Thursday, June 28, 2012

Belly stickers for all.

This morning we had the BIG specialist appointment.
The appointment that was likely to result in major reconstructive surgery for YH.
Surgery that would be scheduled as soon as possible.

I was nervous. So so nervous.
I went out last night with some friends and tried to steady myself with the comforting bite of Hendrick's and tonic.
Didn't work.

I got home and tried to sleep.
Didn't work.

I tossed and turned and battled the "what ifs" until dawn.

YH woke up a little before 7am. I heard him start to moan and I jumped out of bed. I opened the doors to his "room" (an attached flex space in our bedroom) and scooped him off his mattress.
He was bleary eyed and cuddly--my favorite.
We got back into the big bed and he curled in the space between my knees and my chin. I held him in my arms as he began to fully wake up.

He waved his hands and babbled to himself. He honked my nose and kissed my cheeks.
I buried my nose in his hair and apologized for what the morning would bring.

We got up. Ate breakfast.

I stuffed my purse with his favorite toys and books.
I dropped the big kids off at my parents' house.

"Haraboji? Halmoni?"  Over and over from the backseat as we drove away.

At the children's hospital YH grew quiet.
He remembered this place.
He did not like this place.

We made our way to the third floor--craniofacial and reconstructive plastic surgery.
I filled out a million forms.

A baby came in and YH went over to her and gently stroked her arm.
"Ai-po, aegi. Ai-po."

The nurse called us back and YH's tears began to flow.
Just like last time.
The nurses were SO GOOD. They worked around his distress, did their best to get the necessary measurements without making him more upset.

Next came the two PA's. One for the neurosurgeon and one for the plastic surgeon.
They asked questions about his background, measured his head, looked in his ears and eyes.

He stayed on my lap while they were in the room.
He whimpered throughout.

The PA's left and told us they would be back with the plastic surgeons and the neurosurgeon.
We would all discuss treatment plans and surgery.

In the quiet, just the two of us in the sterile room, YH and I played with a toy car. We made it roll up and down the examination table. We made it hide under the crinkly paper.
We put it on the doctor's stool and spun it around and around.

We laughed! It was so much fun!

In the middle of a spin, there was a knock on the door.
YH froze as the whole craniofacial team filed into the room.
He looked at each face. He shuddered.

And then he decided the situation called for fist-bumps.

He walked to each person and held up his tiny fist expectantly.
And each doctor, each stuffy medical expert, bent down to fist bump my boy.

And he smiled. And he laughed.
And it was all ok.

****                     ****

As the doctors talked, one by one, YH walked around the room putting stickers on their bellies. The PA had a pocket full of stickers and she would dole them out to YH any time he wandered by. He took the stickers and carefully peeled the backing off before affixing the image to the dress shirt of his choice.

The doctors said his condition is mild. It is the one type of craniosynostosis that doesn't automatically require surgical intervention.

They said he was handsome. They said if he showed any signs of developmental delays they might recommend a different course of action.

They watched him climb around the room and laugh and interact with their colleagues.

The neurosurgeon turned to me and said "He seems really smart, you know."
A neurosurgeon said my son is smart! 

So for now, we wait. We see the pediatric opthamologist and make sure YH's vision impairment isn't caused by elevated intracranial pressure. We watch for any changes in his head shape. We pay attention to any headaches, dizziness or developmental delays.

For now--we put surgery on hold.

The relief I feel at this news is overwhelming.


Friday, June 22, 2012

One month

One month ago we met YH for the first time.

Is that possible? Hasn't he always been a part of our lives?

Hasn't our house always had a layer of toys covering every surface?
Hasn't our grocery bill always been this high? (The boy can eat.)
Haven't I always felt his heavy weight in my arms first thing in the morning? Had his warm cheek pressed against my neck as I walk to the kitchen?

Hasn't he always been there to delight us with a nose honk/fist bump/high five?
Hasn't he always rushed the fence when a neighbor walks by, in order to call out "TRALALA" in greeting?

Didn't we always automatically open the sun roof when starting the car, because we know he loves it so?
Didn't we always call the dog "Roooo-tie" because that's the way YH says her name?

