Monday, December 31, 2012


As is my long-standing New Year’s Eve tradition, I’m sitting in my quiet house in the front of my fireplace thinking back on the past 12 months. In prior years, I’ve actually been able to think through each month and remember all the adventures—but there’s something about the past year we’ve just lived that makes all the little details impossible to separate one from another. Perhaps it’s because there have just been too many.

In our Christmas card, I tried to give a quick summary: we’ve been to China and back, grown from four family members to five, settled into our new house, and survived three surgeries at Children’s Hospital. It’s been quite a year for us.

I remember last December, at this very moment, looking both back and ahead—as I knew that 2012 would be the year that Matthew would come home to us. It isn’t hard to remember the whole host of emotions I felt last December 31. I remember watching the clock in the morning, counting down the minutes until it was midnight in Guangdong Province, where Matthew’s orphanage was. I remember knowing that 2012 was going to be an important year—but I couldn’t have imagined exactly how it would be.

This afternoon I had a phone conversation with a new friend who, along with her husband, is about to leave for China in a couple days to pick up their daughter who is 14 months and was also born with a cleft lip and palate. She’s feeling a nervousness that I remember well—so many unknowns, questions, wonderings. Leaving her older daughter at home with a grandparent and traveling so far away. Our time of travel seems just like yesterday in some ways, while also it seems like such a long time ago. I don’t know how much of my advice will actually be useful to her, but it felt so nice to tell someone else, “it’s hard and wonderful and amazing and scary all at the same time. You’re not alone.”

Mostly what I realize about adoption is that while the travel seems like such a big deal at the time, it’s just the very beginning of a very long story. Most of what matters and what’s really important is the time that’s spent with your child once you are home living normal life—a “new” normal, truly, because life will never feel like the “old” normal again. But that’s just as it should be.

I feel a deep sense of gratitude today for all the friends and family who share life’s journey with us. As I talked on the phone today about our trip to China, I remembered vividly my own conversation with a China-cleft lip and palate-adoption mama (Thank you, Meegan!) a few days before we traveled. She shared so many things with me that were helpful while we were away . . . but mostly it was an incredible gift for me to know I wasn’t alone—that others had walked the path we were about to walk—and that we’d have a whole host of friends and family who would be with us in spirit while we were away.

Your prayers, thoughts, notes, visits, meals, hugs, and kinship have wrapped around our family in 2012. When I think back to this year, even if I don’t remember much of anything else, I won’t ever forget how incredibly blessed we are to live amidst the most amazing people I could imagine. I wrote this in a Facebook post a few days ago, but I’m quite sure that I’d give up everything else in my life if I could just keep my deep faith and the love of our family and friends.

We are rich beyond measure, for which I have inexpressible gratitude. And as I look ahead to 2013, I am quite sure that both challenges and joys will cross our path, and we will continue to forge ahead in this life as a family—buoyed by your love and care, digging deeply into this life that is ours, doing whatever small good we can for our world.

Happy 2013, everyone.

Matthew in his orphanage in XuCheng Town, December 2011

Matthew, December 2011

Matthew, December 2011
Matthew playing in Marmie and Bapa's living room, December 2012

Our boy in the tub, December 2012

Playing at Grandma and Grandpa Russell's house, December 2012

Family Photos

These are a series of photos we had taken by my friend Christi (who also took the black and whites of Matthew back in the fall). If you got our Christmas card, you've seen some of these already--but I've been wanting to share them on the blog.

What's most amazing to me about these pictures is that when I look at my three kids now, they look like they belong together. I didn't feel that way on June 7 when we arrived home from China with Matthew. It's taken time for our family of five to knit together, but now these are my three beautiful children who all belong to me and to each other. I've always known (from experience!) that family is made, not born. But to watch this happen in my own home with my own children is a gift I can't put words to.

I'm grateful for the sense of completion I feel when I look at our family. We're all together, finally, and I'm one thankful mama.

December in Photos

Instead of detailing the adventures of the past month, I thought I'd let the pictures tell their own stories. Enjoy!

Going to see the Wizard of Oz at Seattle Children's Theater

Matthew all bundled up for his first Christmas tree-cutting experience.

The big kids loved pulling the cart out to find the tree.

Sweet Samuel

And here it is--our perfect tree.

All decorated, with the angel on top

Maya posing after her Nutcracker performance

Maya's holiday concert--can you find our girl?

The annual stuffed-animal Christmas pageant (narrated by Bapa)

Matthew exploring his world

Matthew's first Idaho snow walk

Aaron and his little sister

Still getting used to the snow . . .

