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DC–The Last Days

Sorry, kids.  I fell behind on blogging our trip.  It was too much fun.  You all make anywhere fun.  I know how hard it is for us to travel as such a large crew, but you are always up for our fast paced adventures.  I am so grateful for that.

You bigs did a great job of helping tote the littles.  You hoisted them onto your backs when they were tired.  You took people to the potty every time you noticed an emergency.  You never complained about the lack of funds for eating out.  You were so patient with our ‘PB&J on the fly’ diet, because these littles never sit still.  I see you middles too, becoming bigs, by watching what they do, and I love it.

Here are a few pics from the last two days of our adventures.  We did so much!  Tess loves to “wander”, and wander we did.

To the Air & Space Museum.

Some members of the family were more interested in having their pics taken then in looking at the exhibits.   We wandered to the American History Museum to stand in front of the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter.  

We wandered back toward the Mall so we could see everything from the opposite viewpoint.  We saw the WWII Memorial for my Grandma.  We sent her a pic where Cate did NOT have her finger up her nose.  But, for our archival purposes, kids, here she is, in all her 5-year-old glory.  Oh, Cate.  We closed out our visit with a trip to the MLK Memorial.  It was a perfect way to end our time in DC.  And, this pic sums up all my hopes for you all.  Be fearless, and always remember the people who came before you.  You are your ancestors wildest dreams.  –FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to see where we wander next.

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Officially Ours.

Today we went back to the governmental office where we met Gigi yesterday to sign the paperwork to make her officially ours.  We have had her for 24 hours now.  At this point, technically, we could either ask for 24 more hours to “decide”, tell them we prefer not to continue, or sign the paperwork to make her ours.  The boys and I had a conversation about these three options last night.  I had this conversation with them in anticipation of our guide asking us if we are going to proceed with the adoption.  This question will haunt them, the way it haunts me, because the answer is unwavering in our home.

This is forever.

To think there is any other option stands at odds with everything we’ve ever taught them about their place in our family.  I can’t imagine bringing them here, having them watch me meet Gigi and then saying “I’m sorry, this isn’t for us.”  We discussed the ways that would ruin her life, teach her to lose her faith in forever family, crush her spirit, and probably make the caregivers who have cared for her all this time think she is unworthy.  But, I asked them how it would make them feel about themselves.  They answered honestly, uncertain.

They’ve lived with me all their recollected lives.  They’ve never known another mom.  Yet, if I turned my back on Gigi now, it would shape Gigi’s future, and theirs, in ways we couldn’t come back from.  They would be forever uncertain on whether or not I would turn my back on them if their needs became to great.  What if they aren’t perfect?  Is giving them back an option?  Some people choose to do just this.  They choose to say “I’m sorry, this isn’t for us.”  I hear all the reasons, and I acknowledge they are real.  I’ve felt them.  The jet lag, the fear, the newness of a child who is completely foreign to you, one who has HUGE needs are all there.

There are unexpected moments every single time we adopt.  There are concerning behaviors.  There is uncertainty.  My God, I get it.  I came home three years ago this month with a child who was diagnosed as terminal.  Tess could have died.  She was dying.  What kind of pain would that have inflicted upon our family had she?  What would have that done to all my kids?  Losing a child shapes your life forever.  Fighting what we did for Tess, what we will for Gigi, will shape our lives forever.

Gigi has some behaviors that are concerning.  Behaviors that indicate some significant developmental delays.  I was prepared for this.  She is deaf, and blind in one eye.  She has a scar that wraps around her right side that reminds us that she lived through a rather complex heart surgery without a mom to advocate for her, yoga breathe with her, reassure her.  She did this all with no way to communicate her fear to anyone.  Would you be delayed if you were a child who had lived through that?  I’d be catatonic.  The left side/back of her head is completely flat.  We discovered that in the bath tub last night.  She must have laid in a crib for so long.  She grinds her teeth constantly.  Is it a self-stimming behavior or is it anxiety?  Who knows?  She waves her hands oddly in front of her face.  We’re distracting her, loving her, offering her alternatives until we can get home and meet with OT, PT and the rest of the team of people that will help her reach her fullest potential.  She’s 3.5 years old and wears diapers.  She runs off balance and with jerky movements.  She moans loudly sometimes.  People stare at her, and at us, all day long.  At some point, someone will undoubtedly refer to her as “retarded.”  It’s coming.  We’re ready.

