Friday, February 20, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Groundhog Fail, Birthdays, Birds, Woe & Snow

Linking up again with Kelly at her blog for another Quick Takes. Thanks, Kelly!

So, let's just start with the obvious:
Somewhere under this is our driveway.

Groundhog, you let me down.

We've been hunkered down all week, venturing no further than the end of our driveway for the past five days. I've pretty much given up on my boys seeing preschool again until somewhere around mid-April, which isn't all bad considering we've hit a pretty nice groove at home.  This meme that I saw on FB pretty much sums up how well we handle a lot of snow in Kentucky.

A lot of records were broken here this week, and I'm not talkin' about basketball (but how 'bout them Wildcats!).  Some places got over a foot of snow, and we had about eight inches on the back porch. Then, the bottom fell out of the thermometer last night, and I had the sad misfortune of getting to experience ten-below for the second winter in a row. Only last year, I did not live in the supposed South! Why is this weather following me??? Because ya know, it's all personal, right? Nothing scientific about it.

But let's not talk about the weather.  Let's talk about this little guy who turned four this past Sunday.  If you read the conclusion of his birth story this past week, you know that as soon as I laid eyes on him, I thought he'd have a beautiful smile someday.  Am I wrong?

He had a wonderful birthday and was so happy.  He was just beaming the whole weekend.  He was so excited to have his grandma and grandpa from Kansas City visiting for his special day, and he received not one but two toy trains as gifts. He adores trains and fell asleep that night clutching his new black locomotive. He requested a "red cake" for his birthday, so I made one using pureed raspberries for the red coloring (I try to avoid the artificial food colorings as much as possible). It was yummy even though he refused to eat it.  Unlike his big brother, Joah doesn't have much of a sweet tooth and seldom eats dessert.  Before the cake, everyone feasted on pork and pancakes because pancakes are Joah's favorite meal at the moment, and Tom's smoked ribs and sausage are everyone else's favorite meal!  We also invited a couple of friends over, and they brought two five-year old girls.  Joah and John loved playing with them.  Joah kept telling the girls knock-knock jokes, and they'd just smile but not respond. When that didn't work, he decided to start chasing them up and down the staircase but they'd keep running away.   After a bit of that, the poor guy came down the stairs looking all defeated and exclaimed, "Mom, those girls just won't stop running.  We need to build a fence!"  Get used to it, Joah.

Two days after Joah's birthday, we celebrated the birthday of our fourth baby, Karol Elizabeth.  I really wish I had that little two-and-a-half year old running around here but I know she is working hard for us in heaven.  Normally, I make a cake for our babies' birthdays, but since the day after was Ash Wednesday and we already had leftover "red cake" in the frig, I opted to go with something different. So instead, the boys and I made snow cream, put some sprinkles on it, and we each got a bowl full with a candle on top.  Then we all sang happy birthday to Karol and slurped it down.

So, did anyone else out there participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count this past weekend?  If you missed it, there's always next year. It's a great way to introduce kids to birding and you can even do it without leaving your house. Just fill up a feeder (black oil sunflower seed is best) and wait a few days.  The birds will find it and then they'll be eating you out of house and home!  With the big snow we've had, our feeder has become grand central station and the boys really enjoy watching all the activity.   They know several of the more common feeder species, and yesterday, we even had a visit from a hermit thrush. If a hermit thrush visits a feeder, you know things must be getting rough (bird-wise).  Birding is a hobby that will last a lifetime, and as a matter of fact, it was our mutual love of birds that first brought Tom and me together. But that is a story for another day.

Once the birthdays were celebrated, we started trying to getting ready for Lent. Our Ash Wednesday services were canceled due to the snowstorm so we just stayed home.  I took down the string of lights that I'd put up on the feast of St. Lucy back in December and the boys and I hung our Lenten calendar. On Fat Tuesday, I kept reminding John that there would be no more candy after that day, and the kid did his best to scarf down every piece of chocolate he'd received for St. Valentine's Day. He started to founder after his fourth piece and then declared that he was saving the rest for Easter. So far, he's doing pretty good, although he has had a couple of weak moments, but I think we might be through the worst of it.

