adoption related mushiness, adoption related seriousness

I don’t want you to be grateful: a letter from your (adoptive) mother

I wish so many things for you – the children who have my heart for all of time:

I hope that you will know how to love and be loved.

I hope that you will be happy.

I hope that you will live the life you want to have and not the life anyone, including me, dreams for you.

I hope you will be kind.

I hope you will be brave.

I hope you can view the world as it truly is and still find the strength to believe you can make it better.

And along with all those things I hope with everything in me that you take my love for granted.

Continue reading “I don’t want you to be grateful: a letter from your (adoptive) mother”

adoption related mushiness, adoption related seriousness

"forever family" and other things I want to promise

I dropped Youngest off at a playcare center yesterday for a few hours. Oldest was at school and it was my husband’s birthday so he and I were doing a lunch date. Something we haven’t done since, well something we’ve never done since Oldest came home.

Youngest was excited to play with the trains, the slide, and all the other goodies they have to entice children away from their parents. But he also wasn’t keen to leave me. I talked to him on the way in and sang our little goodbye song that talks about how I’ll come back. (Sidenote: thank you Daniel Tiger for your parenting wisdom.) Then I signed him in and handed him over to the worker. She sensed his nervousness and said, as many care-workers do, “It’s okay. Mommies always come back.”

Except they don’t.

Continue reading “"forever family" and other things I want to promise”

adoption related seriousness

how to kill a blog, part one (or guilt about becoming part of the noise that drowns out the voices we should be listening to)

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I abandoned this blog to wither for several reasons. The first has to do with guilt.

Last summer I had a post that went a little “viral” in some adoptive parent communities. It was about waiting moms. I should have put “parents” because I got so much grief for leaving the dads out. For the record I wrote it about myself and a few moms I’ve become close too. It wasn’t meant to be the end all be all of explaining things. It was a deeply personal reflection on the life I led for three years.

I still like the post. A lot. The mistake was agreeing to let Huffingt*n Post republish it. And then not objecting when they put it under the tagline of “12 things everyone should know about adoption” (or something like that) and took off the postscripts I had made. Looking back I should have complained to them about the tagline and not allowed the changes. To be fair to myself it happened the day my husband had oral surgery and we ended up waiting for hours in an emergency situation because they thought a piece of metal might have gotten into his lungs. I had a barely 1-year-old and barely turned 2-year-old. I thought we’d be out for two hours, we ended up being out all day. We were exhausted and tired and I was stressed out of my mind. So I didn’t handle it like I should have. And then the noise became overwhelming and I ran away emotionally.

For awhile I couldn’t figure out why this one post gathering so much notice bothered me so much. Of course the attention was a bit overwhelming to someone with a teensy tiny blog, I actually had some mild panic attacks over it. When the post hit 5k views an hour after I published it I texted my husband and said I was going to delete the entire blog. I meant it too. If there was any doubt I was an introvert this is the moment that laid it to rest.  But then when the attention faded away, when I realized most of the 60k-some people who loved *that post* weren’t interested in anything else I had to say my pride stung a little. That post isn’t my favorite. It doesn’t even make my top five.

It’s also the most narcissistic thing I’ve ever written.

Continue reading “how to kill a blog, part one (or guilt about becoming part of the noise that drowns out the voices we should be listening to)”

adoption related seriousness

the story that didn’t start with me (birth & adoption and honoring their story)

It’s so easy, too easy really to slip into thinking I’m telling them their stories when really I’m telling them mine.

Because their stories don’t begin with the moment I heard about them, the moment that first picture made my heart go pitter patter, or the moment I met them. Their story begins with them. With their mother and father and the moment they were created. Their next nine months wrapped inside their mother. As close as two humans can be. Then more months, more changes, more stories that are theirs to have and mind to guard. A foster family, loved and cherished. And then, and only then do my husband and I step into their story. From their perspective.

