Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of the old, welcoming the new

It’s 3:00 on New Year’s Eve afternoon and I’m sitting here watching my eldest child chase around after her littlest brother. The house is filled with laughter and shouts of glee. It’s a good moment, at the end of this year, to pause and reflect on all the good things about this life.

Yes, there are many challenges. But amidst whatever struggles we face, there is such goodness in the love we share and the ways that three little people in this house are growing and changing each day.

My big kids have certainly grown in compassion and love since bringing their littlest brother home. Yes, they are learning to read bigger words and do harder math problems. They each have their own interests that are continuing to develop, and they also have friendships at school that are forming outside of our family center.

But for all three of our kids, our family and the life of our home continue to provide a solid center for their lives. Learning to live in community, to be kind, to practice tolerance and respect, to take turns—these are the kinds of life lessons all five of us learn together each day. And maybe more important than new words or skills in addition, lessons like these are what make up the fabric of a person.

Each of my three children exhibits their own unique skills. They each have their own challenges. But that’s what it means to be a kid, with the safe harbor of a family to help a child grow and develop. And while it’s sometimes messy and crazy at our house, it’s also just as likely to be hilarious or sweet or memorable.

Maya and Sam with my brother Nathan and their cousin Marielle (11 mos.)

Sam with Marielle and cousin Parker.

Singing carols on Christmas Day.

Matthew LOVING the Christmas tree farm earlier this month

The girl cousins--Maya and babies Marielle and Hayden in their Christmas pajamas

Maya, Parker and Sam show their silly faces
So as I look back on 2013—a year of much change and growth for our family—I know that all the energy and time we invest in our children and our family is worth whatever it takes away from us personally. I certainly do have moments when I wish I had more time for me—to exercise more or read a good book, to hang out with friends or sit in silence. But this is not the season for those things in abundance. Instead, I feel an abundance of heart and life all around me.

And as I look ahead to 2014, I am quite certain that we’ll again spend the same investment in helping these three children learn and grow. Whatever else awaits is one glorious mystery, and this mama is grateful just for this day—for these giggles from my children—and for a deep sense of purpose and place in this home and this life.

Happy New Year. Welcome 2014!

All six Eklund cousins playing the backyard last week

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Our Boy

For a while now, I've been wanting to post a little photo history of Matthew over the past eighteen months that he's been home with us. We've had some fun photos taken by my friend Christi Hardy, who owns PureShots Photography. Here they are below.

Just less than a month home, our boy showed his sweet personality and good sense of humor with a gorgeous smile.

Last November, we hauled all three kids out to the backyard for a shot of all three of them. I absolutely LOVE Matthew's expression here.

That same day this silly mama made all three kids dress up in their Chinese outfits for some pictures inside by the fireplace. Matthew found this squishy yellow toy (I actually think it's a dog toy that my friend Christi brought with her) and was totally entranced. He never gave us an actual smile, but this is certainly a sweet expression. I love those big brown eyes.

This past August, we took the whole family to the Arboretum for a grandparent/grandkid shoot with my parents. Christi had some time to take a few of just my kids alone, and I love how active and engaged Matthew is with his world.

And then finally some shots of Matthew from last month, when Christi came to take our family Christmas photos.

It's going to be a very BUSY and very MERRY Christmas around our house this year, with all of sweet Matthew's activity. We keep telling ourselves, in our exhausted moments, that it's all just a stage and how wonderful it is that he's so explorative of his world. We're at that point where we can't really turn our backs on him for a minute, or he's literally getting into SOMETHING he shouldn't, but I know in retrospect we'll look back and be so GRATEFUL for the ways our boy is developing and growing.

Merry Christmas to all of you--and thanks, as always, for your support, love and care of our family as we grow and learn together.

Monday, December 2, 2013


It was a bit of a weepy morning for this mama as we sent Matthew off to developmental preschool for the first time. He, of course, had no idea what was about to happen, so it was a relatively normal morning for our boy.

At a little after 8, I helped him into his shoes and jacket. His new Cookie Monster backpack fit snugly on his back (thank you, Grandma Russell) and he was all set.

