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Wife. Mommy. Lover of cookies.

From Twitter...

RT @HonestToddler: Toddler Tip: She has a bounty of nerves underneath that "last" one. Don't worry :)

And We’re Off!

3AM came EARLY today. So far, at least, things have been going off without a hitch. We’re hanging at DFW for a couple of hours, and then we take to the skies one more time. Next stop: Beijing!

And once again, Jack is the chillest child EVER. He truly is super easy to travel with. I’ve never seen another kid go with the flow as much as he does.


Adventures In Adoption, or Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood

Jack informed me this morning that we leave for China in 120 hours. Now it’s more like 110. I think we *might* be a little excited.
Jack has always been an intrepid traveler. He’s been proudly hauling his own luggage since he was 3. I have lost count of the number of plane rides he’s taken. Don’t even get me started on the road trips. He’s a TROOPER. I’ve never seen a kid go with the flow as much as this kid does. Now, I love every little thing about my child. I love every hair on his head. One of the things I love the most, however, is his innate ability to adapt to his environment. He is so. Much. FUN to travel with.

Kevin and I have been around the world (literally). We have seen and done some incredible things (just ask Kevin about that goat). We have collected stories and memories from far and wide, but more importantly, we have collected friends. When our friend Bobby visited us late last year, Jack thought it was totally normal that he was visiting from Kenya.

A couple of years ago, we were lucky enough to meet up with our friend Jerry, from Beijing. He was visiting Florida with a Chinese delegation. We met “Uncle” Jerry on our last trip to China. He was our assigned guide, but he immediately became our friend. He explained it to us like this” In Chinese culture, you have a “yuan” with some people, a kind of unexplainable, invisible connection. Your paths are destined to cross and remain tangled for life.


In Changsha, Ashley was our assigned guide. The minute we landed at the airport we recognized him. He is the only person on earth who has known Jack *exactly* as long as Kevin and I. Again, he became so much more to us. On our last night in Hunan, he and his family hosted us AT THEIR HOUSE. To this day, I’ve never heard of another family who has had that experience.

Since we brought Jack home, we’ve kept in touch with both Jerry and Ashley through email. We send pictures and updates a few times a year. Kevin installed WeChat so now we actually get to talk to them, too, which is super fun. When we planned this trip, we made sure that we included plenty of time in Beijing and a side trip to Changsha with the hope that we could squeeze in a visit with both of them. Jerry is busy, though, and he travels all the time. Same with Ashley. This was by no means a sure thing.

The Universe did what the Universe does, though, and sure enough, I’m BEYOND excited to say that we will get to spend a little time with them BOTH! We’ll see Jerry next week in Beijing. He had a last minute cancellation of his planned trip to France, which sucks for him but works out great for us. In an even crazier turn of events, Ashley was actually assigned to be our guide for our trip to Chenzhou, so we’ll be spending the ENTIRE DAY with him. We’ll even get to see his wife and kids later in the evening.

I am a lucky, lucky girl. I have friends on almost every continent (I don’t know anyone in Antarctica, sadly). Even better, my child has people in his global village he can call on. He knows that the world is so, so much bigger than his backyard. His neighborhood is HUGE. He will grow up knowing that, while home is a wonderful, safe, happy place, it’s also the place where adventure begins. He will be able to leave the nest with the confidence that only comes from navigating the world outside his comfort zone. His passport, already half-filled with stamps and visas, will tell the story of a life spent exploring. He will learn that people all over the world have SO MUCH to teach us, if we’re willing to learn. Xenophobia will never exist here.

And in 106 hours, we get to make HIS world a little bigger, by making THE world a little smaller.

Adventures in Adoption, or, You CAN Go Home Again

We leave for China in 7 days. One week. This trip, one that’s been a year in the making, is finally upon us. Hard to believe. Visas have been obtained, i’s are being dotted, t’s are being crossed, bags are being packed, house sitters are being paid. In short, we’re just about ready to go. Those of you that know me know that I am one hell of a Cruise Director. If you’ve ever travelled with me, or if I’ve ever taken you to Disney, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Pretty sure this is me.

Our itinerary is…well, let’s just say it’s “ambitious” (because in reality, it’s straight up crazy town). We are packing every big thing about China into 15 itty bitty days (and yes, I AM HOLDING A PANDA). I have obsessed about planning every detail of this adventure. I’ve spent countless hours on YouTube researching each and every stop, from the Reed Flute Cave to the Summer Palace. I can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Chinese street food. BUT.

NONE of that is why we’re doing this. Yes, we want to see all the cool stuff. BUT. This trip belongs to Jack. He asked us if we could go back to China. We said “Of course”. He has shown more than a little interest in his heritage. It’s not surprising, then, that our house has turned into China Culture and Adoption Discussion Central.

It began to ramp up around Christmas: subtle questions about China, an increase in discussion about his Birth Family, a bit more of a struggle with his identity. Lately (read: in the past three weeks) there are almost daily conversations about whether or not he is a Chinese citizen or an American one. He knows the difference, and he knows his truth. BUT.

The inevitable pull to be more of who he is has surfaced. Right now, he wants to be more Chinese than American. That’s okay. The tide of his identity will ebb and flow. Right now, he’s still young enough that American cultural bias against China has not set in (making it, by the way, the perfect time to take him on a tour of his Homeland). Right now, all of these feelings are bouncing around inside of him. He doesn’t quite know what to make of it all, but that’s where his Daddy and I come in.

If you think I can research travel itineraries, you have NO IDEA how much effort I can put into broadening my parenting education. I have read every book on taking your kids back to their birth country (this one is my favorite). I have read JACK every age appropriate book about returning to China. We talk about it all. The. TIME. No subject is off limits. Lately, he’s been fixated on the orphanage visit (so have I). He *really* wants to go back to Chenzhou. He told me “It’s a happy building, Mommy”. I love that so, so much.

Jack and I both have some apprehension and anxiety about returning to Chenzhou, though. He’s been having a little trouble sleeping lately, and he’s been a bit more sensitive than normal. I, too, am admittedly, on edge, especially when it comes to him. Never in my life have I wanted to protect him more than I do right now. Even watching him from afar during PE at school today, I wanted to fuss at a couple of the kids who were being less than kind to him. Sure, it was typical First Grade trash talk, but still. Every slight hurts a little these days. I want nothing more than to lock his tender little heart in a box so it won’t be damaged. Feeling that and acting on it are two entirely different matters, however, so instead I put on my Big Girl Panties and move on. We’re navigating this emotional minefield together, and so far, we’re doing okay.

On any given day, by bedtime, we’ve talked about his Birth Family (who and where they are, and why he doesn’t know them), culture, citizenship, his orphanage, and the first 18 months of his life before us. Think about that for a second. It’s a whole lot more than most families tackle during the car ride to soccer practice or piano lessons. That being said, we are VERY fortunate that there are such great resources available to us. Mostly, though, we’re lucky that we have such a resilient, curious, loving kid.

Adventures in Adoption, or Honesty Is Such a Lonely Word

Lately I’ve been struggling with balancing the bitter and the sweet, the firsts and lasts. As Jack sprints headlong into seven, 6 is already becoming a distant memory. Gone are his chubby baby cheeks, long ago melted away into chiseled angles. Gone is the hesitation in his run, long ago replaced by a crazy (if not terrifying) confidence in his body’s abilities to remain upright and strong. I held him and rocked him while standing the other night. I think that’s the last time, as he now weighs 58 pounds, and my 40 year old back simply can’t handle that anymore. Gone, too, are the days where he turned around and blew me a kiss on his way into school (a true heartbreaker, that one). Here, now, is a closed door at bedtime. Here are the days of constant motion, no downtime. Here are the days of “Mom, I’m OLD ENOUGH!!!”. And he is. For so, so much. He can fix his own breakfast. He can take his own, unsupervised, showers, and be trusted to get mostly clean. He can stay up late on the weekends reading under the covers with a flashlight. He can walk the dog. So many firsts, bound tightly with so many lasts. The bitter and the sweet.

This morning on the way to school, he asked me about his China Mommy. I would say it was out of the blue, but in truth, it’s not. Our upcoming trip to China has stirred up some emotions and more than a few questions. Still and all, I was not quite prepared to field the question on limited sleep and no caffeine. Very matter-of-factly, he said “I grew in someone else’s tummy”. “Yes. Yes you did”. This is not new news; we’ve had this conversation since day 1. And then:

“I hope my China Mommy isn’t dead”.

“I hope so, too, baby. I hope that so much”.

“I don’t know my China Mommy. Who is my China Daddy”?

“We don’t know, sugar. We don’t know anything at all about your China Mommy and Daddy. But when you get older, if you want to look for them, we’ll do everything we can to help you. They are very important people, because they gave us you”.

In our house, we tell the truth. Even when it’s hard. Let me give you a recent example, which again took place in the car on the way to school (all the hard conversations seem to happen either there or at bedtime. My theory is that it’s easier for him to ask questions when he can’t see my face. I know it’s easier for me to answer them that way. But I digress). We’re rolling along 8th Street, when out pops “Mommy, did you used to smoke”?


“Yes, baby. When I was a teenager, I made some bad choices, and that was one of them. I stopped a long time ago, though, and I NEVER should have done it”.


Thanks, Grandma! That bus felt AWESOME when it rolled over me. 😉 But the thing is, I was faced with a choice in that moment: lie through my teeth and protect my heretofore untarnished Mommy image, or humble up and tell the truth, even though it was like chewing glass to do so. Thank God I went with the truth. I had no way to know he already knew the dirty details; no, all I knew was that I had about five milliseconds to make the right choice, and I did. Because we don’t lie. Even when we want to. Even when it’s hard.

