Last Week of School

We’ve been on summer break for over 2 weeks now and it’s been nice to have a little less to do and keep up with.  The last week of school was pretty killer and ran us quite ragged…it was like the last sprint before the finish line.

The kids’ last week of school was a busy one.  So many events going on it made my brain hurt.  On Tuesday alone Amon had his class picnic, Harper had her awards ceremony and Amon had his class program and graduation.  Meredith came in for a quick trip and asked what we were up to that day.  I told her all the kid events going down and she jumped right in.  When Harper saw Meredith she was so confused and thought she came in just for her awards ceremony.  🙂  She rode along for carrider line pickup, ate a quick breakfast for dinner and then off we all went in the pouring rain for Amon’s program and graduation.  What I love so much about Meredith is our chaos seems to phase her zero.  I don’t feel like we’re too much…I’m not nervous we’re stressing her out…I don’t feel judged…and I’m not worried about what she thinks of us.  We just get to be the Kelleys with zero strings or conditions attached.  She’s really good to all 9 of us.

The official last day of school was very exciting for everyone.  We had all been looking froward to this day because we all needed a slower pace, some sunshine and water and some fun.  Last summer consisted of the high of the highs and the low of the lows…majority lows.  Josh Kelley and I feel the need to make this summer really special.

First day of school/Last day of school.  You can see our past photos HERE.  Next year our littlest lady will be thrown in the mix too since she’ll be starting full time pre-school at our elementary school.  5 different classrooms and I have zero idea how we will keep up.  Let’s just not talk about it. Summer forever.

Our littlest lady and Leo spent their last few days just the three of us before it was seven of us EVERY SINGLE DAY, ALL DAY LONG.  Yikes.  We did all the normal things like grocery shop and go to Target.  She mother hens him to absolute death.  We’re working on it. 🙂

We threw our nephew Cooper’s girlfriend Alicea a graduation party.  Alicea is the sweetest!!!!  I mean, she comes in our house and plays with our kids and chats everyone up and eats all the foods and holds her own amongst our wild, loud bunch.  Major props she’s hung around this long, but Cooper is pretty great so maybe he’s the kicker.  It was so fun celebrating her and we’re all so thankful we get to know such an amazing lady!

Alicea’s favorite desserts are brownies, Funfetti cake and anything smores.  So of course we had to have all three.  A party is not a party without plenty of treats.  I made a funfetti cake with rainbow chip icing, THESE brownies which are my all time favorite brownie recipe and THESE smores bars which were crazy easy and absolutely delicious.  If you like smores…make them asap.

 Our first official day of summer was pretty chill.  We watched movies and read books and played outside.  I put up all the kids school clothes and organized our swim basket.  We stayed home in preparation for lots of wave pooling and fun.  Like the calm before the storm except the storm is a really good one. 😉

My friend Emily recommended doing charcuteri dinners and they are now our official weekend dinner of summer.  I mean, you seriously cannot go wrong with any giant combo of this thrown on a big board and set in the middle of your table for the masses to consume.  Ginormous hit.  Like hugely legit.

Bonus:  Josh and I don’t really have to “cook” anything.  Unless by cook you mean throw tons of fun snack foods on a giant cutting board.

And the last thing we squeezed in was a hospital visit.  Alas, these heart kiddos are just special and need extra attention when health things pop up and when a high fever persisted our doctor’s office sent us straight to the ER.  They kept us overnight to rule out an infection in his heart or anything else serious heart related and late afternoon the next day they let us go.

I had approximately 22 emotional breakdowns and I know the majority of the nurses and doctors thought I was some whacked out mom.  I wanted to tell every single one of them about Everett so they would know I was only mid-level crazy and really I was just sad and missed our boy.  The kindest lady did Leo’s EKG in the middle of the night and she knew about Everett and instantly I felt seen and breathed a sigh of relief…like someone really got it and understood.

When it was all said and done every last one of us…kiddos included…felt the weight of this small visit.  It felt big even though it was small.  It threw all of us whirling back into last summer with Everett and it was really hard and sad.  It left Josh and myself wondering how on earth we’ll do this all again on a much bigger and more serious note with Leo.

