2 Weeks Together

We kicked off another week together with the boys’ flag football.  Let me say I am loving this whole flag football thing.  They do everything on Sunday afternoon and nothing during the week.  So practice an hour before the game, then it’s game time, the end.  It was hot and sunny and everyone sunscreened up.  The boys had the best time and it’s always crazy fun watching and cheering them on.

Leo had several big doctor’s appointments…3 to be exact.  There are a lot of different pieces that are going into figuring out the best treatment for his heart and we’re currently working through all of those and letting the specialists do their jobs covering every last detail.  He did amazingly well…minus his eye appointment when they had to dilate his eyes.  Hatred ensued…from the both of us. 🙂  It was hard seeing him trying to process and understand what in the heck was going on, but it ended up being a must because the kiddo needed glasses.

*Spoiler Alert: He’s freakin adorable in his new glasses.*

He was a massive hit at Vandy for one appointment because A) He’s adorable and B) He wore Solomon’s little tiny Preds jersey for their last game at home in the playoffs.  We ended up losing, but Leo was the cutest Preds fan around town.

He played a ton in his water table and little pool.  The kid adores water.  He’s getting more and more tan and eaten up with bug bites by the minute.

It’s crazy fun watching him discover and learn and just be apart of our family.  He found the kids’ magnify glass and was obsessed with it.  We wondered if it made it extra fun due to his little eye sight, but either way, it was adorable watching him walking around looking at everything through it.

We did all our normal weekly things like running errands and grocery shopping and preparing for the end of the school year.  It was a busy one for sure, but he rolled with it.  Pretty sure we’re wearing the kid out.

We went to Hudson, Solomon and Amon’s school for their Friday house party.  There’s music and dance offs and weekly awards for students and teachers and house chants.  I teared up about 22 times.  I love our school.  I love that they love these kiddos and care about building community among them.  It was so incredible to watch it all do down.  Leo and our littlest lived it up and danced their hearts out.

Afterwards we attended the boys’ field day at school.  Our littlest insisted on wearing rainbow ribbons and I totally obliged for that little visual reminder of Everett.  They had the best time.  Leo was crazy obsessed with the bubbles and there might have been a massive fit when I removed him from sitting in the actual bubble bucket.  How dare I?!?!  🙂

The boys all had so much fun with their friends and doing all the fun activities.  They all bounced around from station to station and loved showing off Leo to their sweet friends.

Field day was a weirdly hard day for me.  You wouldn’t think field day would trigger so much sadness and tears, but there I was sobbing my eyeballs out multiple times.  Everett went to field day last year.  It was such a special time and he loved it so much.  During last year’s field day we got the call from our cardiologist that she had finally heard from an amazing surgeon who thought he saw hope for Everett’s heart.  That surgeon ended up being our only chance…the only one who thought he saw a path to hope and healing for Everett.

I remember standing in the shade after I got off the phone with our cardiologist and I read over the letter from our surgeon.  He detailed Everett’s complex heart and body and his huge concerns with the current state of his heart…he needed surgery soon.  I cried under those trees, but also felt this deep sense of relief that such an amazing surgeon saw a way…he saw a path…he chose hope for our son.

All day I just longed so deeply for him.  I just cannot cannot cannot put into words how much we miss him and want him back.  I wanted him with me again.  It’s just not right and certainly not how it’s suppose to be.  It was quite an exhausting day physically for the kids and emotionally for me, so Sonic happy hour was definitely in order.  1/2 price slushies FOREVER!!!

And we took Leo swimming for the first time with his Uncle Andy.  He was really funny and loved the water, but was blue lipped and shivering in no time.  I can’t wait to take him to the wave pool.  I just know he’s going to love it too.

Time out of the pool to warm up always requires snacks with this guy.  Everett was super snacky…my snackiest kid to date, but Leo, well, he takes the award.  He would snack all day long if we let him and he will eat anything.  ANYTHING!  So far we’ve only discovered one food he will not put in his mouth…cooked spinach.  Everything else has been total game.  Best eater in our house.  I love learning about who he is and all these little details that make up who Leo is.

Another week together and another week closer to our Everett.  Mother’s day was right there and it carried heaviness.  I’ll share more, but I’m still working on that post…still figuring out all my thoughts and feelings because it was such a hard, special day.  For now, I’m off to pick up kiddos from their last day of school.  LAST DAY OF SCHOOL PEOPLE.  Summer is officially here.