The day we became a family, I made Jack a promise. I would always answer his questions. I would honor his Birth Family every way I knew how. I would teach him they are important people, even if we never get to know them. I would always let it be HIS decision how his story is told, AND how it unfolds. Back then, I dreaded the day the questions would come. I secretly hoped they never would (don’t worry, I was never truly that naive, but I sure overcompensated in the beginning. Being enough for somebody is terrifying). Imagine my surprise this morning when all of the answers came out easily and without fear. Honestly, the question about my previous smoking habit was WAY worse than this. The bitter: This won’t be the last time his feelings erupt. And it will not always be so easily dealt with, nor should it be. The sweet: He felt secure in the knowledge that honesty would be forthcoming. I felt secure enough to give those answers without a second thought. The razor’s edge between the bitter and the sweet is a scary, exhausting, exhilarating, wonderful place.

Billy Joel once sang that

“When I’m deep inside of me
Don’t be too concerned.
I won’t ask for nothin’ while I’m gone.
But when I want sincerity
Tell me where else can I turn.
Because you’re the one that I depend upon.

It never fails to remind me of the weight of the responsibility we have as his parents. Jack goes deep inside. And when he needs the sincerity, I hope to God I’ve shown him that it’s here. Because in our house, we tell the truth. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

Adventures In Adoption, or Water Isn’t Always Wet

Disclaimer: You KNOW I have something on my mind if I’m breaking a 2 year blog silence. Fasten your seat belts, I’m feeling stabby. And cussy. Really, really cussy.

A friend of mine alerted me to an article published recently in The Atlantic titled “The Adoption Paradox”. The clickbait summary read “Kids who are adopted have richer, more involved parents. They also have more behavior and attention problems. Why?”

Clickbait, indeed. What the actual fuck? Where do I even start? I read the article, and then, doing my due diligence, followed up and read the actual study. Both are, if you’ll excuse me, complete horseshit. I can easily dismiss the article because, let’s face it, The Atlantic isn’t the paragon of literary (or even editorial) content that it once was. It’s descended into a morass of cultural sensationalism better suited to coverage of the Kardashians than actual world/political/socially relevant events. The study is flawed in so very many ways, or as I’m more likely to refer to it, “fucked from Jump Street”.

Let’s begin with the obvious: The generalization that adoptive parents are affluent and well-educated is flat-out WRONG. Yes, I am aware of a few “affluent” adoptive families, but by and large most of us are middle class. I WISH I could identify as “affluent”. Not so much, there, Nicholas Zill. And “well-educated”? Maybe. There is a degree of difficulty involved with navigating the adoption process, which certainly isn’t designed for mouth breathers. Then again, most agencies assist families during the entire journey. Sure, most of us have at least SOME college education, but believe me when I tell you that there are PLENTY of adoptive parents who are most assuredly NOT going to be MENSA candidates any time soon. Ever. At all.

Before I lose you completely, you should also check out the section where Nicholas says that adoptive parents “put more effort into caring for their children than biological parents do.” The last time I checked, that was patently untrue. But I digress.

I think the thing that immediately jumped out at me, however, was this little tidbit: “yet they get into more conflicts with their classmates at school, display relative little interest and enthusiasm about learning tasks, and register only middling academic performance”. Hold up there, Mr. Zill. I’ll dive into an in-depth dissection of your methodology in just a minute, but for now, let me just go ahead and call “bullshit”. Every. Single. Adopted kid I know has integrated into his/her classroom with enthusiasm. I can’t think of ONE child who isn’t excited about learning tasks, and don’t even get me started on the academic excellence I’ve witnessed not only from my own child, but others as well. I can rattle off a list of super readers, math whizzes, science fanatics….all adopted.

Mr. Zill has, for the first time, relied on teachers’ analysis of child behavior for his “study”. While I agree that parent assessment is probably not always accurate (we *do* love our precious snowflakes), I have to object to relying solely on the teachers. Don’t get me wrong: teachers are AWESOME. Jack has phenomenal teachers. BUT. When a teacher (or anyone for that matter) who is unfamiliar or uncomfortable with adoption comes into contact with an adopted kid, they immediately get “The Look”. It’s usually fleeting, and for the most part they tend to forget it’s even a part of the child’s life. Good teachers get to know our kids; they learn their quirks and idiosyncrasies that comprise our tiny humans. But at the initial meeting, The Look comes into play. It’s a quickly masked combination of pity and curiosity. The great teachers meet it head-on; the not-so-great ones pretend it doesn’t exist at all. But here’s the thing: By relying solely on teachers’ observations, the adopted kids in the study were artificially scrutinized. They were put under a microscope. Teachers were given an automatic out if/when they observed behaviors that might have been completely normal in any other context from any other kid. I have no doubt that there were teachers involved who were quick to assign the “adopted” label to a kid who may have simply been having a bad day.

Now, I’m definitely not going to dismiss the author’s focus on attachment theory or traumatic stress theory. It’s certainly true that all adoption is born from a place of grief and loss. Yes, our children struggle on some level with both of those. I’m just not convinced that those two demons manifest themselves with any measurable regularity in the classroom. In no way am I discounting that it happens; I’m simply saying that our kids adjust. They adjust well. Yes, they have, and will, face hurdles, but it PAINS me to see adopted kids pigeonholed as learning deficient troublemakers. We adoptive parents kill ourselves to make sure the opposite is true. And not just because we’re wealthy geniuses.

My final beef with Mr. Zill comes in his conclusion: “Many adopted children do reasonably well in school and enjoy lives that are far better than they would have experienced had they not been adopted. And they do so at less cost and burden to the public than if the children were raised in foster homes or institutions”. Dude. Just no. Stop. Staaahhhhhp. Sure, it *might* be true, but we don’t really know that. Is my child better off with me than in an orphanage? You betcha. Would he have been better off with his first family, being raised in the culture into which he was born? Quite possibly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Adoption is a SELFISH choice. I made the decision to take this baby out of his birth country. My problem with his statement is that he makes adoption sound like a heroic choice. It’s not. Yes, there are scads of families who are in the trenches working tirelessly for their kids, and yes, that can be heroic. But not ONE of us adopted because we wanted to “save an orphan”, and if we did, well, then, our social workers should’ve smacked us upside the head. That is the WORST possible reason to adopt a child. By the same token, his flawed rhetoric has the potential to deter prospective adoptive parents, and that’s a real tragedy. These kids, no matter where or how they start, have immense potential. They can (and do) become anything they want to be (well, except President. My kid can’t do that, but that’s a different rant).

Listen: ALL kids face challenges. Divorce, parental drug use, bullying, illness, ADHD, learning disorders….the list is endless. The worst kid in Jack’s class comes from a stable 2 parent household. Parenting is HARD, y’all. I don’t care HOW you came to be a family; it’s the hardest work there is. It’s also the most rewarding. We don’t need any artificial obstacles thrown at us. We have plenty to deal with already, thankyouverymuch Nicholas Zill.

Adventures in Adoption, or, And So It Goes

It started slowly, a couple of months ago. An offhand question about mommies and daddies. Another a few days later about China. Yet another about his China mommy. What started as a trickle has turned into a flood, and there’s no stemming the tide.

I knew this day was coming, and I really, really believed I was prepared for it. Like everything else about adoption, however, no matter how much you think you know, there is always something waiting in the wings to bitch slap you back into reality. I *did* know we were living in The Bubble. In fact, the minute I first held Jack in my arms, the one perfectly clear realization I had was that we had started the countdown. I had a finite amount of days before adoption conversations would begin creeping in. The halcyon days when I could pretend he was only ever mine. Before you call in the adoption police, please know that yes, we’ve always told him his story. He’s always known he lived in an orphanage, and he’s always known he had a China Mommy and Daddy. He’s seen pictures of his old nannies and the room where he used to sleep. We haven’t kept anything from him, it’s just that he’s old enough now to begin to process things. And it’s hard. Harder for me, I think, than for him.

It’s no surprise that it’s coming up now. A mommy of one of his friends just had a baby, as did one of his teachers. There’s been a LOT of talk about babies growing in tummies. I’ve always fallen back on the sweet (albeit a bit trite) “You grew in Mommy’s heart”, and so far, that’s been good enough. As the questions get more complicated, I know that it won’t be quite so easy (not that it’s easy now). There is a phrasebook with which all adoptive parents come equipped. We learn the language of adoption through classes, books, message boards, other adoptive parents. We arm ourselves with platitudes like “All families are different”, “We chose you”, “You needed a family, and we need a baby” (for the record, I’m not a fan of that one). For the most part, these are good thoughts. Positive thoughts (and we always, always keep adoption communication positive). The problem is, they’re not enough. At least they won’t always be.

I’m not in any hurry to open up lengthy conversations about Jack’s family of origin. Right now, it pops up unexpectedly, even as his questions increase in frequency. We were sitting at the dinner table the other night and this is what followed:

Jack: I want to adopt a baby when I get bigger. I want to go to China.
Mommy and Daddy: Um, okay. If you want to do that when you grow up I think that’s great!
Jack: Mommy, you can teach me how.

