.  Later that night she gave Mike and I two that were connected to one another “in honor of your love.”  This girl is big on celebrations and sentiments.

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For dinner that night, we had rice, egg rolls, dumplings, and Chinese green onion pancakes; followed by Chinese cookies.  We all worked on our chopstick skills with moderate success – we need much work on this!

After dinner the kids were riled up, and they picked up drums and marched around the house singing “Gong xi fa cai, Gong xi fa cai now!”  while Leo ran up and down the hearth, giggling.

 

The final celebratory component for us was giving the children lai see; red envelopes with (what is supposed to be) crisp brand-new dollars inside.  (Ours were not brand-new because we didn’t have time to run to the bank before the celebration and we were just happy that we actually had 5 $1 bills in our wallets that night – hurray!- as we never seem to carry cash anymore.)

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A close-up of a lai see

This crew loves to celebrate and we are grateful that our family now has a new tradition that they are intimately connected to.

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Happy Year of the Rooster!!

 

Fog

How solemnly the fog rolls in,

Opening as a scroll;

Unfurling over maple heads,

Covering things of old.

The forest takes a ghostly hue,

When tangled in that shroud;

How tragic to the tempting touch,

To find mere spectral cloud.

Weaving through ethereally,

The fog it sidles by;

Then lifts its head and bids adieu,

Revealing open sky.

The Dance

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I am the last, there are no more,

farewell obscurity;

Before they fell, my friends the leaves,

a mass of color we.

But now I have the centerstage,

Though numbered are my days;

So dance we shall, the wind and I,

Whilst I am on display.

The wind she pulls me with both hands,

My form caught in her hair;

The ice and snow my winter garb,

Until she whirls me bare.

Though stiff and brown and without flair,

No eye should I entice;

Her movements so majestic they,

Draw me to your sight.

Her perfect feet, they fluff the ground,

My winter bed she lays;

My time has come, the curtain calls,

No longer may I stay.

Her dance card full, the wind, she leaves,

Spinning me in her gown;

Our pas de deux, my grand swan song,

The earth swallows my bow.

Awaiting Leo & the Great Wall

Worked on the blog a bit tonight and I discovered a few posts that I had written in China but never published for various reasons. I completed this one tonight. xoxo! 

We woke up Saturday morning (our first morning in China) bright and early and eagerly went down to the hotel lobby for breakfast.  The buffet was quite large, a mostly Chinese buffet (rice, seafood, congee, tropical fruit, boiled eggs, etc.) but also a few American buffet staples such as waffles and yogurt.  I stumbled upon a self serve cappuccino machine and proceeded to drink at least three cups before willing myself to stop (gah, I love cappuccinos!)

We left the hotel right after breakfast and got onto the bus.  I usually get motion sick on buses (actually on all things that move) and, in typical Sarah style, I left my motion sickness medicine up in the hotel room.  Thankfully, the views around me and the stories from our guide were so engaging that my stomach stayed calm.

About 30 minutes outside the hustle and bustle of Beijing, we began to see the city backdrop give way to hazy mountains.  The smog was still around us, draped like a blanket over the mountains, obscuring much from view, but nonetheless, you could tell you were entering into a different landscape.

Gone were the skyscrapers, the concrete sidewalks, and the endless honking of taxis and cars.  Homes now lay low, scattered all together, dark shapes punctuating the hazy smog as we drove past.

When our bus neared the entrance of the Great Wall (Juyongguan Pass, I believe), the juxtaposition of the ancient wall crawling above our modern roads, our signs, our cars, was quite poignant.  The ever present smog obscured our view but nonetheless, the mystic of the wall was unharmed.

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The fact that this wall is man-made astounds the mind.   Its construction began in 770-476 BC, and it served as a fortification for Beijing against northern invaders (Mongols).

At the entrance to the wall, we snapped a picture like good little tourists and made the requisite restroom stop before embarking on our journey.

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In case you have never experienced a squatty potty, let me introduce you to it.  You walk into a stall per normal, however in a squatty potty, there is no potty on which to sit, just a hole in the ground.  Oh, and no toilet paper either.  You get used to it but there is a definite learning curve involved.

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Our group broke up once we entered the gates, and we began the journey.   The Pass begins with a smooth bridged area and from there ascends.

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On the bridge with our guide George before we began to climb.

We climbed and climbed the uneven stairs which rose steeply up, snaking up the mountain.

