The People’s Park & Merida

Thursday morning was a free day.  We didn’t have anything on the agenda while we waited for some paperwork to finish up so after breakfast we headed out for The People’s Park.  This was our first chill day since we had arrived with nothing major planned…no offices, no waiting, no paperwork, nothing.  We really needed this day especially after the prior crazy heavy day visiting the boys’ first home.

Cuteness Bonus of The Day:  When Amon realized Leo was wearing his heart shirt he insisted on wearing his too.  Amon loves being a big brother again.

The weather in Zhengzhou was amazing and perfection the entire time.  Just the perfect temperature and even a little hot some days.  A breath of fresh air compared to Tennessee’s confusing weather situation in April.  The park was gorgeous.  It was busy and blooming and there we’re people everywhere.  As we walked in music was playing and lots of different groups were dancing.  We stopped to watch the first group and we instantly turned into a park attraction.  People gathered around to take pictures of us and with us.  Our littlest knows no stranger so she was made for China.  She obliges for all the photos, smiles, tells everyone ni hao…hello in mandarin…and makes friends with everyone.  They all ate her up at the park.

There were also lots of ping pong games going on.  Amon instantly jumped in on a game with an older gentleman and it was hilarious.  The men were so kind to Amon even though he wasn’t the best ping pong player.  Lots of smiles and laughter and pretty sure you can find Amon somewhere on Youtube now playing ping pong in China. 🙂

We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the park and doing all the things.  There are lots of fair rides in the parks in China, so the kids were super pumped to find bumper cars and swings and go-carts and rides of all kinds.

The bumper cars were totally legit.  Harper’s glasses got knocked off her face multiple times and pretty confident a few of us walked away with some whiplash.

We also loved the exercise areas.  Everyone jumped in and tried out all the equipment.  Josh and I had a little pull-up competition going until a 70-year-old man came over and showed us both up.  We know he was 70 because after he showed us up he told Wendy to tell us he was 70.  Hahahahaha.  I guess I might not be that humble either if I’m in as good of shape as he was at that age.

After the park we went back to our hotel for afternoon naps.  We have been so consistent with afternoon naps because everyone has been wiped out.  We had jet lag for an entire week.  My friend Meredith ended up coming in town too.  We met up for dinner and she spent the night with us.  We took approximately zero photos.  What we did do was talk each other’s faces off and laugh so much and hash out grief and world problems and everything in between.

Here’s how you know a good friend.  Meredith walked right into our hot hot and I do mean HOT mess and chose to even spend the night in it.  We are not easy people.  In fact, most days I feel like we’re too much for most people.  We’re too loud and too broken and too hard and too spicy and it feels like very few people even know what to do with us.  Meredith walked right into our angstyness and jet lag and fighting and grief and sadness and grumpiness and complete lack of personal space and a very very questionable game of Go-Fish all contained in a small hotel room.  I mean, the kids couldn’t even get the hang of her name and IT’S NOT A HARD NAME.  They called her Merida approximately 425 times in a matter of 18 hours.  Seriously.  They couldn’t stop.  I have no idea why.

The only picture I took of our time together was of Leo and Meredith’s backpack because they looked the same. 🙂  The only picture Meredith took was of a bowl of pigs’ feet.  It still makes me laugh.

One of the greatest things I get from being Meredith’s friend is this constant reminder that we are not alone in this life or grief.  Even across oceans Meredith understands the importance of showing up in the pain and she does it so well.  She knows and understands loss and pain and sadness and grief and all the questions and roller-coastering emotions which come with it so well and so deep.  She extends her hand and heart over and over again to me and she has compassion and wit and laughter always waiting.  She remembers Everett with us.  She acknowledges him and his story and his life in ways that breath life into my grieving body.  She just gets it.