Fat Tuesday, John style.

On the adoption front, there isn't much to report.  Our agency has shown our profile a couple of times since December, and one birthmother chose another family and the other decided to parent.  Still, I am encouraged that our profile is at least being shown. It was after we lost Karol that we really felt the pull to adopt again and that has now been three years ago.  This past week, we actually had a very discouraging moment when one of the *Christian* agencies we were applying with asked us to sign a Statement of Faith that was contrary to Catholic teaching.  We could not in good faith do that, so we had to scratch another agency off the list, and it felt like our odds just got a little longer.  Trying to adopt is certainly not for the faint-hearted in these days and times, and I'm trying very hard not to get too jaded.

That's mostly the week that was.  I will end with an epic picture that I took this past week of Joah on his very first sled ride. I think the look on his face says it all. Maybe this is why God sent us snow. Love that smile!

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Flowers In The Snow (An Adoption Birth Story) - Conclusion

To read the first two parts of this story, please go here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

For Joah.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, it was early afternoon, and what had begun as a promising morning had turned into a glorious afternoon.  Even in the city, it was hard not to notice the singing of the house sparrows and the warm breeze as we walked through the hospital's concrete parking garage.  What a wonderful day to be born on, I thought.

Our social worker, Mary, met us at the hospital and was a bundle of nerves. Your unexpected arrival had created a bit of a stir in her day, too!  We all hugged and gathered our thoughts, and the peace that had been with me through the day seemed to descend upon us.  Pushing your brother in his stroller, we made our way through the corridors and anxiously searched for the nursery.

I will never forget the first moment that I saw you. You were swaddled and sleeping, and I pushed my face against the glass window that felt like one final hurdle yet to be crossed.   "May I hold him?" I asked.  Not yet, I was told. We still needed her consent. So all I could do was watch you from a distance and offer a prayer and a promise to be back soon.  

"Can we see her?" we asked.   "Yes" Mary said, "but you will not find her in Labor and Delivery." She had requested to be moved to another floor in the hospital, one far from the sound of newborns and rejoicing families.   "Was she doing okay?" I asked.   The birth was hard, we were told, and I did not ask any more questions.  

We left your brother with Mary for the moment and walked to her room. The lights were dim inside, and we tapped on the doorway.  She was awake, resting, with her mother by her side.  We walked in and, with very few words, hugged her mother and then her.   "He's so beautiful," was all I could say, and she nodded. Her mother talked of how proud she was of her daughter, how strong her daughter had been, how happy they were that we had come so quickly and that we were going to be his parents.  I struggled for words but could do little more than say thank you.  

She gave her permission for me to hold you and to do whatever I felt best as your mother.  I returned to the nursery and Mary explained the situation to the nurses, who then looked at me with a smile and ushered me through the door and around the glass window that had been the final barrier between you and me. "Wait here," they said, and your father and I sat down in the two plastic chairs provided to us. Seconds later, I was holding you for the first time.  You were four hours old, and I have been with you ever since.

I asked if I could nurse you, but I was told it was against hospital policies considering we still had not completed the paperwork that gave us custody.  So, instead, I pulled back your swaddle and placed your body against mine.  Your father and I studied your face, and we agreed that you looked like her.  "He's going to have a great smile," I said, as I studied the proportions of your mouth, nose, and eyes. "He looks a little like a bug," said your father lightheartedly, and we both laughed.

A few hours later, it was time to leave and tend to finding our lodging and getting settled for the night. We found our way to the hotel where I fed your brother and put him to bed. Then I kissed your father goodnight and returned to the hospital and that plastic chair, and you and I snuggled skin-to-skin until late into the night.