In some ways our family routine has quite naturally expanded to include our newest member. We for sure love this little guy--each and every one of us. Even the newly-middle child, who yesterday asked me, "Mom, wouldn't you agree that YH is sometimes annoying?"

In other ways each day is a challenge.

It is a challenge to pay enough attention to the "big" kids (who are really not-so-big-after-all) when my littlest needs constant supervision.
It is a challenge to make time for my husband when our schedules are pulling us in opposite directions.

It is a challenge to feel like myself when there is someone small who needs every piece of me (inside and out) every minute that he is awake.

If I'm being honest, this third child--my 30lb "newborn"--is the first one who has brought me to my knees to this degree.

It's not that *loving* him is hard--that part is sooo easy.
 What's hard is giving up personal space, emotional space, time to think, time to shower, time to wash my clothes, time to exercise, time to read, time to be spontaneous.

I know that before long I will start to feel like myself again.
But for right now I am a little bit lost. I am drowning a bit in this little boy, and his needs.

There are times when it seems like he is adjusting so well to our family, that I almost think "Maybe he is at a good place with his grief. Maybe we got through the first wave."

Then there are times when little things happen--tiny tremors--and I can see that we are just at the base of the swell of his grief.

Like when we were all enjoying a shaved ice at a picnic table, and a white van pulled into the parking lot and started to turn around right in front of us.

YH's eyes grew wide.
He dropped his spoon and scrambled--literally scrambled--across the table into my arms.
He grabbed my shirt with both fists and started to moan, head turned away from the parking lot.

It was a white van.
Just like the white van that took us from ESWS to the hotel on the day we took custody.
A white van that took him from the people he loved.

Or like the day when he fell and scraped his knee and a tiny spot of blood appeared.
And he couldn't bear it. Couldn't stand to look at it, couldn't let anyone touch it.
He just needed to sit in my lap and sob--heavy, wrenching sobs--for over an hour.
(This is a child who regularly crashes into things, climbs tall objects and acquires the bumps and bruises of boyhood with zest; nothing phases him--except a scraped knee)

The grief is there.
The loss is there.

But also: The joy is there. The love is there.

We're family. No doubt about it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


On one side of the gym stands 7.
Or should I say, on one side of the gym bounces 7.

7 leaps and flips and contorts her body in myriad ways.
Her coach makes a minor correction to her form; tells her to tighten a specific muscle, to remember how it feels.

7 knows instinctively how to do what her coach asks.
"When I do it that way I feel springier! I feel, like, lighter. Like I am actually flying."

7 tries something new and doesn't succeed. 7 laughs out-loud at her mis-step and gets up to do it right.

7 lands a back-tuck for the first-time and yells out "That was AWESOME! Let's do it AGAIN!"

7's coach nods his head and tells her to get a drink of water.

He turns to me and says, "In all my years coaching I have only known a handful of athletes who are so in tune with their bodies. She not only knows exactly what to do to correct her form but she can tell you about it. It sounds like she's telling you a poem!"

I nod my head, baffled by this wondrous creature who somehow is born of my blood.

7 is amazing.
7 works hard for her coaches and for herself.
She is proud of the results and finds joy in the process of getting stronger and faster and more precise.

7 is amazing and she knows it.
She's not ashamed of being amazing, it's just how she is.

****              ****

On the other side of the gym 14 is working through a private lesson with her coach.

14 is tall and lean; her legs are strong and tanned. She has clear skin and a perfectly swooshy blond ponytail. She is a gifted athlete--her front tuck is breathtaking.

14 is also amazing--but she doesn't want you to know it.

14 starts apologizing for her performance before she has even fully landed a round-off. She does so in that mumbly, self-effacing way that teenagers do so well. She almost flinches when her coach gives her feedback.

In between exercises, 14 stands slumped at the foot of the mat. Her shoulders are rounded inward, her belly hollowed. 14 is making herself small and unremarkable. (I know this trick well, sweet girl. I really really do.)

Oh 14, you hurt my heart.

****               ****

7 is watching 14 ---and I am watching 7 watch 14.