His big brother and sister flanked him as we walked down the steps to the front sidewalk. There was enough time to take a few photos of the kids while we waited.

Matthew and Maya even had time for a short walk down the block and back as we passed the time.

Finally the bus arrived, and we all boarded it to get our boy settled. He wasn’t sure about the car seat, but willingly let me buckle him in and give him one final kiss. Then I climbed back to the sidewalk and we stood there waving as the bus headed toward Hawthorne Elementary.

 And of course this mama cried and cried and cried, long after her boy was gone.

This is such a good thing for Matthew—this developmental preschool experience—but this morning I felt acutely the many transitions our boy has sustained in his short life, transitions he has had NO choice in. While I know that this preschool setting is just what he needs in the next step of his learning and development, for him it was something else that pulled him from his family.

I just got off the phone with his teacher, Miss Debbie, who told me Matthew actually had a really good morning and participated in several of the activities with the rest of the class. She had anticipated things being much harder than they were. I’m excited to know that tomorrow the routine may feel a little familiar, and as the days and weeks go on, the bus ride and the classroom will be part of Matthew’s regular routine.

We made it over another hump with our boy, and it will be fun to see what this next stage of life brings for him.

Friday, November 29, 2013

This Birthday

One day when you are 23, I will tell you about this birthday—the fusing of a day of thanks with celebrating your life and birth.

I will tell you how you were finally interested in opening presents, but how you stood there patiently while your brother and sister gave you a hand.

I will tell you that you watched the dining room chandeliere almost the whole time your cake was in front of you, the candles beckoning your breath—and how finally, when your sister and brother flanked you, you turned to the cake and blew out your candles alongside them.

I’ll tell you how it was an ordinary day to you—filled with playing and a good nap. How you ate the regular old food you normally ate, and wouldn’t take more than a bite of your birthday cake.

And most of all, I’ll tell you just how thankful I am that you are part of our family—what a gift it is to watch you learn and grow—and how I cannot even imagine who you will be and what you will do when you are 23.

For now I am content to ring in your fourth year of life and feel this deep gratitude for the crossing over that your birthday is—18 months in the orphanage, and now 18 months in our family. And every day that we now live together is a day longer that you have been a Russell boy.

Happy Birthday Matthew!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Dearest Woman,

Today is our boy’s third birthday. I’m pretty sure you know this as well as I do—because who could have possibly forgotten the moment this glorious boy made his way into the world? I cannot begin to understand the circumstances that surrounded your choices or your life, and I’ve never felt anything but grateful to you for the gift of my boy. We are two women separated by an ocean and so many miles and entirely different cultures, but today I feel your presence here and I’m thankful.

The past couple of months I’ve had the privilege of an inside peek into the orphanage where our boy lived for 18 months—and I’ve also seen photos and heard stories about the towns and villages that surround it. Those stories paint a picture of a very humble existence—simple homes, very little resources, few jobs. Even more than before, I can imagine that your choice to give up our boy may have been borne from an act of compassion, alongside the reality that you could never give this baby the kind of life he deserved.

I’d give anything just to be able to let you know that he’s safe and well.

He laughs a lot, our beautiful boy—and giggles and plays hard and gives the most exquisite kisses. He wraps his arms around my neck a lot these days too—pressing his body into mine, seeming to say “Mama, I’m yours.” Sometimes these moments make tears well up in my eyes, as I feel deep in my heart a sense of home with this boy. We’ve had to learn to love each other—to be attached and connected like this. But we’ve done the hard work, and now we are reaping the goodness.

I catch his eye sometimes, or see an expression that’s new, and I wonder, WHO in your family does he look like? A cousin, perhaps, or an uncle? Maybe he has his mama’s eyes or his daddy’s smile. I’d also give anything for him to know of his beginnings. But all I have are a few photos of his orphanage, a handful of snapshots of a few of the other kids who were there with him (we call them his Xuwen cousins), and the story of his Gotcha Day and our ten days together in China.

