His & Their Bravery

Leo: “lion”  “brave people”

We give each of our children meaningful first names accompanied by a special family middle name. Thought and love are poured into their names. Our sweet Everett…our Fu Shuai…led us to Leo so it was only fitting he was named after his big brother.

They knew and loved each other long before we knew or loved either one of them. Not brothers through DNA, but brothers through something deeper…broken hearts and precious little lives lived together…family like we never dreamed. We have photos of them together at their home and knowing that although Everett isn’t with us here on earth, but that every member of our family had the honor of knowing our Shuai and being loved by him, well, there’s no greater gift.

The night before we were going to meet Leo my nerves we’re wrecked.  Initially we were going to be in the same hotel we were in with Shuai, but they were booked up last minute so we moved to a different hotel.  I was actually really glad about it.  We anticipated being back in China and in these same places would be hard, but it’s actually been far harder than imagined.  I was thankful for a new place to bring Leo home with us.  Thankful for pictures that would not be the exact same.  Goodness knows we’ll have enough of those similar photos so it was good for my heart to have a break from the sameness.

We arrived in Zhengzhou on Sunday and Leo came home with us on Monday.  Jet lag was intense and crazy so everyone still was not sleeping well.  Early Monday morning I woke and couldn’t sleep.  I worked on transferring photos and videos from my phone to computer.  I tried to fill the dark, quiet space with just anything.  I was so anxious and could not stop thinking about how this was Leo’s last night sleeping in his crib in his treasured home with all his friends and nannies who adore him.  I’m just not sure there is anyway to prepare children enough for this moment.  The sadness and pain and loss wrapped up in this day always absolutely aches me.  It would be such a hard day for our boy and all of those who have loved him so dearly over the years.

Josh text me around 4 saying all the boys were up already.  Soon I heard Harper and our littlest chatting.  I didn’t sleep much, but when I did I had crazy dreams about Leo.  We hit up breakfast as soon as they opened.  Excitement stirred among everyone.  Sadness stirred as well.  We would be walking back into the same building and room where we met Shuai…how could sadness and joy not mingle together?!?!

As we got ready the kids played on our iPad and Leapad.  Chinese cartoons played on the TV while Harper also played The Greatest Showman soundtrack.  Sound overload. 🙂  Hudson shared he was nervous.  Josh was just ready to get the show on the road.  I literally burst into tears 112 times.  We decided to wear the same clothes we buried Everett in.  What we said goodbye to Everett in, we would say hello to Leo in.  I wore waterproof mascara and slipped on the bracelet I bought in China with Everett and my jade bracelet with the snake charm and Shuai’s character some of my dear friends gifted me with shortly after his death.  Josh wore a pair of rainbow socks.  All the boys wore what they wore to Everett’s visitation and the girls wore heart shirts.  I probably over thought everything, but it was crazy important to me that Everett was weaved into this day…that he was honored on such an important day for our family and Leo.

We took our last selfies as a family of 8 and the tears constantly welled up.  Here we were again and I knew what awaited us.  Yet again an amazing child would make us a family again and Josh and I would become the luckiest parents all over again, but Leo would surely feel deep sadness today.  Adoption is laced in loss and beauty.  Unthinkable loss occurs first before children can join their forever families.  It’s the hard reality and no one can get around it.  All I could think about was how I couldn’t even begin to fathom what all would race through his little heart, head and body today.

We met our guide Wendy and all loaded up in the car.  A short minutes drive and we we’re pulling into the familiar parking lot we had just done the same a little over a  year ago.  We walked into the building and the room was already filled with families and children.  It was bustling and busy and I immediately saw the director of the boys’ home.  I started scanning the room like crazy looking for Leo because I knew he was there.  Josh immediately spotted him, but I still could not find him in the sea of people.  We went over and sat on a couch to the side and my eyes finally found him.  There he sat calm and quiet rolling around the room on a little riding toy.  His face was somber as he seemed heavily invested in everyone’s stories taking place at that moment.  Our director and Wendy chatted with him and talked him over to us.  He rolled right up on his riding toy and I took the deepest breath.

I broke into tears instantly.  He was gorgeous and sweet and not intimated by us at all.  He said “mama” and “baba” right away and we all smiled and laughed.  I looked him over and could not believe he was ours.  I couldn’t believe we were finally here.  The room felt different from when we were there with Everett and again I was thankful for that.  When I looked at Leo I thought about how he is a real living little human who connects us directly to Everett.  They knew each other and played together and slept in the same room and ate meals together and no doubt big brother Everett had helped take care of Leo.  My mind ran and I imagined all the ways Everett had loved on Leo and I was filled with gratefulness to mother such amazing boys.