7 is lying on her stomach with her feet kicking in the air. Her chin rests in her hand and her head is slightly cocked. She is watching 14 with wide eyes, studying her every move.

7 could very well grow up to look a lot like 14. Their coloring is the same, they both are 70% leg.

Please let the resemblance end there.
Please let 7 remain so very *7* for a long, long time.

I've been 7, and I turned into 14 (long before I was *actually* 14)--and more than anything I want to spare my daughter that perilous slide from self-confidence into self-criticism.

I want her to always know that she is amazing and that that is ok.
It's better than ok--it's amazing.

And there's nothing wrong with that.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Breathe deep and let go.

I think I've mentioned before that as perfect as YH is for our family, Sean and I don't believe that his presence in our lives was preordained by a higher power. I know there are many families who do believe that a divine hand united them with their children--and I am sure they find a lot of joy and comfort in that belief.

In our home we believe that a string of tragedies occurred to separate YH from his first family. Through a series of twists and turns, and a mountain of paperwork, we found our way to his side. Where we will remain--lifting him up with love--forever.

I think I also mentioned a bit about my sanctimonious hierarchy of decisions about what constituted an "ethical" adoption. It's an elaborate matrix, and speaks solely to my personal beliefs. Every time I make a sweeping statement about what I believe to be an absolute truth in adoption ethics it can be easily undone by one family's story. I keep my eyes and ears open and make informed choices.

And the truth is that even though I did my due diligence, and worked hard to choose a program that I felt was time-tested and had a high degree of accountability, things did not go as expected. The truth is that even though we set out to adopt a "waiting child" from a country with impeccable medical care, things went wrong for our son. The truth is that even though our son received mountains of loving care from his foster family, the "experts" missed opportunities for intervention/medical care. These missed opportunities led to serious health problems. Health problems that will need to be corrected by major surgery. To be clear: this surgical intervention is separate from the (now minor seeming) surgery we were told he needed back in January.

Luckily, I have a very close friend whose own child faced similar health issues last year. Her son also underwent surgery, and it is only through her experiences that I was able to recognize right away (on the day we met him) that YH needed immediate attention for his as-yet undocumented need. My friend very generously reached out in response to a panicky text message I had sent her and showered me with love and resources.

Through her leads I connected with an online support forum for YH's biggest medical challenge. And it was there, as I sought information and support, that I encountered my first negative comment about our family and how it was formed.


In response to my introduction post, and my raw pleading for information/words of comfort from parents who have walked this road, one person responded, "Only way I approve of international adoption is for children with medical issues. Albeit, even then I am hesitant due to the rampant amounts of child trafficking."

So, um yeah.


I mean I get that this person was trying to express approval at our decision to adopt a waiting child but really? A medical forum--a forum for hurting parents worried about their children--that's where you decide to pass judgement on how families are formed?

I guess it would be easy to say "There is one scenario where I approve of international adoption: waiting children." Except where it's not so easy, and not so clear-cut.

Do you approve of families who adopt a waiting child with a "correctable" special need? (ie: one that is readily fixed through surgery/treatment and has no impact on the child's life moving forward)

Do you approve of families who accepted a standard referral with no identified medical needs who later turns out to have serious health problems?

Do you approve of families who adopt a "waiting child" who later turns out to have been a trafficked child?

Do you approve of families who accepted the referral of a waiting child only to find that the needs of child they took custody of don't match the file of the original referral?

Do you approve of families who adopted domestically, from a birthmother who was coerced into her decision?

I know families who have experienced all of the above. And more.

At the end of the day, I'm not going to sit in judgement of how families are formed. I'm just not.

I'm also not going to sit around and bemoan the unexpected in our own adoption. YH's medical needs are more immediate and of a different nature than what we anticipated they would be. We spent months and months preparing to accommodate and support needs that have yet to present themselves.

And so we start over. We learn about new needs, and new treatment options. We decide to pray, to send out requests to the universe, to beg and plead to a higher power to let our insurance cover his needs.

The next few weeks are filled with specialist appointments. So many! And my poor sweet boy--he can't stand the doctor's office. Can you send some love our way, if you have any to spare?
We're taking love donations.
We'll take all we can get.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Up in the air.