Zhengzhou was hard.  Zhengzhou was heavy and beautiful.  So many things about our time there my mind can’t even fully process yet.  Meredith was an easy bright spot.  I don’t have to worry about my words with her.  I can say exactly how I feel and it’s okay.  I can tell her all the doubts and questions and pain I feel wrapped up in Jesus right now and there’s zero judgment and no Bible verse rebuttals.  There’s no agenda, just friendship.  In the midst of hard, exhausting chaos Meredith simply made me feel seen.  And for that I am forever grateful.  Here’s to many more late night chats and lack of all your personal space Merida. 😉

9 Months

On the 18th we headed out in the morning to go visit Everett and Leo’s home.  This place and these people are so incredibly special and it felt fitting on Everett’s 9 month anniversary to be among people who loved him so well before we ever could.

I worried while in process for Leo that traveling back to China would feel like it did when we we’re there with Everett.  I’m so thankful at how different things actually feel.  The feel is so different because Everett and Leo are so different, but our grief has remained the same.  I have cried one million tears on this trip because everything reminds me of our special time here with Everett.  I actually feel extra tapped into my grief walking such familiar paths I walked with one son and now walk with another.

As we walked through the gate and onto the campus their director met us scooped Leo up.  We went first to their track area and I loved how comfortable Leo was in his arms.  I love that he wanted to tote him around.  There were some kiddos out and about on the track and grassy area playing and walking.  The first thing my eyes noticed were all these rainbow pinwheels they had hanging everywhere.  I stared at the pinwheels spinning while also watching Leo take off running on the track.  I loved the rainbow pinwheels and felt like they perfectly represented our boy on this special day.

Everett was about 21 months older than Leo so he was definitely more developmentally and cognitively  prepared for us and leaving his home.  Everett grieved, but also didn’t want to leave Josh’s arms when we went back to his home.  He understood so well what his nannies had prepared him for…as to what was taking place in us becoming a family.  Sweet Leo is and was very different.  He’s much younger and is developmentally behind a bit and upon seeing his room and friends and nannies he set back into his comfort.  This is everything he’s known and loved and he was perfectly fine with us just moving on and letting him get back to his life.  We reminded our kids that even though Leo had been deeply loved and cared for that kiddos belong in families.  It was extremely hard watching him cry and fight and not understand why he couldn’t just stay.

We visited his room and met his nannies…all of which we’re Everett’s nannies too.  We took them our favorite trail mixes, chocolates made in Nashville, key fobs and books we had made full of Everett’s photos.  I loved watching them flip through the books.  Leo was walking around loving on his friends, eating snacks and kissing his nannies.  This kid is not lacking in affection that’s for sure.  Everyone just made over him and gave him all the hugs and kisses.  His main nanny cried and cried so of course I cried and cried too.  Watching our children be loved by such brave, selfless people is humbling and inspiring and the amount of gratitude we have for them is insurmountable.

As we were leaving Everett’s main nurse came over to tell me one last thing.  We ended up in the sweetest embrace…my head buried in her chest…she was crying…I was crying…and me telling her how sorry I was.  I had this deep, yet unrealistic, fear about going back and all of these lovely and amazing people who had loved Everett so well being angry with us about him dying…like we didn’t do our best.  We really really needed them to know how sorry we were.  We really needed to recognize their loss too in Everett dying.  He was their boy first and I wanted them to know I was sorry for their sadness and pain.  My favorite thing was hearing all the “Fu Shuai”s among all these priceless people.  They kept saying his name and my ears and heart heard it every single time.

We visited Leo’s classroom next.  He went in and immediately started doing his thing.  He pulled up his little chair and got to playing with his friends and play-do.  He tried leading calendar time and also played a few instruments.  He gave his teacher some snuggles and again was ready to stay.  Lots and lots of tears were shed by our little guy and it was heart wrenching.

Since we had seen the rest of the facilities already we decided to head out the playground instead and let everyone work out some energy.  The weather was perfection and everyone loved playing.

After we got back to our hotel Josh shared he’d captured Leo’s first face plant on camera.  And then I died.  Seriously, I could not stop laughing.  Poor kid!

When it was time to leave their director walked us out.  He kept telling Leo all about Josh and me.  He held him close and we took a few more photos of them together.  He got teary eyed…I full on cried and so did Leo.  It was heavy and weighted and I wanted us all to just long-term hug.  Hug and never stop.  It was so emotional and I felt emptied out afterwards.