The kids moved right into being siblings again.  They we’re all smitten immediately.  They were taking pictures and bringing out toys and playing and trying to make him laugh and say their names.  The boys’ director gave us a book filled with photos of Leo and they had placed one of Leo and Everett together in his book.  He also started explaining Leo’s medication regimen.  I tried listening as best as a could, but my mind was filled with Everett and the sadness and beauty of this moment.  I started crying so hard and Wendy broke out the tissues.  I asked her to tell him how sorry we were and that we had done the best we could and that we missed him so much.  His eyes became teary and Wendy said he really did understand and he knew we had tried.  I just needed him to know how deeply sorry we were and that we love Everett more than words could ever express.

We spent a large chunk of the rest of the morning in that room with all these newly formed families.  We played and talked and filled out paperwork and signed our names and put red thumbprints directly over those signatures promising to love and protect our little guy forever.  The thumbprints are always my favorite part of paperwork because it feels so symbolic and meaningful placing our prints…every detailed line making up a single print…over our names…our stamp of commitment and to forever.

Leo was chill and seemed to just be soaking it all in.  He was quiet and loved all the snacks we brought him and covered the upper half of a riding toy in stickers.  He did not want to be touched, but Josh got one smile out him finally.  He listened so well and followed exactly what Wendy told him to do.  When it finally came time to leave he was apprehensive being in the car, but we broke out the Chips Ahoy cookie cup and he calmed down.  He then proceeded to hang onto that little cup for the next 2 days. 🙂

We went back to our hotel and spent the rest of the day there starting to get to know each other.  We ate muslim noodles for lunch and Josh fed him.  Leo did not want to take off his shoes or jacket so we let him just hang onto those as long as he wanted.  He ended up finally shedding the jacket 2 days later, but still wants to sleep in his shoes.  I put him in a pair of little Solomon’s pjs and he slept like a champ and even fell asleep wrapped in his rainbow blanket cuddled in my arms.  It was my most favorite moment of the day.  Josh took the kids swimming while we napped.  It was a much needed rest for the both of us.

He had some very teary moments throughout the day and night, but really did so crazy well.  His little cry is the quietest and his little tears basically squirt out of his eyeballs.  He’s the sweetest thing.  We enjoyed pizza for dinner and we broke out every single toy we brought.  No one could get enough of Leo.  The kid was a tish overwhelmed by our crew.  Imagine that. 🙂

There is so much about this trip and especially our time in Zhengzhou that my mind can’t even begin to process yet.  It is really hard and emotional, but Leo feels balmy and soothing to me.  My mind can fill with worry over him isntantly if I let myself go there.  We begin doctor’s appointments first thing Monday morning after we arrive home.  I see those blue lips and clubby fingers and toes and hear his heavy breathing and see those O2 sats.  I can go down a very dark path quickly, but as I hold him close I feel how utterly lovely he feels in my arms and think how Leo will live his own story.  I get excited thinking about how I will get a front row seat to his life.

I think about how brave he is.  I think about how brave his birth parents must have been.  How brave his nannies are for loving him deeply and then letting him go.  I think about all of the staff at his home…his nurses and doctor…these people who are his family and have invested in his life.  I think about all his little friends and how brave they are in losing another friend while waiting for their own forever family.  I think about our friend Hillary who loves Leo so much.  I think about all of these brave people who have filled our boy up, who have cared for him and loved him as their own and then let him go.  His name forever embodies his own bravery and each of theirs.  It all makes me instantly humbled.  Humbled to be his mom and walk this road with him.  Humbled to know another kiddo’s heart on so many different levels and to fight for his healing.  And I know Everett and Leo are making us braver people.  Their lives and their stories and all these incredibly brave people who have been apart of there lives are impacting ours directly.  Brave people indeed and we’re hoping all their bravery will rub off on us and make us braver along the way.


  1. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your two brave boys with us.

  2. All the heart eyes.

  3. Amanda priest says:

    I am crying tears of joy and happiness for you and your family and your precious new boy! I am so happy and excited for you to continue your journey of healing and look forward to watching your little Leo flourish and become a part of your family. He is so adorable and I pray that his medical issues are less complicated and can be addressed soon. Sending you all huge hugs. You are amazing to do what you do and go through this all over again..You are truly an inspiration.

  4. One of the most beautiful things that I have ever read ❤️

  5. My heart is overwhelmed….overwhelmed with the love your children shower on Leo, the way Josh holds and feeds him, how loved he is wrapped in your arms napping with his rainbow blanket. I’m so thankful God knows best and placed this little lion in your family’s arms. I will continue to pray for your sweet family. God bless you greatly and comfort Leo as he becomes your family. ❤️

  6. So much love ❤️

  7. On Earth as it is in Heaven. (The holding on to the cookie cup made me come undone)

  8. Heather N says:

    He is so beautiful. I know he will be a blessing to your family and you will be to him.

  9. ❤️

  10. Im amazed by your family. You all are truly living a life of giving and loving as you are loved by our savior. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  11. So many tears and smiles reading this. How brave that little Leo is and how brave the whole Kelley fam is for walking this journey and sharing your story. Hugs and hugs to you all <3

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