Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Happy Gotcha Day, Matthew!

In many ways, May 28, 2011 feels like a lifetime ago. It’s hard for me to believe that just 365 days ago Aaron and I were in Guangzhou getting to know our third child. And now, it’s naptime at our house and guess who isn’t napping? Yep—Matthew. He’s whooping with glee in his crib. I guess it’s hard to sleep on Gotcha Day!

Last night Aaron and I re-watched some of the movie clips we took that first day in Guangzhou—and we were both surprised to see just how different our boy is now. Even though he’s not totally caught up, Matthew has made so many gains in the last year. Not just his repaired lip and palate (and don’t forget the dental surgery too), but also his gross and fine motor skills, his social interactions, and his communication.

He’s also taller, chubbier, has A LOT more hair, runs around the house (he couldn’t even stand up when we got him a year go) and has turned into a little monkey, climbing up on everything. He’s happy—he’s healthy—and he has the sweetest personality of any kid I know.

What a gift to us.

In my heart, Matthew’s Gotcha Day feels a lot like Maya’s and Sam’s birthdays—I have always in my own heart and mind honored my labor and delivery stories on those days. I can think back to the moment when my water broke with each of my biological children—when I went to the birth center, how labor progressed, and what the moment felt like when each of them was put into my arms.

I feel the same way with Matthew. I remember waking up in our hotel room (at the Guangdong Victory Hotel on Shamian Island), trying to pass the morning hours, barely eating three bites of my Subway sandwich, watching some trashy television, and getting everything ready, counting the minutes until Sarah Gao, our guide, called us from the hotel lobby.

And when she did call, we walked anxiously to the van and rode to the Civil Affairs office. The noise in the room was deafening—and I remember scanning from wall to wall looking for our boy. When he finally did arrive, about a half hour later, I knew it was him the instant he walked in the room. I walked (actually I probably ran) across the room to the nanny, and she put him straight into my arms. He clung to me—probably in terror—and stared into my eyes for what felt like an eternity.

And what I remember most was just knowing that he was finally with us—that we finally had him—finally “got him.” It was an incredible feeling.

This morning, when I heard him squawking from his crib, I went in straight away and picked him up. I held him for an extra long time, smelling his little boy smell, feeling his strong, growing body, kissing his soft cheeks.

It’s a gift to know, on this day of remembrance, that Matthew is ours forever. I know that there have been many ups and downs along this journey of adoption, and I’m wise enough to know that those will continue—probably our whole lives long. But there’s something so right about this little boy and his place in our family—something that makes us complete and whole and right.

Matthew Oscar Xu-Bo Russell, today I am grateful that we “got you” a year ago in China. We’ll eat Cantonese food tonight, make a donation to Smile Train in your honor, and end the day by watching a documentary called “Stuck” created by Both Ends Burning, a non-profit organization committed to advocating for children around the world who are stuck in orphanages.

And in between all those big important things we’re doing, I’ll hug you more times than you can count, inhale your smell, feel your body, listen to your voice (yes—even all those whoops when you SHOULD be napping), and feel this overwhelming and indescribable fullness and goodness in my heart—that I’ll never be able to put words to, although I try—a kind of gratitude for all that YOU bring to this mama who loves you more than she ever imagined she could.

Below are a few photos from the past year, particularly a few from Gotcha Day in China. If you'd like to read more about that day, you can always go back to last year's posts: 

It's a Boy (written by Annemarie)

Thoughts from an Adoptive Dad (obviously written by Aaron)

The moment Matthew is put into my arms--a couple of wet-eyed parents

First family photo shot--Matthew looks so overwhelmed in this photo

Here is the nanny from the orphanage who brought Matthew to us

Sizing up Daddy

Snuggling in and getting acquainted

The classic "Civil Affairs Office" family photo

Playing with Little People animals back at the hotel

Matthew's favorite yellow bus (you'll remember it if you followed our blog while we traveled)

Getting to know his new home and family

Getting loves from his big brother and sister

Hanging out with Sam and cousin Parker

In the hospital after palate repair

All bundled up and ready to go cut a Christmas tree

First snowfall in Idaho

Learning to ride on a sled

A visit from Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Chris--Matthew leading the way

Already a Sounders fan!