What will this do to my kids?  What will having a sibling with this level of need do to them?

Make them better human beings.  They adore her.  The two who are with me are fierce about her.  People stare, and they stare right back.  They tell me all the time, “Oh mom, she’s so cute.”  She is, but she’s not a baby.  She’s a curious preschooler who acts like a toddler, climbs all over them and tries to wreck their stuff.

They are unconcerned.

This is their sister.  She is theirs, and they are hers.  That means forever.

Today, we made it so.

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DSC_0077Photo credits: Brady Ketarkus 

–FullPlateMom, who is so proud of her two eldest boys.

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One Day.

This is Gigi’s last night without a family.  I know she has no clue about the magnitude of change that’s upon her, but I wonder, can she feel something coming? Does she sense that this was her last dinner in an orphanage? That this is the last night that she’ll be tucked into bed in the only home she’s ever known? Does she sense the change in the nanny’s demeanor?  What does it look like when a child is about to leave their care? Does anything change? It must, right? Maybe they’ll kiss her one more time tonight, knowing that some of them will never see her again.  I have to believe it’s impossible to care for a child for 3.5 years and not want to hold her a little closer when you know she’s leaving you forever.  blog3It’s a surreal feeling to be on this end of this kind of monumental moment, to know what’s coming for her, and to bear witness to it.  As we rolled from Shanghai to Nanjing on the bullet train, as people boarded and disembarked the train in Gigi’s hometown, I wondered if any of them were related to her.  Such a random and stupid thing to wonder when the city has a population of millions and millions of people, but this is her one connection to her roots.  These people, in this city.

I wondered about her birth family.  I wonder this every time.  My Chinese kids are my only children whose birth parents will likely remain a complete mystery.  What would their birth family think if they knew that tomorrow their daughter will take the first step towards not being Chinese anymore?  Would they mourn what she has lost, or would they celebrate all that she’ll gain?  Maybe it would be a little of both.  For me, it’s a lot of both.  Such a jumble of emotions.

Do they think about her?  Will they happen to think of her tomorrow? Will they sense the change that’s coming for her?  Such silly questions.  Yet, this process makes the world feel small, as if God’s hand is guiding her to me and me to her, and has been all along.  Because, if it wasn’t, and the world isn’t small at all, how did we find each other? I knew.  I always knew.  Tess knew she was out there, just waiting, her Gigi.  So, I wonder, will they somehow know?  Will they sense the loss?  I have to believe it’s impossible to leave behind a child and not think of her every once in awhile.  Will they think of her tomorrow as she gains a new, forever mother?  Maybe that red thread will tie us all together now, the way it brought me to her in the first place.  I hope so.  If I had one wish in this world, it would be for comfort, for closure, for the brave people who brought my children into this world.  I would love for them to know…

They are well.  They are whole.  They are loved.

Tomorrow, we include Gigi in all that is.

–FullPlateMom, who is as ready as she’ll ever be.

 

 

Dessert, Tess, Uncategorized

My Wish for You (Her Wish: The Final Day).

Dear Tess,

Today is the final day of your wish.  Well, we have two days of driving left, but I doubt there will be much to say about those, except “He’s TOUCHING ME!!” and “STOP IT!”

I’m kidding, kind of.

I think you feel all this drawing to a close, and you’re not sure quite what to make of it.  You keep asking me if “we have one more day, right?”  Nope, sweet love.  We leave very early tomorrow morning.  We’ll wave goodbye to this island paradise as the sun rises.  We will hope to come back someday.

My Wish for You-1We focus on all the amazing things we have waiting for us at home.  There is a Christmas tree to put up and decorate.  There are presents to wrap.  And, best of all, there is another sister to pack for.  You are VERY excited about helping me get ready to head to your homeland to bring “your Gigi” home.  I adore you for that.  I told you that I can use all the packing help I can get.