The next morning, your grandmother arrived, followed soon after by the arrival of your grandfather. They watched eagerly through the glass as your father and I held you up to the nursery window and shared with them the name we had chosen.  They beamed with pride.

Throughout the day, your father and I would visit her.  Gradually, the conversation became easier, and we talked about her return to school and swapped stories about the trials and tribulations that come from having college roommates.  We met her father and her sister, and the more we talked, the more Tom and I began to feel attached to her and her family. They were so loving and so close, and it was obvious that they cared about her deeply.  Yet, she seemed tired and a little too quiet, and at times, it felt like the only thing I could hear was the unspoken.  Her mother, in particular, seemed to be struggling, and with each conversation, we could sense that this was not a decision that she wanted to accept.  Yet, she loved her daughter immensely, and she told us that she was determined to show that love by honoring her daughter's wishes.

A few hours before her discharge, it had been arranged for her to go to the nursery with her family to see you while your father and I were not there.  Her parents had told us earlier that they were insisting that she see you one last time before she left the hospital and she eventually had obliged.  We were told that she had looked into your face and shed a few tears but said nothing.  I truly believe that as she looked at you, she gave you her blessing.   Soon after, your father and I made our last visit to her to say goodbye.  "I promise you I will make sure he knows how much you love him," I told her as we held each other tightly and cried tears of sorrow and gratitude.

Shortly after she left the hospital, we were escorted out as well.  The nurse insisted that, according to policy, I leave in a wheelchair, holding my newborn in my lap. As I was wheeled through the hallway, all I could think of was how she must have felt being wheeled out in a similar manner...but with empty arms.   Your father and your grandparents walked beside us, and as Mary pushed your brother in his stroller behind me, she kept commenting on how, in thirty years of doing adoptions, she'd never experienced one quite as perfect as this one had been.

We walked out the hospital door and into yet another warm and lovely day, but this time, the breeze was brisk and carried the tell-tale sign that our brief winter reprieve would soon end.   A couple of hours later, we were home.  As I walked up the sidewalk to our front door, I noticed that during the two days we'd been gone, the hyacinths had made a premature appearance, and I thought about how such delicate little flowers would soon be forced to face the brunt of a winter not quite ended.

I never saw her again after that day. We sent her letters and photos, and we were told that she graciously accepted them.  The weeks turned into months and by the end of summer, you were officially ours forever.  Your father commented often that he was surprised that we never heard from her.  It all had seemed so perfect, he said.  Mary had said it as well.   And I agreed.  It had been perfect, because in my heart, I believe that she was trying to follow God's will, as were we, and by doing so, how could it have been anything less than perfect?

But sometimes, the perfect love that comes from following God's will can only be borne of pain, and too often, it is the pain that is left to linger.  Like a flower in the snow, perfect love can be fragile and fleeting and before we've even had time to fully appreciate it, it is gone. But for the moment that we are a witness to it, we know that we have seen something beautiful and that we have been blessed. We know that God has given us a glimpse of heaven in a world far from it.  

Going home.
February 17, 2011

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Flowers In The Snow (An Adoption Birth Story) - Part 2

If you would like to read the first part of this story, you can find it here.

For Joah.

I looked out the bedroom window and watched as the sun rose slowly over the cedars at the edge of our backyard.  Not a cloud was in the sky and the morning held the promise of a perfect day.  The grass blushed with just a hint of green and a warm southerly breeze brought with it the promise of spring. I cracked the window just enough to let the fresh air sweep into the room, and I breathed deeply. I was holding your brother on my hip, and we watched the bluebirds as they played hopscotch along the barb wire fence.  Soon, they'll have babies to feed, I thought, but for the moment, they seemed to have no other concern beyond relishing the gift of a day that was unseasonably warm and a harbinger of things to come. 