Okay. Fairly benign. Much easier to handle than the whispered “First Mommy” questions that invariably arise at bedtime. But then yesterday there was this:

(We lay our fair scene in my bathroom, where I am going potty at 6:40 AM, having just arisen and not yet having access to caffeine)

Jack (bum rushing my closed bathroom door, because really, closed doors mean NOTHING to small children): What color is tiger poop? (Because hello? He’s a four year old boy child, and his world revolves around poop. Just ask Aunt Jen.
Me: Um, probably brown.
Jack: Mommy, why won’t you ever run out of cuddles for me? (I tell him 100 times a day that I’ll never run out of hugs, kisses, and cuddles)
Me: Because my arms were made to cuddle you. (Best I could do on 5 hours of sleep and no caffeine).
Jack: Why didn’t my other mommy cuddle me? (POW. Straight to the gut).
Me: She did, baby, right after you were born. She was the very first one to cuddle you.
Jack: Okay. Do you think whale poop is rainbow colored?

See? Out of nowhere, slashing at my insides, then gone as quickly as it starts. Bloodless but still acutely painful. There’s no time to prepare thoughtful, well-constructed answers, either; no, these things need to be faced head-on right in the moment. I don’t have the luxury of saying “Well, let me talk to your father and figure out the best thing to say to you. Let’s stick a pin in it and come back, m’kay?”. I also have to constantly remind myself to keep it simple. He’s four. One day, our discussion will evolve to include gender inequality and one child policies and even abandonment, but for now, short answers suffice.

I’m not gonna lie. There is SO MUCH I’m screwing up. Instead of a 401(k) I’ve set up an account to cover his future therapy bills (not really, but now that I’m thinking about it….) Like every parent, I’m trying my best to do the right thing at the right time. For me, that means never, EVER dodging the question, no matter how hard it is for me. And it IS hard. Not because I feel inferior as his second mommy, although there is an element of proving myself worthy of this amazing child, but because it will be hard for HIM. He will inevitably face the asshole kid at school who says shit like “You’re ADOPTED??? Why didn’t your real mom want you?” or who posts stupid, stupid crap on Facebook like the “You’re adopted” picture of the wailing little girl. I also want him to always, always feel comfortable and safe asking his questions. I want our conversations to happen organically, initiated by him, guided by me.

For now, I hold to our small truths. I *did* choose him. My love for him grew in my heart. I didn’t carry him inside of me, but he carries my heart. And so it goes.

Judgy McJudgerpants

I try SO hard to avoid the whole “Mommy Wars” thing. I firmly believe in “to each his own”, I really, really do, mostly because there’s nothing that bothers me more than being the one who’s under scrutiny. In the past week, however, two articles have made it onto my radar and stirred my judgy juices (full disclosure, I have PMS, so my judgy juices could just as easily be stirred by a lack of chocolate and Fritos. Shut up. Don’t judge).

The first article I read was this one, in which a total douchebag spouted off how angry he is that his wife is having twins. Proof that he knew how much of a douche he was being? He published the article under a pseudonym. Yep. He was prepared for the backlash. It’s not that he was fearful or unsure of growing his family; nope, he was PISSED (his words). He’s also mad that they’re not having a girl. And that the new babies may be colicky, thus interrupting his sleep. Now, if he had written about feeling inadequate or ill-prepared I could have totally thrown this guy a bone. I get feeling overwhelmed. I can completely empathize about being scared. I, too, hate midnight colic with a passion. But angry? No. I don’t get that one.

Before you’re all “But Merrin, everybody is entitled to their own emotions”, or just in case you only skimmed the article, let me fill you in: He and his wife CHOSE this. They pursued IVF and CHOSE to have two embryos implanted. They KNEW they only have a one bedroom apartment. They were fully aware that they were actively trying to conceive. They paid a doctor to make it happen. This guy makes it sound like the Pregnancy Fairy showed up in the middle of the night and sprinkled magic baby dust on his wife against her will. He admits that he struggles with his three year old son who “inherently know that crying pushes our buttons”. Gee. I wonder why. I’m fairly certain that just about every parent can tell you that our children are the most accurate reflection of ourselves. Sure, kids can and will act out, but every Mommy knows the feeling of looking at her kiddo and seeing our best and worst selves reflected right back at us.

And just in case you feel I’m being a tad too harsh, allow me to present Exhibit A:

“We considered a reduction for about 30 seconds. (That’s essentially an abortion of one twin, not both.) If you thought that IVF involved playing God, a reduction felt beyond brazen — Machiavellian, even. Give us a reason, we thought, as we had the twins tested for genetic anomalies. None came.”

What. The. Holy. Hell. This has absolutely nothing to do with my stand on reproductive rights. This guy was actively wishing for a reason to abort one of his unborn children, PRAYING for genetic anomalies. Who does that???? God help these kids when they’re old enough to Google. The internet is forever, bro, and Karma? She is a bitch.

He says that having children is a selfish venture, and with that I can wholeheartedly agree. Jack certainly did not ask to have us as his parents; we chose him, entirely without his consent. Selfish? You bet. I’m okay with that. The difference is that I WANTED my child. Desperately. What I can’t wrap my head around is the concept that this couple SAYS they wanted their children, and yet has only horrible things to say about not just the unborn ones, but the one they already have.

While I have my big fat judgy pants on, allow me to shift to the other article I read that got me going, albeit in a completely different direction. This dad makes a wonderful case for having only one child (maybe Douchebag of the Year should’ve taken notes). He knows what works best for his family, but the problem is the constant feeling he has to defend it. We’ve all felt that way, whether we have a brood of 5 or we’re one and done. Everybody has an opinion (says the girl with the judgy pants on).

I would never presume to tell anybody else what works best for their family. You want 3 kids? As long as you can love and nurture and support all three, then go for it. You don’t want any? Awesome. Chose IVF? I’m sure it was the right choice for you. Adoption? Love it. Only want dogs? Great (but again, adoption is a great option here, too). However you want to make a family (or not) is totally up to you and none of my damn business. I promise I won’t criticize you for choosing formula over the breast, for opting for CIO vs. attachment parenting, or for feeding your snowflakes candy for breakfast (I probably *will* judge you if your kids are ill-behaved little monsters, though. Fair warning). I will eagerly look at pictures of your dogs because I know they can be your kids, too.

This guy’s article stirred something in me. I have sat in the seat of the judged, and it sucks. Not long after we brought Jack home, someone told us that he needed a sibling. That it was unfair to him to be an only. That he would be spoiled. That he wouldn’t be social. That he would suffer when he was an adult. I pointed out that he would have SO MANY opportunities to do wonderful things like travel (the response? And I quote: “I bet you know a lot more people with brothers and sisters than have been to Europe”. Um, no). Keep in mind that this came from a family member. We hadn’t even been home for a month, and already I was being judged. I still had jetlag, I already knew I was fucking up, and yet this is what I have to hear. It sucked. I hated knowing that someone thought I was inferior, especially because I felt so inferior already.

I realize my latter points are completely contrary to my former (“Don’t judge me! I’m totally judging you!”). I’m okay with that. Again, I have PMS (WHERE ARE MY FRITOS????), so I’ll blame it on mood swings. Yes, I totally judged DoucheDad. Part of me wants to be able to call him brave for putting his fears out there, but then the rational me kicks me in the head and says shut up. If he were brave, he’d face this head on with fear instead of anger. If he were brave, he would’ve admitted that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t want any more children. Maybe, though, he felt pressure and judgement from family and friends to have one more. To be a “whole” family. To give his first son a sibling. He said himself that he and his wife both have siblings and they wanted their child to have that experience, too. Maybe that desire came from hearing whispered voices telling him that’s what’s socially normal. I’m not betting on it, however. I think he’s just a whiny little asshole.

None of us like to be judged. We’re all scared we’re screwing up our kids. The mistakes I make every day are epic. The one card I can play here, though, is that I can fully own the choices that I make for and about my family. I’ve never ONCE complained that I was angry that I had a child. And I’ve never been anything other than grateful that I have a little miracle who calls me “Mommy”. I chose parenthood. So did that guy. One of us got the memo that being a parent means being a grown up, and it sure wasn’t him.

Adventures in Adoption, or, Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Why, hello there, Grief. We meet again. I’ve written about you before, but it was so very long ago that I’d forgotten you existed. Maybe “forgotten” is the wrong word. I chose to pretend you’d never darken my door again. I banished you by sheer force of will. I smothered my child in everything the experts said he needed to achieve a healthy attachment. And yet here you are, the most unwelcome houseguest I’ve ever had the displeasure of hosting, and bonus! You’ve brought along your good friend Anxiety.

You’re no stranger to this house. I’ve hosted you a few times in the past. I know how to kick your ass back to Hell where you come from, so I don’t stress too much when you show up for me. I’m 37, and I have some coping skills. My three year old doesn’t, though, so I’m sure even YOU can understand why I’m a little bit peeved that you’re here.

Mommies everywhere know what I’m talking about: you’d do absolutely anything to protect your child from *any* kind of harm. You’d step in front of a moving train if you had to. Yeah, I can’t do that. I’ve tried. There is absolutely nothing I can do to release the grip that Grief has on my child. I can’t keep Anxiety from waking him up screaming in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, time, consistent routine, and love are the only things I can offer, and thank God, they seem to be working.

Everything has been going along swimmingly for the past couple of years. Jack has adjusted beyond our wildest expectations, and he’s the brightest light in our lives. “Happy” doesn’t even begin to describe the joy with which this child experiences life. He laughs loudly and often, and with his whole being. He gives and receives affection so freely that he puts the rest of us to shame. He even wants to hug the lizards on the back porch. When his friends are having a bad day, he’s the first in line to offer a shoulder. At three, he already stands up for social injustices. I mean, he’s not marching on Washington or anything, but he does try to mediate on the playground when kids need a little help sharing or taking turns. He’s crazy good at it, too. He’s smart as a whip, hilarious, compassionate, mischievous in the best possible way, curious, energetic, fun, sweet, loving, playful, and a whole lot of other adjectives. He’s the easiest child on the planet: he behaves in public, always uses his manners, and is unfailingly respectful.