For lunch we went to our special place for lunch.  I asked Wendy if we could go specifically on the 18th and she made it happen.  They have he best dumplings and we ate there with Everett after a hard morning for him.  I’ll never forget how he started to come out of his shell during that lunch.  It’s a special place and I wanted us to share it with Leo as well.

It was a very emotional day to say the least.  It was a lot for everyone, but especially for Leo.  That night after dinner in our hotel room I cleaned him up and put him in a pair of pajamas that were Amon’s.  I couldn’t help but think how brave he was.  How brave Everett was.  How brave all these people who run their home and care for each kiddo are.  They had all been so gracious to us on such a hard day.  They owed us nothing and yet they gave us everything.  I hope we displayed our gratefulness.  I hope they know how crazy in love we are with both our Everett and our Leo.

Our First Day

Monday night Leo slept shockingly well.  He likes to ball up into a tiny mass on his belly…everything tucked underneath him…covered up in his rainbow blanket.  It’s pretty dang sweet.  Tuesday morning we woke up and today Leo would officially become our son.  This would be our first full day as a family of 9.

Everyone was still waking pretty early so we kicked our day off with his first bath.  I can remember all of my kids’ first baths.  I have no idea why, but I can.  Like weird little details, but I love it.  Leo loved the water and splashed the water with his hands and gave me small grins.  Eventually his teeth began to chatter and his lips starting moving towards that cold blue color so I got him out, bundled him up and got him dressed for the day.

After breakfast we started our long day of appointments.  We headed to the civil affairs office first to officially complete Leo’s adoption.  You wait in this big room usually with other families.  Your paperwork needs specific stamps and signatures.  You sign your name, they do a small ceremony, say some meaningful words and hand you over your paper.  There are pictures and small rounds of applause by the other parents because they know this moment feels good.  Our groups appointment took crazy long.  There we’re some snags and we were in the civil affairs office for hours.  Parents looked weary and kiddos were losing their minds.  Everyone was trying to keep everyone pacified the best they could.

Leo decided on this day to pick me as his parent.  This is super common, but we’ve actually never had any of our children do this before.  He did not want to be held by Josh at all and he really didn’t like any of the boys getting up in his face.  It’s been hard and frustrating, but we know it’s a phase and can already see him moving out of it, but on this crazy long day, it was not a fun or easy factor at all.

As I was looking through photos from the civil affairs office I found the one below.  Instant laughter.  I feel like this sums so much up.  Might be our Christmas card this holiday season.

Our civil affairs appointment took so long we missed our notary appointment, so we grabbed a quick lunch and Leo grabbed a quick nap.  We we’re on the go the whole day so Amon and our littlest didn’t get their naps which meant they were falling sleep in cars sometimes in a full on snore.  Amon even found a pillow to sleep on.  Hahahahaha.

After our quick break we headed to the notary office for the next spot.  Bringing all of our kids has not been easy, but I am so glad we brought them.  We needed to be together for this.  They needed to be apart of this transition and we set the bar high on what all they could handle for this trip and they have risen to the occasion.  Have they been kids…and grumpy…and have there been fights and complaining…has there been sassiness and disrespect…and has everyone been homesick…yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.  Yes to all of that.  Throw Josh and I in on all of those things as well.  Grief and exhaustion and change and being away from home is incredibly hard, but I have been amazed by their flexibility and kindness…their love for Everett and Leo and each other…their willingness to do the hard things and to keep chugging along.

After our notary appointment we headed to get Leo’s passport picture and then over to the police station.  This day contained lots of waiting and the need for patience, but we got it done with everyone in tow and nobody died.  Hallelujah.  Wendy our guide is insanely awesome and kind and is always on top of every last detail. She ran this crazy show with poise and grace and love.  Wendy was actually our guide with Everett too.  The first morning I saw her after arriving in Zhengzhou she grabbed my neck, told me how sorry she was about Shuai and cried.  We stood there in the lobby just crying together and wiping our faces with paper tissues.  It meant the world to me that she chose to recognize Everett…to recognize how painful this was going to be…beautiful, yes, but also deeply painful.  She had walked this same road with us just a little over a year ago with our Shuai and I loved seeing how she loves both of our boys and our family as a whole.