It will be a good day to hang out diapers, I said to myself, and I stepped away from the window and my daydreams to face the business of the day.  As I sat your brother on the floor and reached for the laundry basket, the phone rang.  It was still early, not quite eight in the morning, and I guessed it was my office calling, as they had not yet become accustomed to my part-time schedule.  I answered and heard only three words:

She's in labor.

It had begun on St. Valentine's Day, in the evening hours. You were coming earlier than had been expected, and I couldn't help but wonder if your great-grandfather, who's name had been Valentine, might have had something to do with it. Now, many hours later, she knew you would be arriving at any time and she had asked the agency to call us. 

I had spent the previous week after that meeting wondering if she would change her mind. Your father and I had already experienced one failed adoption the year before, albeit under very different circumstances.  Would this one be different?   In my heart, I felt it would be, because she had been different. There was a connection with her that I could not describe, and I believed she felt it to.  It transcended all the questions, all the unknowns, all the insecurities, and the only other time I had ever experienced it was when I met your father.  Now, as the unexpected news of your pending arrival triggered a flurry of activity, I faced it with a feeling of great peace inside, somehow knowing that this two-and-a-half year journey towards you was finally about to end.

I called your father immediately; he would drive from his office and meet us near the hospital and, in the meantime, call your grandparents and make reservations for us at a nearby hotel.  Be sure to find a hotel that takes pets, I told him, for we had no time to spare to even find someone to watch our dog, Sage. And for some silly reason, I wanted Sage with us, too.  I wanted my family together for this moment and that included her.  She had been with us through it all.

I put your brother down in his crib and began to hurriedly throw things into a suitcase as my mind raced through my mental checklist...diapers, formula, breast pump, dog food, water, baby clothes, blankets, bottles, stroller, snacks...the list seemed endless.

The phone rang again.  You were here, a baby boy, 7 pounds 6 ounces and doing well.  I asked, "and how is she doing?"  They said only that she had asked that you be taken directly to the nursery where you would be waiting for us.

I had only one thought now... I must get to you...and I was focused on nothing else but that single objective.  My thoughts went into overdrive and with a sense of purpose like none I'd ever experienced before, I loaded the car, fed your brother, rounded up Sage, and headed north.

Your father met me and his face showed the same emotions that I had been feeling.  Feelings of excitement, anxiety, stress, joy, all combined to form one expression and we both knew the look all too well.   We stood in the parking lot and gave each other a long hug, then jumped back into our cars. Now together, we caravanned to the hospital and prepared our hearts to meet you.

(To be concluded tomorrow).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Flowers In The Snow (An Adoption Birth Story) - Part 1

For Joah.

It was four years ago today that I met her.  

She was a beautiful young lady and she was about to change my life, your life, her life, and many other lives forever.

But your story didn't begin on that day.   It began many days, months, even years, before that.

It began on a summer night in June, as I lay sobbing into the wee hours of the morning, with your father holding me once again.  The tears were relentless and uncontrollable and my whole body shook as I once again faced the devastating reality that I may never be a mother.  The aching in my arms for a child to hold was palpable and my heart burned inside my chest with a love that had no where to go.

"I want to adopt," I said, and your father squeezed me tighter.  It was the first time I'd actually said the words out loud.  I had thought about saying them many times before but had never done so. Something had been holding me back from saying them until now.  But now, as I said them, I felt a sudden peace and the tears that had been unstoppable suddenly began to subside.  I said it again, "I want to adopt," and this time, I said it with determination and conviction.  I sat up, dried my eyes, and looked into your father's eyes, waiting for his reaction. He handed me a tissue and held my hand tight and before he even spoke the words, I knew he was ready, too.  We were ready.  We were ready for you.

We couldn't wait to start the process. We made calls, did some research and on July 23, 2008, we met with the agency that would help us find you.  Several months later, we were approved, and our official wait began.  But our odds were not good, we were told.  Few women placed babies for adoption, we were told. Fewer still choose the agency we'd chosen, we were told.  We didn't care. However long it took, we were going to wait.  And so we did.