This week has been all about wishes fulfilled for you, and some of my wishes for you came true when I got to see you do all these things firsthand.  From building massive sandcastles to riding a beautiful unicorn, this has been amazing.  I just want you to remember that while this wish is fulfilled, I have so many more for you.  What mama doesn’t, right?

I think all mamas wish for their babies to grow up strong, find the perfect person to spend their life with, find happiness with a family that you will love as much as this one loves you.  But, sweet Tess, I have so many more wishes for you.  So many more.

I want you to never, not for one second, forget where you came from.  I want you to hold tight to your culture, the one you were born into, not just the one that adopted you.  I don’t want you to ever lose yourself to helping the babies you love so much, the ones that still wait, but I also want you to hold onto your passion for them.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t ever push any of my children into the role of tiny advocate for adoption, but Tess, you RAN there without any pushing at all.  You talk to absolutely everyone who will listen about your “unicorn babies”, these rare gems that, I think, remind you, of, well, you.  Every fiber of your being thinks about what might have been had we not been lucky enough to find one another.  That’s a heavy yoke to bear, Tess, but you bear it in the most positive of ways.  You are a game changer, Tess, just like your brothers and sisters.  Your fire ignites theirs though.  You’re like a spark.

My Wish for You We wouldn’t burn as brightly without you.

May you continue to guide us through life, not telling us, but always showing us, what is truly important.  May you find ways to charm other people into following along.  You are the very definition of someone who walks softly, but is so powerful.  You smile, laugh, and then lay it all on the line in a way that is absolutely impossible for others to ignore.  May you never, not for one single second, forget how powerful you truly are.

My Wish for You-2

And, of course, I wish for your heart to never fail you, not physically, or spiritually.  You have incomparable instincts, Tess.  Follow them…always.

–FullPlateMom, who loves you so.

Dessert, Tess, Uncategorized

The Aquarium (Her Wish: Day Six).

Tessa Claire!!!

Today was “the best day ever!”  You say that about every single day, and girlfriend, I love ya for it.  That’s what you tell me about all the ice cream you’ve eaten, “Girlfriend, I love ya for it!”  I get ‘I love you’ about fifty times a day out of you, which makes my heart so happy.

We headed out early to get to the aquarium.  
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You really seemed to enjoy it, but there were no unicorns there, so really, this was something the other kids enjoyed.  You were cool with that.

Aquariums and TrolleysYou got piggybacked all over the place, looking at everything, and asking a ton of really good questions.

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Aquariums and Trolleys. -2There was, of course, more ice cream.

We got back to the house, went for a swim, ate corn dogs (I have never eaten so much ‘kid food’ in my life), and then you asked if we could ride the trolley.

Out we all headed again.  The trolley was only going to take us, maybe, a total of five blocks, but you were absolutely determined to ride it.  So, we waited.

Aquariums and Trolleys.

Aquariums and Trolleys-3And got a little bored.

Aquariums and Trolleys. -1And waited some more.

Aquariums and Trolleys-2FINALLY!  It came.  And, it was totally worth it.  You were thrilled.

Aquariums and Trolleys-4You were so thrilled that you had trouble choosing a seat.

Aquariums and Trolleys-7

We made our way to City Pier.

Aquariums and Trolleys. -4We ran that pier, even though it was getting a little windy as the sun went down.

Aquariums and Trolleys-1

Aquariums and Trolleys-2You were impressed by the catch of the day, but not enough to touch it when offered the opportunity.

Aquariums and Trolleys-3Your legs got SO tired at the end of all this.  So, you needed another piggyback.  Good thing you have so many brothers!

Aquariums and Trolleys-6It was home, pizza (oh my gosh, your dining choices!) and bed.  Tomorrow, at dawn, WE RIDE!!!

–FullPlateMom, who has gained at least five pounds.

 

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Three Years of Tess.

We joke with Cam, our first, that he is the boy that started it all.  That is very true, but in some ways, Tess wears the title of the girl who started it all.  Three years ago today, in a sterile office in Xi’an, I signed the official papers to make her mine.