It took us several days to recover and now we’re in full on summer mode.  Make every bit count.  Have as much fun as we can.  Soak up every ray of sunshine and swim until our hearts burst.  Tan lines for days and empty bottles of sunscreen behind us.  All the fun, special times together plus a gazillion icees and slushies and late night firefly sessions and movies and snacks.  We’ll sleep later.  Like I said, summer forever.

Eleven Things

1. We’ve practically been living at the hospital and doctor’s offices.  Leo has one special little heart and body and getting to the bottom of everything is taking patience and time.  In the meantime, he’s pretty dang cute and snacks make everything better.  Everything.

2.  Leo got his glasses a few weeks ago.  Ummmmm, I’m pretty sure he’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.  He did really well the first few days, but now he’s a glasses tosser. 🙂  I thought at first I had been hoodooed by the optometrist office for paying way too much for “indestructible” glasses, but sure enough they were much needed.

3.  Amon brought me home the sweetest gift from school.  Having three heart warrior sons makes me a total sucker for hearts.  I immediately grabbed a thumb tack and up on the wall this beauty went.  Amon was beyond proud.  Love that boy to smithereens.

 

4. Speaking of suckers…Harper is a total sucker for Amon.  Has been since the moment she met him in Ethiopia when he was a tiny baby and she hadn’t even started kindergarten yet.  Six years later and he’s still got her wrapped around his adorable finger.

And now Leo’s on the scene and she’s a goner again.  She just can’t help it.  She’s a sucker for all these littles and they love her fiercely right back.

5.  Leo is an amazing sleeper during the day, but come night time, well, sleep is his arch nemesis and apparently he loathes us.  Hahahaha.  If Josh Kelley and I can ever get another date night we are sure to nap during it.  It’s been awhile since we’ve been this tired and we’ve tried every last trick in the book.  We’re crossing all our fingers and toes that one day he’ll get the hang of it and surely he won’t go to college waking up 54 times during the night.

6.  One of my most favorite memories was watching and listening to Everett talk with his Uncle Andy and Aunt Becky in Mandarin.  Watching his face when they started to speak his home language was priceless to us.  Leo has some speech issues, but his facial expressions are the same.  He lights up when they start to talk to him in Mandarin and it’s priceless.  He understands every word they say and I love watching him listen and respond the he can.

7.  10 months came and went.  It sucked.  I feel like these days become more and more painful.  They are often lonely days stuck in our grief.  There are just far too many emotions wrapped up in these days and I find myself thinking back through the past 10 months and all they have held.  I miss my old self, but every day I’m becoming more and more okay with having a hope and love and religion that has been put to the fire and that’s quite rough and messy.  I’m learning to embrace what creates more compassion and love in me.  I’ve felt first hand how those who have suffered tend to and love those suffering around them so well.

8.  I emotionally eat.  Like if I have a bad day you better believe I’m into some chocolate or Cheetos or something crazy tasty.  On the last full week of school I bought these at Target and then opened them IN THE CARRIDER LINE and then devoured them all within days.  Buy them, eat them and thank me later.

9.  Josh Kelley and I haven’t had a date since I can’t even remember.  Our Medication Administration refresher course at 9am on a Saturday morning served as the hottest date we’ve had in a long time.  I did fix my hair, apply makeup and enjoy a mini tube of Pringles DCS provided us with so that was a bonus.

10.  Sundays are now our flag football days.  You will find us at the park with Big Daddy and all the snacks and icees and sweating in the shade and trying to find Leo’s glasses in the grass and cheering our boys on.  It’s always fun and it’s always nice seeing our boys smile and enjoy something they didn’t know they would really like.

And 11.  Leo is the quirkiest, cutest little thing.  He just marches to his own little beat and squats anywhere and everywhere and his hair grows in it’s own natural faux hawk and he always smiles with his entire face.  Sometimes he’s really quiet and we find  him doing something incredibly cute all by himself.  Snacks are his love language and he loves a good cuddle.  He adores the water…give him all the water, all the time.  Pool.  Water table.  Hose pipe.  Bath.  Water bottle.  Sink.  Bird bath.  Any water source will suffice.  We love love love getting to know him and learning more and more about his little personality every single day.