Months turned into a year and along the way, a miracle came along that you know as your brother, John.  "Are you still going to adopt?" everyone asked us.   It was an honest question and I suppose to most, it was a logical question to ask but to me, each time I heard it, I had to laugh.  It seemed almost comical to me that someone would think one baby could replace another.  Your brother was a wonderful surprise, a miracle, and we were overjoyed to have him, but he wasn't you.  Your father and I knew that we were still waiting for you.

And little did we know that we wouldn't have to wait much longer.  Two years and eight months after that long sleepless night in June, our phone rang.   She had picked us and she wanted to meet us, we were told.  My heart jumped, and I tried to hold back the excitement that I feared would be short-lived, and I counted down the days and then the hours until we met her.

And so, it was four years ago today that I met her.   She was lovely, with long blond hair, beautiful eyes and a shy smile.   We spoke and shared stories about our lives.  But most of all, we talked about you.  She spoke of her desire to give you to a couple that could not have biological children and it was at that moment that we realized she had not known before meeting us that we had John. There had been a mix-up in the paperwork she had been given by the agency, and she had not received the updated version that showed we had a child.  If she had, she would have never even considered us.  But God knew that and so, like your brother, you too, are ours by nothing less than a miracle.

We talked about your name. She liked the name that we had chosen.  Her mother, who was with her, loved the fact that we were honoring St. Joachim with your name.  She wanted you to be raised Catholic, in a loving family like hers had been, but more importantly, she wanted you to know that life is precious and that she never ever considered ending yours.  Ever.  In spite of the fear, shame, and uncertainty she had faced during those long nine months, she knew that she would protect you.

She told us she had prayed a lot during this time and that God had led her to this decision.  She felt strongly that God was using her to give you to us, as a gift, and she wanted nothing in return so as to not jeopardize the selflessness of her act.  "I believe God has given me this baby as a gift for someone else," she said. I wept in front of her when she said those words and I will never forget them. She never wavered from that belief even when, eight days later, she faced the most difficult test of her life.

(To be continued).

Friday, February 6, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Groundhogs, Grocers & Other Good Stuff

Happy to be linking up with Kelly over at This Ain't the Lyceum for another round of Quick Takes. Happier still to be getting this 7QT actually published on a Friday.  Huzzah!

Trout Lily (courtesy of wikipedia)
Well, I am pleased to report that while Punxsutawney Phil might have seen his shadow in sunny PA, the groundhogs did not see their shadows here in the hills of southeast Kentucky, which is not surprising considering we get about one sunny day per week during the winter here and odds were already against this past Monday being one of them.  But I'll take cloudy days over six more weeks of winter any day.  In just a few more weeks, I'm countin' on looking at wildflowers like Trout Lilies and the aptly named Harbinger of Spring and listening to the wood frogs.  Groundhog, don't let me down!

Of course, winter is a relative term, and even though we've had a very mild winter, with very little snow, somehow my kids have still managed to only go to preschool five days in the past eight weeks (they usually go two days a week). By default, I think I have become a homeschooler, thanks to a county school system that calls off school at the mere mention of snow in the forecast.  It's a little ridiculous, considering kids in Boston have probably missed less school than we have.

So, thanks to all those "snow" days, and the fact that our January thaw ended about a week ago, we've been battling cabin fever again.  Joah has been doing a great job turning my vacuum cleaner into an automatic weapon and using it to protect us from terrorists who might be hiding in the basement.  John has been perfecting his skill at becoming a professional slacker and doing a lot of slouching on the sofa and begging for more nutella to feed his sugar addiction (I'm not sure how the kid is going to survive Lent).

John doing what he does best.
Joah on patrol.

Tom has completely filled up his new wood rack, which puts us halfway towards having enough firewood for next winter. We've already burned through more than half of this year's supply, so let's hope that "half your hay by groundhog day" does not apply to firewood as well or else we might have to start paying for our heat with real dollars rather than real sweat.