But I do know what it feels like to love a baby growing in my womb—to feel a head crowning inside me, to see my newborn’s face for the first time and examine every inch of that perfect body.  And although I’m pretty sure the moment of our boy’s birth might have also been filled with trauma and sadness for you, I think you swaddled that boy and held him to you for as long as you possibly could before letting him go.

We are both mamas to this beautiful boy—you gave him life and I get to help him grow. This isn’t the way things were created to work, I know—it’s messy and filled with loss and grief. But joy is here too, especially for me. I’ll never how exactly how it is for you, but I will hold you close to my heart always, and I’ll pray for you and honor you, and one day when our boy asks, I’ll tell him honestly just how much I love you and have since the moment I knew he was going to be my son.

Dearest woman, halfway around the world, we are bound by something complex and beautiful—heart wrenching and gorgeous at the same time.  And today I think especially of you and the gift you have given me in Matthew.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for you.

Happy Birthday to our boy—three years old today!
With the deepest respect,

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Xuwen Social Welfare Institute

I’ve stumbled upon something really amazing that I wanted to share, particularly for the Chinese adoptive families reading our blog. Last week, I started doing some research online about Matthew’s orphanage, the Xuwen Social Welfare Institute (Xuwen SWI) and found a Yahoo group that has been in existence for about seven years full of families who have children from Matthew’s same orphanage.

I’ve been reading conversation upon conversation between families who have kids from Xuwen, and I’ve now seen photos of the inside of the orphanage, learned that there have been three research trips taken there where families have received amazing information about their children (details about the finding spot, finding clothes, additional medical records, etc).

Another thing that has been almost life altering for Aaron and me is to learn that many of the children coming home from Xuwen SWI share some of the same challenges upon getting home. Most of them seem to have significant oral aversion or oral motor delays (which Matthew does have, but he’s continuing to move forward in working through them). I’ve also learned that those who have visited the orphanage (several families, a guide, and two researchers) have never seen a single toy inside the orphanage. This would explain Matthew’s slow start with play, and the way he had no idea what to do with the toys we gave him while in China and when we first got home.

Most of the reports from the orphanage are that it is in a very poor area and the staff, though kind and doing the best they can, seem to have very few resources and too many babies (sometimes upwards of 50 in one orphanage).

One other thing I find interesting about the Yahoo group and all the photo of the kids from Xuwen SWI, is that many of the children from the orphanage share similar facial features—in ways that are almost uncanny. I was flipping through the online photo albums tonight, showing Aaron child after child who looked like he or she could be a sibling to Matthew. Deep, brown eyes that are wide in the center and come to a delicate point on either side, creamy easily tanned skin, longish face shapes. A couple other parents, in the conversations I read, remarked that many of the kids who come home from Xuwen SWI look a lot alike, and I would agree. Matthew looks like he fits into that group of kiddos. The “Xuwen cousins,” everyone on the blog calls them.

I’m really excited to join this group—excited about the possibility of finding some ot her families whose children were also in the orphanage when Matthew was there. Excited about the possibility of some day purchasing a book or video that would contain pictures and information about the orphanage and the surrounding area.

At first the photos and stories were hard for me, but tonight I’m SO energized thinking about the gift that this resource is to Aaron and me, for now, and for Matthew in the future. I’m also SO encouraged to hear the updates from families who brought home children from Xuwen in 2006, 2007 and 2008 (and even after) whose kids are thriving after experiencing so many challenges at first. Their kind words, though not directly TO me, obviously, spoke to my heart and reminded me that we are so early into this journey with Matthew.

And what a blessing to have this Yahoo group resource—something I might not have thought to look into were it not for my phone conversation with another adoptive mama out there on Bainbridge Island, who shared that she done the same thing and found good resources about her daughter’s orphanage.

Tonight I’m energized by all the stories and the sense of “virtual” community that the Internet affords a family like ours—desperately wanting connection with Matthew’s story and history—and grateful for all the “new” Xuwen cousins we’ve discovered that Matthew has in the U.S. and around the world this night.

Here are a few photos I’ve found so far of the orphanage.

Xuwen Social Welfare Institute
The "baby room" on the 2nd floor (likely where Matthew slept)

A view out the front gates

The back side of the orphanage