Leo is Three

I don’t know if I’ll ever look at any of our children’s birthdays the same again.  Missing out on Everett’s birthday was such a hard hard thing to walk through and process.  I’ll never forget Harper’s words and tears when she realized Everett was going to die and that he was not going to be with us for his 4th birthday which was just so so close.  Celebrating with him was something she had long been looking forward to.  Devastation and heartbreak and this feeling of deep disappointment and sadness.  It was actually due to Harper’s request that Josh Kelley and I set to work as quickly as we could gathering everything we could to put together a make-shift birthday party with our child on life support.  I remember thinking…This is terrible and yet, this is the best we can do.  I remember feeling the most surreal feelings of trying to celebrate and mourn simultaneously because we had our own feelings and then all of our kiddos needed something so different from us as well.  And I really wanted to honor Everett and his precious little life and his special day.

I cannot explain the deep hope I had that we would be with Leo for his 3rd birthday.  When we got word of our China dates and realized we would actually be home for his birthday too we decided a birthday party was in order.  I mean, we overwhelmed the hell out of him 🙂 but by God we were going to celebrate his birthday and we’d recover later need be.  In the chaos of getting ready for China I ordered a mix of lion and rainbow birthday supplies.  When I came upon a lion balloon with a rainbow mane I immediately added it to my cart.

For his actual birthday we enjoyed donuts for his birthday breakfast.

Fun Fact:  I went to 3 donut shops the morning of his birthday and they were all either closed or did not have donuts.  WHAT IN THE LITERAL WORLD?!?!  I ended up at Kroger and made do.

He enjoyed his donuts…minus having zero clue about the whole candle situation.  We made him a birthday board like we’d done for everyone else and we hit up his cardiologist.  Crockpot chicken noodle soup and toast for dinner and a funfetti cake covered in every last sprinkle we owned wrapped up the rest of his day.  Harper chose chicken noodle soup for her birthday dinner in March and when I told her what we were having for Leo’s dinner she grabbed him and said excitedly, “Birthday dinner twins.” and kissed his cheek.  I love her.

He loves to sweep so we bought him a small broom to sweep with it.  Josh commented on how it was nice being able to identify something so quickly that Leo would really love for his birthday.  He has been a sweeping fool ever since.  It also came with a small hand broom and dust pan…oh my gosh…it’s the cutest thing watching him set to work.

We threw a party with our family that following Saturday.  It was also Cinco de Mayo so we had BBQ nachos with all the fixings.  And cake.  Lots and lots of cake.  I may have gone a tad overboard and made three cakes, but I mean, you only turn three once right?!?!  Chocolate cake with a chocolate buttercream icing, Funfetti cake with rainbow chip icing and strawberry cake with cream cheese icing plus ice-cream.  I sent home cake with anyone who would let me and then ate cake for 9 consecutive days in a row.  I have zero shame.


We filled our dinning room with balloons which he loved.  I was so hopeful he’d like balloons and sure enough, he totally did.  He carried one gold balloon around for FOREVER.

Leo was so funny with his presents.  We tried to get him to rip the paper off them, but the first present he opened was a bag full of snacks along with snacks cups and he was done.  No need to open anymore presents.  Snacks are his love language.  Seriously, Josh could not get those snack cups opened and filled quick enough.

He also LOVES like LOVES LOVES LOVES the water so the water table and little plastic pool he received were hits as well.  He has played in them every single day since.  He points to go outside every single morning and soon enough is de-clothed, outside and sopping wet almost instantaneously.

He was actually pretty chill at the party.  He definitely got a bit overwhelmed when we all sang to him, but nothing a little cake didn’t fix right up.  It was so nice celebrating with family for his special day.

After everyone had gone home Josh set to work putting together his water table while we watched the Preds hockey game and Leo passed right out in my arms.  I looked him over as he slept.  I love feeling the weight of his body in my arms.  I love kissing his cheeks and telling him I love him in Chinese.  This kid…freakin geeze…he’s just magic.  Leo is hope in small human form and I am insanely grateful we get to be his parents.  We absolutely crazy love you Zi Lin!!!

One Week Home

I am so behind on writing.  There are approximately 23 things I’d like to write about currently, but zero time to do so.  We’ve officially been a family of 9 for an entire month now.  The way time carries on and passes in a blink of an eye absolutely baffles me.  In fact this Friday will make 3 weeks actually being home.  That is crazy town.  I mean, didn’t we just step off that airplane in Nashville?!?!

Leo’s first week was a whirlwind one for sure.  Josh Kelley and I went to bed super late Friday night after arriving home.  As in 3:00 am super late.  We unpacked everything and even started on our mountain of laundry.  We set up our mini-crib for Leo in our room.  We went to sleep completely dazed and bafuddled and when we finally woke up it was 12:30 lunch time Saturday.  We jolted awake and then proceeded to drag little human bodies from all the beds because we had to get back on schedule crazy quick with the kids going back to school Monday morning.

