Friday, November 19, 2010

I Am Grateful For...

Matthew's round cheeks
and the sound of his laugh.
Good health and bad jokes
cracked by my "better half."

Yoga. And friendship.
(And yes, this means you!)
White wine. And red wine.
And good microbrews!

For blogs and for chat groups
and playdates galore.
For my readers, who thankfully
come back for more!

Hanging out with--and leaning on,
I must confess--
Other families whose lives
have been equally blessed

by the gift of adoption
and the joy of our kids.
Our journey was eased
by all that you did.

Warmth to come home to.
A child to love.
The kind earth below me.
The sunshine above.

Jupiter's antics, and
Matthew's sweet face.
The love of our family.
The gifts of God's grace.

Crisp colors of fall
on a backdrop of blue.
My parents, my family,
for all that they do.

The years and the lifetimes
I've known with my friends,
both living and gone.
The love never ends.

I'm grateful for
so many people and things
and the joy that they've given,
and the grace that they bring.

May all beings be happy.
May all suffering cease.
May the world someday know
The great feeling of peace.

I am thankful and hopeful
again and again
on this Happy Thanksgiving
of two thousand ten.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Amazingness

I just made up a new word. Amazingness.

Best way to describe the feeling I get in my gut whenever I look at this, my new favorite photo of the two most important guys in my life.

Gratefulness is coming a week early...Happy Thanksgiving to my friends, family, adoption community, Facebook pals, and fellow blogosphere members. I am grateful not only for the guys pictured here but for YOU all, as well! My life is happily complete.

More posts on what "grateful" means to me in the days to come, as one of my favorite holidays EVER approaches. (And I love that my birthday falls right around this time of year, too.)

What are you grateful for today? What feeling does such amazingness evoke?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing a Christmas Letter to Umma


One of my all-time favorite photos of Matthew (even with that ridiculous buzz cut
they gave him, poor kid)...it's framed huge and hanging in our hallway
upstairs...he's 4 months old in this photo.


Note to my readers: This is not one of my most concise of posts, so please get yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine and snuggle up before reading this. I know that blog postings are supposed to be short and sweet. This one is sweet, I promise you that...but definitely not short.

Well, folks, I finally did it.

As I ramp up and start preparing for the holidays, one of my first steps (which will be an annual tradition of ours now) is to send Christmas letters and gifts to mail off to Korea: One for the amazing woman who brought him into the world and another for the equally amazing woman who introduced him to it--who took him to his monthly doctor's appointments, who held him when he cried, who comforted him and kept him safe. Note that I say "equally"--his birth mother is no less important than Umma, for without her, there would be no Matthew, no relationship with Umma. I am deeply indebted to, and grateful for, both of these ladies. Strong, beautiful ladies whose hands touched his and who gently guided him down the path to us.

So, after months of admittedly avoiding it, I have finally started writing a letter to Matthew's Umma (his foster mom; that's what we call her). I've written only one letter before this. And I was so nervous doing it, because I so wanted her to approve of the way we are raising him, of how he is growing into the amazing little boy he's become. (He's become much less serious; he laughs all the time. He babbles constantly, and says things like "uh-oh" and "all gone" and "airplane" and "baby" and even "yogurt"! And "please" and "thank you" are uttered often [compliments of Ms. Kim, his daycare provider!].)

It's almost like I'm scared to share him or something. Fearful that her mothering was "better" than mine is. That he'll remember it and prefer it over my own mothering. I know it's silly; why do we so often feel the need to compare ourselves with others? I tell myself, "Come on, Kath, he knows who Mama and Daddy are--and it's us! But, I do struggle with these feelings. It has little to do with Matthew, and everything to do with my own insecurities around motherhood (which, yes, I still have, even if it looks like I totally know what I am doing and feel 100% comfortable in this new role of "mother"--oh, the doubts and second guesses that go on in my head!).

And yes, I did say HAND writing the letter--which is how I've promised myself I will always write to her and to his birth mom (that letter will be later this month; that is one I'm avoiding even more than the Umma letter). It just feels more real that way...the paper that my hands have touched, will touch her hands. And because I'm touching Matthew all the time, maybe she will feel the energy of his love and the memory of his heart through such touch. In a world of technological innovations and keyboards and high-speed everything, it's been amazingly satisfying to pick up a pen, touch it to paper, and painstakingly (and time-consumingly!) create words from my own hands--the whirls and swirls and blots and dots that emerge from the purest of penmanship.

Oh, the letter writing: I have had such resistance to this, which in and of itself is a very difficult thing to admit to myself much less announce it to my readers in the blogosphere.

So, there you have it. I know you won't judge me for this. It's not that I don't want to write these letters: I do! I do! There is simply so much to say, I don't even know where to begin. And it takes ENERGY that I often don't have these days. I'm so tired in the evenings after he goes to bed [happily tired of course--but tired all the same]; and right now, I'm fighting this infection in my eye of all things, so reading/writing for an extended period is actually painful.

But, the other night--finally, with a glass of my favorite Chardonnay in hand, lights dimmed, music playing, Matthew safely tucked away in bed--I began writing. And then I couldn't stop. I just started at the place where my heart was at the time. And it got easier. As soon as the ink began flowing from pen to page, my heart opened, and I knew exactly what I would tell her. (And I knew that it would be a multi-day event; a very long letter, which she so rightly deserves, and I know she'll be eagerly reading every word, learning of what milestones Matthew has reached, what he's doing, what he looks like, how he's acting. And I am happy to tell her.).

I admitted to her that I didn't even know where to begin, and I apologized in advance if the letter began jumping all over the place. Lately, I have been overwhelmed, almost frozen, in the emotions that have been socking me over the head regarding Matthew and our life together with him--they are nothing but happy, joyful emotions, but at times, I don't even know how to take the dizziness of feeling such naked, simple, pure happiness. It's been a long time coming, and I am still getting used to the feeling.

And, as a result, I have (perhaps unwisely) chosen avoidance for now. Until now.

I know the court date was really just a formality and that he's been "ours" since December 14, 2009, but that very special day on October 29, 2010, meant much more to me than I thought it was going to. I think it was definitely a trigger for my deepest emotions finally bubbling up to the surface and reminding me that "we are still here; deal with us."