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The air was thick and warm, and sweat inevitable.  I felt every bit my age as I wanted to touch the side as I climbed, a bit scared of falling and taking down others like a bowling ball down its lane.

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The ascent, though arduous at times since I am quite out of shape, was incredible.  The stones were largely smooth and cool to the touch, and one could not help but imagine whose hands placed them there.  As we toiled to summit as much as we could in our time limit, stealing glances at the magnificent view (despite the smog), one could not help but marvel at the Wall’s history and at the wonder that we were there at all.

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On our return to the entrance area, we found a little detour that took us to a quiet temple.  A woman dutifully sweeping the stones with a rustic broom, which fanned out at the bottom into a large cascade of what appeared to be bunches of dried palm fronds tied together, was the only sound.

As we neared the exit and waited for the rest of our group, a little girl in ubiquitous squeaky shoes played nearby.  I considered getting a pair of these shoes for Leo but thought perhaps it might make me crazy in due time.

The anticipation of meeting Leo hung in every moment of our first two days in China.  Knowing that it would likely be such a long time before we made a trip back, and that we bore the responsibility to import details to him about this trip, that it would be a critical part of his story, I tried to engage my mind and feel the experiences as wholly as I could.

Smoggy haze, cascading green,

gray stones ascend the land,

our feet clamber on ancient work,

toil of human hand.

Smiling faces turn towards us,

we climb in unity,

cognizant of the work below,

and its rich history.

Where windows cut into the wall,

imaginative souls must dally,

to play the scene in their mind’s eye,

the storming, fights and rallies.

Hopeful invaders surging forth,

yet easy targets they,

for soldiers perched on towering walls,

for centuries, held at bay.

The clock ticked on and now we walk,

our sneakers on their bones,

Our minds aware, we forget not,

the breadth of walls of stone.

That night we walked through a bit of Beijing, stopping at a bustling market looking for dinner.  The entrance was brightly decorated and led to a long hallway of sorts, with vendors on both sides, packed to the gills with people.

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Shoulder to shoulder, we pressed on through the crush of people as they ordered from tiny stands.  The first several vendors sold delicacies unfamiliar to myself; scorpions, sea stars, and sea horses.  I was surprised to see some of the speared food still moving.  Only a few adventurous friends tried the food here, largely because of the cautionary tales from our guides playing in our minds about avoiding street food.

We were escorted back to our hotel by the pulse of Beijing; glowing streets of neon lights, throngs of people, and the clamor of bustling shops.

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Being in a foreign place is always exciting for me, but nothing can compare to the anticipation and excitement of receiving a child for whom you have waited for, prayed for, cried over, and now are about to actually hold in your own arms.

The wait was almost over – only one day stood between us and our little boy.

The Reeds

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How crisp and stalwart stand the reeds among the hills of white,

Practicing their dégagés and piqués through the night.

Their graceful heads, bowed and curved as ballerina’s arms,

Their feathered caps in corporate dance, an audience to charm.

Yet who enjoys their lissome dance?  And who seeks shelter there?

I, for one, know not of course, I’m much to old to dare

To slip outside ‘neath the moon’s pale gleam, to watch the reeds at play,

Unfettered by the ambivalence and callousness of day.

 

“I have called on you”

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The carnage builds before us,

Their silence a deafening sound,

I pray and wait for God to reveal

His plan here on the ground.

He grasps my heart and pulls me close

To whisper in my ear,

“It’s you my love, pull the alarm,

Rise up!  The battle’s here.

Lay down your trinkets, your plans, your joy,

There is suffering to relieve,

Your race for more has run its course,

Through ashes you will see.

While scores of children lie on the ground,

Entangled in death’s snare,

There is no rest, your world’s undone,

This is your cross to bare.

The battle for your heart has waged,

And you will not be free

From passion for the hurting world

As long as you’re in me.

Your heart is crafted as my own,

You feel what I know true,

That suffering can be relieved,

and I have called on you.”

* Photo from Unicef – http://childrenofsyria.info

*Want to help? There is a great map on this site (https://www.whitehouse.gov/aidrefugees) where you can put in your zipcode and find organizations to partner with in your area.

A little Christmas message

Hello sweet friends and family!

Many are the times that I think about updating the blog with my scattered thoughts, but few are the moments that are necessary to make that happen.

Last week, I was honored to share a Christmas message at my former church’s Ladies Christmas Night.  The topic was to be about Adoption, Christmas, and the Gospel.   It was my pure joy to prepare for it and to speak to such a wonderful group of women.