It’s always so fun and surreal finally being home with our kiddos and watching our newest little one explore our house and start acclimating to home.  Leo was super cute wandering around our house and hands down his favorite thing was our toilet paper basket in the bathroom.  He’s already moved past being so interested in the basket, but in the beginning it was his total fave.

The boys started flag football so Sunday we rolled out to the ball field.  Everything has been so Everett and Leo focussed for the past 9 months so it’s always nice when the focus switches.  We loved watching the boys play and cheer them on and they had such a fun time.  We soaked up some sunshine and consumed ALL THE SNACKS.  Leo is a big time snack guy.  Give him all the snacks for all of time.

His 3rd birthday was Monday along with his first cardiologist appointment.  In the past I have been hyper vigilant about our heart kids medical appointments trying to get them all in the very first week.  Not this time.  Cardiology first and only cardiology the first week home.  I wanted to enjoy him.  I wanted to celebrate him with his birthday kicking off our first week home together.  I scheduled his pediatrician’s appointment, which would bring with it 6 referrals for even more doctors appointments, for our second week.  I was really glad I made that choice.

I have an entire post in my head about his birthday that will come later.  We all heavily grieved just missing out on celebrating Everett’s 4th birthday with him.  No one wants to plan a hurried early birthday in the hospital while their child is on life support.  No one wants to actually bury their child on their birthday either.  Getting to celebrate Leo’s birthday with him, well, it will never be lost on any of us. I had hoped so hard we would get to him before his 3rd birthday and sure enough we did.  And now there we found ourselves, actually home, celebrating his 3rd birthday just like we do everyone else’s special day.  It felt sacred.

Leo had about 3 nights of bad sleep right when we got home and then we decided to move him to his twin bed in the boys’ room.  Instantly he started sleeping amazing.  Sleeping good now is a different story finding ourselves on day 8 of him sleeping horribly, but that first week, the kid was on it and we all flew past jet lag like we’d never done before.

He experienced all these amazing little firsts like Saturday morning breakfast, first carrider line experience, having his first Sonic slush…peach flavor if you’re wondering…and our first solo time while Josh was at work and the rest of the kiddos were at school.

His first shopping cart ride shopping for new clothes because he’s the tiniest fellow around, grocery shopping with our littlest at Kroger…btw he puked all over himself…in the store…Jesus be near…figuring out we have another counter sitter on our hands who LOVES to play in the water and we even broke all the adoption & cocooning rules and threw the kid a birthday party with our family because there was no way we were going to pass up celebrating him with everyone.

And then there we’re all the little everyday things like snack time and playing and watching shows snuggled in our bed and welcoming dad home from work each evening and getting the mail each afternoon and napping anywhere and everywhere he could.

He’s definitely giving Amon a run for his sleeping money on falling asleep at any moment.  It absolutely cracks us up.  One minute he is in full on go mode and then the next he’s out cold.

It was one full amazing week.  There are always hards, but there are always bright spots too.  I find my heart absolutely astounded by Leo and I catch myself thinking at some point every single day, “Shuai would have loved this.”  I know he would have loved having Leo as his little brother just like the rest of us are so enthralled to be his family.  I know he would have loved having another kiddo in our “littles” group.  He would have excelled at big brothering.  Makes my stomach flip thinking about all we’re missing with him.

Things are pretty wild and crazy and busy right now, but I’m really trying to make time for sitting down and pecking words out at these keys.  It’s good for my brain.  We’re figuring out a lot of things with Leo’s health and what exactly he needs to thrive and be as healthy as he can be and that takes a lot of time and attention and appointments.  Plus throw in the end of school and 6 kiddos and life in general.  I actually feel ready for slower summer pace….despite dreading July.  The easier mornings.  The later nights with movies and snacks and fires and smores and fireflies.  Bring on any bit of the easier.

As always, thanks for reading.  Thanks for stopping by.  It means so much.

Home

We have been home officially for 2 weeks now and we’ve been in full on acclimating and adjusting and ALL THE DOCTORS APPOINTMENTS zone.  It’s been quite time consuming and exhausting.  I am bound and determined to finish documenting our China trip.  It’s for me.  It’s for our family.  I just really want to make sure I get it all down in this space so here I sit on Mother’s Day propped up on the couch…Josh and Amon are at the flag football field, our littlest and Leo are napping and the big kids are watching a movie right beside me.  Mother’s Day will have to be an entire post of it’s own because WHOA…it has been beyond heavy and painful I’ve decided next year I will boycott the day all together.  I’ve been strategic about the day and taking some time to write was on my short list of musts for the day.