Over the course of our first night together YH slept reasonably well--but as morning drew near he began to thrash. First his legs kicked, then his arms flailed, then his head whipped from side to side. His not-quite-awake little body rolled, and punched, and tried everything it could to make us (his new reality) retreat.

Eventually his mind caught up with his limbs and he opened his eyes.

Hello small child.
Hello small child I have known for less than 76 hours.
Hello small child.

He was eager to get out of bed. To run and explore and eat. To do anything but think about what was going on.

We had several hours to kill before we headed to the airport, so we ate breakfast and headed out to the closest palace to wander.

YH didn't want to be carried. He struggled in the ergo. He wanted to run, without holding anyone's hand. We didn't approve this plan. He screamed. Heads turned. We scooped him up quickly and walked. He struggled and then fell asleep in Sean's arms. People stared openly at our family. It was uncomfortable. I worried that passers-by were judging us, and we were falling short.

We entered the palace and I took YH from Sean so that he could go procure drinks and a snack for everyone. The big kids played hopscotch on the ancient paving stones as I sat on a nearby bench with YH on my lap. He woke up, and leaned into my chest. I stroked his back as he watched Miss A and Sweet Bubs laugh and chase one another.

On the bench next to me sat a young Korean woman in her late 20's with her companion--an older Korean woman. They stared at us. I smiled at them and looked away, resolute in my desire to escape any harsh glances.

The younger woman got up from her seat and came over to us. She said, with an American accent, "Your children are beautiful. All three of them."

I nearly wept at her kindness. She will never know how much that meant to me.

***                  ***

Our flight was scheduled to leave Incheon airport at 9:30pm. We opted to leave the hotel at 3pm and take a taxi-van to the airport. We would run the kids ragged in the airport in hopes that they would all sleep on the first, longest leg of the journey home to Texas.

Luckily our departure gate was very close to one of the indoor playground at Incheon. YH ran and played for four hours straight. Four hours.

At this point it was clear that as long as his body was moving, his wounded heart would be ok. If he allowed himself to sit still for more than a minute a look of pain would settle on his features. He would literally shake it off and jump up to run off somewhere.

I watched him and worried about what this would mean for the arduous flights ahead.

***                 ***

On the first flight--Incheon to LAX--YH had a seat between Sean and I in a middle row. My mom and the big kids were in their own row, just to the left of us. After an initial resistance to the seat belt YH settled down in a nest of blankets and tiny airplane pillows. Against all odds the plan worked and he fell asleep. He slept off and on for the majority of the 11 hour flight. It was supremely uncomfortable for Sean and I--as our arms were trapped by his heavy snoring body--but magnificent to behold.

When he would wake up he would fuss and mess around with all the knobs and headphones and buttons he could reach. He would loudly protest any restrictions to these activities.

I mention this because that behavior was in character with the YH we had come to know; and it was in stark contrast to his behavior on the second flight, from LAX to Austin.

***                ***

By the time we were ready to board our flight in LAX we were all hungry, tired and cranky. We were dirty and smelly. Our hair stuck up in weird tufts. We hated to be around one another but we were glued to one another in collective misery.

(Ain't travel grand!)

Little did we know that the 7pm Friday night flight from Los Angeles to Austin is in fact a giant happy hour in the clouds. A giant happy hour at the grossest bar you can imagine--and not gross in a fun dive-bar kind of way. No-- it was gross in the "Hey, is that the cast of the Real World over there?" kind of way.

A man and woman in the row in front of me began flirting with one another before take off. They downed several drinks in quick succession and their pre-coital banter grew ever louder. Her hair flipping was violent.

Across the aisle and behind Sean and Sweet Bubs sat a group of dudes who appeared to emulate the cast of "Entourage". They hooted and hollered and lived large over the duration of the flight.

My mom sat with Miss A several rows ahead of us. Their heads were barely visible in the sea of well coiffed youngsters discussing which bar in the warehouse district was the best.