Entertaining his mama at a New Jersey park

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Some Ordinary Moments, Captured

Life is amazingly new each day, and also completely ordinary. Matthew's presence in our family is also ordinary--and some days it feels like we've had him forever.

One thing I'm grateful for is the gift of Maya and Sam in Matthew's life--not only does he have Aaron and me, he also has a sister and brother who love him so much and have integrated him into their daily lives in such a normal way.

Here are a few scenes from our past few weeks--ordinary moments that are extraordinary in this mama's heart.

Bath time--always a party.

A sleeping boy on his first flight since coming home from China.

Being carried by his big sister--a totally common occurrence.

Exploring the slip-and-slide with his big brother

Three beautiful faces at Liberty State Park, just across from NYC and Ellis Island.

Sucking his thumb--it's serious business for our boy!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Some New Things

It’s been a fun week here on the east coast.

Last Sunday, our family of five flew to Newark, NJ, to spend seven days with my brother Nathan, his wife Keriann, and their four-month old daughter Marielle. We’ve enjoyed some days away from our regular routine, filled with sightseeing, time with family, and a slower pace than we normally keep at home. We have one final day here in New Jersey, and then we head for home again Sunday morning.

It’s also been a big week of milestones for Matthew. It’s funny to have some of these new achievements happen for Matthew away from home—it’s not what I might have expected. But I think here we have more time and energy to focus on our children. It seems like either Aaron or I are playing with Matthew almost every waking moment here—tumbling on the floor, playing games, reading books, singing songs, and just generally interacting.

Here are some of his new skills:
  • He can now play “ball” in a very real way. Not only will he roll a ball back and forth with another person, but he will also throw the ball (overhand, like a MLS pitcher) and initiate the game.
  • He does the hand motions to “Wheels on the Bus.”
  • Tonight he asked me for a bottle of “milk” using the sign—I almost started to cry when he did it.
  • I asked him earlier this evening if he wanted a bath—he seemed interested, but then I got distracted. He then got really fussy and frustrated—and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what he needed. I finally got down to his level, held out my hand, and said “show me what you need”—and he led me the 14 steps upstairs to the bathroom and literally pushed me into the tub. It dawned on me that he had been promised a bath and was looking forward to it.
  • He watched his brother and sister do a dance video game on the Wii, then proceeded to stand in front of them and dance to about ten songs in a row. He was so proud of himself
  • He’s been reading all kinds of Richard Scarry books here—looking at each page carefully, and turning the pages when I ask him to.
  • And now he can do hand motions to two other songs as well—he starts them when I start to sing.

I know these might seem like little milestones to some people, but to us they are HUGE. We are so grateful that Matthew continues to make forward progress, albeit at his own pace.

We have our appointment with the Neurodevelopmental Center at Children’s Hospital on June 5, which is less than two weeks away. I’m not scared about that visit, but I AM curious to hear what they might say to us about our son. Some part of my mind and heart does wonder in a real way if perhaps he’s facing some developmental challenges that will affect him throughout his life, but the other part of my mind and heart wants to fight like a mama lion for the chance to let him develop at his own pace.

When I think about all the deprivation he experienced the first 18 months of his life, I celebrate his very deep attachment to us—the way he lays his head on my shoulder when I’m rocking him down for his nap, how he reaches for me or Aaron EVERY TIME he falls down or bumps himself, how he initiates play with us—asking for help, leading us around by the hand, using his hand signs, engaging in songs and activities.

In my heart, Matthew is nothing short of a miracle—and his courage to keep learning and growing every single day inspires me to do the same thing. I have promised myself that I won’t hope small for him—but instead I’ll dream BIG and believe he will achieve amazing things.

Last year at this time, Aaron and I were enjoying our second day in Hong Kong, just a few days away from meeting Matthew for the first time. It’s hard to imagine there was a time when he wasn’t part of our lives—since now he is so deeply embedded in everything that we do.

And I have to say, honestly, that each day as his mama is such a gift to me, because I am reminded about all sorts of things—believing in the best a person can be, loving a child simply because he is mine, and looking closely for milestones, no matter how small, that show my son’s courage and the way he embraces the life before him.

I have always believed that the human spirit longs to not just survive but thrive. If our boy is any indication of this old adage, then I can honestly say it’s true.

Blessed, blessed boy.