This was the best group photo we could pull off in the police station.  Poor Wendy!  There are just too many of us to make things happen. 🙂

We were suppose to visit Everett and Leo’s home this day too, but because our civil affairs appointment had gone so long we bumped the visit to the next day.  By the time we got back to our hotel it was dinner time.  Our friend Hilliary, who works for the boys’ home, came to Zhengzhou so we could finally meet in person.  I’ll never forget the day we met Everett Hilliary sent me the most beautiful message about him and how thrilled she was for our family.  I sat at the little table in our hotel and sobbed reading her words.  I knew instantly she was someone I needed to remain connected to.  Hilliary also served and loved us so well in losing Everett.  She reached out so much and sent beautiful handmade rainbow items from China to us. She was just incredibly kind and with us on this journey even oceans apart.  Meeting Hilliary was so important to me because she knew and loved both of our boys.  She was connected to both of them.  She was apart of their history.

Hilliary, Hannah and Hannah’s mom came and met us for dinner at a little place down the street.  Josh, Amon and our littlest actually stayed behind because no one had napped and they were pretty much zombies when we tried to get them up for dinner.

We walked down the street and  sat around the table and enjoyed beef dumplings and noodles.  Leo broke a bowl and chopsticks.  By the end of the dinner everything was moved out of his reaching distance. 🙂  We all sat there eating and laughing and chatting about everything from China to family and adoption to middle school literature to movies and everything in between.  It was such a nice break from the heaviness of this trip…just what I needed.

When there are people who are so rooted to your kids, I want to hold onto them forever.  They play a role in our kids stories we will never fully know or understand or be apart of.  They are special and sacred and hold keys to their little lives no one else holds.  When Hilliary was leaving I hugged her neck hard.  I likely held on a little too long, but she knew Everett…she had held him, laughed with him, loved on him, told him about his family, played with him…she was even there the day they gave Everett his care package we sent him and told him he had a family.  She had witnessed so much with both of our boys and my gratitude for her and the way she loves my boys runs deep.

A stress-filled, long day ended on such a sweet note.  A brightness in our day.  A love we all could feel and needed to be reminded of.

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.

Meeting Leo

Crazy long and explanatory post ahead. 🙂

We actually met Leo…Lin…the day we met Everett.  So on February 27th 2017 we met both of our sons for the first time.

I’ll never forget going back to Everett’s home in Zhengzhou the day we finally met him.  Josh held him close and he refused to get down out of Josh’s arms.  Josh toted him all over his home and he was so quiet and reserved.  Such a big, hard day for such a little guy, but how deeply loved and cared for he was.

That little jacket he’s wearing is still hanging in his locker along with his little shoes in our laundry room.  It takes my breath away when things like this hit my heart.  What I wouldn’t give to hold our boy one more time.  Kiss his face.  Stroke his soft dark hair.  Just feel the weight of his body in my arms.  He was the most precious little thing.

I remember when we walked into his room where he stayed all his nannies we’re sitting on the ground.  One little boy among them instantly lost his mind upon seeing us…crying and screaming…basically terrified of us.  We met Everett’s nannies and nurses and doctors and took photos and chatted.  All the while that one little terrified boy stayed tucked in his nanny’s arms.  He was not letting her put him down and he even made it into my photo I took of their nannies.  That is our Leo, we just didn’t know it yet.

  Shortly after Everett died a friend of ours who knew and loved both Everett and Leo sent us some information about Leo.  We thought it was a tad on the crazy side to even consider adopting again so soon after losing Everett, but also, when Everett died time instantly changed.  We knew if there was another child out there who was going to be ours then we didn’t want to spend another day away from him than we had to.  We decided to at least look at Leo’s file, but when all the people and agencies who should have known where his file was could not locate it anywhere, we thought the door had closed and we set back into our new normal of grieving our son and trudging along through life.  End of story, we thought.