In case you’d like to hear it, just click on the following link.  Once you’ve been redirected to the Resources Page, you will see a bolded heading saying 2016 Ladies Christmas Night.  You can just click on the link right below it and listen away if you would like to!

2016 Ladies Christmas Night

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a recent pic of sweet Leo, aka. “walking joy,” for you.  As it turns out, he is quite a little ham and he loves getting his picture taken, hurray!

Merry Christmas!! 

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Blanket of White

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Soaked in mud, her hair in spent patches,

the earth pulls on her blanket of white.

Layered beneath her, her ancestors lie,

singing her sweet songs goodnight.

Reclined in her bed, thoughts of work in her head,

memories creep forth and abide.

Visions of all those she fed, on her back they did tread,

through her hair they did nestle and hide.

She sustained and she toiled, with arms of sweet soil,

and now it is time for a goodbye.

“Until then” whispers she, resting under the trees,

snuggled deep in her blanket of white.

 

Home

One whole month has passed since Leo and I embarked on our journey home.  So many times I wanted to update everyone with details but our lives were engulfing and I could not eek out the necessary minutes to write until now.

Although most of you have seen snippets of our transition via Facebook, and you know that Leo is AMAZING …

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… our journey home did not start off perfectly.

15 continuous hours on a plane and Leo slept 45 minutes.  No joke.  That alone would be rough because there is only so much one can do to entertain a little person in a seat for that many hours, but luckily we killed time by running to and fro from our seats to the minuscule restroom for the first half of the flight.

Has anyone changed a child in one of these?  If it didn’t violate a million privacy rules, they should put a camera in there to watch what actually happens as moms try to change their toddlers on these insanely small plastic foldouts, just for their own comic relief.  There is no way to change a child on the foldout with having one’s back pressed against the bathroom door, and there is nowhere to put anything, and liquid is everywhere and you can never tell if it’s just water or really pee.  And truly, a combination of very cramped spaces, lots of crying, and soiled pants is just never good.

I had brought 6 diapers with me for the flight – judging from our two weeks together thus far, that would have been more than enough.  I also had an extra outfit.  Unfortunately, Leo’s little system was not in line with my plan and in the first 6 hours, we blew through five diapers and both pairs of pants.  Yep, so he was pants-less and we only had one diaper to go for almost 9 hours.  Fear, people.  There was fear.  What the heck was I going to do if he destroyed this last diaper?

I asked the flight attendant if they carried any diapers and he politely swallowed his chuckle and said no.  Luckily, Leo’s system was cleaned out for a bit and that final diaper held strong until we finally landed in Chicago and were able to get our luggage via customs.  Before that of course we had to go through customs, be questioned at immigration, submit papers and wait in various official lines, and talk with airport staff – all the while my sweet, new child is sans pants.  People stared but what the crap could we do, so I just pretended all was well.  The sight of our luggage never freaking looked so good.

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Yay – fresh clothes!

After a four hour layover and another flight (on which I took gobs of diapers and extra clothes for good measure), we finally made it to Cleveland.

Home.  

The anticipation of getting off of the plane and heading towards the 5 people that are my whole world was like none other.  If I had not been laden down with huge bags and an exhausted toddler, I would have straight sprinted to the baggage area.  

I have never experienced such palatable anticipation. 

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View More: http://lauradaultonphotography.pass.us/leodressel

When I saw the kids from the top of the stairs, my chest exploded.  Little feet and arms outstretched came running up to me.  I am not quite sure how we made it down the stairs because my eyes were a river and there was pulling, hugging, and loving happening all the way down the staircase.

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View More: http://lauradaultonphotography.pass.us/leodressel

Wonderfully sweet friends were there to welcome us too and between all of the hugging, kissing, and crying, there was Leo, drinking in his new, strange environment.  Little hands reached for him, wanting to touch him, to feel the reality of the situation.

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When Mike reached out his arms to him, Leo went to him with hesitation, remembering him, oooh my heart.

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Somehow our van (full of little people, luggage, and prepared meals from amazing friends) stumbled home.   Leo slipped into a car seat for the very first time and did just fine, as long as I was holding his hand and did not leave his sight.

We came home to the most unexpected and incredible welcome home party ever.  I’m telling you that having a community of people who support you and love you is life giving, soul filling and just plain amazing. What incredible love we have witnessed and experienced throughout this process!  Grateful a million times over. 