Our Central Park rock climber, Sam.

Sweet Maya, about to turn eight next week.

Matthew fast asleep on my back in the Central Park Zoo

Matthew woke up in time to see the petting zoo in Central Park

Playing in the pool and slip-n-slide in Uncle Nathan's backyard

Uncle Nathan and cousin Marielle

I got some baby Marielle snuggles

A visit to Newtown, Connecticut, to see old friends

The kids at Liberty State Park with Manhattan in the background

Maya was all smiles to see the Statue of Liberty

Just an average day in the Russell family (with NYC in the background)

Maya and Marielle

Sweet niece, just four months old

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Almost a Year Gone By

For some reason recently, I’ve been feeling the need to re-read all our blog posts from the weeks leading up to our trip to China. You see, we left for China on May 23 last year, so as I live through the end of the school year at Trinity and all the anticipation that summer brings, I remember vividly the whole host of emotions we were feeling last year at this time, and I’ve felt a deep need to reconnect with some of those feelings.

I remember Mother’s Day last year, the nostalgia of spending that day with two children for the last time. Next year on Mother’s Day I’ll have three children, I remember thinking, and now here it is Mother’s Day 2013 and I DO have three children.

I had a little yearning moment earlier today too—which caught me off guard and left me pleasantly surprised. I’ve admitted on this blog that in the past several months, I’ve felt a great deal of frustration with China as a country and what I feel like is the lack of care they showed for Matthew’s development during his months in the orphanage. We’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by his delays and what they might possibly mean long term, and in the midst of all that, I’ve felt angry at China for not doing a better job offering him developmental opportunities while he was still in their care.

I don’t hate China or anything—I’m just frustrated about the reality of our world and that country, and what happened to my child as a result. I know, from all my blog reading, that it’s a common feeling for adoptive parents to feel who bring children home from international orphanages.

But today I had a very different feeling. I got to slip away after lunch today to do a little shopping, and I decided to head up to the outlet malls that are about 10 minutes north of our house. They are a common destination for Canadian tourists, particularly Chinese-Canadian tourists, it seems. In fact, today probably 50% of the people walking around up there were Asian, and most of them Chinese, at least from my viewpoint. I was in line at a store when two women, a cashier and a customer, struck up a conversation. The customer told the cashier that she wasn’t from the United States, and in fact that she wasn’t from Canada either. She said she lived in China. Then the two women began talking Mandarin to each other.

It was a warm day. I could smell the residual cigarette smoke from the outdoor, covered walkways of the outlet mall, drifting into the store where I stood. And the women before me chatted back and forth in Chinese. In that instant, I had a deep and lovely yearning for China—for its landscape, its language and its people. In that moment I felt something deeply familiar and nostalgic, and my heart longed for my son’s first home in a way I had never felt before. I missed China with every bone in my body—and I realized that because Matthew is part of us, China is too.

China is SO FAR away from Everett. Maya and Sam ask regularly when we get to go visit, and I wish I could tell them we’d go sometime soon. We WILL go to China someday as a family, and hopefully more than once, but it’s expensive and a long way to travel with small children. So we probably won’t get back to China for at least 8 or 10 years. But the reality of that makes me sad. I wish it was closer, so we could pop over and visit. I’d love to show all three of our children the beautiful place where Matthew was born—and I’d give more than anything to visit China when we weren’t there to pick up a child. It was such an emotional and complicated trip for so many reasons.

I wouldn’t want to go back to last time this year—Even though our trip to China was an amazing adventure, I’m so grateful that we’re on this side of the journey. Matthew is home, his surgeries are done for now, he’s growing and changing, despite some concerns about his developmental delays. We are grateful to have him in our family.

I do feel grateful that we live somewhere where Asian people make up more than a small percentage of the population. Our Chinese-American son will be able to look around and see people who look like him right here in Everett. We won’t have to travel all the way to China for him to have that experience.

And on this Mother’s Day, I give thanks for all three of my children and the journeys we have taken and will take together as a family. Sometimes people say to us, “what a gift your family has given to Matthew,” and I think to myself, No, what a gift Matthew has given to us.

For as my mom has said on more than one occasion, “Matthew needed a family, and our family needed a Matthew.” What a fine blessing it is that we have each other in this life.