On one of my sleepless grief nights, I logged into our agency’s waiting child page and as I scrolled in the dark and I saw his face.  There was Leo.  I thought there was no way it could be him, but turns out it was totally him.  I recognized his face from the younger photos in his file so I went back to all of our pictures in China with Everett and discovered he was the frightned little guy who made it in our nanny photo.  When I went through Everett’s file we were sent from his home, I found photos of them together.  I’ve cried a thousand tears over the fact that Everett and Leo knew one another and that even though Everett isn’t physically with us anymore, every member of our family knew and was loved by Everett.

We then took some time to review his file with our pediatrician and cardiologist and have some good conversations with our social worker and adoption agency.  The rule in place by China said we would need to wait until March of 2018 to start the adoption process and our agency had noticed China was actually making families who had lost a child wait even longer.  This was looking like a hard no from China.  Our social worker Lisa shared that 80% of her thought we would receive a no, but that 20% of her felt like we’d receive a yes…that this was special. 🙂  We ended up submitting a pre-pre-approval to China asking for special permission to even submit the pre-approval.  To everyone’s shock and surprise China said yes.  Then we had to submit the typical LOI pre-approval paperwork.  We waited and waited and finally heard another yes from China.  Then we set to work moving as quickly as we could to get to our newest boy.

Leo has a complex congenital heart defect.  These heart babes are just larger than life.  He received medical expedites and everything moved pretty quickly.  Our paperwork did get held up several weeks due to the Chinese New Year, but other than that everything was quick and smooth.  While we waited for paperwork to clear we worked at home on getting our littlest a passport, visa and travel approval from the state of Tennessee.  It’s not the easiest of things to take a child who is in foster care out of the county, but we didn’t want to leave her at home.  She needed this trip just as much as the rest of us so we jumped through every last hoop and gathered every last document and court order and copies and signatures and even got in a few smallish fights with the records department at the court house. 🙂  The last of her paperwork arrived just a week before we left.

While in process we moved through life longing for two little boys who we’re missing from our home.  Leo was born in the year of the sheep, so at Christmas we bought all the sheep ornaments and for Easter the kids got chocolate sheep instead of bunnies or chicks.  We hung Leo and Everett’s stockings in the mix with ours.  We made photo books for Leo to send along with an adorable stuffed sheep and soft teal blanket with a red polka dot L.  Rainbow everything for all the holidays.  We figured out how to weave them into our life without them physically being with us.

We kept this journey to ourselves for almost the entire process…it felt sacred and special and emotionally taxing.  We celebrated milestones along the journey to Leo while also grieving each milestone and stark reality of Everett being gone.  We would start dinners with exciting conversations about Leo and end them with children in tears over Everett.  We bounced between wild emotions and feelings constantly.  There was fear in adopting another child with a CHD.  We now know the reality of one heart warrior son living and one heart warrior son dying.  We carry life and death in our home and the fear lays heavy on our shoulders.  And then some days I felt like the hope of Leo was the only thing pulling us along…keeping us afloat.  He would be our beauty in the ashes.  He was our hope in this deep darkness.

I nested like a mad women and we began the fine dance of living life without one son and starting life with a new son.  It felt weird to prepare Everett’s bed for Leo and nobody wanted to do it.  So we didn’t.  Instead all the boys switched up spots.  Solomon had been sleeping in Everett’s bed for months anyways, but he wanted to be above Leo like he was above Everett.  Everyone switched to a new bed position and Hudson ended up in Everett’s bed.  We left his E’s on the wall and always will…we just added Hudson’s H’s to the mix and it felt more okay than I thought it would.

We still haven’t cleaned out Everett’s locker and I’m not sure if we’ll ever be ready to do that.  His jacket still hangs on the hook inside and the shelf below holds his little shoes.  When I open it I instantly sob.  There was no way I could empty it and make room for Leo’s stuff.  Harper knew where we stood and automatically said she would share lockers with Leo.  Dilemma solved.

Things arose over and over and we just moved through figuring them all out.  We wanted new pictures to send to Leo, but ached to think of how Shuai wouldn’t be in them.  A rainbow wall would have to suffice.  And it did.  Not the way we would have wanted, but it worked and we felt like we we’re honoring him the best we could.  When you are faced with death daily you have to learn to troubleshoot…you’ve got to learn to figure some things out whether you like it or not.