The next few days weren’t any kind of easy.

But, I was yours, and you were mine, and we started our life together.

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Sometimes, it was like this…

DSC_0016-1Pretty soon though, we found our groove.

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Photo credit on this one goes to my friend, Yamid HR.

 

You came home to all these people.  582286_324447744328595_596366009_n-1Who also loved you from minute one.

The reality of you was so scary.  At 2-years-old, you were the size of a 6-month-old.  You couldn’t talk, walk, or even feed yourself.  Your best chance was for us to make you a whole lot sicker in the short term to heal you in the long run.  So, we did.  I’m so sorry, baby girl.  So sorry.  Yet, there was joy, and laughter, in the way you handled every second of it.

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DSC_0027-1You healed in ways I can’t explain.  You grew, tried new things, and you have lived more of a life in these past three years then people do in a lifetime.  We decided to just live with you.  Throw caution to the wind, love you for who you are, and LIVE!

We took you to Disney.

DSC_0198-1We put you on every carnival ride we could find that summer.  Sometimes you wondered what the HECK was happening here?

 

DSC_0093-1But then you’d ask for more, and we’d let you, as many times as you wanted, because…this face.

DSC_0100-1You became like a tiny guide for this family, telling us “See me?!?  THIS is what life is about!”

IMG_2826-1We heard you.  Loud and clear.  And, we all watched at your joyful reaction of adding a brother and a sister to our family.  They’re here, partly, because of who you are, Tess.  Because you are unwavering in your declaration that what you have is what EVERY child deserves.

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Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 5.51.23 PM-1You are so very right.

Too soon, you were sick again, and it was time for us to do something for you again.  Daddy and I made the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make, consulted every expert along the way, and finally decided that we would take the higher risk option to see if we could get you the physical version of the whole heart you’ve had all along.

That was the worst moment of my life.  Just putting the link there has me working hard to catch my breath.

We almost lost you.

FullSizeRender-3-1We didn’t though.  That gift, the gift of more time with you, has cemented our commitment to live.  And we did, again changed, for the better, because of you.

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Pumpkin Patch-4In just two weeks, you will see a “for really real”  unicorn, something you’ve told me you’ve “waited your whole life for!”  In December, I will bring home the sister that you named, the one you INSISTED was waiting for you in China.  You were right, sweet girl, we found her waiting, just the way you said she would be.  She’s about to become ours, and we will become hers, forever, and no matter what, because that’s something YOU taught us.  In January, we will complete the third part of your wish and take you back to see your princesses, where you will introduce them to your Gigi, with the signs you have practiced so hard to help her understand.

  1.  Unicorns
  2. Sisters
  3. Princesses

FOREVER.

–FullPlateMom, who so thankful for the girl who showed her the meaning of that word.

 

 

 

Adoption, Advocacy, FPD, Uncategorized

How Did You Talk Him Into It?

When I was at the retreat this weekend there was, of course, a lot of talk of husbands and kids.  I have a large number of them.  Not husbands, thank God, just children.  I got asked, again, how I managed to talk Joe into adopting that large number of children.  I have been asked it many, many times.  Not to stereotype anyone, but statistically, wives seem to be the driving forces behind the idea of adoption.  There are husbands who first lay out the idea, don’t get me wrong, but it’s wives who usually come to me and say “Help me talk my husband into this just ONE MORE TIME!”

While it is absolutely true that I have been the driving force behind each and every one of our adoptions, I didn’t have to talk Joe into it.  Mostly, because I can’t.  Please don’t think I didn’t try.  Tess’s adoption was a true lobbying effort.  We were supposed to be done.  I had PROMISED.  And, let’s be real, her medical needs scared Joe.  I tried everything short of signing paperwork for him.  I made sure he met other people who were parenting kids with congenital heart defects.  I read him research.  I even hung Tess’s tiny picture on our refrigerator.  JoeHe just smiles at me, tips his beer and says “Stop it, Becky.”

It never works.