I got too comfortable. I forgot that I have to constantly walk the tightrope, balancing between normal childhood behaviors and ghosts of his first life. I knew that they would never be completely vanquished, but I really thought that as he got older they would be easier to deal with. I assumed that as he began to communicate, he’d be able to voice his fears and frustrations. And maybe, one day, that will be the case. Right now, it’s not. He’s sad. Scratch that. He’s not sad. He’s heartbroken. He’s grieving. He’s anxious. And he’s not quite sure why. I know why, though, so at least there’s that.

He had a wonderful Christmas. He got to spend lots of time with lots of family. He got a TON of one-on-one time with Grandma. He was the center of the universe for a little while. And then everybody left. Kevin’s work schedule went a little wonky. The routine was shot to hell, and my child’s sense of stability went with it.

It’s a bit easier to write about now, almost a week after we’ve come through the worst of it. If you’d have asked me last week I would have broken down in tears. I spent the past two weeks crying, actually. When you haven’t slept in seven days and you have to pick your child up from school (twice) because HE can’t stop crying (for no reason, or so sayeth his teachers, but I know the truth), then yeah, you’re prone to tears. I actually had to call my mother last weekend so she could talk to my child who could only wail the word “GRAAAAAANDMAAAAAA”. He couldn’t say anything else. Seriously. That was it. The day before? It was “DAAAAAAADDDDDDY”. From midnight to 3AM, without fail, the screaming would start. Inconsolable grief would haunt my child’s sleep, and he was powerless to fight it. During the day he was gripped with such free-floating anxiety that all he could do was flit from one activity to the next every two minutes (SO unlike him. He usually has laser focus and knows *exactly* what he wants to do). He couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. Exhaustion has ruled this house since the holidays.

We’ve navigated these waters before; he went through some fairly heavy separation anxiety back in the fall because of a staffing upheaval at his school, which in turn affected his daily routine for a few weeks. We had a couple of rough nights and emotional mornings, but other than that it was pretty typical. I even congratulated myself on being so prepared. Ha. Ha ha ha. NOTHING prepared me for the past couple of weeks.

Thankfully, things have started to settle down a bit. Jack managed to sleep in his own bed (nightmare-free) last night, which hasn’t happened since my mother was here. The routine is firmly back in place: school is back to its regular post-holiday schedule, Daddy is home every night and on the weekends, and there are plenty of hugs and cuddles to go around. I’ve started using a calendar every day with him so he knows what’s coming up, from dentist appointments to his birthday, from Valentine’s Day to Grandma’s next visit from Texas—as well as the day she leaves to go back there. We’re all on the emotional mend.

The lesson I’ve learned is this: Trust the experts when they say that anxiety in a post-institutionalized child will always come back, even when the child can’t communicate why he feels sad or anxious. I will trust my own instincts and experience. I will allow my child to feel sad without judgement, but I will also provide him the tools he needs to cope. And I will not take my child’s everyday happiness for granted again. I know all the usual platitudes apply: Kids are resilient. Love conquers all. Those things are true, and when I don’t feel like my emotional health has gone 12 rounds with Pacquiao I’ll jump back into the Positivity Pond with both feet. A friend recently told me that I live a fairy tale life. I don’t quite agree with that. I AM incredibly blessed with so many, many things (or as Jack would say “many many MANY things!”), but it’s times like these that remind me that there is Darkness in every life, even mine. It’s how you choose to deal with the Darkness that defines you.

The first verse of the above-referenced song has been on repeat in my brain for a while, but I *think* I’ve kicked Darkness and Anxiety to the curb, at least for now. I’ll be a bit more vigilant in the future, though. I know Kevin feels some guilt on the extremely rare occasion work takes him away for a little while, but like I told him, we can’t stop living our lives. We just have to learn how to hit the curve balls.

Adventures in Adoption, or, Mommy and Me

Life, as it tends to do, has been accelerating to warp speed over the past year. My child, as children tend to do, has decided not to remain a baby. I hate that. I mean, I love it, but I hate it. He has somehow managed to morph from a wobbly little toddler to a full-fledged boy child who is governed only by his thirst for adventure (and the occasional juice box. Never underestimate the power of the juicebox).

To say I’ve been scarce around these parts in an understatement. I realized the other day that I haven’t sat down to write in over a year. What the hell??? Something that was once so much a part of my daily routine just up and vanished. The thing is, though, that I kind of needed it to. See, there’s something you don’t know. Something I have only talked about with VERY close family members and friends. Something that shamed me, at least until I could work through it. Are you ready for it? The big reveal? The horrible secret I kept for a year? Here goes…..

I was a bad mother. Seriously. Terrible. Selfish. Any other negative word you can think of. I’m certain I’ve used those words to describe myself, which is VERY out of character for me. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that I tend to think I’m kind of awesome. But the early days of motherhood? Nope. Not even close to awesome. I flat out sucked as a mommy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I never did anything to jeopardize my child’s health or safety. It’s just that I spent the first six months trying to figure out who this little stranger was. I focused so much on his attachment to us that I totally forgot to think about my attachment to *him*. I felt like I couldn’t relate to him, that I didn’t understand him, and I spent a large portion of each day beating myself up about that. I went through the motions and engaged my favorite coping mechanism of “Fake It Till You Make It”, clinging to the hope that my tried and true strategy would pull me through. And it did (thank God). Quick aside: The whole “Mommy Wars” thing didn’t help, either. Ladies, let’s stop beating each other up, okay? I think we do enough of that to ourselves.

We brought Jack home in October of 2010; it took me until March of 2011 to feel like I was worthy of the gift of him. It took me until October of 2011 to feel like a decent mother. Somewhere around Christmas of last year I finally stopped examining my every parenting decision under a microscope. I learned to relax and cut myself some slack. And here’s the big one: I forced myself to recognize the difference between being an “Adoptive Mom” and just “Mom”. I had to shed the first identity (along with all her insecurities of not being enough) in order to embrace the second, truer one. As soon as I figured out how to do that, I found freedom. It was a profound moment for me, and I wonder if/when Jack will have the same one, although I hope he doesn’t. I never EVER want him think of himself as the Adopted Son. He’s just our son.

We were walking the dog the other day when we were stopped by an older couple who lives in our neighborhood. Oliver the Beagle and Jack are so unbearably cute that they never cease to attract attention, and that day was no different. After the initial small talk (“welcome to the neighborhood”, etc.), we were hit with it. “Is he yours?”. It wasn’t said with malice, just curiosity, but I was still a bit stung on Jack’s behalf. Yes, yes, yes he is mine. Who else’s would he be? He is my son. I tuck him in at night. I kiss his boo boos. I spent hours and hours and hours potty training him. I know how to do the voices in his favorite books. And like a flash of lighting, Adoptive Mom tried to rear her ugly head. I bitch slapped her back into submission, politely answered their question with a strained smile, and we walked on.

From the minute I met my precious little man, I’ve loved him. I’ve celebrated each of his milestones, and I’ve always, ALWAYS been proud of him and over-the-moon ecstatic to be his mother. My own parenting skills, though? Not so much with the trust there. It was truly the first time I’ve ever suffered a crisis of confidence, and it was a doozy. I lost myself for a little while. No, that’s not true. I had to rebuild myself from the remains of the person I was. I did it, though. I took a long hard look at who I was vs. who I wanted to be, and I made it happen. Today I can say that, while I’m not Mother of the Year, I’m a good mom. A solid mom. A loving, fun, (mostly) patient mom. And yes, I adopted my child, which technically makes me an Adoptive Mom, but I think I’ll just rip that label right off.

Adventures in Adoption, or, These Are Days

One year. 365 days. 525,948 minutes. Not to sound like the cast of “Rent”, but really, how do you measure a year? Okay, that totally sounds like the cast of “Rent”. Sorry about that. Before Jack, I marked the passage of time with birthdays or anniversaries, and later, milestones reached in the adoption process. Before Jack, I would look back on the previous year and reflect on lessons learned in the workplace. Before Jack, I’d reflect on the valuable time spent with family and friends and the memories we created. Before Jack, I really didn’t appreciate just how precious the ebb and flow of time truly is.

One year ago today, we became a family. After 16 years, Kevin and I became Kevin, Merrin, and Jack. After a seemingly endless wait, we finally had a child. One year ago today, I naively looked at the moment we first held our son as the end of a journey. How foolish. It wasn’t the end at all, but a beautiful, glorious beginning. Everything that came before, good or bad, had led me to that exact time and place, had set me on the path to motherhood.

One year ago today, we stood in a room in a nondescript building in China holding the perfect (screaming) miracle of our lives. In sharp contrast to the endless wait that led up to that minute, every second that’s passed since has flown by at warp speed. Jack has grown SIX INCHES in one year. He’s gained eight pounds. He legs are no longer scrawny; instead, he has muscles that would make the Hulk (the Incredible one, not Hulk Hogan) tremble in fear. He doesn’t have furrow lines of worry between his eyebrows; instead, his smile lights up not only his face, but the entire world. He doesn’t sit passively watching the world go by; instead, he jumps up and dances. He doesn’t scream when I come near him; instead, he throws himself into my arms for hugs and kisses. More than that, though, his intelligence shines through in everything he does. He is the smartest two-year-old I’ve ever seen, and I’m not just saying that because I’m his mom. Well, maybe I am.