 As we got closer and closer to our departure date for China to bring Leo home we continued to weave Everett into everything.  Leo’s blanket is the sweetest rainbow crocheted goodness.  The shirt he’ll wear home is a rainbow heart I sewed for him in honor of his big brother.  We made photo books of Everett to take to all his nannies.  Harper placed the sweetest rainbow heart sticker on her suitcase.  Heart shirts we’re packed and we bought all the kids their own “love” t-shirt just like Everett’s.  We taped up gifts for Chinese government officials with Fiesta Donkey washi tape.  We want to honor him however we can and it can take a million different shapes.

We finally received our travel approval and we would be leaving for China in a mere 11 days.  I told Josh I wish we had given the kids shaken bottles of champaign and goggles when we told them we would officially be leaving.  They we’re the cutest.  Lots of jumping up and down and hugging each other and screaming.  In the midst of it all Hudson walked over and hugged my neck and whispered in my ear, “I am just so happy.”

(Ipod ^ I told our kids they are not allowed to have phones until they are high schoolers.  Muhuhahahaha.)

The night before we left for China we all headed to the cemetery.  We all agreed we wanted to spend our last night there.  We know Everett isn’t there, but it feels nice to all be together in his special little place.  Everyone picked out a fabric of their choice and we made heart flags to put around his spot.  We made one for each family member and put out one China flag for Leo.  We ate ice-cream and the kids played games and Josh and I laid on a quilt on the ground.  We all needed this moment.

When it came time to board our first plane in route for Zhengzhou, China I felt I might vomit.  All the nerves and all the emotions for forever.  We traveled a full 25 hours.

The kids did amazing in flight, but everyone was wiped out, hungry, exhausted and emotional.  Our 5 hour layover in Shanghai contained fighting and tears and at one point I was in a tiny bathroom stall with one of our kids and both of us we’re sobbing.  True story.  Josh said he’d rather have three colonoscopies than to do that travel day again.  Hahahaha.

But we all survived and made it!!!  We’re here and Leo is officially a Kelley…Leo Shuai Lin Kelley…named after his big brother who led the way to him.  He’s been with us since Monday and I have about 1000 more words to say about our time back in China so far, but for now I’ll just end with his scrumptious cuteness.

We are all overly tired, emotions are running hot and Leo is grieving hard, but once again Josh and I have become the luckiest mom and dad all over again.  These kids man, they are our greatest honor.

Thursday’s 10

1. Everett’s Fiesta donkey has been making his way bed to bed to bed since Everett died.  Different kids have been sleeping with him and passing him back and forth and around and around.  Now he’s landed downstairs on our couch.  I noticed Josh Kelley messing with Fiesta’s medical tag Everett’s team gave him because Everett wanted to take Fiesta into surgery with him.  Immediately I thought he was tearing the tag off and I flew into “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?!” mode.  Josh assured me he was just straightening the tag and I sat there thinking how we will likely never take that tag off.  Ever.

2. Amon’s teacher sent me this picture of him from one of their house parties at school.  I die.  Amon is a big fan or masks and costumes so it was zero surprising him wearing their teams eagle mascot head.  Then I found myself considering how great Amon would actually be at being a team’s mascot.  Hahahahahaha.  I mean the kid has definitely got the excitement and dance moves to pull it off.

3.  Then Josh Kelley sent me this picture of Hudson from one of their trips to Walmart.  The stance.  The hands-in-his-pockets.  The slight head tilt.  Can we just have all the animal heads forever please?!?!

4.  Back to Amon…I found him lounging in our bed last night remote in one hand, banana in the other and his little legs crossed.  If only all of the world could relax a bit like Amon.  I feel like we’d all be more chill and better off.  By the way, if we’d let him, Amon would eat approximately 32 bananas every single day.  Throw in some sides of peanut butter and it would be a done deal.  Another by the way, if you have never tried Jiff’s whipped peanut butter you simply have not lived.  Buy it.  Eat it.  Live life fully.  And thank me later.