On that crazy early Friday morning in Guangzhou we all rolled out of bed at 4:30 in the morning.  We were ready for home.  It was dark as we loaded up in the van and Elsie handed us all breakfast bags to go.  Everyone was sleepy eyed and anxious to get started on this long journey home.

We first flew from Guangzhou to Beijing.   Let me throw in a plug here for our amazing travel guy Jeff Lemmonds at Adoption Airfare.  We gave Jeff 10 days to get flights for 8 people…6 children, 2 adults…to China…seats together…and he did it.  I can’t even say what that meant to us.  Josh Kelley and I needed to be near the kids and every single flight the seats were where Josh and I were with each set of kiddos.  Jeff is a flight miracle worker and always crazy kind, understanding and beyond efficient to work with.  USE HIM!!!!  You will not regret it.

I was super nervous about flying with a toddler and our lack of communication and the fact that surely he still felt like “Who are these people and why have they kidnapped me from everything I’ve ever known?”  I really felt bad for poor Leo and the insane travel we were about to put him through.  First flight he did great minus vomiting…not once, but twice all over himself…oy…and a few toddler fits.  I packed a back up shirt, but he puked on that along with his rainbow heart shirt I made for him to wear home in honor of his big brother.  You win some, you lose some.

We had a 5 hour layover in Beijing while we waited on our next long 14 hour flight to Detroit.  My friend Meredith came out to the airport with 2 of her friends and 2 of her little guys, Toby and Theo, to hang out while we waited.  Our time consisted of 6 chicken wings, 2 ice-cream cups, 5 ice-cream cones, 1 ice-cream cone tragedy, 5 things of fries, 1000 crackers, water bottles, photos galore, lots of high-fives, a hug-a-thon,  sing-along time, all the stares, lots of laughter and another child whom we did not know joining in on our singing.  It was great and hilarious and crazy sweet.

Sweet Toby had surgery the very same day Everett did across oceans in China and there he sat before me.  When I was praying over Everett’s body, I prayed for Toby.  I hoped so hard he would recover well and while Toby still has quite the road ahead of him, Meredith has chosen hope and life and love for that sweet boy and championed for him like no other.  It was just an honor and privilege to meet both Toby and Theo and see their little faces, gets hugs and high-5s and watch our kiddos interact with them.  Meredith is the best kind of crazy friend.  The one who sleeps over in our hotel room in Zhengzhou with ALL OUR CRAZY MESSINESS and the one who BRINGS HER BABIES TO THE AIRPORT FOR 3 HOURS!!!  She’s a gem in the world of friendship.

We boarded our flight late for Detroit and settled in for the long flight.  Everyone did amazing.  I was so surprised by Leo, but really why shouldn’t this kid shock us at this point.  He of course had his little moments, but did so so well.  He did throw up…again…bring on yet another shirt.  Hahahahaha.  Dude was just not feeling his best.  He actually slept a lot and also called the flight attendant several times to our seat.  Hahaha.

By the time we touched down in Detroit, everyone was thrilled.  To say that we were all homesick would be the understatement of the century!!!!!  We didn’t care how it happened or how long it took, but we needed to be home.  Grief has taken a toll on all of us and we are all beyond home people now.  It’s our comfort and safe space.

We had quite a bit of time in Detroit while we waited on our flight to Nashville.  We found a spot for us to camp out in and then I took all the kids…minus Leo…to get some Chickfila for dinner.  As we stood in line waiting to order my friend Courtney sent me a picture from her and my other sweet friend Ashley.

And then I sobbed.  Like full on tears will not stop coming, people are looking at you, strangers feel like they should maybe check on you to make sure you can actually handle the 5 children with you because clearly your mental state is now questionable, sobbed.  Sweet Everett should have been with us.  This is not how this was suppose to go down.  He was 3-years-old.  He was precious and innocent.  He was suppose to live this long beautiful life and he was not suppose to die in that stupid effin hospital.  This was not okay and we’re not okay without him.  9 months has felt like zero time at all.  And at any given time, on any given day my thoughts are on Everett and how I just want my baby back in my arms.