This is important because it’s too easy to slip into thinking that our story is the one they are living. And it’s not. Adoption isn’t meant to be a rewriting of everything that’s gone before. The family they have now doesn’t erase the family they don’t. And it’s their right to feel whatever they feel for that family. And it’s our duty as their other parents to listen. To be okay. To celebrate what they received from that family. To acknowledge that our children’s feelings are “right” no matter what they are because their feelings are theirs. Continue reading “the story that didn’t start with me (birth & adoption and honoring their story)”

adoption related seriousness, waiting

dear friends of waiting adoptive moms: some things to know (also, we’re sorry)

1. Your friend is not crazy. (She is adopting.)

There is, I will admit, a fine line between those two but still it’s good to remember. The international adoption of a child requires enough paperwork to kill a small forest. And more governmental red tape than you can believe. Imagine your longest, most frustrating trip to the DMV. Now quadruple that, add in twelve more governmental agencies in two countries, and remember it’s not a driver’s license you’re waiting for but the final piece of paper that says this family you’re creating can finally, finally be together. Yeah. Not crazy. But close.

2. She loves a child she’s never met.

It’s possible. So possible. It’s irrational and crazy but it’s reality. Does she love them like she will once she gets to know them? No. But she loves them. She wakes up loving them and goes to sleep loving them. She drives to the grocery story and aches to have them safe and snug in the carseat waiting for them. She pushes her cart around the store and hears a child cry and her heart pounds wondering if her child is crying? Alone? Hungry? She might even have to leave an entire grocery cart full of food in the yogurt aisle to go home and cry because it just is too hard. Way too hard.

3. It’s difficult having your heart on the other side of the world.

To people on the outside they don’t look like our kids, on paper they might not be our kids yet. But in our hearts we love these children like they are and yet we’re not together. We’re moms without children. It’s an ache that doesn’t go away. It starts before we see their faces and only ends when they’re in our arms. So we walk about with half our heart missing. It’s hard to breathe, to think, to speak. Something always feels missing. Because they are.

4. She is addicted to her email.

It’s okay. This is a temporary condition and most make a full recovery. It can be diagnosed by refusal to allow separation from her smart phone, or glassy-eyed concentration as she clicks “refresh” over and over and over on her computer. Other signs may include: waking up in the middle of the night to check because it’s X time over there, and muttering aloud “must get home, must check for update, must get home” while out in public.

5. Her child has been through trauma.

If she’s like a lot of moms she won’t be advertising that fact everywhere because she respects her child’s privacy. But children don’t come to the place of needing a second family because they were placed in a cabbage patch by unicorns and leprechauns. Adoption comes from loss. Loss she will see in her child’s eyes and in their heart. Loss that as a mama can make your soul curl up in a ball for an ugly cry. So don’t tell her the kids are lucky. You wouldn’t tell a person who lost an arm that they’re lucky to have a prosthetic one would you? I mean yeah, they are lucky to have that replacement. But you know what would be luckier? Not losing that arm in the first place. So please be understanding. Also, maybe instead of asking for her child’s story outright ask “are you sharing about his history before you?” That gives her a chance to either answer you or bow out graciously.

6. Adoption isn’t pregnancy.

It just isn’t. Well, it is in that at the end of it the hope is to have a new son or daughter in your arms. But I’ve yet to meet a pregnant woman who wonders how old her child will be upon entry into the family. Adoption is different. There is no due date for us. Let that sink in. No due date. And even given preemies and late arrivals with the baby by stork method you have a narrow months-long window of time in which the baby will arrive. That brings us to point number seven.

7. She probably doesn’t know when the child is coming home.

And she has probably been asked this approximately twelve times that day. Because you, her awesome friends, care about her! (And also you secretly worry she’s going a little nuts, see point #1.) And I get it. It’s hard with adoption because you don’t know what to ask. I feel that way with pregnant ladies, like what am I supposed to say? “Your ankles really don’t look that bad do they?” Recently I learned the always safe phrase “you look great – how is baby doing?”, the adoption equivalent is “I know you must miss your kiddos, how is the adoption going?” Or, if you don’t have time to have her break down and cry all over you try the even safer “can I see your latest update pictures?” and then ooh and aww over their cute faces. Even if the pictures are horrible say something positive. I mean I don’t tell people that their sonogram pictures sometimes look like aliens made of bread dough. (Except yours Amy B. Yours is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.)