5.  We made up some sweet little flags for Everett’s grave.  Everyone picked out their own fabric and I was quite smitten with everyone’s choices.  We have these little planned moments so tonight we’ll all go together to the cemetery and place our own little mark of love at our boy’s grave.  We are fully aware he’s not there, but these moments still feel nice and important right now.

6.  Most of my people…just because.  I hope I never get over what an honor it is to be theirs and for them to be mine.

7.  My FIL sent me this picture and I was instantly transported to their teen years.  They are fully into skateboarding now and it’s just too fun to watch them discover and try new things.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, they usually wear helmets.  They forgot them.  No one was injured.

8.  This is Amon’s blankie.  We took it to him the first time we met him in Ethiopia.  It use to have a cute fabric A I stitched on it.  It use to be blue.  It used to smell nice.  It use to resemble a blanket.  Now it’s just the remnants of a beloved little comfort and often smells like butt. 🙂  I told him I was washing it this morning.  He gave me a disappointed look and asked for it one more time before I tossed into the washing machine.  I handed it over and he nuzzled it all over his face, breathed it in deep and then handed it back.  Gah I love that kid!!

9.  New kitchen art.  Come on summer.  We’re ready for you.

And 10.  I love when our kids share about their feelings.  I have been so surprised with how each child has so internalized Everett’s death.  Each one of them are incredibly different which means different things spark their memories and emotions and feelings.  This morning in the car rider line this song came on over my phone and Hudson shared with me some really special thoughts of his about this song and Everett and our family.  I just listened to him in amazement because I’d listened to that song 100s of times and had never really heard the song the way he heard it.  Then I sobbed in the car rider line.  This will easily be one of my most favorite songs for forever now.

Harper Is 11!

March is a busy birthday month for us and Harper’s birthday comes rolling in right after Amon’s.  It’s fair to say we haven’t been on our best birthday game this year.  Our minds and hearts are full of so many hard things right now…processing and healing and fighting for hope.  It’s hard to keep track of regular day-in and day-out things.  About a week before Harper’s birthday she mentioned how her birthday was coming up and if we could start talking about it.  🙂  It still makes me chuckle.  We kind of are just winging everything right now and birthdays are no different.  Let’s all give a round of applause for Amazon and the way they support last minute people everywhere.

This year her birthday fell on a Thursday which also happened to be the last day of school before spring break and rewards day at her school.  Pretty much the ultimate party day!!!  For her celebration she decided to ask her classmates over to eat dinner and cake and play games.  We might have thrown it together, but it worked out just fine and Harper had a blast.  Her birthday always falls right around Easter.  Before she even turned 1-years-old we celebrated 2 Easter’s with her.  Totally an Easter baby and it is completely fitting for her.

Harper is crazy fun and colorful and is always just happy to be here.  She is such a good leader in our family and rolls so well with whatever is happening and understands being flexible in a big family.  We asked and asked about things she may want for her birthday and got nothing from her.  Her response continued to be, “I don’t know what I want.  Just surprise me.”  Gah, I love her!

I drew up a fun little invitation for her classmates and we just copied it on our home printer and she passed them out at school.  She invited all the girls in her class and I was thrilled with how simple it was.  She asked for a waffle tower for breakfast, snickerdoodles to share with her friends at school, our go-to crockpot chicken noodle soup for dinner and our most favorite iced sugar cookies for everyone to decorate after dinner.  Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Aunt Jen and Campbell came over to get in on the cookie decorating action.  I’ve decided the picture below will be our Christmas card next year.  Hahahahaha.

Her party was too fun.  We had pizza, funfetti cupcakes with all the sprinkles and ice-cream.  She wanted to play some fun games so she picked out 6 different ones.  She wrote each activity on a piece of paper, put the piece of paper into a balloon and then blew all the balloons up.  Of course she chose rainbow colored balloons and the girls would pop a balloon and do the activity that was inside together.  They did the cookie face challenge, a silly string fight, peep spoon relay race, jelly bean blowing straw relay, bubble-gum blowing contest and the seran-wrap candy game.