^^ Please enjoy Josh Kelley’s photo taking skillz 🙂 ^^

In that moment, seeing that big brother balloon, I felt seen.  I felt like someone really saw us and the immense grief that swirled around the joy in bringing Leo home.  The past 9 months have been the loneliest of our lives.  We are too much for most people.  We are too broken and too messed up and too jaded and most people are just not up for that.  And I get it.  But in the darkest times of our lives these simple gestures like buying a big brother balloon, tying it to a rock and placing it on our boy’s grave, well, those are the pinholes of light that pierce through our darkness.  They are the way we will eventually find our way out of this madness and into the light.  I just know it.

Our last flight ended up being late.  Leo was pretty much losing his exhausted, confused little mind and the Kelleys were officially DONE.  We needed home immediately, if not sooner. 🙂  We boarded our last flight, got settled with Leo and realized somewhere in the Detroit airport was his shoe.  We’d made it this whole time and now lost one of his little shoes.  It’s small I know, but I was bummed because those shoes are special.  He came to us in those shoes and he loved those shoes so I was down about it, but we were almost home so I focussed in on the task at hand.

When we finally stepped foot off the plane and onto Nashville soil it felt different that I expected it to.  We walked out and of course sweet family and friends were waiting on us.  Our beloved photographer Cheyenne and her partner Laci were there to snap all the photos and I felt absolutely broken on the inside.  I felt bewildered on how we had actually gotten to this point in our family.  I felt overwhelmed with grief recognizing how different this moment was without Everett.  I tried making small talk and then Courtney gave me a hug and I just cried and whispered in her ear, “I just thought I would feel happier than this.  I thought I would feel different.”  Cheyenne stepped in and I hugged the guts out of her.  She has loved us beyond well and has captured the highest and lowest moments of our lives through her lens with her impeccable talent.  She has our deepest gratitude for forever.

I was so relieved to be home with Leo…I mean, we had made it.  And he had done so well and we had zero complications with his little sick heart and body and all of our other kiddos had done so well too and we are loved by so many kind people and they showed up at that airport, but I just thought I would feel different.  Grief is like that though.  Grief gets these unexpected moments and you simply cannot control them.  It swoops in and wrecks your heart.  It’s suffocating and debilitating in so many ways.  In that moment my heart was just so grieved and longed for our Fu Shuai to be there with us in this sweet moment for our family.  I missed my mom too.  I know she would have yanked Leo right out of my arms and I thought how this would be our 4th child she never met.  What I would have given for one of her big, tight hugs.  In my heart, they were both so missed, but Everett won out on those thoughts.  Part of me wanted to yell out loud in the airport, “I hope you’re all thinking what I’m thinking.  This is so beyond stupid and Shuai should be here with us.  Thank you for coming to meet Leo and love on us.”  The end.

We got our luggage and finally loaded up in our ginormous van and Josh’s dad drove us home.  The van was so quiet and yet not one big or little human was asleep.  It just felt like this sacred family moment for us.  Everyone quiet and still and awake and like, “Here we go.  Family again.  We miss Shuai, but we can do this.  We are the luckiest of the lucky to have each other.”  At least, that’s what was running through my mind.

Home.  We had made it.  Here is where family really begins again.  Here is where we start to sort all of this out and work like crazy and love like mad and enjoy and annoy and bother and bug and fight and care and choose kindness and grieve and yell and sling insults and hug it out and give kisses and cuddle and here is where the real guts of being a family would start to play out for us again.  Just like every single kid who has joined our family…no matter how they have joined us…Leo made us that much better.  Leo wasn’t obedience…Leo is a gift none of us deserved.  Leo was wanted and longed for and we rolled up to our little white house in the middle of the night…exhausted, sad, grieving, but knowing yet again, this sweet little boy had made us the luckiest parents on the planet all over again.  It sure was good to finally be home.

Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

Tuesday morning bright and early we had our consulate appointment with the US Embassy in Guangzhou.  Only one parent had to go for the appointment so Leo, Harper and I went along with a few other families in our group.  Before the appointment we all headed down to breakfast together.  Leo had not been a fan of Josh or the boys a ton, but was finally warming up and coming around.  At breakfast I watched as Josh leaned in for a kiss and Leo gave him his very first kiss.  My heart soared because I knew he was learning to trust all of us…he was learning to love all of us.  And I knew what that little kiss had just done for Josh’s heart.

The trip had been hard and painful for so many reasons and at so many different times, but I actually did not foresee the consulate appointment being as difficult as it was.  As we waited for our number to be called in that same little area we waited with Everett I was totally overcome with emotions.  Our number was called the first time and I picked up Leo and our paperwork and headed to the first window.  This was just to take certain paperwork and check a few things and as I stood there I just sobbed to the pour guy checking over our paperwork.  Dude did not see it coming and I couldn’t even muster out words to explain my emotions to him.  He surely thought I was just some crazy mama.