In the last year, he’s celebrated holidays and birthdays. He’s learned how to ride his bike and climb the jungle gym. He’s learned how to open doors and turn on lights (both of which will scare the crap out of you in the middle of the night). He’s learned how to use an iPad, and is, in fact, more adept at it than I am. He’s started potty training, and is SO proud of himself. He’s discovered Elmo and Thomas the Train. He’s started school, where, naturally, he’s the most popular kid there. He even has a little girlfriend. He’s figured out that the loves the beach and the pool (anywhere with water, really). He’s learned how to sneak food he doesn’t like to the dog (thankfully, he likes almost everything, but the dog has still managed to gain some weight). He doesn’t toddle along anymore, he runs at a full sprint just about everywhere he goes. He fits in my arms like he was born to be there, and my body recognizes him as the child I was meant to have. We’ve measured every developmental milestone with a sense of triumph. Jack isn’t delayed in any area, and we have Half The Sky to thank for that.

One year ago today, I had no idea who my son was, or who he would be. One year later, and nobody knows Jack better than I do. A year ago, I had no idea what I was doing, but I was pretty good at faking it. Now, I still don’t have much of a clue, but I’m not afraid to try new things. I’m no longer worried that he’ll end up in therapy because I’ve warped him for life (I mean, he probably will, but I’m not *worried* about it). I make mistakes, and I kick myself for them, but somehow, miraculously, Jack loves me anyway. I will never know what I have done to deserve such a precious gift, and I’m pretty sure I’m not worthy of it, but I treasure it every single day.

One year ago today, a family was born.

Adventures in Adoption, or, Clash of the Kirbys

After a last-minute snafu that necessitated a harried run by Civil Affairs (one piece of paper needed to be changed out for another one), Ashley broke all kinds of records getting us to the airport on time for our flight to Guangzhou. He also worked his special Ashley Magic and got our baggage fees dramatically reduced. It turns out that all that candy weighed kind of a lot (so worth it, though. Except for the corn-flavored candy. That was just nasty). We said our tearful goodbyes, although we promised to keep in touch, and I’m happy to report that we have. He gave us huge bear hugs, kissed Jack, and sent us on our way to the next leg of our journey.

We boarded the flight with more than a litte trepidation. Oh, alright. Straight up FEAR. It was Baby’s First Flight, and we had NO IDEA how he was going to handle it. Also, you flat-out cannot buy a separate seat for kids under two, so he had no choice but to hang out on our laps the whole time. And when I say “our”, I mean Kevin’s. By this time, Jack had decided that he didn’t really care so much for Mommy. Oh sure, he’d let me feed him or change his diaper. He even let me read or sing to him at bedtime. But holding him? OH, the horror. Forget it, lady. It ain’t gonna happen. Thank you, drive through please. So we settled ourselves in and prayed for the best.

Thankfully, Jack just took it in stride, like he does with everything life throws at him. He also got a LOT of attention from the girls across the aisle, and he even flirted with the little baby girl sitting behind us. The flight was mercifully short, and we were in Guangzhou before we knew it. We headed down to baggage claim where we spied a couple of members of the Chinese Olympic team, who just happened to be in town for the Asian Games, which was kind of a big deal. The Asian Games are the second largest sporting event after the Olympics, so you can kind of imagine what an absolute zoo Guangzhou was during this time. Looking back, we probably should have waited a week or so to travel, but we’d already been waiting SOOOOO long, so we sucked it up and made the decision to travel during the busiest time possible. Did I mention that the Trade Fair was going on, too? It just happens to be the world’s largest Import/Export fair. Yeah, we’re super smart. Truth be told, though, even though we were fully aware that hotel rooms were A) hard to come by, and B) ridiculously expensive, there was no way we could convince ourselves to leave our son in an orphanage for one day longer than necessary. Yes, I’m aware that sounds kind of douchey, but it’s totally true. It’s also not the last time I’m going to sound douchey because, luckily for you, we’re edging ever closer to the Clash Of The Kirbys.

Okay. Back on track. We gathered our bags, ran the gauntlet of the baggage ticket checker guy, and met up with our guide for this part of the trip. His name, incidentally, was also Jack. Jack was no Jerry. He was certainly no Ashley. In fact, Jack basically said “Hey, glad you made it. Go get in the van and Mr. Li will take you to your hotel. I’ll see you sometime tomorrow. There’s another family coming in tonight, and I’ve decided to take care of them. You’re pretty much on your own, suckers”. Maybe he didn’t really say that last part. I can’t quite remember. It was no big deal, though, and Mr. Li was perfectly nice, even if he didn’t speak a word of English. He looked kind of like what you think a member of the Chinese Mafia looks like: Big, broad-shouldered, buzz-cut, intimidating. He got us where we were going though, which was the Holiday Inn Shi Fu. I can hear you now. You’re all like “WHAAAAAAAT???? What the what??? Kevin works in luxury hospitality, and you stayed at the Holiday Inn????”. My response to that is “We totally stayed at the Holiday Inn, and it was AWESOME.” Hotels are one of those things that I researched tirelessly during The Wait, and I’d heard nothing but awesome things about this place. Most people stay at the White Swan, but it was 1) booked solid (Trade Fair. Asian Games) and 2) not nearly as nice. Seriously. The rooms at the White Swan are holes compared to the Holiday Inn. The food is better at the HI, too. I cannot say enough good stuff about this hotel. I’m super proud to say that I found that little gem all on my own, with no help from my Hotel Super Star husband.

Mr. Li deposited us outside of the Holiday Inn Shi Fu and promptly took off. The entrance to the hotel is a bit nondescript, and if there’s not a doorman on duty, it’s kind of hard to find. I mean, you look up and you see the hotel, but there’s just one not-very-clearly-marked door that opens up to a tiny vestibule with two elevators. The lobby is actually on the 4th floor, so you have to go up to get to the main entrance. We got all checked in (thankfully we were on Club Level. If there is ONE tip I’d give to potential traveling adoptive parents, it’s spring for the Club Level at every hotel you stay at. There are free drinks, free nibbles throughout the day, and really excellent services like 24 currency exchange), ordered a little room service, and settled into the very cool room that we would call home for the next week. My only mistake that evening was putting ketchup on my burger. Curses!!! Apparently, I’d blocked out the horror of my first encounter with Chinese Ketchup. We hunkered down to watch a little Amazing Race and Wipeout (remember that scene in European Vacation when Rusty is all “I think there’s something wrong with the TV. We only get two channels and no MTV. What do you want to watch, cheese or snow?” It was kind of like that, except we only got The Amazing Race Asia, Wipeout, which seriously was on, like, 24/7, CSI, and Headline News. Incidentally, I got hooked on TAR Asia, which is much better than its American counterpart. Just sayin’.

The next morning we were downstairs bright and early waiting for Mr. Li to come and fetch us so we could go and get started on the American side of the paperwork. The Chinese stuff had all been wrapped up in Changsha; now it was time to get squared away with the US government. Let me explain what we were in for that day (and yes, we were fully prepared for all of the adoption-related stuff. What we weren’t prepared for was the extra kick in the ass of dealing with the Kirbys). First, we’d head on over to Shamian Island (about 5 minutes away) for visa pictures and a visit with the Travel Doctor, or, more precisely, The Guangzhou International Travel Medical Center, where our boy would be subjected to a VERY thorough medical exam complete with shots. SIX of them. Yay. Understandably, we pretty much just wanted to get it over with before the day even started.

So there we were, waiting curbside for our chariot. Mr. Li was prompt, and Jack the Guide was there. He was there, of course, because the Kirbys were there. Right there in the van. The tiny, tiny van whose walls started closing in the minute the door shut. Now, for the record, I don’t actually remember the Kirbys’ real names. Well, I remember their son’s name. His name was Jake. He was 9. He was also the most annoying child you’ll ever have the misfortune of meeting. I don’t believe in any kind of corporal punishment, but I swear I wanted to smack this kid after about 5 minutes. He was like a cross between Urkel, Dennis the Menace, and the fat kid from Stand By Me. Added bonus? Him parents constantly made excuses for him, too, so he grew increasingly annoying as the days wore on. You may be wondering why we refer to them as The Kirbys, and it’s kind of a long story, but hey, you’ve already read this far, so you might as well stick with it.

Kevin and I watch a lot of movies. No, this isn’t a non-sequitur. Quotes from those movies eventually work their way into our lexicon. I’m sure you’ve said, at some point in your life, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”. No? Hmmmm. That’s just me, then. Anyway, random phrases sneak into our conversations. (Did I hear a niner in there, Tommy Boy?). My mother will tell you that “Thank you for doing this, Ellen” is a Donahue classic (watch the movie “Dave” for context). There is one movie that I’m pretty sure nobody else has seen, and that movie is “The Story of Us”. It wasn’t a particularly memorable movie (Eric Clapton did the soundtrack, which is amazing, however), except for a few scenes where Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis head to Italy and have their romantic getaway shanghaied by the most annoying people in the world. The annoying couple just happens to be named, you guessed it, The Kirbys. They start passing a Hangman game back and forth under the table during an particularly excruciating dinner, and the solution to the puzzle is “I Hate The Kirbys”. Michelle and Bruce turn to each other, smile, and Michelle says “Oh, honey. Me too!”.