I imagine this journey as a marathon, one that we trained for but that we don’t fully know.  We are running, following the course laid out for us, and all the while, family, friends and strangers are thunderously cheering us on.  Some help us train.  Some make us post-race recovery meals.  Some pass us water so we don’t pass out.  Some pray.  Some take pictures so we can remember.  Some care for our children so we can run.  Some say just the right thing to keep our feet moving.  Some point us in the right direction.  This race is not a solo event.  No, rather it is a team sport.  One with a shared mission, a shared joy.  So when we finally cross the finish line, it is truly “we.”   There is beautiful, communal celebration, and that feels amazing! 

As we ate snacks and opened up gifts, my heart could scarcely contain itself.

Sadly, it was the following day that my heart crashed and stayed broken for four straight days.

Never before have I felt so emotional for so long.  There were countless moments where I had to clinch my teeth to keep from crying.  Do you know the feeling?  Where you squeeze your teeth together and with tremendous grit, you will your face not to cry?  Each night I would lay beside Leo and just feel so thankful for the sake of being horizontal and nonessential in that moment…I needed a breath.

There were numerous moments of joy, laughter, and silliness because this house is full of children and these qualities are inherent in their beautiful beings.

But there were also many moments of grouchy mama – hollering at something that normally would have never bothered me, and emotional rollercoaster mama – crying over nothingness.  This continuous grouchiness and sadness – these are not normal for me.  I tried to figure out what was wrong.

Is this jet lag?  Is it post adoption blues? 

It was ugly.  I was a shadow of myself.  I was overjoyed to be home.  OVERJOYED.  Yet my rollercoaster emotions would not slow down.  It reminded me of the very small piece of postpartum depression that I had after having Caroline eight years ago.  I have never experienced this before or after, but I remember clearly coming home from the hospital two days after having her – Mike was holding Caroline, my dad was on the couch and my mom was in the eating area, and where was I?   Standing over the stovetop with my face pushed inside a kitchen cabinet sobbing.  Over what?  Nothing!  It was the most out of control feeling I’ve ever had.  I could not contain my emotions and they were nonsensical.  It lasted about 3 hours and then it was gone.

Our first week was like this.

Now it did not help that I came home to a sick house.  Oy vey.  My husband and two of our children had the flu.  So on top of normal life and transitioning Leo into it, I was checking temperatures, dosing medicine, and loving on sick littles.  The toughest one though was Mike because we are a team and when your teammate is down, life is so much harder.  Mike exudes joy almost all of the time.  One exception to this is when he is sick.  He was genuinely down and out, and not having my partner, the one I needed to be upbeat and carry us through those first few days, compounded everything for me.  Even his nonverbal body expressions of exhaustion and misery spoke volumes to me and intensified my perspective.

Our sleeping situation had a rocky start as well.  In China, Leo wanted nothing to do with a crib so he never slept in one; we just coslept. Once we were home, we tried him in a toddler bed (converted from a crib) in the boy’s room.  He fell asleep fine (always holding my hand until he nods off – he just shoots that little hand right through the bars as soon as his head hits the mattress) but he is a mover and shaker in bed and kept falling out of the opening of the bed, and/or waking up due to the other boy’s noises, and/or waking the other boys up.  Not to mention that he snored like a chainsaw.  I slept on the floor next to his toddler bed for the first two nights.  I was so bone crushing tired that I didn’t think I cared if I was on the floor … except the sleep was awful between waking to each and every little sound to attend to the boys so they didn’t wake each other up, the crazy loud snoring, and my hips, oh my gosh, they couldn’t take it – I’m old now.

Time to switch it up!  We converted the toddler bed back into a crib and put some nice bumpers in that we had used with the boys, thinking that perhaps he would view a crib differently if it had pretty bumpers, and we moved our sweet new snoring little one to his own room.  He didn’t mind the crib at all and if the snoring hadn’t been such a big issue for this light sleeping mama, I could have made it longer in there with him.  But as it was, I lasted two more nights.  By Friday night, I was waving the white flag of surrender.  I couldn’t do it.  I had to sleep.

Not having a solid night of sleep, not even 3 straight hours, since leaving China 5 days earlier, had done me in.  Mike can sleep through anything so I told him that he was on duty that night, that he could sleep in the daybed in Leo’s room next to his crib, and that I’d be in our room if he needed me (like if the house was on fire or something).  I still woke up for the other children for sips of water, potty runs, and bad dreams, but those interruptions were quick and felt normal, and there was no snoring (hallelujah).