And deal with them I did. In the form of an "old-fashioned," handwritten letter, woman to woman, in a regular old college-ruled notebook. It felt good. And right.

Tonight, I'll go there again. And the next night. Until the letter is done, and I feel that I've said all I've needed to say (at least for another six months or so, when there will be more milestones to report on, more bragging to be done, more smiles to share).

What an odd dilemma for someone like me, a gal who loves to talk, who is extremely (perhaps overly) social, and who is accustomed to "too many vs. not enough" words. But, like so many other lessons I've learned about myself since Matthew came home, this is a lesson in and of itself.

I'm getting there.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Adoption Day!

Words still escape me. I will write soon. In the meantime, here are some shots of one of the most important moments in our life as a family. Happy Adoption Day, Matthew. God was smiling down on us that day for sure.












Thursday, October 28, 2010

Words on Paper

Dear Matthew:
Yet another milestone awaits you, my sweet son.
Tomorrow, we go to court in downtown Baltimore
for your adoption finalization ceremony.
A judge will proclaim you officially ours...
as if you did not feel like our son from the moment you were placed in our arms
in the wee hours of a cold December morning that feels like forever ago.
What was life like without you?
I honestly don't know, so familiar is the imprint of your heart on mine.
Oh, I love you so.

I think about tomorrow and wonder,
Will it feel different, having these words on paper
stating in no uncertain terms that you are our child, and we are your parents?
How will I feel after our fifteen minutes of fame is over...
after the decrees have been signed,
pens capped,
paperwork filed,
pictures taken,
hands shaken,
hugs exchanged,
and happy tears shed?

Will legal words on paper
make me feel like you are any more mine
than the shining son you already are?

Don't get me wrong:
They are important and deserve a celebration and a ceremony,
these words on paper.
They represent for us, as a family, a meaningful rite of passage
in our history together--
something we will look back on with fondness,
something we will file away, maybe even frame, I don't know.
These words on paper will certainly help us in practical, logical ways
such as school paperwork, doctor visits, health insurance, and citizenship.

But in my heart, I know this:
You've been my son all along.
I don't need words on paper to tell me that.

Love,
Mama

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tiny Little Pellet, Huge Honkin' Headache

There are some things that really do go bump in the night...
Like Matthew's melon head.
Hitting the carpet on the deck.
HARD.

Let me set the scene for you.
(This is actually more a story about the dog than Matthew, but be that as it may...it's a slice of one of life's more chaotic moments.)

I come home from teaching my yoga class last night.
I am feeling great--relaxed, chill, appreciative, immersed in the present moment
(as I always feel after doing or teaching yoga).
Looking forward to hanging out with my family on the evening before the weekend officially starts.
Whoo-hoo!

We decide to walk around to the front yard and hang out in our bright orange and green plastic "faux" Adirondack chairs.
I'm walking with Matthew, who is carrying his treasured new toy Caterpillar truck (a front loader, complete with moveable parts and a little plastic man tucked inside).
I look up, and there's Jupiter, munching on the compact little rat-poison pellet that (our pest control man, just yesterday) assured us was safely tucked inside the paw-proof bait boxes outside the garage door.
(We think a squirrel or a chipmunk was the culprit...that squirrel or chipmunk is no doubt dead by now!)
I take my eyes off Matthew and yell to Jeff: "Jupiter has something in his mouth!"
(I am quite good at this stuff, and I have a sixth sense about things not being quite "right"--my sixth sense kicked in BIG TIME last night, and I'm glad it did...as you'll see...)
Meanwhile, I look down, and (whoops! Bad Mommy!) Matthew has fallen, face down, onto his Caterpillar truck on the sidewalk.
(Lesson #1: The minute you take your eyes off your kid, that's when he'll get hurt.)

Argggh. He's OK. He shakes it off.
I pick him up, brush him off, and he's off again, toddling into the grass with his beloved truck.

Pan back to Jupiter:
He knows the command "Drop it," and drop it he did. Jeff pulled it out of his mouth.
We both look at it, puzzled.
What the heck is this manufactured-looking, pellet-like object that clearly smells and looks like food,
almost like a treat, of sorts?
Crap.
The pest control guy was here today.
We both look at each other:
THE BAIT BOXES!
Shit.
We look inside one of the boxes, and sure enough, one of the two pellets that is supposed to be "safely" tucked inside
is not there.
As in, rat-poison pellets (that our pest control guy is currently using to take care of our ongoing mouse problem).
Lesson #2: Don't believe the pest-control man when he tells you it's safe to use the bait boxes and the dog won't get the pellets. 

Damn it.
We talk about it.
Can we blow this off?
(I'm really tired, and I just want a glass of wine.)
Can we just assume he didn't eat anything?
I mean, it was just "in" his mouth.
He wasn't chomping on it.
There weren't pieces missing or anything.
But, yikes, "what if"?

So, the fun begins.

We all go inside, having abandoned all thoughts of enjoying a warm late summer (okay, technically, fall) evening in the front yard.
Now we are trying to decide what to do.
We call our pest control man. No answer on his cell.
We call the pest control company. They're closed.
We call the pet ER.
They instruct us to call the Poison Control Center.
We do. And for only $35 and our credit card information, we finally get an answer from the vet specialist on call.
(Lesson #3: Just because it's a toll-free number doesn't mean that the Poison Control Center's advice is free.)

He asks us what the EPA code number is on the bait box.
Wha? What EPA code number?
("There should be a code number on the bait box. Do you see it?")
Jeff goes out to look. No number.
(Lesson #4: All rat trap boxes should be labeled with an EPA code. Who knew?)
Apparently, there are three types of rat poison. Because we don't know (a) how much he ate (or whether he ate it at all) or (b) what type of poison it is (the kind that swells the brain, the kind that thins the blood, or the kind that attacks the kidneys), we must induce vomiting.
(Lesson #5: Rat poison pellets are very, very scary and should be taken very, very seriously.)

You are KIDDING me, right?
Sigh. More drama in the Halverson house.

