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 …
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Mike reached out his arms to him, Leo went to him with hesitation, remembering him, oooh my heart.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
Thank you God, forever and ever.