Leo Is Four!

At the end of April Leo turned the big 4!!!!  I remember last year just hoping like crazy we’d get to him in time to celebrate his 3rd birthday together and there we were in China 15 days before Leo turned 3 squeezing his little body in our arms.  Once we got home and set to figuring out all of Leo’s medical needs a new goal came on the scene.  From the beginning his cardiology team wanted to get him to his 4th birthday before his next heart surgery.  For an entire year he’s been in and out of the hospital, been to countless doctor’s appointments and specialists.  He’s worked so hard and grown and gained some weight and as his birthday inched closer my heart jumped back and forth.

(^ Josh Kelley gave Leo a hair cut right before his birthday and Harper & I almost died. ^)

I went from, “We’re almost to his 4th birthday…OMG…we’re going to make it!!!” to “We’re almost to his 4th birthday…OMG…surgery is near!!! (Insert tears and vomit.)  So it was a complicated day, as I’m learning every special day is now…really complicated and muli-faceted.

Of course when celebrating Leo we knew donuts would be in order.  I’m not sure if I’ve shared here how Leo calls donuts “Donnas”.  For a while we had no idea who or what Donna was and when we all figured out he was talking about donuts we just cackled.  We’ve created a lot of stories about Leo and Donna and don’t foresee us stopping anytime soon.

He LOVES LOVES LOVES donuts so a donut birthday party was an easy party theme.  He said “Donna” approximately 1,976 times.  He was obsessed with all the donuts and wanted everyone to know.  He also added “poppy” to his vocabulary for party and it was the cutest.  It was the first time we’ve ever really seen him understand the anticipation of something.

Life has never been as full and busy as it is now with Leo and in the hustle & bustle of school and therapies and doctors visits I completely forgot about his party.  Yet again, Amazon saved the day.

We partied hard with family along with all of Leo’s most favorite foods…donuts, candy, noodles, pizza, chicken nuggets, rolls, blueberries, grapes and raw veggies.  I know, what a random spread, but the birthday boy was beyond thrilled.  I mean, you only turn 4 once.

He absolutely beamed the entire day and had so much fun.  When we all sang happy birthday to him I couldn’t even muster out the words because of tears.  He smiled the biggest smile and was just so proud.  Here we all were gathered around in our small dining room singing to this gorgeous boy with a beautifully broken heart.  I felt immense gratitude to not just have celebrated one birthday with Leo, but now two.  Scrambling to celebrate Everett’s birthday with him before he died gave birthdays a deeper sense of importance than ever before.  Celebrating birthdays with my kids will never be lost on me again.  And this year felt joy-filled and also like a heavy brick for what’s to come.  At the end of Leo’s party there was a rainbow and it just kind of took my breath.  Josh hugged me.  Later that night he said, “That rainbow was pretty nice wasn’t it?!?!”  And I agreed.  We miss Everett and no amount of words will ever accurately capture the depth of it.

(^ Blurry picture, but a keeper because of that donut in his cupholder. ^)

For all the love Leo receives, he gives it back 110%.  I’ve never met a more joyful kiddo.  He’s so complicated and a mystery still in so many ways and oh how I wish we knew what all he was thinking, but his joy is what really flattens us right out.  I often find myself just staring at him because he’s just so dreamy.

For Leo’s actual birthday we kept it pretty chill, but started his day off with more donuts and more confetti.  He went to speech therapy and then enjoyed some more noodles for lunch.  He napped. 🙂  And played with his new toys.  The boys had a soccer game that night so we ate a concession stand dinner and cheered on our guys.  And Leo was happy with it all.

In the end we all agreed…minus Leo…none of us wanted to eat another donut for a long time.

 Oh Leo Lion, what a year you have had.  You have worked so hard and you have learned to trust and love us and we are forever changed, yet again, by your love.  You have brought joy and hope.  You have brought laughter and hugs.  You my love are a straight up delight.  With surgery on the horizon, we promise to always choose hope and to never let it go.  You have made us forever hope holders.  We love you Leo Shuai Lin!!!!  Here’s to at least 96 more birthdays.


  1. Lisa gilliam says:

    That little boy has a totally different expression than a year ago. He is full now. Full of love,trust,joy, laughter and everything a little 4 year old should. Happy birthday Leo. Prayers for this year to be even better

  2. Glenda Hoagland says:

    What a beautiful story. Happy Birthday Leo

  3. Mary Ann Scanlon says:

    So much love! And the donnas always make me laugh!!

  4. He is the sweetest! Love your sensory water table, did you make it or buy it. Looking for one for our 2 year old

  5. This is the best! I so love all your little people and you!

  6. Heather Herman says:

    Donnas are my absolute favorite. I’m so thankful for this blog post. I’d been waiting patiently for a new post. Holding on to you guys tight thinking about surgery. Sending all my love & donnas.

  7. Barbcole says:

    I’m overjoyed the party went so well! Leo has a smile that melts my heart and reminds me of Everett so much. Everett will always be remembered and missed. Praying for each of you as the surgery date draws closer.

  8. Carrie bentley says:

    Such pure joy. That Leo is such a treasure!

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