Jeff remains on the phone, trying to hear the poison control person while Matthew is practicing his loud speaking voice in the background (perfect timing, as always).
Jeff goes onto the deck.
Matthew decides he wants to be where Daddy is.
Out we go to the deck.
Matthew sits on his little multicolored plastic picnic table.
I set his truck in front of him.
Zoom-zoom.
I turn around--FOR ONE SECOND--and
BAM! Backward he falls.
He lands with a thwack on the back of his head
and promptly starts to scream.
(Lesson #6: Stand right behind your son when he's sitting at a play picnic table. You are not a bad mom. You are not a bad mom. You are not a bad mom.)
Now Jeff REALLY can't hear the poison control guy,
who is in the middle of explaining what we should do.
Jeff runs inside, frantically throwing open cabinets to find out whether we have hydrogen peroxide in the house.
I, in the meantime, am consoling a very scared little boy (I think the fall scared him more than anything...he's got a hard head and this is not the first time this has happened),
who is now mid-scream
(you know, the kind that is SO HARD that it becomes voiceless, airless, and scares a parent half to death, as their face gets increasingly red and you wonder if they're breathing at all).
I check his head; he's fine. No blood, bumps, or bruises: Just a healthy dose of fear.

I take Matthew up to bed. He's still screaming, but it helps to be in his nursery with his lovey, Froggie; low lights; humidifier on; international folk music lullaby CD playing. (Thank God for Putamayo and Carlos Santana [yes, Carlos Santana indeed does a mean mellow acoustic guitar when he puts his mind to it!])
He falls asleep in no time.

Meanwhile, out goes Jeff to the drugstore to buy hydrogen peroxide.
Yup. 3% solution induces vomiting.
(In between all of this, I actually have time to pour myself a glass of wine and exhale. Good God. Now, I really need the yoga!)
We give Jupiter a tablespoon of the hydrogen peroxide.
Poor thing laps it up like candy, not knowing the hell that is about to happen within his guts.

Within minutes--no, seconds--he's vomiting all over the kitchen floor.
(Lesson #7: If you ever want your dog to vomit, give him hydrogen peroxide.)
Seven huge piles of vomit. I mean HUGE. (Wow, does that organic dog food ever expand!)
And Jeff gets to poke and prod through it all to determine if any rat poison was in there (as if we could tell at this stage of, um, "breakdown").
(Lesson #8: After dealing with a possible rat-poisoning incident with your pet, you can kiss good-bye all thoughts or desires of dinner.)

We are lucky. It appears that he hasn't ingested anything.
And now the poor dog can't even have water or food for another few hours until his gut relaxes and gets back to normal.
Now Jeff's on the phone with the ER vet, again. He says just keep an eye on him, but it's "great" (!!!???) that he vomited so much because if he did ingest anything, it's pretty much guaranteed that it's no longer in his body.
(Lesson #9: Sometimes, throw-up is "great"!)

Prognosis?
Jupiter will probably be just fine (and indeed, as of this morning, he is).

As for Jeff and me, that's a whole other ball of wax.
I think it's time to buy some more wine.

Lesson #10: Always have a healthy supply of wine in the house. For moments such as this.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Motherhood in a Coconut Shell

Is it really August? How did that happen? I haven't written much this summer.

So, before I turn in for the evening, here's a random spouting of what's been going on with me lately. Here it is, in some form of nutshell. But I'm not very good at nutshells, so I can't promise you that this is TRULY going to be a nutshell. Probably more like a coconut shell.
  • Lately, my dear friend Catherine and I have been talking about all sorts of motherhood-related issues. Deconstructing it. Figuring it out. Going inward and sharing outward. Catherine is my friend who I met after I read an article that she wrote in Adoptive Families magazine. I loved it so much, I contacted her; visited her then-blog, now website (called Mama C and the Boys; check out the transracial adoption workshop she is hosting this October in Portland, Maine); and we eventually became cyberfriends. We hope to meet someday, but for now, the Internet is our touchstone. We talk about everything adoption and motherhood and writing and blogging, and she is a true sister to me in so many ways. Our friendship is proof that there are as many boons as there are downfalls to Internet technology and social media sites. We've been talking to each other via email and Facebook and comments on each other's blogs about how we're constantly doing this (deconstructing motherhood, that is). Sometimes, I think I'm engaging in needless self-criticism and overanalytical behavior, but most times, I feel that all this deconstruction and glancing inward is a very, very good thing. It makes me a better mother. It gives me an outlet. It reminds me that I am not alone in my feelings about motherhood (as in, "I don't know what the h I'm doing half the time!"), my joys, my challenges. So many women are with me on this crazy ride.
  • Jeff is away in Florida for 3 weeks. Yup, he's flying into hurricanes again. Literally. We are staying put in MD, visiting friends and family, setting up playdates, and having a grand old time. Me and the two "boys" (Matthew and the dog). While NASA and NOAA and the GRIP project gobble up my husband's time for the next several weeks, I am flyin' solo. With the help of dear sweet Caitlin (our teenage babysitter), the angel from around the corner. She is also from South Korea, and I'm happy for that connection between her and Matthew.
  • Matthew is finally walking! He is so adorable taking those steps. I could just cry, he looks so cute. Or laugh. Or both. Look out world, here he comes! Time to kidproof the house...AGAIN. This time we're putting things even higher up, if not completely away, for a few years.
Yeah, a nutshell...um, right.

I think I've definitely outgrown that nutshell. Actually, who am I kidding? I've NEVER, EVER fit my musings into a nutshell. I favor the more expansive space of the coconut shell. It suits me much better.

Signing off for now. I am planning my next post around the theme of "button-pushing." Take your best guess at what I'll be talking about (if you're a mom or a dad, you already know).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where We've Been...And How Far We've Come

It's been a long time since I've blogged. For a lot of reasons, none of which I really want to go into right now. So let's just get to the good stuff. Another blog posting...FINALLY!...from yours truly.

We had such a fun day today. Matthew, Jeff, and I went to a place called Clark's Elioak Farm, a small, family-owned farm (that has a long history of families going there over the years...it's somewhat of a Maryland legacy) where you can walk around, pet the animals, go on pony rides and hayrides, host birthday parties, and play on the gazillion fun things they have there for kids. Including a huge, larger-than-life sized shoe (pictured here), reminiscent of the Old Woman in the Shoe fairy tale. This is just one of the many fairy-tale statues they have here. It's really cool.