But the biggest news around here is that we have a new grocery store! It's the best thing that has happened in our small town since we got numbers put on our traffic lights (we're up to four now so it was getting a bit confusing).  We have two grocery stores for our entire county, one of which is a off-brand discount grocery.  The other is part of a major grocery store chain but until this week, that particular store was housed in a very small building.  That all changed when they moved to a building twice its size this past week.  More space equals more selection and I had to pinch myself when I walked in and found things like organic leeks and mangoes, hummus, and even fresh seafood (and I'm not talkin' about catfish).  Before this, we had to drive 30 miles for such a thing.  I'm not sure the selection matches the clientele, however, and while I was pushing my cart down the baking aisle and reveling in the fact that we now had olive oil, I did hear a customer inquire "where's the lard?"  You know, the important stuff.   By the time they had their grand opening a few days later, however, the store managers seemed to have figured it out, which was made evident by the fact that they were offering a free case of Mountain Dew to the first 500 customers who showed up. That brought out the crowd!   Having the grand opening during the "first of the month" didn't hurt either. Christmas comes every month around here, all compliments of Uncle Sam. Mountain Dew, cigarettes, lard and a check every month whether you earned it or wonder everyone here is always smiling!

Anyhow, back to Groundhog day, aka, Candlemas.   As I said, it was a cloudy, non-shadowy kind of day around here, so the boys and I (mostly I) decided to fight our cabin fever by making some candles using our old advent candles and some other used candles I had on hand.   Well, it took me about 4 seconds to realize that hyper little boys and hot wax do not mix.  Thankfully, hyper little boys are also easily distracted so I offered to make them some lunch while I also tried to finish the candles.  Not one of my better multitasking moments!   In the future, I think I will just stick with lighting candles rather than making candles.  I haven't lit any of them yet to see if they smell like peanut butter.

Hmm, what else?  Have a I mentioned that we have a birthday boy in the making?  Joah turns four in fewer than ten days.  Oh my.  I can't believe how old my boys are getting.  Didn't I just hold them for the first time like yesterday?  I really hope to write out his (adoption) birth story to commemorate the big 4.0 anniversary.   Hopefully, I'll find the time for that soon.   I can't imagine a more perfect adoption than the one we had with Joah, and we owe it all to his birthmother, who, to this day, is still the most amazing woman I have ever met. I wish every adoption could be like his.

And...drumroll...this coming week also marks my one-year blogiversary!   What a year it has been! I'm not sure what I was thinking when I started writing this blog on a cold February day last year.  I remember sitting at my kitchen table, pounding out that first post on my laptop as the boys napped, thinking, what in the world am I doing?   At the time, I was facing a possible adoption, surgery for my three-year old, and a 500-mile move of our entire household all within the period of the next two months.  So what possessed me to add "Start a Blog" to the list?  I suppose it is what motivates most of us who read and write blogs;  it was the longing to belong to a community of like-minded souls who share some of the same values, beliefs, crosses, and joys as I do.  At least, from my one year of experience, that's what I've picked up on as being a common denominator in all who read and write blogs like this one.  Which is kinda cool, but also kinda sad, if ya know what I mean.  What used to be available in families, parishes, and neighborhoods now has to be found online for so many of us and I am no exception.

The other thing I noticed when I was recently looking at my first blog post is the date. One year ago, when I wrote that post, I did not realize that I was writing it on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.   How cool is that?   I can't help but believe Our Lady was with me all along now, hopefully inspiring me to put words to paper.  And so, I dedicate this blog to not only Francis (my first-born) but also Our Lady of Lourdes.   My second line in that first post was " I'm not sure where this blog is heading but something is pulling me to do it so here it goes".   Maybe it wasn't Something, but rather Someone.  I pray so.   Thank you for bearing with me during this first year as I haphazardly tried to find my voice in this infinite abyss known as the blogosphere.