About five minutes after we met them, we were getting out of the van for the quick walk to the photographer and then the Medical Center. The following is the transcript of the conversation:

Kevin: What was the name—-?

Me: The Kirbys.

Kevin: YES. The Kirbys. So very, very much The Kirbys.

See? He didn’t even have to finish the thought. I was right there with him.

You might think that five minutes isn’t enough time to form a fair opinion of someone. I say, respectfully, you’re so wrong. Do you remember the middle school music teachers on SNL? The Culps? These people were definitely close relatives. Sadly, though, they also had an added dash of douchebaggery with a healthy pinch of self-importance, not to mention arrogance and a side of super rude Ugly American. I can handle nerdy. Hell, I’m nerdy. I can handle a little douchey. I can even deal with some arrogance. These people took it all to a new level. We made a silent pact then and there to spend as little time as possible with this family. I wish I could say that we managed to avoid them altogether, but no such luck. We were stuck with them for the next few days, but we DID minimize our exposure as much as possible.

We got Jack’s picture taken for his US visa then we walked over to the Medical Center. The Kirbys had, for some inexplicable reason, maintained their I(600) status throughout their wait. (If you really want to know what that is, feel free to email me, but all you need to know is that it was WAY more expensive to pay the fees to keep paperwork from expiring as opposed to filing new stuff). We, on the other hand, had let our original stuff expire and refiled as an I(800), or Hague, family. This meant that Jack (the kid, not the guide) had to have lots and lots of shots (six, to be exact), which meant that we had to spend a bit more time there while The Kirbys had to wait for us. They made their displeasure known. A lot. We had to wait outside for about 15 minutes after Jack’s exam was done and he’d had all of his shots to make sure he didn’t have a bad reaction. Mr. Kirby’s exact words were “This is ridiculous. Let’s get going”. Nice. Real nice.

Thankfully, not too long after that, we got to split up for a bit and do some shopping, which was so. Much. FUN! We wandered in and out of the little shops on Shamian Island, where we loaded up on clothes, shoes, souvenirs, and all kinds of little trinkets. We got tons of stuff to give to Jack each year on Family Day: Terra Cotta warrior chess sets, DVDs, personalized chopsticks, puzzles, games….Yeah, we went a little bit overboard, and yes, there was talk about buying an extra bag to get it all home. The shops that are sprinkled throughout the island cater specifically to adoptive families. The US Consulate used to be located there, so it was a no-brainer to set up shop where the Americans were. The stores all have names like “Sherry’s Place” or “Jordon’s Place”, and every shopkeeper speaks English and is willing to haggle. WIN! We managed to (mostly) evade the Kirbys as we wandered in and out of the shops, although Jake managed to ambush us in one spot. I swear the kid was just lying in wait for the perfect moment to jump out and start peppering us with annoying questions).

Too soon, it was time to hook back up with Jack (the Guide) and the dreaded Kirbys so we could have lunch. After Mr. Kirby decided he was the only one who could talk throughout the meal (dude. He cut me off twice by saying “Be quiet”. Lovely fellow, Mr. Kirby), and after Jake Kirby insisted on drinking my Coke (thanks, kid), we were FINALLY headed back to the hotel, but not before Mr. Kirby told us how inconvenient it was for us to be staying where we were, since they were across town at the Garden. SOOOOOO not my problem, mister. Deal with it. We graciously agreed to be picked up later the next morning, though, since it seemed like it would be better for them. Mrs. Kirby complained that Jake wouldn’t have enough time to do his homework in the morning, but, ugh, she guessed she could make it work. Again? Not my problem.
The good news is that we had the whole afternoon free, and after Jack (the Kid) had his nap, we set out to explore the streets around us.

Adventures in Adoption, or Brothers From Another Mother

For a lot of people, the concept of “China” is kind of abstract. It’s something you watch on the evening news, where Diane Sawyer visits a school in Beijing and reports on how smart the kids are and how strict the curriculum is. It’s a roll of the eyes when you read another label stamped “Made in China”. It’s an entire world away and so completely foreign, and even though that earthquake in Sichuan that you read about seemed pretty bad, it doesn’t really register on your radar of things you need to worry about. I’m no different. I remember the flooding in Chenzhou back in 2008. It got a cursory mention on ABC World News Tonight, and then I promptly forgot about it. Hell, the only reason I tuned in at all was because we were already committed to the China program, and we tried to keep abreast of what was happening over there. Little did we know that our baby was going to be from Chenzhou, and his life was indeed affected by the floods (for the better, actually. The old orphanage sustained major damage, so he only ever knew the shiny and pretty new facility). It’s funny how the world comes knocking on your door.

Kevin and I have been so extremely fortunate to be able to see a lot of the world. We’ve been all over our great nation, we’ve been to Mexico, the Caribbean, a few countries in Europe. We spent a dreamlike two weeks in Kenya where we not only saw extraordinary wildlife, we BECAME the extraordinary wildlife. At the end of that family vacation, we were so lucky to be able to count our safari guides among our friends. Actually, I think that they qualify as family, since, hey, they cheered Kevin on while he drank the blood from a still-breathing goat, and that kind of experience tends to bond you for life. At the risk of sounding all “It’s A Small World After All” (and now you’ve got that stuck in your head. HaHaHa!!!), we really HAVE found that the planet is a pretty small place.

We had absolutely no idea what to expect when we got to China. We had both tried to learn a little bit of Mandarin since I think it’s pretty important to be able to communicate at least a little bit. “Please” and “Thank You” are the bare minimum, but never underestimate the ability to ask for the nearest bathroom. Kevin is able to understand quite a bit of Mandarin (but don’t ask him to speak it), and I speak enough to get by (although it’s harder for me to understand), so we make a pretty good team. This proved to be critically important at least twice, and I firmly believe it’s what helped bring us so close to our guides. First, Jerry was impressed that we had put forth such an effort, especially when we were touring The Forbidden City. He was SO happy that we not only knew a little history, but that we were able to talk a little bit about it in his native language. Not a lot, mind you, but one or two words here and there. When we met Ashley, he was shocked that Kevin was able to understand so much of what was being said. He was even happier to listen to Kev’s corny jokes, which was pretty hilarious.

The first time we were in a situation where we really had to draw on our limited powers of communication was in Changsha. I’ve mentioned that our first night there (the night before we met our son), I had to leave the restaurant and return to the hotel room because I wasn’t feeling well. Kevin managed to flag down a waiter and communicate that he wanted our order wrapped up and delivered to our room. Believe me, this was no easy feat. The young man, though, figured it out, got our food all set up on trays, and accompanied Kevin back upstairs. We were SO thankful that we threw propriety out the window and insisted that he accept a tip. Tipping is really not done in China. Sure, you tip your guides and your drivers, but that’s a totally different kettle of fish. You don’t tip waitstaff. EVER. Poor Jason (that was the kid’s name) tried to refuse, but we weren’t having any of it. He had gone so completely out of his way that we really felt that we needed to acknowledge that. After a little bit of persuasion, he took the tip, and we had a brief conversation in broken English and mangled Mandarin. After that night, Jason tended to magically appear whenever we were even a little bit *close* to the hotel restaurant. He helped us at each breakfast service, he checked on us at dinner, and he just materialized out of thin air if he even thought we might need a little help. It sounds a little stalker-like, but it was really one of the nicest parts of our stay.
Side note to Been There Done That’s in Changsha: Dean the doorman might be a legend, and don’t get me wrong;. he’s awesome. I mean, who else will sing Christmas carols in the middle of October to every American he meets? Plus, his smile is stellar, and he genuinely loves all the babies who cross the threshold of the Dolton Hotel. Jason, though, is simply amazing. If you’re ever staying at the Dolton, make sure you look for him. He’s the sweetest kid you’ll ever meet.

The day we checked out, we were standing by the registration desk and Jason showed up out of nowhere to see us off. He shook Kevin’s hand, he gave us hugs, and he looked honest-to-God sad to see us go. I couldn’t help it. I HAD to take a picture.

So we could now count Jerry and Jason among our good friends in China. But Ashley? Ashley was FAMILY. On our last night in Changsha, Ashely asked us if there was any way we might think about coming over to his house for dinner. Um, YES PLEASE! He was so humble about the whole thing, too. He was all “Hey, it’s no big deal, just a small little meal with the wife and kids, and you don’t have to come if you don’t want to”, but of COURSE we jumped at the chance. First of all, he was SO nice to even offer, but to welcome us into his home with open arms was more than we could have ever dreamed.
He came to pick us up at the hotel and (bless his heart) he drove us 45 minutes to his high-rise condo, which, by the way, is bigger than our house, and totally decorated like a Pottery Barn catalogue. It’s seriously beautiful. His wife and boys greeted us at the door and we visited for a little while before we sat down to a HUGE feast. Mrs. Ashley had made lion’s head meatballs, chicken with cashews, rice, a beef dish, pork with green peppers…There was other stuff, too, but I was so in love with the chicken that I didn’t really pay attention to anything else. HIs boys got a huge kick out of our lack of proper Chinese manners, and they had an absolute ball pointing and laughing at Kevin. We all giggled our way through the meal and then sat and visited some more. His boys are rambunctious and hilarious, and they were thrilled to be able to try out some English on us. Ashley is working so hard to open up the world to his kids. We definitely bonded over our shared commitment to make our kids global citizens. Finally, he showed us around his house, and we got to see first hand how that Chinese household functioned. It was worlds apart from what we’d experienced in the hutong in Beijing, and it was SO COOL to see how they integrated all members of the family into the house. The mother-in-law had her own suite, and it was the biggest bedroom in the house. The kids’ room was so cute, and it was definitely inhabited by boys. The living room was spacious, and the entertainment center took up an entire wall and was FILLED with American DVDs. The sun room was gorgeous. Ashley has a lot to be proud of. He was also really curious to see pictures of our house, and I had a few to show him. He didn’t believe us at all when we told him that our house was smaller than his! He was happy to see pictures of our guest room, though, and we assured him that he’d always have a place to stay if he ever makes it to the States. He was adamant that they are definitely planning a visit sometime in the next few years, and I have to say that I hope they mean it. I would love nothing better than for them to come and stay with us.