Matthew is walking now. As of last week...FINALLY! To say I'm relieved is putting it mildly. (Now, if we can only get him saying something besides "ma-ma" and "da-da" and "uh"! I know, I know...patience!) So he had fun finding his feet and walking around on the (very unsteady) grassy field of the farm. Good practice for him. He'd fall in the soft grass only to staunchly get up again. It was a riot to see him walking like a miniature drunkard, belly sticking out, feet wide apart, toting his Buzz Lightyear sippy cup with water in it. As a mom, I'm really enjoying being an almost breathless witness to this whole walking transition. I see before my eyes my child changing and growing--somehow, as a "vertical" kid he seems so much  more grown up and already, not the baby we brought home 8 months ago (yes! Next week it will be EIGHT MONTHS! Can you believe it?!?) but ever so much more a little boy.

Later that day, we ended up at the bookstore. And Matthew and I inevitably ended up in the children's section while Jeff was browsing through the science section. We were playing with one of the toys when this woman approached us and very purposefully said "hello, there" (to Matthew, not to me). She began to engage me in conversation, asking me how old he was and when we brought him home. I began to suspect we had a common adoption connection right then and there. Sure enough, the next thing she said "How long did you wait?" and then "We're waiting, too." And she pointed over to her husband and her daughter, who kind of waved at me. The daughter, armed with a pile of children's books, didn't look thrilled and actually looked kind of embarrassed that her mom was seeking out strangers simply b/c they were parents of adopted children--parents just like the one her daughter is about to become. They were buying one of the "classic" adoption-friendly kids' books called "A Mother for Choco" and of course, the memories started to flow for me. They asked me all kinds of questions. How long did we wait. Did we know we were getting a boy. Which agency are we using. How was the transition. What was he eating when he came to us. And on and on.

The woman (future adoptive parent, that is) seemed hesitant to talk with me too openly (although you all know I'm an extremely open person so I was gabbing away as easily and proudly as could be, more to the woman's mom than to the woman herself), so I didn't push it or ask her too many questions. I got the sense she was kind of shy about it still, and still feeling her way around her foray into the world of adoptive parenting. She clearly didn't seem to be in a very good place, or state of mind, on this particular day. She emanated sadness and frustration. There was a heaviness about her spirit, a sadness that I distinctly saw b/c I remembered feeling it, too.

I asked her "So, are you getting excited?" She sighed and said yes, but this wait is just so hard. "We sent our dossier to Korea back in January. We've been waiting ever since."

She reminded me of me, just one year ago. It felt like Matthew was so far away, physically, mentally, emotionally. At times, I was ready to lose my MIND. But I gently reminded her that we are lucky, in the adoption process (vs. the IVF or "getting pregnant" process that I carefully avoided directly referring to but she knew what I meant), b/c we absolutely positively KNOW at the end of all this, we will have a child. We WILL be parents. I tried to keep the conversation upbeat, and positive, but I empathized with her outright about how frustratingly long and difficult and roller-coaster-like that wait really is. I told her to hang in there. They were all smiles and sweetness for Matthew, and in that moment, I felt SO PROUD to be his mama. He was clinging to my shirt but shyly smiling at them all the same. I can't even put into words how proud I was. And how proud I was to be sharing my story with others. Loudly. In the middle of a bookstore, where perhaps we were the only two adoptive families in the bookstore. (In this moment, I realized that I think I'm comfortable with the role of "educator of others" about all things adoption!) I thought about where we've been as a family (we've certainly "been there" just like she and her husband now are...WAITING, WAITING, WAITING). But mostly, I thought about how far we've come, and how happy I am to have strapped myself into that roller coaster in the first place, wearing my fear around me like heavy armor but still getting into that damn car. It was at times a terrifying ride. With unknown twists and turns that jolted me forward and then backward. It was also an exhilarating ride that left me breathless and amazed at the miracle that emerged from all of it.

Not just one little boy, but an entire family, transformed.

Dammit, I love my son. It's the hardest thing I've ever done but also the most rewarding. He pushes EVERY SINGLE ONE of my buttons. But still, I love him as the day is long. Perhaps one of the reasons I've not written in so long is simply b/c there is SO MUCH to say. So much has changed. Mostly for the better. Where do I even begin? (So today, I finally dove right in, thanks to this family of strangers who walked up to me and acknowledged the kinship that we all share.)

So, I dedicate this blog posting to the young woman in the Germantown Borders who seemed to have some sadness and frustration tugging at the corners of her smile.

And her parents (who are going to be FABULOUS grandparents, I can already tell!).

And her husband.

And to all parents who are still waiting to be parents.

If you're waiting for a referral or waiting for your child to come home (shout-out to Emily and Lauren and their respective spouses here!), just know that SO MUCH JOY awaits you. Trust me; he or she is (or they are) worth the wait. I'd sign fifteen more mountains of paperwork and wait even longer than I already did, if it meant bringing Matthew into my life all over again.

Today, the simple act of human connection, in such a random, "at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time" kind of way, caused me to reflect on where we've been, and how far we as a family have come. No, it's not easy. And I'm so often NOT finding motherhood nearly as intuitive as I thought I'd find it. It's not perfect. But it's now a part of my identity. But am I happy, and do I feel full up with the satisfaction that comes from mothering my son?

Hell, yeah.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Perspective



Well, there is nothing like the death of a friend to give me some perspective and to remind me of my blessings. I have been battling with some negativity and self-doubt lately. But Kate's death has reminded me to stay positive and to be thankful for what I have, to be present in where I am now, to live each moment to its fullest, and to be grateful for the breath that I and my loved ones continue to draw every day.