8. She isn’t sure they’re coming home.

This is the part of the adoption process that makes you want to crawl under your bed and not come out until it’s safe again. This is the part that tears your soul in two. This is the part that you wake up in the morning remembering and going to bed at night fearing. Because there are no guarantees. And that’s hard. No, not hard. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s not just the fear that your child might die before having a family, it’s that this child you love with every ounce of your being might grow up in an orphanage, on the streets, or worse.

9. Your friend is kind of stupid.

I know. That’s harsh. But it’s true. You try operating on a daily basis with only half your heart and half your brain, because that’s what it’s like. ‘Cause the other half of you is wrapped up in a tiny person who is half a world and what feels like a lifetime away. Also, because of the time zone difference it means that half of you is awake pretty much all the time.

10. She doesn’t need to hear your HAS (horrible adoption stories.)

Yes, I know, everyone knows of someone’s uncle’s neighbor who adopted a child and then the child burned down the school with the power of her mind after her classmates dumped a bucket of pig blood on her. (Oh wait, that’s the storyline of “Carrie” isn’t it?) But sharing these stories are the equivalent of telling someone hopping in a plane for their first sky-diving session “I watched this video on youtube where a guy skydived. He died. And his body was all smashed and stuff.” Maybe it’s true but it’s also not overly helpful. Unless you’re the kind of person who also goes up to pregnant woman and says “I know of a lady who got pregnant one time, she gave birth to a kid who became a serial killer and sewed a suit of clothes out of his victims’ skin. (Shoot, that’s the storyline of “Hannibal” isn’t it? Well, I tried.)

Do “Adoptive Kids” sometimes grow up and do horrible thing? Yep. You know who else grows up and does horrible things? “Vaginal Kids.” So really, the warning should be more along these lines: “You’re going to be a parent huh? Good luck with that.”

11. She has probably done her research

Don’t assume she’s going into this because of a driving urge to be mistaken for Angelina Jolie. Unless she is also demanding everyone call her husband “Brad” it probably comes from some deeper place. Or you know, her husband’s name really IS Brad. Chances are she’s read books on adoptive parenting, has agonized for hours over which adoption agency to choose from. Made a decision. Then agonized some more. She’s thought about the ethical questions. And if you don’t think she has then maybe ask. “How did you pick your agency?” “What led you to X country?”

12. She looks brave on the outside, she’s brave on the inside too. But she’s also a mess

Which, I think is what mothering and loving is all about. Being a mess. Throwing your love out there and not knowing if you’re ever going to get it back. It’s scary. It’s vulnerable. It feels like you can’t breathe and when you can it hurts to do it. And you don’t want to complain about that because you picked it. So you pick up the pieces of your heart and you keep going. You keep going because at the end of the day what you go through as an adoptive mother is nothing compared to what children go through when they live their life without family. And that’s what this journey is all about.

dear friends of waiting adoptive moms

{{picture of my son and I taken by the talented Melanie Pace}}

edited to add this note: When I hit publish this morning it didn’t occur to me that this post would spread so far beyond the small group of friends and family who read my blog. Beyond the group of women who’ve become my friends during this adoption journey and who helped me think of topics to add to this post. I’m honored that each one of you have come here and read my thoughts, and honored that you saw fit to share this post with your friends. For those of you who haven’t read posts before I’d like to offer links to a few that I believe will present a more complete picture of my thoughts on the adoption process.

Adoption is an imperfect answer to an impossible question. I happen to wish that all Babies could be raised by their first mothers & fathers, the people who brought them into this world, the people whose blood history they share. But we don’t live in a world where “shoulds” always happen. Life is messy and painful, life includes loss and heartache. And so adoption exists.

All throughout the process of adoption I tried to be careful about calling our life here “home” for Nat. Even on his birth announcement I put “together” instead of “home”. I’m not sure all the reasons for the hesitation. Certainly I thought it, I believed it, I wanted it. But I also knew it wasn’t. He wasn’t coming home, he was leaving home. Leaving home to come live in a strange place that yes, would eventually BE home. Sometimes I think I over think things.