Another great challenge that first week was the dog.  Oh my gosh, the dog.  Leo was scared to death of him so I had to constantly  field where each of them were and ensure that Leo didn’t even see Cooper really.  Our happy go lucky little man would run terrified at the sight of him.  Keeping them separated added another layer of difficulty in my mind that seemed larger than it was in reality.  Perspective is everything, right?

I remember looking at myself in the mirror that Friday night and I looked as I felt – like something the cat dragged in, as my mom would say (but literally).  My mind knew that this transition week would pass, that I would eventually sleep, and that the flu would eventually leave my house, but it was all just so much.  Life was so much.

I set my alarm for the butt crack of dawn that next morning as I knew that I had to take Benjamin to his 8am hockey practice Saturday morning.  It was going to be my first time away from Leo and it was only for one hour.

Then ta-da! After a full night’s sleep Friday night – a miracle happened.  The fog lifted, and I was the me that I knew once again – albeit a bit emotionally tender still. 

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I got up before anyone was stirring in the house.  I took a shower, dried and fixed my hair (a rare thing indeed), and put on real clothes (aka jeans not yoga pants).  I got Benjamin up and ready and we were one of the first people at the rink getting their children suited up for practice.  I looked like I had my crap together and that is when I had the opportunity to reflect on how deceiving appearances really can be.  Wow.

No one at the rink that morning who asked about us, or knew that we had just gotten home from China five days before, had any idea that it was only that morning that I felt human again.  That this was the first time I’d been clean in five days.  That my heart still dangled on a thread, easily bumped.  That I felt completely victorious because we were there – dressed and on time, the most basic of things that felt huge.  You seriously never know what someone else is going through.   What a convicting morning that was for me.  I love that so much – that truly everything is an opportunity for growth and reflection.

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And so the fog was truly, truly gone.  As that day passed, and the next days began, I was back to being me.

Mike felt better by the following day and with his joyful spirit returned, our house was fully back to normal!

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Throughout the whole messy first four days, one thing was shockingly clear … this was my issue and not Leo’s.  He was amazing from day 1 and he transitioned like a rock star.  Our other children were incredible and loved on him so much.  Even Noah who is only 6 months older was wonderful with him.

In those first few days, Noah wanted to be held more than normal and so I did.  I would put Leo down and hold his hand while I held Noah.  Then after a few minutes, Noah would either want to get down and go play, or we’d switch and I’d hold Noah’s hand and hold Leo.  It was truly quite smooth and both little loves were content with this system.

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As evidenced on Facebook, Leo is a little ray of sunshine.  His natural disposition is jolly.  At home, in his element, he giggles and laughs constantly.  A sideward glance, a tickle, a chase, a sneaky smile – it takes nothing at all to get that boy laughing.   We’ve even begun to hear that contagious laugh echo around town as he gets more and more comfortable with his new environment.  (He was quiet and subdued during this family photo shoot because it was such a new experience, in a new place, and with a new friend, but don’t be fooled by his serious faces – this boy is joy personified.)

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He is straight adored by his siblings.  Occasionally the love can be a bit much (“so and so – put him down!”) but we are 100% grateful that our children were amazing through this process and have seriously, seamlessly grafted him into their hearts and lives as if he’d always been there.

It has been interesting to see how the children have taken to him in their own ways.

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Caroline and Charlotte are both little mothers (always wanting to pick him up, carry him around, encourage him, share with him, hold his hand, kiss his boo boos, help him walk everywhere, read to him, hug him, etc.).   The only struggle we have there is the girls being willing to share him – dinner seating has to be rotated so that Leo is next to one of them or else drama.

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Noah and Leo – “the twins.”  They wrestle, play, run, and chase – lots and lots of chase.  Noah is very tender to Leo.  He likes to show him how to do things and to celebrate Leo’s successes with praise (a pint sized teacher/cheerleader).  Noah and Leo’s personalities are very complimentary; Leo lightens Noah’s intensity up at times, and Noah motivates Leo to try new things.

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Benjamin is gentle and sweet with him as is his nature.  He plays with him, cuddles him, helps him, and instinctively protects him from harm (inching down the stairs slowly with Leo carefully on his lap so Leo doesn’t fall down the stairs, etc.)