The one phrase that kept coming to mind when I sat down to write this part of the story was “Wherever you go, there you are”. We’ve stood in an elder’s house in a manyatta in the middle of Kenya and were shown amazing hospitality. We’ve giggled over a kitchen table in a house in China while we shared not just food, but the experience of two totally different cultures coming together. Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve seen firsthand how small the world truly is. Our time in Changsha was so special to me, and not just for the obvious reason that it was where we first met our son. It’s special because we were welcomed so completely by everybody we met. There was a warmth and an openness in the people that I’ve never experienced anywhere else (no, not even in Texas).

When you travel, if you’re open to it, there are places that settle into your soul, places that some part of you recognizes as home. I am the most fortunate girl I know, because I have those homes all over the place. I have Ft. Worth, which will always be my hometown. I have Amelia Island, which is–by far–the best place I’ve ever lived. I have Guana, which is as much my home as my own house is, and when the ferry pulls up to the dock it feels like a homecoming each and every time. I have Kenya, and even though Hippo Point might not be the most welcoming place, Ol Malo sure is. And now I have Changsha. Smoggy, noisy, crowded, trafficky, wonderful Changsha. The geography between these places is as different as could be. Their common denominator, however, is that I have family in every single one of them. We’ve not only adopted a son, we’ve adopted a whole crazy bunch of friends who’ve become brothers. My brothers from other mothers are spread all over the world, and I couldn’t be luckier to count them among my family.

One World, Not Three

Adventures in Adoption, or, I’m Going To Wally World!!!

We started our adoption process back in 2006, which obviously gave us lots and lots of time to dream/plan/fantasize about every aspect of the actual trip to China. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent scouring the interwebz for every piece of information about tourist destinations, food, shopping, and basic daily life. My mother would be the first one to tell you that I get all Julie the Cruise Director when it comes to travel planning (in my defense, though, I my system totally WORKS. You may be exhausted after I’ve dragged your butt all over kingdom come–sorry, Kevin, but there was a lot to see in London–, but you will definitely have seen everything you wanted to). So in between picking out baby names and painting the nursery (twice, because, hey! It’s a boy!), I obsessed about the stuff I wanted to experience.

Now, five years is a LOT of time to dig up information. The more I read, the more I was determined to see as much of China as I possibly could. I dreamed of the Great Wall. I yearned for the Temple of Heaven. The Forbidden City? Not so forbidden anymore, because, dude, I was GOING TO SEE IT IN PERSON. My research wasn’t limited to the tourist hotspots, though. I subscribed to random news feeds that covered all aspects of Chinese life. I freaked myself out about the food–I don’t like American Chinese food– (which was pointless, as it was all delicious. Well, except for those noodles. Those? Not so much) and the bathrooms (again, pointless. AND xenophobic). I devoured every little thing I could get my hands on. And then, one day, I saw this article on Buzzfeed. Chinese Wal Mart??? Oh, yes please. 1000 times YES. I knew *immediately* that I had to move heaven and earth to experience Chinese Wal Mart for myself.

Once we had our Travel Call (that’s the call with your agency that prepares you for what to expect, what to pack, what you’ll do in-country, etc.), a couple of things became abundantly clear. One, we were actually going to CHINA, which, after the wait we’d had, didn’t quite seem possible, and B), we weren’t going to have a whole lot of free time. Those agencies do a damn fine job of making sure you’re well-occupied, which now that I think about it, is not unlike my whole Julie the Cruise Director approach to travel. If I wanted to see Chinese Wal Mart, I had to be crafty and strategic. I pored over our itinerary. I knew Beijing was out of the question; we were simply WAY too over-scheduled as it was. The Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the pearl market, the jade market, Olympic Village, a Hutong tour…And that was only 48 hours. Definitely no time there.

Next, I looked at the time we had in Guangzhou. It was a possibility. We had quite a bit of down-time, and we were spending almost an entire week there. The problem was, however, that there just wasn’t one anywhere close to where we were staying. Also, although we didn’t realize this until we got there, there was another family to contend with in Guangzhou. Ah, yes. The Kirbys. For now, let’s just say that if we never see them again, it will be too soon. And worry not, I’ll be covering that particular story in the near future. So that left Changsha. Logistically, I wasn’t too sure how it would work out, but I KNEW that there was a Wal Mart about 20 minutes from Civil Affairs.
Once again, let me say that Ashley is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. From the moment we introduced ourselves, he was a friend. He was so completely accommodating of every single request we had, almost before we’d voiced it. He was a scheduling magician. So on the ride into the city from the airport, after having set eyes on each other only minutes before, I was (almost) comfortable enough to tell him my deep secret wish to see Wal Mart. He told us to let him know if there was anything special we wanted to see or do, but at that moment, I realized how completely ridiculous it sounded to say “Hey, I came all the way to China so I could go to Wal Mart.” Luckily, Kevin loves me, and he knows me better than anyone, so he stepped up and put it out there. Thank God for Kevin.

Ashley didn’t make any promises that day, but he DID say he would try to work it out. The next morning (as a guy with a canvas bag full of thousands of dollars in currency sat in our hotel room counting out bills—again, part of a future installment), he worked out a schedule. That Thursday looked promising, and as fate would have it, it was right after we finalized everything at Civil Affairs AND we could even fit in lunch at McDonald’s (the food was awesome, but we’d been in the country for awhile, and we were ready for a taste of home, not unlike the time I hunted down a Wendy’s in Venice because I was dying for a burger after two weeks of the best Italian food I’d ever had. Yes, you read that right. Wendy’s. In VENICE. Operation Ugly American was a go.

So there we were. Finally a family, and the first thing we do was head to Wal Mart, and it was everything I’d dreamed it could be. First, let me say that Chinese Wal Mart is an upscale affair. Not like Prada or Vuitton, but definitely upper-middle class. The one we went to was also GINORMOUS. Two stories of awesome. I made Kevin stop out front so I could take his picture.

Speaking of pictures, Ashley smoothed things over (in his typical Ashely way), so I was able to snap as many pictures in there as I wanted. Sure, I got some nasty looks from the guy pawing the bin of raw chicken feet, but it’s not like I took a picture of HIM—just of the chicken feet. I was so completely enamored of Chinese Wal Mart from the minute I stepped foot inside. I spent 20 minutes in the seafood department alone (hey, I’d never seen fish with price tags shot through their fins before, not to mention a bin full of fat croaking frogs). I took my time checking out the large open bins of chicken parts (not just feet) exposed for anybody to sift through looking for just the right thigh. I wandered up and down aisles full of blueberry flavored Lay’s chips, Red Bull, and even Budweiser. I got a little bit lost in the snack foods and beverages.

And then, there it was. I swear it was like a moment out of a movie complete with a ray of light shining right down on it. THE CANDY DEPARTMENT. I have to admit, I went a little bit crazy. I realize that I am, deep down, a three-year-old, but I totally couldn’t help myself. Everything is sold in bulk, and I grabbed a couple of bags and started stuffing with wild abandon. I didn’t care what I grabbed, I just tried to get a little of everything. It was like a bad episode of Supermarket Sweep. I was a madwoman. Kevin finally had to stop me, since we didn’t have enough room in our luggage to account for the amount of sugar I’d just acquired.

Eventually, we headed upstairs so we could get a few baby essentials. The baby store in Changsha had most of what we needed, but we were on a quest for a sippy cup that the boy would actually drink from. It had been a problem up to this point. I’d packed every single kind of cup imaginable, even baby bottles, but he just. Wouldn’t. DRINK. It turns out that I had underestimated my little man (wouldn’t be the last time), and he needed something a bit more advanced and needed something with a straw. New cup in hand, we headed back down to the checkout. Surprisingly, we made it out of there for a hair under $20. A miracle.

As luck would have it, McDonald’s was right across the street, and it was lunch time. Ashley ordered for us, and a few minutes later, there it was. The Chinese Happy Meal. Oh, and a Big Mac and a Spicy Chicken Sandwich.

Jack, as usual, was in food heaven. He INHALED those McNuggets. Kevin and I had our first experience with Chinese ketchup, and we fervently wished it would be our last. Yikes. Kev enjoyed his Big Mac, but I realized I’d made a fatal error with the chicken sandwich. I’m pretty sure that chicken was about 1000 years old when they killed it, because it was stringy and weird. Still, though, I’m glad we had the experience, even if it wasn’t the best idea in the world.
That, my friends, is a lesson: No matter how homesick you are for the familiar, sometimes it’s just better to stick with the local flavor. Trust me on this. At least until you get to a Chinese Pizza Hut, and then it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Adventures In Adoption, Or, Congratulations! It’s a Toddler!