I’m ashamed to admit this but way back when, shortly after we heard the first child we were matched with was dying, I wondered why our adoption journey had to be so hard. So painful and soul-rending. I wasn’t expecting a rose petal covered path but I was hoping that some almighty power would at least keep the thorny brambles cleared off of it. But here’s the thing: if there was any fairness in this world my children would never have needed me in the first place. And there is something quite horrific about the arrogance of believing that God would make this easy on me when it wasn’t easy for my children’s other parents.

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two years ago – the email that made us a family

It was just an email. Just one silly email. Ninety five words. And without it we wouldn’t be a family. Sometimes I think of that and I can’t bear it. Can’t bear the thought that ninety-five words were the difference between him being my son and us never meeting.

When you build your family through adoption you are infinitely aware of the fragility of life and love, and yes, even family. Family –  that thing that should be a physically eternal presence in our life, but isn’t always. I have to believe though that in our hearts and in our souls there is a link. A forever link. I rocked Thane in my arms recently and talked about his other mother. I talked about love and souls and the link the five of us share: his other parents, Nate & I, him.

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I still struggle with meant to be and Divine Plans and all of that. But love – love I’m good with. Love I can understand. Love brought us together. Maybe not because we were meant to be but because love finds a way to share itself, to replicate itself, to give itself. Maybe love creates the meant to be where there wasn’t one.

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That email came out of frustration. We knew we had to leave our current agency. Things had reached a crisis point and there was no trust left in that relationship. I was broken. I’m not proud of that, but I was. Fourteen months and one dead baby can have that effect on you. The saying goes “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” And my heart felt sick. I was almost done. I thought maybe we were meant to just give all the money we were saving to charity. Give to help people start their own businesses and be able to provide for their family. Give to help fund clean drinking water programs. Just give. Give and just be a family of two forever. I look at that and know we would have had a great life. A wonderful, fulfilling life. But I’m also glad that life took a different path because that little boy is the sun and the moon and the stars.

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I spent all the week before making our adoption profile. We were leaning towards switching to domestic adoption. Trying to find the courage to try again. So I was making our picture book up, the book that would be shown to expectant mamas who were considering adoption. I just ran across  the files for it on my laptop. I couldn’t delete them. And while I made it I knew it wasn’t where my heart was, my heart was for some reason stuck on the other side of the world.

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So I sent an email. Just one stupid email. To an agency I had forgotten about. Our second choice agency. The one we didn’t choose the first time around. I sent an email and told them about our immigration approval paperwork and our homestudy. I asked if they needed families. I asked, and then I forgot about it. And then the next day we got the email that changed everything. The email that talked about Thane, the email that led to a phone conversation, that led to a picture, that led to a baby boy lighting up my world with his dimples. Unreal. Unreal how something so insignificant could change so much. It scares me to think what would have happened if I hadn’t sent it. That one little email. That amazing child. We might have missed each other. Love is a crazy thing isn’t it? It took three people who didn’t share anything and made them a family.

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adoption, family age, gushing, phoenix rising

one month together

He’s really here.

I have remind myself of that a few times a day. I’ll have him on my lap, cuddling his little body in my arms and it will hit me: this is real, we’re together. It happened. During the process of waiting I held a duel reality in my head and in my heart: he’s mine, he might never be mine. Loving without knowing is a different kind of love. It’s a deep, pounding, fight-to-the-end kind of love that doesn’t let go. It’s almost desperate in a way, this feeling of wanting and yet knowing you might never have. Please let him have a family. That was my constant wish. And now he has one. Ours. We’re family. A family rising out of the ashes. It’s another duel reality I hold: he’s my son, he’s another’s son.  I struggle not with guilt but with an awareness of the unfairness of this world of ours. Broken hallelujahs.

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And now it’s been a month of getting to know him. A grand, glorious month of more baby kisses than I imagined possible to cram into that time. Of simple moments of splendor as his personality unfolds, as he lets us get to know him more and more. You watch your baby grow up in pictures and you cling to each slight expression change captured in them, trying to read some personality trait, some meaning into them. And then suddenly the child is real, three-dimensional and complete. It’s like stepping into a painting, it’s an overload of input. I feel quite panicked at times that time is slipping away so fast. We missed so much of his life and now I want time to just stand still for a while and let us catch up on everything we missed.