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Leo has volunteered three English words to date and (if he is at home where he feels safe) he will happily repeat any word offered to him (much to Caroline’s delight as she is a natural teacher and encourager, and when she is done reading with him and teaching him new words, she is aglow with pride at Leo’s ability and effort, and she cannot wait for us to hear what new words he can say).

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He is already expressing which foods he does not like (which is gigantically wonderful because it shows that he is feeling comfortable enough with our ability to provide and care for him that he doesn’t have to eat everything that is in front of him, but that instead, he can refuse certain items, and know that food will still always be there for him).

Leo is a sleep champion, sleeping about 11 hours a night, straight.  We hold his little hand until he falls asleep and then he sleeps all the way through the night.  The other day, at nap time, I laid him down in his crib and then sat down next to it as usual in order to hold his hand.  He shot his little hand out like he always does, but this time, the moment I took his hand, he smiled the most contented little smile while his eyes were already closed and he drifted off to sleep.  I’ve replayed that moment over in my mind many times since, willing myself to remember it exactly as it happened.  

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And the dog, well guess who is Leo’s furry best buddy?  Yep, Cooper.  After the first week, Leo became adventurous and on his terms, would seek Cooper out and wanted to touch him.  As the days passed, Leo became more and more bold, and Cooper became one of Leo’s favorites.  Now, if Cooper passes him by, Leo will often toss his arm across Cooper’s back (they are the same height) and walk alongside him.  Cooper is actually one of the three words that Leo says without any provocation.

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And so, after our challenging first four days, life has marched on so well it doesn’t seem like real life.  Leo just stepped right in as one of the crew and it feels as though he’s been a part of our family for quite a long time.

We are Grateful.  Grateful.  Grateful.  

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Thank you God, forever and ever.

Amen.  

The final countdown

The week in Guangzhou turned out to be a little bit of a tough one; perseverance required.  Everyone’s tanks were running on low and yet there was so much energy needed to complete the adoption process.  (It didn’t help that Mike had to leave on Monday morning and so this week I’ve been flying solo with our new little man.)  We were all very ready to return home with our new little loves and bring them into our normal lives, but it wasn’t time quite yet.

Our new city, Guangzhou, had a similar feel to Zhengzhou with a few notable differences. Guangzhou is much bigger, the second largest city after Beijing, and the fifth most populous. It is huge and bustling, but lacking the prolific motorbikes like in Zhengzhou. (According to my taxi driver, motorbikes were outlawed in Guangzhou 10 years ago because of frequent theft made easier by quick motorcycle getaways.)

This city (or at least the area in which we stayed) felt less communal than Zhengzhou.  Gone were the open concrete spaces where grandmas and babies in split pants repose.  Everyone here was hurrying somewhere, unlike in Zhengzhou where an elderly motorbike gang, who parked their bikes on the top of the concrete shopping space, sat all day, and groups of grandmas strolled their grandbabies around the shops, and school aged children walked in pairs talking and eating hot bowls of noodles, and people often paused to have their children greet ours with friendly smiles.  These small things of daily life were happening all around the city I know but our location skewed my view.

Here I saw little alleyways between structures and multitudes of tall apartment buildings where life happened out of view of passerbyers.  As we rode in our taxi to go to the market, we passed building after building, either large corporate and government offices, or smaller high rises – the first floor almost always a tiny shop, packed with goods, entangled with people and bikes, and the rest revealing their ownership as laundry hung from most windows.

Another large difference is that Guangzhou is the home of the American consulate and since anyone wanting to go to the USA (adoption, immigration, etc) must come through here, most of the hotel and restaurant staff spoke English to some degree.  This does not mean that I did not have to do a few games of charades to figure out where to go but it does mean that communication in general was much easier here.

One thing I will give Guangzhou hands down is that it is beautifully lush, “the flowering city” as it’s known.   It is located on the Pearl River and its climate is ideal for growth.  Vines cover highway underpasses, trickling down cement columns and metal staircases.  Every street is blessed with shrubs, flowering trees and canopies of shade.

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Statue of the 5 rams: Guangzhou legend

The days here melted together but several highlights (and lowlights) stand out.

Sunday, our first day in Guangzhou, was a bit of a touring day. Our guide took us to a historic Buddhist temple called The Temple of the Six Banyan Trees which was originally built in 537 AD.  Here tourists, monks, and worshippers blend together into a maze of people all savoring the ornate sights, sounds of chanting and drums, and the smell of incense.  The pairing of tourism with this active sacred space felt very odd but the worshippers seemed to ignore our presence altogether.