And in the middle of all the boisterous, sexual energy-fueled, power hungry partying sat me and YH. Tired and wrinkled. Bags under my eyes and a travel-zit emerging on my jawline. Ignoring the seeping warmth on my lap from the leak in YH's diaper. Feeling the frenzied beat of YH's little mouse heart against my collarbone.

YH had shut down.

As soon as English became the only language being spoken around us he shut down.
He refused to sit in his own seat.
He was not leaving my lap.

His fists clenched my shirt with superhuman strength. He buried his face in my neck and refused any offer of food or drink. He scrunched up his eyes and hummed to himself until he fell asleep.
He did not move or shift position for the entire three and half hour long flight.

The woman in the window seat of our row said, "Wow--he's a great traveler! I hardly knew he was there."

A great traveler. Hardly knew he was there. How wonderful.


Not great, not wonderful.

Sad. Scared. Blocking it all out.

I have never not enjoyed a child's silence on a long flight--but this time, YH's motionless form broke my heart anew.

I said a prayer to the nameless deity in my head: "Let him get through this. Let him come out of this. Let him get through this."

***                   ***

And then we were home.
And he got through it.
And he came out of it.

And each day is better than the one before.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The microphone.

On his first night in our care my son listened to the voice of his foster mother, filtered through the plastic innards of a toy microphone, over and over.
More than ten times.

I sat across the room and watched him.

Watched his little face scrunch up, and then relax when her voice came on.
Watched him lean forward, straining towards the words of comfort.
Watched his mouth mutter "Ne, ne" in response to her message.
Watched him stare intensely at the microphone when the message ended, and then shake his head once or twice before hitting "play" again.


And in my head I thought "This is grief. You are watching your son's heart shatter and mend itself."
It was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen.

It was not outright screaming in anger, it was not sobbing with bereavement, it was not shutting down entirely to avoid feeling anything. These were the expressions of grief I expected, the ones I was watching for.

No, this was a different kind of expression of grief. A trying to make sense of it all kind of grief. A retreating into the comfort of a recognizable voice, willing her to materialize kind of grief. It was my son trying to be strong and good (as his foster mother's message instructed him to behave) while his world rebuilt itself around him.

 When he was through with the microphone, YH lay it on the ground and picked up a new toy. He came over to the kitchen, where I sat numb at the table, and asked for a cracker.

(He hasn't touched the microphone since.)

That night Sean and I were like first time parents all over again. Mrs. S had spelled out YH's night-time routine for us, and we did the best we could with her instructions--but it was obvious we did it WRONG.

She said he drinks a bottle of milk or water at bedtime.

We heated up a packet of formula the agency had given us, got the little tyke in his pj's and headed into the bedroom. We put YH in the middle of the bed--one of us on either side. We handed him the bottle and stared at him expectantly. In my imagining of his nightly routine this was the part where he would drink his bottle as he lay down. He would become drowsy and I would rub his back until he fell asleep, just as Mrs. S said we should do.

He took the bottle and looked at us like we were fools.

He sat bolt upright and drank the bottle then handed it to us when it was finished. He lay on his stomach in the middle of the bed, firmly closed his eyes and waited for a hand to stroke his back.

He was asleep in a few minutes.

I lay by his side staring at this tiny stranger sleeping next to me. It was weird. The adoption books tell you that you may feel like you are babysitting someone else's child for the first few days. Instead I felt an enormous amount of responsibility for YH; for protecting his already fragile heart, for doing what I could to balance out the losses he had suffered.

I didn't sleep much; nervous about him waking up, nervous about the plane ride the next day, nervous about coming home to our pets.

I watched his back rise and fall. I watched his limbs twitch and heard him moan a few times. I scooted closer and smelled the top of his head. I breathed in his baby breath and cautiously, ever so slowly, stroked his fist with my index finger.

I think I fell in love with him over the course of that sleepless night.

My beautiful boy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

And then, there he was.

After our second meeting at ESWS we had one full day with the big kids before we were scheduled to take custody of YH. We decided we would spend that day doing exactly what the big kids wanted--sort of a last hurrah before it all got real. Really, really real.