I walked back to our seat and tried getting myself together.  Harper went and got a drink from the vending machine as we waited.  Leo played in the little play area for all the kiddos and I just missed Everett.  I missed his little self and his personality and the way he loved us so well.  I missed his little body and his hugs and kisses and his voice and giggle.  I missed him all.

While we waited 3 separate women came over to me and acknowledged my pain.  They knew of Everett and his story and our heartache.  They each offered kind words and hugs.  One kind new friend leaned in close and prayed for us and bought me a water.  I couldn’t help think of how easy it would have been to just soak up their own moment with their own child and how each one of them decided to draw close to a hurting stranger…to voice their knowledge of Everett and our pain in this moment…they could have easily and rightfully moved right along…they owed me and Everett and our family nothing, but instead they chose something altogether different and it made me feel seen in this little office all the way in China.  I want to be that kind of person.  I want to love others like that.

After our appointment we headed back to our hotel for some lunch and then one of our guides Sarah took me, Harper, Hudson, Solomon and Amon shopping.  We went to a big local shop area that was floor after floor after floor of shopping.  The kids all wanted to take things back for their classmates so we we’re on the hunt and found the last of our souvenirs.  As we left we saw the lantern shop we bought things from last year and I grabbed a few big lanterns.  One beautiful big bright colored lantern with the “Fu” character for our Fu Shuai and two gorgeous cherry blossom lanterns.  It was so nice being out with some of the kids and doing something fun and light after such a heavy morning.  We all needed it.

Wednesday and Thursday were full of just whatever we wanted to fill our days with.  One morning after breakfast we spent some time just walking around the courtyards at our hotel.  There were lots of fish to look at and paths to explore.  It was nice to have nothing on the agenda and to have a slow morning with some time outside.

Hahahahaha…so zen-like ^ 🙂

 We also did lots of swimming, packing up and spending the last of our Chinese money. 🙂  Leo got in on the swimming action too, but his lips we’re crazy blue so Josh ended up drying him off and taking him back to the room.  He LOVES water so he was not happy about having to leave.

On Thursday afternoon the big kids and I walked down the the Walmart and 7-11 while the littles napped.  It was really fun walking around the store trying to find things to take back with us and to snack on for our last night.  We ended up with all the chips, fun new treats to try and cookies to devour pretty much instantly, a funny coffee mug for Josh, training chop sticks and small spoons for Leo and more Kinder eggs.

As we walked around one store I saw a rainbow umbrella propped up against a cooler in the fresh food area all by itself.  Every rainbow anything we saw felt like a wink from God and a sweet reminder of our Everett who we always carry with us anywhere we go.

At this point we we’re all incredibly homesick.  We could not wait to get home and the next morning…crazy early…we’d head out for the airport and start our journey home.  Everyone was so excited and ready to go.  China had been hard and painful and exhausting and beyond beautiful.  China will forever have a piece of our hearts and will hold such precious, irreplaceable memories, but everyone was beyond ready for home.  Tennessee we we’re coming for you!

Sun Yat-Sen, QingPing Market & Shamian Island

Monday we had another full day of sight seeing.  It was so nice to be out and the weather was perfection.  We first headed to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall.  I love the story and the history.  If you don’t know about Sun Yat-Sen and want to know, it’s definitely worth the read.  Such a neat man and history surrounding him.  Last year we we’re able to tour the memorial much more extensively, but this time we just walked around outside since we had several more places on the agenda.  Either way, I so enjoyed both visits and it remains at the top of my list of places I’ve enjoyed in China.

The grounds are gorgeous at every turn.  Beautiful flowers and crazy cool trees.  Sweet shaded areas for sitting.  Color everywhere.  Amon and our littlest we’re extremely fond of the sturdy, well manicured and tightly planted shrubbery because it was perfect for karate chopping.  Oy vey.

Leo liked getting out of his stroller some and walking around.  There was a man sweeping in one area and Leo stood and stared and stared and stared.  He was completely enamored by the sweeping.  It was quite hilarious.

I really love all the architecture details and bold colors that are everywhere…both little and big.  Such detail and attention given to pretty much every single area.  Completely stunning.

 

After the memorial we headed to the QingPing Market.  As we we’re walking over it started to rain so we ducked under a little walk-thru that also had some small shops.  As we waited for the rain to stop we all looked around and I found the sweetest souvenirs.  Traditional these hang from rear view mirrors and are usually red, but I found several rainbow ones.  And bought them immediately.  It was just the little something I was looking for.  Anytime I saw rainbow anything in China of course I thought Everett.  He was on my mind constantly and this only furthered my thoughts of our sweet boy.