Sam loved sledding

A very cute Maya smile

All three of our kids in the snow

Maya giving her brothers a sled ride

Sledding duo

Grandpa gives Matthew a push on the snow

Whee . . . there he goes.

And now he's getting the hang of it.

Sweet boy.

Opening presents on Christmas morning.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Healing Continues

Well, I have to admit this isn’t the easiest season of our lives, what with broken sleep and a crabby two-year old, but we are surviving, and with each day Matthew’s mouth heals more and more.

We are starting to let Matthew have his hands out of the mitts more during the day, especially if we are around to watch him. He’s pretty reluctant to put his fingers in his mouth, which is good, and if we keep an eye on him, it seems kindest to let him move around unencumbered. But of course, when he goes down for a nap or to bed, or when he’s in the car seat or stroller, we put the mitts back on, and these days we also have to use safety pins so he doesn’t weasel his hands out of them.

We are so thankful for the meals being brought in by friends, and for the calls and extra help. We really need it—I can’t tell you how much we need it. Both Aaron and I are back to our normal routines in some ways, but we remarked to each other tonight that when we’re home, we are expending A LOT of energy being parents. It seems to leave very little time for anything else.

I’ll be so glad when Matthew doesn’t need medicine in the middle of the night any longer—when I can go to sleep and wake up in the morning, refreshed. Right now sleep is precious and hard to come by. So we’re taking more deep breaths, being extra kind to ourselves and each other, and trusting that our relatively normal existence will return at some point.

As a side note, Maya and Sam are both being so patient and gracious with this whole process. They continue to shower their littlest brother with kisses and hugs, and they put up kindly with his grumpier-than-normal temperament. I can’t imagine a better big sister and brother.

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy. A couple of them are from a month or two ago—I just think they are very cute shots of Matthew that show his personality. The others are from the past two days. Nothing new—just regular life around here. I can’t wait until things really do feel normal again.

A sweet shot of Matthew's little body and serious face

Here you can really see how nicely his lip repair was done

Exploring and playing at the coffee table--one of his favorite spots in our house (and YES, that is a German beer coaster!)

This one's for Auntie Kaitlin--Matthew LOVES his new down jacket. Thanks!

Maya being the great big sister that she is!

I know I shouldn't have taken this, but I just HAD TO!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dreadful, dreadful mitts

Let me start by saying it feels SO GOOD to be home. I can’t believe how well Matthew is doing since we got back to our house. It’s like he clicked into his old self, and he has energy and he’s not very fussy at all. I suppose I shouldn’t be honest about this, since I have some friends whose own kids have gone through cleft palate repair, and sometimes the recovery can be a little brutal. But at this point in the game, everything is going very well for us.

The hardest thing is that Matthew is supposed to be wearing these mitts to keep his hands covered so he doesn’t put them in his mouth. Most of you know that he’s a thumb sucker—our boy LOVES his thumb, especially as a source of comfort. So keeping the mitts on most of the time is very important. We are allowed to take them off when he’s playing and we’re close by supervising, so much of today I’ve been by Matthew’s side, watching his hands so they stay out of his mouth.

But somehow in the last 24 hours, he’s figured out how to jimmy them off his hands. No matter what I do—no matter how hard I Velcro them or whether I put them inside or outside his sleeves—he gets them off. He just shakes his hands really hard, and eventually they slide right off. Grrr.

So now I’m using safety pins to secure them to his shirt. That makes him even more mad, because try as he might, he can’t shake them free. He stands there shaking and shaking to no avail, poor little guy.

Dear me. I have to say, even though this is a big hassle for us, it’s SO worth it to keep his hands out of his mouth. If for some reason he punctured the top of his mouth, it might mean emergency surgery for us (back at Children’s) or a lot of pain or an open palate for Matthew. In my mind, it’s not worth the risk.

So the battle of the mitts goes on at our house—and although I wouldn’t say I’m a willing knight in the battle, I am doing my mama part to make sure Matthew’s newly intact palate stays safe.

The best news of the day, though, is just that our boy’s sweet disposition has returned. He ran around the house for about an hour today giggling and laughing at himself (mitts and all). It was such a joy to see. He’s taking his regular bottles, tolerating the pain medicine, napping/sleeping well, and being generally cheerful and normal.

We are grateful.

Here are a few shots of Matthew from today. If you know him at all, you can see that the spark has returned to his eyes. We have survived palate repair and are on the other side. Phew!

Just before leaving the hospital last night.

A moment of freedom with his hands!

Lots of drools (and check out the shirt--it used to be my dad's!!!)

The dreaded MITTS, abandoned for a moment of free-hand play

And that's an "almost smile." He's totally happy to play with his hands.