Which is how we ended up spending a very long, expensive and surreal day at Lotte World, a GIANT amusement park inside a mall.
The above happened at Lotte World, and it was probably the most normal thing that happened all day. Here's a view of the whole place, for you to scrutinize and say to yourself "Wait...what is that?" The answer is: I have no idea what THAT is. But my kids loved it.

So, we returned home very poor and very tired. Some of us fell asleep on the subway. Not naming names.

And after we tucked the snoozy littles into their beds, Sean and I looked at each other and thought, "WHAT.THE.WHAT." One more sleep until we take custody of YH! One more!

And that one more sleep was hard to come by. Nerves. Worries. Anticipation. All of it.

The next morning my mom watched the kids for a few hours so that Sean and I could make a run to Lotte Mart to buy food items that we thought YH might enjoy.

Rice. Gim (dried seaweed laver). Tiny little yogurt drinks in impossibly wee bottles. Shrimp chips. Small buns in a bag.

(And a packet of Tim-Tams for me. Because, hello! Tim-tams!!!)

And we got frustrated and sweaty and snippy with one another.
"I don't *know* where we should get a coffee from--just pick someplace!!!!"
"Ugh--*this* place? No, no it's fine."

(Both of the above were me. I'm awesome.)

We made it back to the hotel with enough time to unpack our purchases, shower, and put on clean clothes to wear to ESWS. Nana came back to the room to watch the big kids again, and Sean and I set out.

With each footfall my mood changed.

I am so excited!
This is horrible, what are we doing????
I can't wait to hold him!
Ugh, I feel sooooo guilty.
I am so sooooo excited!
That poor little boy's heart is going to break.

And so on.

Until yet again, we were in front of the building where our lives would change. Where the S family's life would change. Where YH's life would change.

We walked in and immediately saw Mrs. S. She was smiling and waving at us all while trying to round up YH, who was running like mad around the offices on the first floor. He came over to us and we hugged him and Mrs. S, and then she introduced us to her daughter--a university student who loves YH very much. I hugged her too and told her how happy we were to meet her.

We gave Mrs. S flowers that we had purchased on the way over. We knew she wasn't taking a new foster baby home with her that day and we wanted her arms to be filled with beauty on the sad return trip to her now empty apartment.

She showed us a little backpack she had filled with YH's favorite toys, his hanbok (lovingly packed away in special wrappings), and a photo album filled with pictures from his life with them. And a wand, loaded with thousands more images and videos.

That's when I first started to cry.

As we talked YH moved easily among us. He smiled at Sean and I and would lean against us. We brought a small Pororo football with us and he delighted in throwing that around the waiting area.

Slowly, the room filled with the three other adoptive families taking custody of their children that day.

Across from me a Korean business man in a three piece suit held a little girl in a super-frilly dress with bows carefully arranged in her shiny black hair. He wept into her shoulder as she looked around the room at all the commotion.

Next to him stood a foster family with a little boy. The foster mother held her charge one last time, while the high-school aged foster sister stood by her side--tears streaming down her face, shoulders hunched.

Our social worker came over to tell us that a staff member would say a prayer over all the children and families, and then we would leave--a van was waiting for us out back.

"Now??? This is happening now?"

Yes, now.

By chance, YH leaned over from Mrs. S' arms in the middle of the prayer. He reached out to me and I took him in my grasp just before the staff member said "Amen".

Mrs. Shin leaned in and said, "Go. Out the back. Go now."

And I turned to Mrs. S and her daughter with a bewildered look on my face. Surely, I should say something. Surely, our parting wouldn't be this abrasive.

Mrs. S was crying. She was worried YH would have a hard time falling asleep that night. She pressed a box of his favorite cookies into our hands.

We tried to express our gratitude to her one more time. We were hurried towards the exit of the building.

YH didn't look back.

And then, there we were in the parking lot. The driver loaded the three of us into his van. YH perched on my lap, oblivious. I nervously fed a steady stream of cookies into his mouth. He moved into Sean's lap and looked out the window at the city.

I held my breath, waiting for the screaming to begin at each new transition. Now, when we get out of the van and go into the hotel. It will happen now.

Ok, now. Now when we get into the elevator.

Now, now when we enter our hotel room.