The QingPing Market is always so fun and entertaining.  Tons of animals and critters or all shapes and sizes.  Even giant bowls of scorpions.  The turtles, cats and dogs we’re top of the list for the kids.  We overheard Amon meowing to one of the cats…you know, really getting in tune to his inner cat.  You also walk through a big herbal market. The smells are so good and interesting and sometimes quite questionable.

Our last stop of the day was Shamian Island.  Last year this was such a fun place for us.  It’s where we found ice-cream and discovered Everett LOVED bubbles.  We also bought our mahjong game and some other fun souvenirs for people back at home.  This year our spirits we’re a bit low when we finally crossed over to the island.  I can’t even remember all the details, but I know it was not the fun, enjoyable time like before.  I do know we ate some bad ice-cream, Leo puked a ton all over himself and the street and we we’re all pretty tired and hungry at this point.  Definitely contributing factors.

The kids did pick up some gifts for friends and family back home.  I also finished up my souvenir shopping.  In one shop I found two pieces of artwork I knew instantly needed to come home with us.  The colorful Great Wall piece is getting framed asap for our house.  The other was for a sweet friend who recently lost her daughter far too early.  These sweet babes.  So many questions for Jesus.

Once we got back to our hotel we enjoyed some food and a swim.  Kiddos rested.  The next day would be our consulate appointment bright and early in the morning.  The final step in this 6-ish month process.  Only 3 more days and we’d head out on our long journey back to Tennessee.  Everyone was homesick at this point.  Grief has turned us all into homebodies and we we’re all missing home.  This had been no vacation by any means and I thought how just one sleep in our own beds would have lifted our spirits.

Today also marked one week being Leo’s mom…one week being his family…one week him being our son.  He feels so incredibly special and sacred.  I think this had a lot to do with us not sharing with many people about our new little guy and our growing family.  The hope of him felt like it was just for us.  He was keeping us afloat a lot of days.  We had someone and something to move towards, to work towards, to long for that was so much more tangible feeling than the long awaited heaven where Everett is.  Truthfully some days heaven feels fake and I want to say screw it all, I just want our FuShuai back now, but I’m grateful for the promise we will see Shuai again.  So much of the last 9 months has sucked beyond sucked…change and relationships and heartbreak and hurt feelings and the heavy weighted loss and pain and the feelings of loneliness and isolation and the fact that none of us are the same as we we’re and Leo just felt like straight up hope.  When so much of our lives felt hopeless there was this sweet little face and this direct living connection to Everett who kept us having in there.  One week felt really special.  One week under our belts as family of 9 felt like the very best kind of bittersweet gift.

Chen Family Temple & Liuhua Park

Sunday we got in a fun day of sightseeing around Guangzhou.  This is always good for us because A) We get to be out and about and not stuck in our hotel and B) We get to be around other families who are with their kiddos as well.  It’s just always nice to meet other people and hear about where they are…the good, the bad and the struggles.  It’s nice to not feel so alone.

We first went to the Chen Family Temple.  We actually went here with Everett and it was my most favorite place.  You can read about our last visit HERE.  I read my post from last year and just cried.  I miss our boy more than words could ever articulate and I miss my old self.  I miss the not-so-jaded, not-so-skeptical, more trusting me.  I miss believing all those words all of the time, but here I sit completely mucked over by Everett’s death and when I read my words I ache.

Being in this gorgeous place again with our whole family, but missing Everett was both beautiful and painful.  Those two words keep emerging over and over again on this trip.  How could they not?!?!  The museum felt so nice…the atmosphere, the busyness, the weather.  It’s basically a big outdoor art museum filled with art in every different kind of medium you could imagine.  Scrolls, calligraphy, paintings, carvings, paper, knits & textiles, fans, porcelain, sculptures and the list goes on.  It is absolutely amazing and digs deep into my creative side.  I honestly enjoyed being back in this place.

I have such vivid memories about Everett here.  It was sweet to be in this incredible place with Amon, our littlest and Leo as well.  I love that our entire family has experienced pieces of China’s amazing culture and history.  I love that we’ve all got that stamp in our passports no matter the pain & baggage carried with it.

I always buy a piece of art when I visit another country and I thought about buying another scroll like we did last time, but it’s this fine dance of honoring Shuai, but also not letting his death overshadow our other children’s lives.  Does that make sense?  It’s this constant thing that runs through our heads so I decided for this trip…Leo’s trip…I would look for something different somewhere else.