Afterwards we stoped at the Old Chen House or the Chen Clan Academy Hall which is masterfully constructed with ornate carvings all about.

In sum, it was a touristy day but these stops were very interesting and they help to provide more structure to China’s portrait for me.

After this easy day, it was back to the business of adoption appointments and it started awfully with Leo’s medical appointment bright and early Monday morning.  The children would have to be checked by three different doctors and then administered a TB test. Up until this morning, Leo had shed tears but made no audible cry.   The first doctor to check him was a general doctor and when he attempted to lay Leo back on the crinkly paper to examine him, Leo started to wail,  stretching his arms for me to rescue him.  The doctors exam was superquick and so I was able to quickly scoop him up and comfort him.  Although I hated to see him cry, it was somewhat encouraging to hear him express strong emotion.

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We knew this appointment was likely to be a rough experience when we saw this alcohol vending machine in the lobby of the government medical facility.

The next two checks were quick and he passed everything with flying colors.  Then came the TB blood draw.   Leo was first for the group.   They would not allow parents to come into the room so I had to pass him off to two strangers in scrubs and face masks, Leo clinging to my shirt with all of his strength, screaming, terrified at the confusing message this was sending him as I had to pry his fingers off of me.  Then they shut the door.  I heard him scream for a little while and then silence.  He was in there for about 7-8 minutes.  Before he came out, I crouched in the door frame waiting for him with a lollipop in hand.  When he finally emerged he toddled towards me, sniffling, tears still running.  I scooped him up and we sat for a long while just cuddling, his untouched lollipop in his hand. For close to an hour afterwards, he would not look at me. I noticed that they had drawn from both of his arms.

This policy to not allow parents into the room while drawing blood is insane.  Critical bonding has been happening for just one week and then this separation and potential setback? Gah!

Luckily after an hour or so, and two lollipops later, Leo settled in to me and was again giving me the sweet smiles and looking me in the eye again.

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Cuddling and recovering from the medical appointment

Another huge moment happened later that day.  Late in the afternoon, I took Leo to the hotel indoor playroom.  It was a small room with a padded floor, two plastic slides and a few other toys.  After we played, I walked over to the larger slide, crouched near it, covering my eyes with my hands, and called to him.  To my absolute shock and delight, he came running over to me, giddy with exitment and laughing – out loud!   Finally, an audible laugh! What an incredible sound!!  I couldn’t believe how big his laugh was – lighting up his whole face.  I discovered that he loves to play hide and seek (toddler style where they know where you are the whole time).  What a wonderful way to cap off this day that had started so roughly.

Another highlight of the week was going to the Safari Park.  It was incredibly beautiful and it was the closest I’ve ever been to wild animals – at one point two monkeys were literally playing on a cargo net directly above my head – it was awesome! Leo loved everything (including his first carrousel ride) except for when two very little tiger cubs really intimidated him even though they were behind glass. Here’s to hoping Leo’s transition to living life with our dog goes ok!  The jury is out, as Cooper is furry and loud, but my fingers are crossed!

The most momentous appointment of the week happened the day before we left Guangzhou: our visit to the US Embassy to get Leo’s visa.  I raised my right hand and gave an oath, the officer checked my paperwork, and we were done.  All that is left to do is for Leo’s cute feet to hit American soil and then he will become an American citizen!

On our last full day, we went to Shamian Island which was formerly the home of several foreign embassies.  This area is beautiful with banyan trees romantically drapping down amongst palm trees and  manicured flower beds.  Now it seems that all of the embassies have moved on, except one, but you could imagine how alluring this area would have felt in its heyday.

img_9587The next day, Leo and I said goodbye to sweet friends we had made on this trip, a pivotal and personal chapter shared in each of our family’s lives.  I feel incredibly invested in each of these families as we got to share that sacred moment of the first meeting and the first two weeks of living life together with our new children.

img_9568Our taxi pulled onto the highway as we were leaving Guangzhou, the wind sweeping the vines bursting with flowers, hanging over the concrete divider, into a frenzy of goodbye waves. As we said goodbye to Guangzhou, we said hello to best friends in Hong Kong.

Two wonderful days spent with these extremely special friends and now it is the eve of travel; tomorrow Leo and I venture home.   To say that I am thrilled to get home is a gross understatement.  Our mission is accomplished;  Leo is 100% officially a part of our family and we’re headed home!!