The screaming didn't come. The screaming was put aside in favor of exploring every nook and cranny of our hotel room. Of playing with every toy, and chasing after Miss A and Sweet Bubs.
The screaming didn't come.

As night fell our son began to realize the permanency of the situation. This was no play date. He dug through the tiny backpack that Mrs. S had sent. He searched until he found a toy microphone, something we had sent in a care package months earlier. It plays music but it also has a feature where you can record your voice and play it back.

YH took his orange plastic microphone into a corner and hit "play". Mrs. S' voice, made tinny by the device, came to life.


As soon as he heard her voice he leaned in closer, a serious and sad look on his face.
He listened so carefully to her words, muttering "Ne" (yes) to himself, and to the disembodied voice of his foster mother.

He listened once all the way through. He didn't take his eyes of the microphone.

He hit play again.

And again.
And again.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Before there were three.

Before there were three there were two.

Before there were two there was one.

Before there was one there was me, not yet aware of the expanse of my heart.

****                ****
Each time a new child joins our family, my heart breaks for the ones already there. The ones who will have to share the attention, who will lose their places as the center of the world. The ones who are patted briefly on the head while the new child is swept up by adoring arms.

It is hard to share the spotlight, the love, the everything.

This time around it is the child who was most excited about having a baby brother who is feeling conflicted about the reality of our new family demographic. The child who most wanted a little guy to lead by the hand, another sibling to wrestle with and whisper to at night; this is the child who now sulks in the corner, feeling ignored.

My precious love.
I know how hard this is. I know that you never expected to feel this way, that it is embarrassing and weird to feel this way. That more than anything you want it all to go back to normal.

A normal where your parents aren't too busy changing diapers, or tucking a baby into bed, or reading board books over and over--where they have the time to play legos with you. To snuggle with you and listen to your secrets. A normal where you don't have to fight with your sister for the baby's attention. Where *you* are the one who is the funniest, cutest and most special.

Sweet boy. I promise you, normal is coming.
 It will be here before you know it. One day you will wake up and the black cloud will be lifted from your tiny stressed-out heart. One day you will hear your younger brother calling out your name with joy, and together the two of you will roll and tumble in the grass like milk-fed puppies.

One day soon we will spread out a picnic blanket beneath the stars. You can curl up in the nook of my left arm and I will cradle your brother in my right arm. Your papa and your sister will be by your side and together the five of us will watch the clouds race across the moon. We will laugh and tell stories until one by one all three of my babes will drift off into sleep. Without knowing it your sleep ballet will bring you close to one another--and by the time all three of you are snoring you will be nestled into one another. Your limbs will be entangled and you will breathe deep the dreams of your siblings.

You will forget that life was any other way.

Until that time, please know that I am well aware of your bruised and tender insides. I know how you are trying your best to put on a brave and happy face.

You can let it go. You can cry and scream until the ick is gone.

I'll be here. Your brother will be here.

We've got nothing but love.
For you.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

In the lab.

We are in the waiting room of the children's hospital lab services.
YH is every child's friend here.
He runs gleefully up to each new face that enters, grinning from ear to ear.
"You're here! Hooray!"

The little girl with the visible mustache.
The pale little boy curled up in a chair, head leaning against the wall.
The brothers--carbon copies of one another. Same beak noses, small chins, brown eyes made large by thick glasses.

It's like a party to YH.

The parents watch him with guarded smiles. Their faces are pale too, but from worry.
Worry about whatever brought them to this waiting room.

A woman enters carrying her son and a large body pillow. She checks in at the front desk and begins to arrange her child and his comfort items in a chair. She does it so matter of factly, in such routine movements--this is not her first time in this space.

She sits next to her son and opens a bag of crackers. YH's ears perk up--he can hear a snack being opened from a mile away. He dances his way over to them and says "Gakka juseo" while rubbing his chest in the "please" sign.

It is a charming performance. The mom asks if he can have a cracker. I say yes. YH carefully accepts the treat and climbs up next to his new friend to eat while happily kicking his feet.

The mother asks me "Is he yours?"
"Yes. He joined our family through adoption two weeks ago."