On Sunday, my friend from work, Kate Thaxton, passed away after a 3.5-year fight with pancreatic cancer. And I do mean fight. She approached cancer like the beautiful, strong, fire-filled woman she was: She was NOT going to let it get her. She pledged to stay positive about her body's ability to beat this thing. She willed "healing" in her everyday living. She bravely faced this cancer with every ounce of strength and perseverance she had, and as a result, the months that doctors gave her turned into years. She went back again and again for treatments, even when doctors told her it wouldn't work. One of her most famous acts (at least in my mind) was early on in her diagnosis: the wearing of a shirt that she had made, which said:

Foxtrot
Uniform
Charlie
Kilo
cancer

I loved it.

Kate was young, in her late thirties. Younger than  me. She and her husband Tim seem to be soulmates in the truest sense (I don't know Tim, but I've seen his posts, and his latest YouTube video tribute to his amazing wife). They never had the chance to have children, to be parents, as so many of us are. Kate would have made a MARVELOUS mom. She was joy and beauty and energy embodied. As someone said to me at work today, "Even if you didn't know her well, you just couldn't help but like her." Kate was THAT kind of person.

As I prepare for what will, no doubt, be one of the most emotional funeral services I have ever attended (it's tomorrow), I am reminded of that phrase we hear again and again, and yet continue to forget, in life's daily stresses and trials: CARPE DIEM. Live and enjoy and savor every delicious moment. We never know how long we have. Those things that seem so important and dramatic in our everyday life: Ask yourselves this. Are they REALLY that important and dramatic, in the whole grand scheme of things?

Kate's death has been a much-needed reminder to me. When life gets me down, I think I will go back to the breath (as we say in yoga and meditation). I'm thankful that I am still drawing it, and I am sad that Kate is not.

It's just not fair, universe: I don't care what you say. It's just not fair.

Jeff is going with me, because Kate's funeral happens to be at the very same funeral home that we used to have our first son, Christopher, cremated. I can't go there without Jeff; I just can't. But I want to go to pay my respects to Kate and her family. And I know it will be OK. Because Kate's positive, loving spirit will be there, embracing all of us, as we sadly say our good-byes to a good friend who left us far too young, with far too much life left to live.

Here is her website, so everyone can see how beautiful she was (the video tribute may even be posted here; I hope it is!): http://www.katethaxton.com/

Rest peacefully, dear sweet Kate. We will never, ever forget you. Everyone whose life you touched was better for having known you.

Namaste.
Kathleen

Monday, May 31, 2010

I Am Tired

Let me first say: This is not my most positive of posts.
My apologies in advance.

I am tired.
In my body and in my brain.

Let's talk "body" first, shall we?

Weight-lifting routine?
Are ya kiddin' me?
Who needs circuit training when I have Matthew?
At times, I seriously think my arms are going to fall off.
An overused expression but especially appropriate.
Especially on the weekends.
Especially on LONG weekends.

Don't get me wrong:
I am thankful for every single one of those near-30 pounds of kid.
I am thankful for every minute of these past 5.5 months (yes, we're almost at the 6-month mark: Can ya believe it?).
But even a thankful mom can complain once in a while, right?

My mother-in-law is quite impressed with my ability (and seeming ease--if only she knew)
to transition from holding Matthew while sitting cross-legged on the floor
to rising to a complete standing position (all the time with him in my arms).
Biceps of steel, baby. Quads of iron. Low back like a band of concrete.
Rise, Phoenix, Rise.
Ashes be damned.
I pop up like I have all the energy in the world.
But dammit, there is FIRE brewing in these muscles,
and I am so, so tired.

And now, let's talk "brain."

Constant worries.
About everything.
From innocuous things like
When am I EVER going to have time to get this house organized? Piles of paperwork are now appearing in my freaking DREAMS.
to large-scale, hovering, looming issues like
We REALLY need to send that adoption finalization paperwork in (if we could only find the time to fill it out).

What is helping:
--Meditation (like my hour-long sit tonight; pure bliss)
--Spa weekend (right around the corner, with my best girl friends in the universe--and a whole weekend to remind me that I am allowed to indulge in some self-care)
--SLEEP (coming in about 5 minutes)

I know all moms go through this,
and please don't think I'm not grateful for every single minute
I get to spend with my son.

But dammit, I am tired.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Moments That Make Up a Life

I am unsure of so many things.
But the one thing that draws no doubt,
harbors no uncertainty
is the love that I have for the life that is unquestionably
and deservedly
mine.

A life made up of moments:
Matthew throwing the tennis ball for Jupiter to chase after.
Jeff crawling into Matthew's inflatable submarine filled with hundreds of small multicolored plastic balls, head sticking out of the top, trying to coax Matthew inside.
My baby's belly laughs that live in my heart long after the final giggle ceases, long after that last exhale.
Well-deserved date nights with the love of my life (occasional reminders that we can be grown-ups every once in a while, too).
Road trips to PA, and the chaos of all the cousins playing together--laughing, arguing, crying, and laughing again.
Playing peek-a-boo with Grandpa, putting his pudgy little hands on Grandpa's big ones, and pulling his hands off his face, then putting them back on his face.
Going for long stroller walks with Grandma to meet all of her friends--and coming home with even more Matchbox cars.
Reaching for his crib, happy for night-night to finally arrive, plopping his face down on beloved Froggy, and sleeping the deep, happy sleep of a kid who is finally, happily, home.
While he dreams, I watch him--
my own dream, here in my heart and in my home at last.

These moments?
They are my life.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Proudly I Rise

My world has been filled with so many Mother's Days,
when I have joined with others
in honoring and celebrating the women in my life
who are such extraordinary mothers.
Most especially,
my own mom.
But also, my grandmothers, sister, sister-in-law,
and on goes the list.

For years, I was among the celebrators.
But this year, for the first time, I will be among the celebrated.

The year after we lost our baby to miscarriage, we joined a church,
and I started singing in the folk choir.
It was the Sunday of Mother's Day, and at one point, the priest asked all the moms to rise and be acknowledged.

I didn't know what to do.
(Of course I was a mom, technically.
I had given birth, after all.)
But I wasn't presently parenting a child.
I was absolutely frozen.
So I balked.
And didn't stand.

My friend and fellow singer nudged me and whispered, "Kathleen, stand up!"
And I whispered back, "But I'm not a mom."
(Oh, God, did I just say that out loud? That hurts way more than I thought it would.)
"Oh, you don't have children? I thought you did!?!" she replied.
I just shook my head and looked away.