It was really fun watching them all play and interact and have fun together.  One of Harper’s love languages is time spent together so her love thank was filled to the top.

It has been an extremely difficult year for Harper.  Losing Everett knocked the life out of her and throw in starting middle school and moving to a new school building and it’s just been a rough year with hard transitions, but she is so freakin’ strong and has the most amazing little heart.  She has grown and learned and her compassion for others reminds me Everett’s death was not in vain.  While Josh and I are learning to love better so are our kids and Harper has taken this loss of her little brother and tucked it deep into her heart.  We are all becoming braver people and determined to remember every little thing Everett showed us and taught us.

She will be driving solo in 5 years.  She will be an adult and possibly moving out in 7 years.  She’ll be taller than me by this time next year.  It makes me want to grab her and never let go, but it also makes me excited because I really like this girl.  She is a gem and she shines so bright.  The morning of her birthday I hugged her so tight and squeaked out a little “Happy Birthday” through my tears.  I say it a lot and I hope I never stop saying it, but we’re the luckiest parents on the planet.

Harper Kelley, you made us parents!  You are created in God’s image and there are too many lovely things about you to even count.  It’s an honor and privilege to have you in our family.  Thank you for being you and for loving us so well.

Happy 11th birthday!

Ten Things

1. I created again last week and made up a large batch of key fobs for my shop.  It was really nice to have a task, create and complete it.  My uncontrollable at times grief makes these completed tasks feel as though I’ve regained a firmer control again.  It felt crazy good and I’m going to try and make up more again soon.

2. Hudson and Solomon.  Solomon and Hudson.  They don’t remember life without one another and I deeply love their relationship, their brotherhood and friendship.  And their straight up goofy selves.

3.  He still falls asleep wherever and I will forever document it.

PS:  Birthday parties are hard. 🙂

4. The basketball goals down our street are in high usage currently.  Our driveway is kind of crappy and not basketball goal material, so thank you to our city for making our basketball dreams possible.  Everyone gets in on the action.

5. My MIL has the best yard and the greenest thumb.  Period.  The end.  But not really the end. 🙂  We can pull up to Josh’s parent’s house and I can walk inside, grab a vase and scissors and a few minutes later have flowers that make my heart swoon.  Flowers can change the world people.  My new motto.

6. We are currently spring breaking hard.  TV every morning.  Fun cereal for breakfast which causes fights instantly when the bottom of the box starts to appear.  Basketball down the street.  Treats mid-day.  Movies and iPad time and PS4 playing.  Card games galore.  Lazy mornings and late nights.  This is how we are rolling.  SB2018…someone get us airbrushed tees. 🙂

7.  Hey Hudson and Solomon, why don’t you guys sit closer together?!??!  They do this ALL THE TIME and it always makes me smile and never phases them for a second.

8. Easter proved to be a really hard holiday for us.  Last year Everett was searching for eggs and eating all the treats and we were enjoying our first holiday with him together as a family of 8.  He raced through my head all day long along with the days leading up to Easter.  When I went to get out the kids egg cartons we put some treats in for them I broke down hard.  I had put a carton away last year for Everett to paint for this year and there is sat unpainted and waiting on him.  I was so pissed off and just deeply sad buying their little treats this year because I should have been buying them for him too.  He should be here.  He should have been eating candy before breakfast and laughing his best laugh with the rest of his siblings, but he wasn’t and it felt crushing.  I have 1000 other thoughts about Easter this year, but those will have to wait for another time because I haven’t quite figured them all out yet.

9.  This girl.  It’s been a big week for her.  She is simply the fiercest fire cracker around town.  Her love and snuggles are like no other…so is her temper. 🙂  She is so strong and her little self is a force to be reckoned with.  Gosh, so many people love this child and we’re all the luckiest for knowing and being loved by her.

And 10.  These three.  Our own Big 3!  Just call Josh and me “Jack & Rebecca”.  I’m not sure how we’d survive without them.  Big kids are my total jam and I am loving watching them grow and change and they are at the top of their fun game.  They make me a better person and mom.  They challenge me and change me.  They are easily some of my most favorite people on this planet.