Oh, she says. She takes a breath and says "My husband and I want to adopt." She is stroking her fragile son's hair as she tells me this. "We don't know how to go about it. We want a daughter. We can't risk..."

She stops.

I tell her there are many ways to add to your family through adoption. I tell her the name of our local homestudy agency. I tell her she can email me if she wants to talk about options. She looks confused. I know that look.

That look says "But if we want to adopt, and we have a home and love to share, can't we just *get* a baby? A baby girl?"

I'm sorry. It's not like that.

*****                *****

We leave the lab with tear-stained cheeks, band-aids aplenty, and a list of referrals as long as my arm. Plastic surgeon. Opthamologist. Geneticist. Developmental pediatrician.

And so on.

He is full of surprises, my youngest.

Things we prepared for seem to be a non-issue.
Things we never contemplated are taking priority.

Nothing to do but hug him tighter. Nothing to do but buy an accordion folder for medical bills.

We're in this for the long haul little man.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cart before the horse.

I realize it is poor blogging etiquette to interrupt our story and report on life back in Texas, as a family of FIVE, before I've wrapped up the story of our time in Korea.

You'll just have to forgive me for that--I have limited time to blog and right now I'm overcome with love for the little guy sleeping in the room next to me.

YH has been with our family for just over a week now; a week that has exceeded my lowlowlow expectations for life in transition. Due to his background issues and risk factors I had prepared myself to be parenting a child with behavioral issues. One who raged, who didn't have language skills, who had food/feeding difficulties, who was significantly developmentally delayed.

I didn't prepare to be parenting a child who is a total joy. A child who loves to make us laugh, who is gentle with our pets, who loves his siblings, who is curious about everything around him. I focused so hard on the "what ifs" that I completely forgot to think about the daily delights.

Our YH is an amazing little guy. He grieves for his former life; don't misunderstand, the grief is there. But his grieving happens primarily at night. He goes to sleep easily at 7pm and sleeps soundly until 10 or 11pm, when his exhausted form is overtaken by sadness. Then he cries and moans in his sleep, sometimes letting loose with a mournful "Ommmma, omma, ommaaaaaaa" Other time he just sobs, waiting for me to come in and wrap him in my arms. I lay there and rub his back while he cries. I kiss the top of his beautiful head and whisper to him that I know how hard this is. That I think he is a brave boy, a loving boy, a good boy.

 I sing "You are my sunshine" to him as he drifts back to sleep on my chest. I try to keep my own tears from running onto his face, lest the wetness wake him again.

For the first few days he would thrash and moan for the majority of the night. More recently he has slept until 7am or so, when he awakens with a grin. He rolls over to me and looks me in the face. "Omma?" he says until I open my bleary eyes. When I do, he grins and tweaks my nose.

"HONK" he says, and then dissolves in a fit of giggles.

How can you not love a kid who does that? A kid who wrestles with despair in the darkness and wakes up filed with joy in the morning light?

We spend our days close to home. Lots of time in the front yard. YH loves trees and flowers, so we planted a garden for/with him. Now he has his own raised bed, overflowing with blooms. Each morning we go outside to water his plants and he gently caresses the petals saying "WHOA" to each new flower.

He has learned to love taking a bath (scary at first) and riding in his car seat (not cool at all at first) and riding buckled into our cargo bike (also not cool at all at first).

He eats everything we offer and has learned to use a fork and spoon with some degree of accuracy. If he is eating something he thinks is particularly delicious he will take a piece of it and offer it to whoever is seated near (even the dogs). He has learned the signs for "please" and "more". He tells us when his diaper needs to be changed, and when he is thirsty. At certain times during the day he will suddenly call out "Po-po!" (kisses, in Korean) and then run around to each family member with pursed lips.

He can high-five, fist bump and clink glasses when we say "Cheers!"

Next week we have our first big doctor's appointment at a local International Adoption Clinic. I am apprehensive about what the doctors will report. I don't want anybody's "official diagnosis" to overshadow the sweetness and laughter that is my boy. No medical terminology or prognosis will color the way I see this child; I love him with all my heart, regardless of how many letters they string along behind his name on a medical chart.