And then the guilt set in.
Should I have stood up?
Hell, yes. But it's complicated.
I should have honored my baby's memory by proudly rising
and acknowledging that he had existed.
But I wasn't presently parenting, I argued with myself.
I may have felt the pains of labor
but I had never felt its warm, wiggling rewards.
It was so confusing and infuriating, and it hurt.
A lot.

I went home and cried.
And went out of my way to avoid the Mother's Day mass for the next several years.

With the exception of the past few rocky years,
I have celebrated on Mother's Day.
But never have I been one of the celebrated.
This year, it's different.
This year, Mother's Day takes on a profoundly new meaning to me.
I have been humbled by its blessings
and by mothering my Matthew.
This year, I will be in Pennsylvania visiting my family.
I will go to church with my mom.
And when the priest asks the mothers to rise,
Proudly I will.
For not one, but two, reasons.

Happy Mother's Day to every one of you fabulous, sexy, crazy, lovestruck moms.
I may be coming into this a little late, but I have learned from so many of you, and your paved path has made mine all the easier. You are my giants, my mentors, my mothers, my friends.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Making Lemonade

In the face of all these damn lemons, I am desperately trying to make lemonade here.

I haven't blogged for so long. Mainly because life has taken a downswing, and my energy/vitality for much of what I love to do has taken a corresponding beating. I just can't get it together, folks. I am trying...really, I am.

First item of note: Matthew is doing well for the most part. He's now almost 14 months old, healthy, doing well in daycare, and making us laugh every day. The things that worry me are threefold: (1) He's still not walking. (2) He's still not saying consonants of any kind (only utterances with his mouth open, lips apart--"uh" kinds of sounds). I need to make an appt with Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers; the caseworker and pediatrician suspect he may have some "low tone" in his mouth muscles, which are impeding his ability to form consonants and to move forward with his speech. (3) He needs glasses. Yes, you heard me right: The kid needs glasses in as soon as 6 months. I'll write more on this. Again, not a lot of energy to go into it. Plus, if you're my Facebook friend, you've heard about all the drama in enough detail.

Second item of note: Jupiter has been very ill. He wasn't doing too good...at least, not until this past Tuesday, when he had spinal surgery to remove a ruptured disc...he has cervical disc disease (genetically predisposed to beagles). It's a long story, and one that I don't have the energy to go into right now. But he'll be OK. The surgery was rather invasive so the healing process is going to be challenging: for him and for us. Because he feels 100% better but can't go out for walks, jump up on anything, or play. And no more collars, ever again...he is to wear harnesses from here on out.

Third item of note: I've been sick with a variety of illnesses since basically the end of February. I fell and injured my wrist (which landed me in the ER), had carpal tunnel and tingling in my hands/arms (that my sister helped me out with, the wonderful PT that she is), then had a stomach bug for 10 days (at least it helped me remove 6 pounds), and now have had some sort of virus for the past several weeks. (Keep in mind: Because I am an adoptive, not a birth, mom, my maternity leave primarily consisted of unpaid FMLA...was not eligible for short-term or long-term disability the way birth moms often are...I try to not be bitter about this but at times like this, when I need to use sick time but don't have it, it's hard.) As a result, the exercise program I've been trying to re-incorporate into my life constantly keeps getting interrupted. But on days that I feel good, I continue to do my workouts. And I've started taking Pilates as well as a step class at work. And I'm back to teaching yoga.

Some more good news is that I am continuing to lose weight and am on a healthy track as far as my eating/diet goes. I've achieved short-term goal #1 and now am working on the next one. I've signed up for a cool program at work called The Biggest Mover. I'm on a team with several other people. It starts in early May. I'm looking forward to getting healthier, slimmer, and more fit--so I can be the best mom to Matthew and Jupiter, the best friend and wife to Jeff, and as patient/loving with myself as I possibly can.

So, that's the scoop. In a nutshell. I'll blog more on different things (like the glasses) in the weeks that follow. I'm just trying to get my own internal act together.

I hope everyone is doing well, and thanks for continuing to follow this amazing journey of ours. We are so lucky to have Matthew as our son. I'm thankful every single day.

So, like I said, I've been busy making some really yummy lemonade with all these gosh darn lemons that life is throwing our way.

I am a strong believer in karma, so I'm waiting...I absolutely know that I am due!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Managing the Mix (Mom + Wife + Editor + Yoga Teacher)

I'm sure so many of you can relate to the title of this post.

With so much going on in all of our lives, it's a wonder we parents balance it all. After being a mom for just 4 months, I have so much respect and appreciation for the balance that all of you (including myself now, finally) must constantly strive to maintain. It's such a fine line between keeping all the plates spinning and happy--and succumbing to the chaos, allowing the plates to crash to the floor.

So, how do we do it? How do we keep family life balanced with career, personal goals, etc.?

Well, you tell me. This is my first "interactive" post. I'm hoping that you all will respond via the "Post Comment" feature on this blogger.com site or, if you're my friend on Facebook, by posting a comment there.


WHAT WORKS FOR ME

The fact that Jeff and I truly share our parenting responsibilities pretty much down the middle. He's not the kind of dad who's never changed a diaper or who sits in front of the TV ignoring his kids. If anything, he's even more engaged with Matthew than I am. They have so much fun together! I think he has less fear about what is "right" and "wrong" about parenting. He just does it, opinions be damned. I tend to think I'm being judged more, so I'm more cautious. (I know, you would have thought the reverse would be true, if you know anything about Jeff and my personalities.)

The fact that we take Matthew everywhere we go, and even it's scary at first, we do it. Like the first time I took him to a restaurant...I was absolutely terrified that people would be giving me dirty looks if he cried...he did great, by the way. Sometimes I think we don't give our kids enough credit. He surprised me that day, for sure. And then I look at his personality and think, "But were you really surprised?" Now, he's used to being out and about, and thoroughly enjoys it. He just looks around and watches people. What comes to mind is that Saturday in early March when we had him at the car dealership for 6 long hours while we purchased our new Forester. Not one meltdown. I think I was more ready to melt down than he was!