It turns out that two-year olds keep a Mama pretty busy. I swear the kiddo will graduate high school before I get his China story all written out. In the meantime, though, I’ll push on, even though my child is currently walking around the living room with a drum on his head. Best. Mother. EVER. After a (not) brief hiatus, I finally have a minute to continue telling the tales of our trip to China (if you need a refresher of where we left off, click here).
{EDIT: I began this post in JUNE. It’s almost OCTOBER. Yeah, the toddler keeps me on my toes}

Jack was worn OUT from the crazy morning he’d had: a train ride, a big city, new parents, you know, basic everyday stuff for an 18-month old baby. Or not. He slept like the dead even while firecrackers were going off right outside our open hotel window (there was a wedding down below on the street, and fireworks are kind of a thing in China. I’m surprised you didn’t know that). It sounded not unlike artillery fire, but he snoozed right through it, even though Kevin and I were CERTAIN the city was being attacked. When he woke up, though, I learned my first true lesson about what it feels like to be completely helpless. We had prepared ourselves in every way possible for the fact that Jack would be grieving. I read every book, took every class, talked to other parents….you name it. Even with all of that, though, nothing could have prepared me for the actual moment of holding a boy who woke up from a nap and fell into his own nightmare.

I promise I’m only going to talk about this for a minute, and I debated whether to put it out there at all, but the truth is that it’s a part of his story. He may very well read this one day, and I don’t want to do him a disservice by glossing over the hard parts. In a nutshell, the next 30 minutes were the very worst of my life, and I’m fairly certain Jack would’ve said the same thing about his, too. Imagine waking up in a strange place with people who don’t look like you, don’t sound like you, don’t smell like you. You have no way to tell them what you need or feel, but you’re supposed to trust them unconditionally. You can’t feed yourself or meet any of your own basic needs, and the only people you used to know are nowhere to be found. I have a feeling you’d be pretty freaked out, too. As soon as I picked him up out of the crib, Jack started keening. It was a primal scream that started from deep in his gut, and it just. Kept. Going. I did the only thing I could possibly do, and that was sit on the floor and rock him until it subsided, and it eventually did.

We spent the remainder of that afternoon wandering up and down the hallways of the hotel and trying to make Jack feel as comfortable as possible. We played with his beach ball, and we bounced on the bed. One of my favorite memories of those early days was getting the very first smile out of Jack. He thought bouncing on the bed with the green beach ball was the BEST toy. We had the hotel windows open (no AC; the government had declared it Fall already), and the noises 31 stories below us drifted up and blended with the squeaky mattress springs and Sam Cooke singing “Under the Boardwalk” through the laptop.

We ordered room service for dinner that night. We spread out the blanket that Delta was kind enough to let us “borrow”, hunkered down on the floor, and feasted on congee, cumin beef, and yes, ice cream. I couldn’t help but remember another carpet picnic 10 years earlier; a few of my friends will recall sitting on my mother’s living room floor on my wedding day eating take out from La Madeleine. It’s funny how little moments seem so insignificant until their pattern begins to emerge. Apparently, I reserve carpet picnics for the great big important days in life.

After dinner, it was time for bath and bed. I let Kevin do the honors on Jack’s first bath, and he did a great job. Jack, on the other hand, wasn’t too thrilled. I don’t think he’d ever been fully submerged before and he wasn’t quite sure what to think. He was also filthy. This is in no way a criticism of the care he received in the SWI. It’s an observation that gave me a glimpse into my future as Jack’s mom: lots and lots and lots of dirt. He’s a magnet. We got our now-fresh-smelling baby all wrapped up in jammies and began the bedtime ritual. There are no words to describe that very first tuck-in; we didn’t have a plan, there had been no previous discussion, but it was seamless. The way Kevin and I worked together that first night is concrete proof that there is, in fact, such a thing as a soulmate. My very favorite thing, though, about sitting in that hotel room while darkness settled softly through the smog was something I didn’t come to appreciate until six months later. That inaugural bedtime routine? It hasn’t changed. At all. We were lucky enough to stumble on something magical. Kevin has whispered the same thing to Jack every night for almost a year. I have read Goodnight Moon so many times that Jack has it memorized. We thought we were providing comfort in consistency, and we ARE. But mostly? The consistency comforts US. We are unbelievably lucky to be able to share the last quiet minutes with Jack before he sleeps, and that time is the most precious of my day.

The next few days were filled with Ashley striking a delicate balance between keeping us busy, eating, giving us bonding time, eating, and meeting with all the officials to finalize the paperwork (I have mentioned before that the first day we were literally handed a baby without having signed a thing. I’ve had to sign my life away to FedEx when receiving a delivery from Apple, but hey, here’s a baby! Have fun!). I cannot say enough good things about Ashley. He knew *exactly* what we needed when we needed it. He also showed us Changsha in a way that we’ll never forget. We spent one morning at the Hunan Provincial Museum where we saw a perfectly preserved 2000 year old mummy (she was even sticking out her tongue). This particular story, and accompanying picture, bites us in the butt later in our story when we meet the Kirbys, so stay tuned for that one. We also spent a couple of lovely hours at the Hunan Embroidery Museum, which was breathtaking. It was also a little chilly and strange, since we were the only people there. In fact, the lights were off when we arrived, and Ashley had to hunt down the curator so we could see everything. Ashley was SO knowledgeable and taught us everything we ever wanted to know about Hunan embroidery. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say it is the most stunning needlework I’ve ever seen. Also? We ate. A LOT. We ate some of the best food I’ve ever had, and I miss it. We had dumplings, pork with green peppers, a beef with mushrooms dish that Kevin would very well give his right arm for, and the best char siu I’ve EVER had. We also learned that there is watermelon at every meal. Pretty handy, since I know a boy who happens to love the stuff.

Finally, it was Thursday. Thursday was THE day. The last time we had to meet with Chinese officials. The day they told us that our son was officially ours. I wish I could say that there was some sort of pomp and ceremony involved, but in actuality, we returned to the Civil Affairs office where we waited a few minutes to be called back to a small room with a small woman standing over a small machine. She snapped a quick picture of Kevin, Jack, and me, and then we handed over a stack of Chinese bills which she ran through the machine (turns out it was a bill counter), and ushered us across the hall to yet another small room. {Please, no comments on the money thing. I’ll address all of that in a later post, but suffice it to say that whatever you may think is probably wrong, unless, of course, you’ve adopted from China.} We stamped our thumbprints in red ink on a few papers, stamped Jack’s handprint, and headed to yet another room where the notary awaited. He asked us a few questions (“Why did you want to adopt from China?” “WIll you keep this child safe and healthy?”), and five minutes later, we were on our way.

Jack was ours. Now all that was left was to go celebrate. American style.

A Letter To Your First Mother

Dear Sister,

I don’t know your name, where you live, or even what you look like. I don’t know what your voice sounds like or how tall you are, and I don’t know what your favorite food is. You and I are, however, as intimately connected as any two women can be. I don’t know those things about you, but I do know that our son has your infectious laugh and killer smile. I suspect he inherited his adorable cheeks from you, too. Maybe his incredible sense of curiosity came from you, and his bravery from his other father. His spark of intelligence and stubborn streak, although mirrored perfectly in both his Daddy AND me, came from you, too.

I’ve been thinking about you a lot this week as my precious boy approaches his second birthday, especially since it’s quite possible that milestone has already passed. The orphanage assigned his birthday as the 26th, but only you know the exact minute that this little miracle came into the world. I know there is so much you want to know about your baby, and I would give everything to be able to tell you all about what a special boy he is. I know your heart is breaking right now on these days surrounding the memories you have of his birth and your decision to give him a chance at something different. My heart is breaking because he will never get a chance to know who he got his “lucky earlobes” from, or who the first person to cuddle and soothe him was.

If I could talk to you I would tell you that he always chooses the orange circle first when sorting shapes and he leaves the red heart for last, that he can’t make it through a meal without at least three kisses on the head, that he can’t get enough tomatoes or guacamole but doesn’t like spinach, that he’s learning to count on his fingers, that he loves his dog, he’s learning to sing, he’s ticklish behind his knees, that he’s already worn out one copy of “Goodnight Moon” because we read it every night, and his favorite place on earth is a toss-up between the beach and Mommy and Daddy’s great big bed. He is loved with not only your whole heart, but mine as well.

I would try to tell you, too, how incredibly grateful I am for the chance to be this amazing child’s mother, and how unbelievably humbled I am to have received the gifts of not only your son, but of this capacity for love that I never knew I had. There are no words for that kind of gratitude, though, and it sounds hollow to me even as I write it. My gratitude is a tangible, breathing thing; I can almost see it shining in waves every time I look at our son. I desperately want you to know that he is safe and healthy and happy. It is not the life you hoped for or imagined for him (of that I’m certain), but my promise to you is that I am doing the very best I can to give him the best opportunities for happiness and success. I promise, too, to honor your memory every chance I get. One day in the not-too-distant future he’ll ask about you, and while I won’t be able to tell him anything of significance, I *do* know that there’s not a day that goes by that you don’t think about him.

You and I will always be connected: the mother that carried him and gave him life and loves him from so far away, and the mother that has been blessed with the unimaginable gift of being called “Mommy” and being here to kiss the boo-boos and chase away the bad dreams. You are my sister, and although I will never meet you, I have more love for you than you will ever know. On Saturday when we light the candles on his cake, we’ll light one for you, too, sending up a prayer as we blow it out and send the smoke sailing across the seas to you. I hope with everything in me that you hear it when the wind whispers past bringing my good wishes and a gratitude so huge that I feel like I could collapse under the weight of the joy it brings. I hope that the wind carries away some of your grief and leaves you with a bit of peace.



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