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It’s good in a way though, to have that ache of missing those moments. They’re a reminder to see him as an individual, as someone with his own feelings and history and strengths. To look at this adoption story from his side of it, not just from ours. Because his is very different from ours. The day our family was complete was also the day he left everything he’d known for so long. The day my heart felt complete again was the day his lost his beloved foster family. He both came home and left home. Another duel reality to hold. I feel so grateful to his foster family. There are no words to say how much.

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To watch him open himself up to our love amazes me. To watch his shyness give way to oh-I-know-you feels like magic. It reminds me of watching mom make the whipping cream at Thanksgiving, watching the blender spin round and round and round and it seems that nothing is changing, then suddenly instead of liquid sloshing there’s peaks and valleys of sugary goodness. Magic. I pick him out of his crib after each nap and bedtime and suddenly his look is one of relief and recognition instead of confusion and surprise. Like his heart is whispering “oh it’s you, I know you.” And I whisper back “yes it’s me, it will always be me, and someday you’ll know that.”

This isn’t the post I meant to write today. I meant to write about his personality, his feisty and affectionate little self. How good he is at crawling now and how he gives kisses and then flashes this little look at that says “aren’t I clever to make you go all googoogaga  over me?” But I guess I just can’t get past the reality and amazement that he’s here. He’s really here.

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adoption, expectations

on loving and expecting and trying to hold two babies

Tal is an amazing human being. I guess that goes without saying, isn’t every baby? And of course I’m his mom so my opinion comes wildly biased. But throughout the process of his adoption, as we got update pictures I’d wonder of course about who he would be, what he would be like, his personality and his strengths. It’s a strange thing to fall in love with a person and then get to know then. And now that I’ve gotten just a small, small taste of who he is I can say firmly that I adore him. I adore what I know about him and I look forward to getting to know what I don’t.

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I try very hard to keep expectations far away from my motherhood experiences. Expectations of what he’ll be like, if he’ll like me, how our family will fit together. I was worried I hadn’t done such a good job this time. In many ways it was much, much harder this time. I’d already experienced motherhood, that first rush of change and excitement. With Thane it was easier to keep expectations low because I didn’t have any idea what to expect. This time, unspoken, unrealized expectations kept rearing their head throughout the process.

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At one point I sat down with myself and forced myself to imagine everything exactly the opposite of how it was with Thane. I tried to imagine a personality as far from his as possible. It was hard, but good too for me to do that. It brought a lot of those unspoken expectations to the light and let me get rid of most of them.

But of course there were some I wasn’t prepared for. I hadn’t realized how challenging it would  be to show love to children at the same time. Loving two is no problem, but I wasn’t prepared for the physical feats it would require to show that love. When Nate, Tal, and I arrived in the Denver airport and there was Thane with my family and friends to greet us it suddenly hit me. I had one baby in my arms, how the heck was I supposed to pick up another? So I ended up on my knees. Not in prayer. That’s just literally all I could do to get them both safely in my arms. Sidenote: A friend told me recently that she kickboxes to work through the adoption stress, I ate Oreos, I’m thinking now that hers is the better plan.

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The thing about expectations is they can keep me from seeing what’s in front of me. If I’m so focused on what I thought it would be I can’t see what is. And what is? That’s something I don’t want to miss. And his personality? As the stress of all the changes, and his cold, and his two new teeth subside I see it coming out more and more. And it rocks.

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adoption, cave paintings of the soul

we’re fine, really

A few days ago Nate was holding one screaming child, I was holding the other. And as I watched the blood drip down my leg I realized something: we were going to be fine. I don’t mean in any profound, the world was ours for the taking kind of fine. I mean that the babies were going to get fed and changed and loved on and the four of us were on one continent so really, what else was there?