I won't lie...the fact that he's a great sleeper and eater and napper? Yeah, that works for me. That really, really works for me. Those 2 hours in the evening are my most priceless hours of recuperation (frequently accompanied by mindless TV).

Getting him outside in the sunshine and fresh air. It benefits everyone involved...the dog, the kid, the mom, the dad.

Being a working mom (see discussion below).

Admitting that I need a break, and taking it (for example, going away on girls' weekends...I've already gone on one). And not feeling guilty doing it.


WHAT DOESN'T WORK FOR ME

Being a stay-at-home mom. God, I love him to the moon, but I was happy to go back to work. I found more balance in my life, and everything kind of clicked. I loved being at home with him, don't get me wrong: But it was far from easy (especially being 100% housebound due to several blizzards and 3-4 ft of snow) and sometimes very, very trying. I missed my job, and my friends at work, and my yoga teaching. I'm finally comfortable saying all of this with no guilt, with no fear that my friends who ARE stay-at-home moms will resent me or think ill of me. (I think the world of them for the ability to do what they do every single day. [insert deep bow here]). It's a personal choice, and I think I made the right one for myself and my family. As my friend Kellie told me (and it's stuck ever since), I'm a better mom to my kids when I'm working.

Overscheduling. My favorite moments are the times the four of us (dog included) are out on the deck, just playing with toys in the fresh air, watching as Matthew points up to birds flying around our treetops. I hope that as Matthew grows, I will remember to strike a balance: keeping him active in various things but not TOO active, to the point where there is no time for that gloriously fun free play.


SOME FUNNY THINGS THAT MATTHEW IS DOING

Now I'm going to shift gears a little and tell you some funny things that Matthew is doing lately.

--The other day, he starts crawling toward the dog's dish...while the dog is eating. I calmly tell him "no." He swivels around, pauses, stares me down, and promptly sticks out his tongue and gives me a giant, lingering raspberry. Ooooh, kid, you are tryin' my patience. It was all I could do to suppress my laughter!

--He has taken to feeding Cheerios to the dog, dropping them off the highchair tray one by one. Jupiter is definitely not complaining. Mom and Dad are working on addressing this, with little success.

--I finally taught him to sign "more" when he wants more food! The shrieking just had to stop. It wasn't that he was unhappy; it was just his way of asking for more food. I was told it would take just a few days and he'd get it. Well, it took us and Kim (his daycare provider) four long weeks of constantly signing "more" (while he was in mid-scream) before he finally got it. Now, instead of shrieking for more food, he bangs his hands together (it looks more like clapping than the true sign-language sign for "more" but hey, whatever works--I know he knows what it means).

--He pushes this light wicker chair all the way across the deck. Back and forth he goes. If he encounters the occasional bump, he just pushes it harder until the chair leg clears the bump. The actual walking toy is not something he's interested in...the household furniture is much more appealing. But hey, he's safely practicing his walking. I'm not complaining. One of these days, I know, he's going to start walking. Jeff and I are trying to be patient and not worried about this. He's only 13 months old...some kids don't walk till much later than that (or so I'm told).


Coining the phrase of my favorite t-shirt company, "life is good." Being a mom is fun, challenging, hilarious, busy, demanding, different from my old life, and sometimes makes me crazy. But I absolutely love it.

Have you seen that commercial for the new TV show, "Parenthood" (which I love, by the way)? They are interviewing random people on the street. A woman says "Parenthood is...the most fun I've ever had."

I can't think of a better way to describe it than that. So that's where I'll stop.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Fitting" Somewhere on the Forms

Dear Pediatric Doctors Everywhere:

I know they're just forms, but can you please consider the circumstances of your patients who are adopted children, and revise the wording of your forms so that our children "fit" on them? And use adoption-positive language? Here are some examples of Matthew's not fitting on your forms--it got my Irish up, let me tell ya.

--Are you the natural parents of this child? Well, no, because in the adoption community, we do not use the word "natural" to describe what is really meant: birth parents. Please use the term "birth parents." I may not be Matthew's birth parent, but mothering him feels, to me, as real and as "natural" as ever.

--Does anyone in patient's family have a history of any of these eye conditions (and then several conditions are listed, with only "yes" or "no" as the options). Well, doc, think I'll just have to create my own "category" here. So I added the word "unknown" and drew a box in front of it and checked my own self-drawn box. I did this for every condition you listed.

--Are there any hereditary medical problems in patient's family? If you mean "birth family," I don't know the answer to that, doc. I barely know anything about his birth parents. I wish I did.

--Who in the family wears glasses or contacts? I do, so I checked "myopic"...but this is not really applicable because Matthew is adopted. Shouldn't they have a box for "unknown; child is adopted"?

And then the more painful questions emerged that hit even closer...such as "did patient receive oxygen therapy at birth?" and "did patient have jaundice?"...with only "yes" and "no" as options. (I don't know, and it makes me sad to know that I don't know.)

Doctors, please add a checkbox called "unknown" so that my son "fits" somewhere on your forms--and I can stop editing them. I edit enough stuff all day long.

At Thursday's appointment, I will have not only my forms but also a letter to the doctor in hand, and I will also be giving verbal feedback to a front-desk receptionist who will probably think I've lost a few screws for complaining about the wording of some forms, but I don't care. It sounds petty, but trust me people, it's not.

(This Public Service Announcement brought to you by Kathleen Halverson, proud Mother of Matthew and advocate of adoptive families everywhere!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

These Things That I Absolutely Know

Today is Matthew's first birthday!

I haven't blogged in forever...I have been a little buried in the land of mom.

It has been an introspective day for me, despite the fact that we've been busy. I guess that's what birthdays are for, especially when the celebrated day is your child's. I am almost feeling knocked over by the emotions that are overtaking me today, and truthfully, I wasn't even sure I had the energy to blog about this. After all, there's a lot of immediate "issues" going on that demand my attention (let me digress/vent for a moment here): my wrist, although improving, is still hurting me from my less-than-graceful fall (that landed me in the E.R. last week), my shoulders hurt from carting him around, Matthew starts day care tomorrow, and I head back to work on Monday. Whoo. A lot to take in.