We all loved wandering around and seeing all the artwork.  At one point I noticed Solomon standing so cute against a giant post and asked to snap a picture of him.  Then he asked to take mine.  His photo was better. 🙂

Last time we didn’t check out any gift shops, but this time we did and we spent more time looking at several of the sculptures as well.  The kids picked up a few things for friends and teachers back home and I accidentally bought a Chinese Rudolf thinking it was a sheep.  Insert eye roll emoji.  I didn’t notice until Josh Kelley said, “It has a red nose.”  Hahahahaha.

After The Chen Family Temple we went the Liuhua Park.  This was our first time and we all really enjoyed it.  At first I thought it was going to be a total bust, but then it ended up being just right.  All the parks we had been to so far had fair/amusement park rides and we’re actually pretty pricey…especially when you’ve got 6 kiddos wanting to do things.  Liuhua was sooooooo much cheaper and the kids had a blast.  The littles raced these small cars and had an absolute blast.  The big kids did the swings and bumper cars.

We also walked around sucking on suckers and climbing through the crazy big, weird trees.  There was a big exercise area where all the kids had so much fun.  Hudson, Solomon and Amon even put on a monkey bars show and had a whole crowd gathered around watching and videoing them.  I’m sure they’re somewhere on Youtube as we speak.

Everyone was pretty wiped after a busy day.  We went back to our hotel and crashed.  We had dinner out that night and I finished up the last of our paperwork for our upcoming consulate appointment.

Leo is so little and was so confused about what all was going on so I’m trying to be really aware and mindful of all of his progress…no matter how small or big.  This was the first day he slept without his little shoes on and it was the sweetest noticing this seemingly small, but giant step.  The fact that I get to be his mom…that we get to be his family…geeze, it’s pretty dang great.

Visa Medical Appointment

Saturday morning we had to head out to Leo’s medical appointment for his visa.  Since only one parent needed to go Josh Kelley and the kids stayed back while Leo and I headed out.  I got a bit teary driving to the appointment with the other families who we’re there with our agency.  My mind raced back to this day with Everett and how Josh, Harper, Hudson, Solomon and me all went together.  Everett was so brave and just did his thing only getting a little teary when they drew blood.

I sat in the little seats filling out medical and prescription information holding sweet Leo and I just longed for Everett.  He would have loved being Leo’s big brother.  I know he would have been so helpful in loving and taking care of him.  I can get really angry if I let myself because I know this was not how it was suppose to go down.  He should be here with us.  Period.

I was completely unsure of how Leo would do.  He is so little and just did not fully understand what was going on, but he ended up being just as brave as his big brother.  He stood on the scale and let the doctors and nurses do everything they needed to do.  He only got teary when they took blood and was not a fan of me having to put pressure on his bandaid for a bit, but nothing a sucker couldn’t fix. 🙂

We finished up his medical and headed back to the hotel.  The rest of the day was pretty chill.  The kids all went swimming with Josh while Leo took a nap.  I spent some time writing about our trip and had the sweetest moment with Leo when he saw Everett’s picture on the desktop of my computer.  He kept pointing to him and I instantly cried and then told him all about his big brother.  Leo would likely never remember Shuai on his own…he was 1 when we came to get Shuai, but he will remember him because we do.  He’ll remember him because it’s so important to us for him to remember him.  It reminds me so much of Harper, Hudson and Solomon with my Mom.  They knew my mom so well, but they we’re so little when she died.  It was up to Josh and me to keep her memory alive and what an honor that is.  Same goes for Everett.  We have photos of him out and we talk about him every single day.  Leo will remember because it’s important to us for him to remember.  Keeping Everett’s memory alive is our greatest honor.

After dinner that night we all walked down to a 7/11 down the street.  This was our first normalish, fun moment as a family of 9.  We just walked around talking and laughing.  We all picked out treats to munch on and Leo got a bag of M&Ms all to himself.  We sat outside in the amazing weather taking each other in and the busy city of Guangzhou moving all around us.

Amon ate approximately 42 Kinders while in China.  Chocolate is easily Amon’s most favorite favorite food.  Chocolate anything is his kind of anything.  It didn’t matter how small compared to everyone else’s his little Kinder egg compared, he was in it for the deliciousness…and the toy.

One of my first memories from my childhood involved my Mom and M&Ms so it was extra sweet feeling watching Leo eat his little bag of chocolate treats.  It was a much needed, sweet day.

Added bonus:  I got my first Leo kiss that day.  Harper was the only one who had gotten one so far and we all had been anxiously awaiting our turn.  And it was finally my turn.  It was the sweetest little smooch and this guy has my heart forever.  I’ve been soaking up his kisses ever since.