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Sure, within twenty-four hours of parenting two children under two I had somehow managed to put a diaper on one child but forgotten to fasten it so it ended up around their ankles and completely useless, and sure I had absent-mindedly given the eight month old a piece of pizza instead of the 22 month old, and yes it was true that Nate asked to gatecheck both of the children, but we were going to be fine. After all we cleaned up the first mess, didn’t actually let the eight month old eat the piece, and Nate assured the ticket agent he actually wanted to get boarding passes for the kids, not gatecheck them. So yeah, we would be fine. I would end up limping for the next however many days and the sidewalk would need a hosing off and my favorite pair of jeans got ruined in the fall but we would be fine. Better than fine. But there’s nothing wrong with fine either.

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My parents stayed with us the first week home, that was amazing. They did everything, and we just loved on the two little ones and tried to get Tal on the right time-zone. It’s special to share those first days with the people who raised me. I miss them. Thane really misses them. They sing to him and read to him and love him like crazy.

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Nate is lucky enough to get a month of paternity leave, and we’re cocooning hard around here.  There’s something completely breathtaking about waking up and realizing you don’t have to wonder how your baby is doing, you know. You can tiptoe to his crib and listen to him breathe. You know when he’s crying and when he’s happy. He lays against my chest while I rock him to sleep and I feel lost in this fog of wondering if this is really real. Because it seems too good to be true that the wait is over, that he’s with us. That the process of making this his home has begun. It’s a surreal feeling to know that the “happily ever after” of my side of the adoption story is the “in the beginning” for his. Because he had a home. A country. A culture. A foster family who loves him and cared for him. This isn’t home. Not yet. I call it home, yes. Because it will be so. Because it’s waiting for him whenever he wants it. Whenever his little heart is ready for it.

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Next month will be three years since we dropped our application to agency #1 in the mail. At that point they said we would certainly have a child home within a year. That seems so ludicrous now.  Two years ago this month, a few days ago actually, was the anniversary of our first referral – the baby who didn’t make it. And a year ago this month Thane had been with us just two months. And now here we are, the four of us together. It didn’t go like I had planned, it wasn’t what I imagined, it isn’t even what I would have picked. But I look at these two children and I catch my breath at the thought that I get to mother them. The honor of that is more than I can say.

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{{All pictures from his first week “home”.}}

waiting

the christmas tree that made it

Today I took down our Christmas tree, it finally died. It’s March 12. It’s been standing in our living room for one hundred and fourteen days.

When his brother and his daddy and I picked out our tree the weekend of Thanksgiving I don’t remember thinking it would still be up when Tal came home. Mostly I was trying very hard to be present to the fact that our oldest was home. That all the longing and dreaming of “next year our family will be together” from the year before was now true. Except it wasn’t. We had our first baby but were now missing our second. Two Christmases with such similar longings.

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But then the tree kept living. We got home from our Christmas trip to CO for two weeks and it was still going strong. And then we thought Tal might be home in Jan and I thought – maybe it will make it. Maybe he’ll get to see his first Christmas tree. And then Jan was gone and Feb was here, and the tree kept on going strong. A few ornaments bit the dust, but the tree itself seemed reluctant to give up its needles. Like it too wanted our baby home.

I don’t remember when exactly I pretty much gave up hope. I remember posting about it on an online group. And some people said they thought it could make it. And a new friend stopped by with treats and a visit just when I needed it and she said she thought it could make it. So I started to hope again. Hope is a crazy thing.DSC_1234

Then I met my youngest. And on Thursday his Daddy, his brother, his grandparents, and I flew into Seattle. We drove home from the airport, walked through the door as a family of four for the first time, and I curled up on the couch with Tal in my arms. His big brother turned on the Christmas tree lights. Tal’s eyes got big, he laid his head against my chest and we sat there snuggled up together. And he fell asleep. He fell asleep in the glow of the lights of the tree from his first Christmas. It made it. We made it.

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{{I don’t have pictures of that first night beside the tree.  But Friday night when he woke up in the middle of the night and his jetleg wouldn’t let him got back to sleep his daddy and I spent some more time with him in its glow and I took a few pictures to remember the tree that made it, and the baby boy who loved it.}}