Favorites From China

My phone kind of sucks…I’m sure a lot of you can relate. 🙂  I take a lot of photos and videos so it’s a constant struggle to keep enough space on my phone available.  Recently when cleaning off my phone I went through and picked some of my favorite photos from China.

I snagged this rainbow blanket at a thrift store for $2.  It’s been in our basket of blankets in our living room for a while and has been used 100s of times.  When I started looking to buy Leo his own blanket I realized this was the perfect blanket for him.  Rainbow and already well loved.  I didn’t pack it in our checked bag, but toted it along in my personal bag.  I loved this little visual reminder of Everett.

One of my top favorite plane photos.  These boys.  They kill my heart.  I will never understand how we got so insanely lucky to have them.

In the Los Angeles airport our littlest spotted this rainbow streaming through a sky light and onto the floor nearby.  Every spotting of rainbow anything made me teary and long for our sweet Shuai boy.

More rainbows.  The day we went back to Everett and Leo’s home was also the 9 month anniversary of losing Everett.  One of the very first things we saw when we walked in were these beautiful rainbow pinwheels spinning in the wind.  Instant tears.  We take him everywhere we go.

We had a boys room and girls room while we were in China.  Josh Kelley would send me photos between 4am and 5am every morning of what the boys were up to.  They jet lagged hard.  5am card games almost every morning.  Sometimes Solomon was adorned in a hotel bathrobe. 🙂

Dinners every night together.  Some nights we ate out and sometimes we ate in our room.  This was one of our most favorite places to eat in Zhengzhou.  The food was amazing and the staff were always crazy kind.

Harper keeps us afloat most days.  She is patient and kind and funny and helpful and Josh and I call her our sanity.  She just makes my heart really happy.  I snagged this photo of us shopping one day.  A total favorite.

One of our last photos as a family of 8.  Being able to take all the kids to China with us was such a gift.  It was crazy hard, but I am still so so thankful it came together and actually happened.

The first day we met Leo he would not let go of his Chips Ahoy container.  Even when the cookies were long gone, he held it close.  I love the photos of him sitting with Josh holding his little cookie cup.  What a brave brave boy!

Anyone else pack their bag full of a bunch of smaller bags?!?!?  Just me?!?!  This was basically life in China.  It kept everything straight and more organized and much more manageable.  And that panda bag was a fun find in China.

And my top favorite photo from China…Josh’s photo of Leo face planting off the slide.  I feel like this will be a classic Kelley photo for years and years to come.

I’m really trying to be more consistent with writing in this space because it just makes my head clearer, but then there’s this whole summer thing.  Hoping to be back again sooner than later. 🙂

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day came and went and out of all these holidays lining my calendar like minefields since Everett died, Mother’s Day has been at the top of my dreading list.  The tip top.  Maybe it was the double whammy of my mom having died + Everett dying.  Maybe it was the awkward timeframe of being 10 months out from Everett’s death which feels like no time at all for us, but so much time to outsiders meaning they expect we’re all better and we’re really not.  Maybe it was the social media aspect, but mostly I think it was that this time last year just looked so different…felt so different…was so different.  This time last year Everett had really set into his groove and was talking so much and seriously was the most fun and precious, snacking little guy and now he was gone.  Our family will simply never be the same.

I went into Mother’s Day having already decided that next year I would boycott the entire holiday altogether.  These holidays where we tend to celebrate some and forget others, even in the church, is unsettling.  While some celebrate, others cringe and hold their breath waiting for the day to be over.  These celebratory days can be so painful for so many people for so many different reasons.  People feel forgotten, overlooked, unseen, left out, hurt, sad, angry and sometimes the heaviness of the day is just too much.  Our Christiany words we tend to fling toward the broken won’t fix it and what is most needed is the simple sincerity of an “I’m so sorry” and a love filled reminder that the hurting are remembered and not alone.

I went into this day already thinking how much it was going to suck and the minute I opened my eyes Sunday morning I burst into tears.  This day was a heavy one indeed.  What I didn’t see coming was the sweetness it would hold…how this day would really represent sadness and pain and joy and gratefulness really co-minglingly all together.  It would show me yet again this life can be done living out deep grief and deep joy simulatenously.