The man does not budge.  I’ve had to accept that he isn’t going to do it just because I yell an enthusiastic “Let’s go!”  Joe has to get there at his own pace.  From the outside, our marriage looks like I run the show.  In some ways, he does look to me to do that.  In fact, it often causes a fight.  When there are this many kids, I need someone to take the reigns sometimes.  He does that, just sometimes not in the way I would have.  Then, because I’m a control freak, I yell at him for that too.  I am not easy to live with.  He has had to accommodate for that.

Marriage is a balancing act.  I learned that through my lobbying, and in many other smaller ways during the last twenty years.  If we were an automobile, then I am the gas and this man is the brakes.  The car can’t run without either one.  We balance each other out.  When he has absolutely said ‘no’ to something, I am mad.  I am hurt.  I tell him that.  Sometimes, I tell him loudly.  Sometimes, I even question if we want the same things in life.  Sometimes, I’ve even questioned his faith.

That’s not fair of me.  It’s not fair at all.

I’ve had to realize that if we added a child to our family because I lobbied hard, or the children lobbied hard, then that wouldn’t be good for anyone.  Not our current family, not the new child, and especially not our marriage.  In fact, it would be absolutely terrible for our marriage.

Realizing all of this has been a long time coming.  None of my lobbying was ever what made the difference.  In fact, it had the opposite effect.  It drove him away from the idea of ever adopting again.  Duh. No one likes pressure.  So, while I may tell him how I feel, I’ve given up on the hard lobby when it comes to anything in our relationship.  In other words, I’ve grown up.

When I wanted to adopt Gigi, and everyone knew that, I had to continually say “Joe isn’t where I am.”  During this time of not being in the same place, our lovely Social Worker, Jessica, came for a post-placement visit for Cate’s adoption.  These are the visits where she checks on everyone in our home, especially Cate, and sees if we need any support.  She can combine these visits though, and use them to start a new home study for another adoption.  When she came, Joe and I had been in deep discussions about Gigi, and whether or not we could give her everything she needed.  The visit was coming to a close and Jessica stood up from her chair at the dining room table, gathering her paperwork.  She looked at both of us expectantly and said “Is there anything else I can do for you?”  I looked up at Joe, silently pleading with him to please, please, please tell her he actually did want to bring Gigi home, to us.

“Nope. Thank you. We’re all set.”

He wasn’t there yet.  That moment was like a punch to the gut.  I had to accept the fact that maybe he would never get to where I was.  It had happened before.  He does have an excellent sense of what we can handle, and when.  As we approached Tess’s open heart surgery, I said nothing.  There was nothing more to say.  Yes, there were discussions about children who wait, there always are.  I see the files of 20-30 kids a month who wait, and wait, for families.  I can’t advocate without talking to someone about it.  My heart often aches.  It’s important to have a safe person to share with.  I shared.  He listened, just like he always does.  I don’t really know what changed.  You would have to ask him.  Shortly before Tess went into the hospital, he said, “I think we should do this. I think we can.”

It may take him awhile to get where I am, but when he does, he is all in.  Joe-2That’s so important.  Both of us have to be all in, all the time.

Week before last, he put his name on the official paperwork “accepting” Gigi into our family.  While the moment is documented here for her, the actual acceptance had come long before this.  Joe-1It came in the moments we began learning about Deaf culture.  It came in the moments we both started learning ASL.  It came in the moments when we accepted that we may spend even more time inside the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit that we’ve both come to love and loathe all at once.  It came in the moments when we said “Our daughter is technically deaf AND blind.”  It came a long time ago.

The children haven’t figured out that lobbying doesn’t work quite yet.  Recently, Bowen started talking about how he needs a “small brother.”  He means a brother with Dwarfism, like him.  In fact, he wants to name him “Baby Junior Bowen.”  Every time there is a boy with Dwarfism waiting he says “That boy be my Baby Junior Bowen?”  The kids usually jump on board.  “Yes! Yes! One more time! Let’s do it again.”

I stay out of it.  Joe knows what we can handle and when.  I just laugh as he has to say to them “Stop it, Kids.”

–FullPlateMom, who, if she’s being real, loves it that they never, ever stop.  Tiny advocates, every one.