There was very little for this day that was a must, but I wanted to be very intentional about it including me staying off all social media for the day.  Aside from that I had a super short list of requests:

1. Cemetery visits for Mom and Everett.

2. Flower shopping for our birth moms.

And 3. A giant coke & cherry mixed Icee.

We headed out to my Mom’s graveside first thing in the morning with Fruit Loops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal in tow for breakfast.  I made up a jar of flowers to take with us and loaded milks into a cooler.  Going to her grave is Mother’s Day tradition.  We take a quilt, eat something yummy and the kids run around playing games of tag and hide-n-seek in the cemetery.  Weird?!?  Maybe, but not to the Kelleys.  This is our norm and over the years I have become more and more okay with our kids viewing the cemetery as a place of not only death & sadness, but also of life & joy.

On our way home from Mom’s cemetery we stopped to pick out flowers for all our birthmom’s we honor on Mother’s Day too.  This is a tradition we started several years ago and it has stuck.  Our kiddos with birthmoms pick out any flower or plant they want and we plant them in our yard in their honor.  For our littlest we potted the flowers she picked out and will gift them to her birthmom next time we see her.  This year Harper helped Leo with his selection and Hudson picked out flowers for Everett’s birthmom.  I cried a lot through out the entire day, but this part really got.  I’m insanely grateful to these amazing women who chose life for their children.  They will always be valued and remembered and honored in our house…and not just on Mother’s Day.  Last year sweet Everett stood there holding his little flower.  Josh Kelley noticed it had started to die during the winter season and next thing I knew Josh had moved Everett’s flowers into our warm bathroom and they were blooming in the middle of winter.  They are still going strong.

  

We ended up eating lunch at home before Josh and the boys headed out to flag football.  I stayed home with everyone else and it was just right.  I was bummed missing the boys’ games, but it was so hot and our littlest and Leo needed naps.  I watched a movie on the couch with the kids and took some time to write.   They played outside in the water and ate popsicles.  When flag football was over I was gifted with a cherry and coke mixed Icee from the Tiger Market…which I swear has the greatest Icee machine around and the Icees are always the perfect consistency.  Icee consistency is a big deal.  Hudson and Solomon also told me how they scored touchdowns just for me on Mother’s Day. 🙂

We ate dinner at home too.  I was totally good with hanging close to home for most of the day, plus my Aunt Peggy’s Bean Burrito recipe for dinner was perfection.  For dessert I chose rainbow sherbet and Sprite at Everett’s grave.  After we finished dinner we headed over to his special place as the sun was headed down and it was the right way to end the day.

I had purchased rainbow flags to hang from the tree in Everett’s area of the cemetery.  I watched Josh Kelley climb up and down his ladder placing flags just so.  I thought about how Josh could easily tell me this was too much work or that I was crazy, but he never has.  He smiles and obliges and never once complains.  He knows this is an outward way I can display my deep love and longing for Everett.

We spread out our quilt and handed out spoons and cups full of rainbow sherbet doused in Sprite.  Everyone ate it all up as the mosquitos ate us up.  The sun was just right.  The moment felt sacred and special and my mind thought how the day had turned out far different than I thought it would.  It hadn’t been all terrible.  I didn’t want to boycott this day next year anymore.  The day had contained some really sweet moments and memories.

I watched as Leo ate every last little drop from his cup and some fell from his spoon onto his leg.  I thought about how lucky I was.  I thought about how much Everett had changed our lives and the lives of so many others.  I thought about how he led us to Leo.  Gratefulness swept over me hard.  All these kiddos from so many different places and with such different stories.  Each of them strong and brave and absolutely unique and incredible in their own way.  They are all loved by so many and honestly I’m just shocked and honored and amazed God would allow me to be their mom.

What I would have given for Everett to be there with us…to hold his little body and hear his little voice and laugh.  It made me cringe and cry at several moments during the day, but I think we’re making him proud.  We all get up each day and take another step closer to seeing him again.  We haven’t given up yet…there’s still hope floating around…and we’re still loving him and one another madly.

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.