Dare I mention the pediatric ophthalmologist appointment we need to make for Matthew (who may have not one but two lazy/crossed eyes)? Or the fact that there are now concerns about "low tone" in his jaw muscles? (He is still not forming consonant sounds like "mmm" or "bbb" like he should be by now, and our caseworker is concerned enough that she recommended we take him to Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers, which is a free service by our county in which a PT or OT observes and evaluates him and determines if he needs some speech therapy.)

Anyway, enough about the worries that are dancing in my brain these days.

Today, Matthew and I headed to my friend Jenna's house in Arlington for a playdate with her and her new son, Peter. She, too, is a new mom, on maternity leave, going slightly stir crazy being all cooped up in the house. Just this week, really, the snow on the sidewalks has melted enough that the sidewalks are passable with a stroller (even with our mac-daddy of strollers, it is still tough). Out of my three months of leave, I think I've had three full weeks of "walking" weather that enabled Matthew and his cabin-fever-struck mom to get outside and enjoy some fresh air.

Peter is just a month old--and tiny, tiny, TINY compared to Matthew! He tried to poke Peter in the eyes, so we had to keep our distance from the little guy. He does the same thing with the dog, and yes, we are working on that!

We decided to head to a local Mexican restaurant for lunch. Peter slept most of the time, and Matthew was very active but VERY good! He loves people watching, so restaurants are perfect for him. He doesn't even require toys or distractions. He just looks around at all the people and activity. He had a birthday fiesta! Chicken, some plantanos frijos (fried plantains), and rice, along with the more typical baby/toddler food that I brought along with him (ahem...those ever-present, always-necessary Cheerios)!

So, back to my thoughts on feeling introspective for his birthday.

I was looking at him in the baby mirror as he slept peacefully in the backseat of the car (coming back from the playdate), and I started thinking about what his birth mom must have been going through right about now (we don't have the exact time of his birth, just the date, but you know what I mean when I say "now"). The emotions she must have been feeling, knowing that she loved him so very much that she made an adoption plan for him and blessed us with the chance to raise him as our very own son. It moves me to tears, I tell you. It moves me to tears.

And then I was wondering what those first days must have been like for Matthew. Definitely overwhelming. Probably confusing. But filled with love all the same. Even though we weren't there to parent him yet, and it breaks my heart over and over again to think of those months and those milestones that we missed, I absolutely know that he was loved from the moment he left the womb of that wonderful woman. He was never an unwanted, abandoned child (a stigma frequently attached to our adopted children)...if anything, he was wanted too much but his birth mom probably didn't have the means to support him and so made the most loving (and incredibly heartbreaking) choice imaginable for a mother. I also absolutely know that he was loved fiercely by his first foster family (newborn to age 4 months). And I absolutely know that he was loved and doted on by his second foster family as well (and I have the pictures to prove it, given to us by his second foster mom). The pictures show a happy, well-adjusted-looking kid who seemed to be having a ton of fun, at times fussy and tearful and clinging to Umma, at times giggling and on the move across one room or the other. At all times adorable.

In adoption, we talk frequently of helping our children "close the gap"--to provide them with as much information as we can about their early years, those times before they came to us as our children. Helping them close that gap allows them to live happy, successful, productive, and well-balanced lives--secure in themselves, confident in their abilities, strong in character. The more information we can give them, the more question marks we can remove for them.

But there is also what we, as parents, go through in trying to deal with and accept that gap. It can be SO frustrating at times, not knowing what his life was like from (in our case) newborn to age 9.5 months. That's a long span of time, filled with moments and milestones that birth parents get to record and photograph and carve deep into their memories. We on the other hand are often left to speculate, surmise, or (for the energetic among us) do endless hours of research to track down what happened during that gap.

So, these things that I absolutely know...cited above...well, they bring me comfort, and they help me as a mom close the gap from birth day to this day. This amazing, incredible day in which Jeff and I celebrate all things Matthew.

Tonight will be an abbreviated Tol ceremony (the Korean custom for the first birthday, which is a VERY significant birthday in Korean culture) with just the three of us. This Saturday, both our families will be there for his actual birthday party. They are coming from PA, NJ, and VA. I can't wait to dress him up in his hanbok (traditional Korean clothing worn on the first birthday--his foster mom sent one with him to America) and take pictures and sing to him and merge his Korean customs (Korean rice cakes of many flavors, bowl of white rice for good luck, and the list goes on) with his American ones (good old cake and ice cream and silly party hats!).

There simply aren't enough silly party hats in the world to represent just how much love we feel for this little guy.

Today, I watched him sleep, his head flopped to one side, his pudgy cheeks looking even pudgier because his chin was kind of shoved down onto his chest, his lips looking like the lips of angels kissed by God himself.


And I whispered the sweetest "thank you" for bringing him to us.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MATTHEW!

 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Miscellaneous Moments With Matthew

Here are just a few slices of life with Matthew...the theme of this post is "discovery" for sure!

Discovery 1: Raspberries + Baby Food = Sheer Hilarity
He still spends a ton of time each day blowing raspberries. He has advanced his technique: His latest discovery is doing it with baby food in his mouth. He thinks it's hilarious; we are trying to curb the carrot spew coming our way at dinnertime! Hit the deck, folks.

Discovery 2: The "g" sound
The other day, he was exploring the "g" sound. As his mother, I find this to be quite advanced (of course I do! He's the smartest kid ever!), as Margie told us that most kids his age start with "m," "d," and "b." Although, he's already doing the "m's" so technically, the "g" is his second consonantal discovery.

Discovery 3: Sneezing
He'll sneeze, and once the sneeze is over, he looks at me kind of stunned, pauses, and then emits this happy belly laugh. Cracks himself up. I think he likes the way sneezing feels. Or sounds.

Discovery 4: Beware Scissor-Wielding Korean Women
Matthew had his first haircut today. Sun, his barber at the Hair Cuttery in Olney, was the most gracious and skilled of scissor-wielding Korean women trying to tame the fluffy hair of a wriggly, terrified eleven-month old. Matthew completely freaked out and screamed the whole time. I got it all on camera. This is one for the lifebook, folks.

Discovery 5: Coughing
He has discovered how to make himself cough. I swear he coughs just to cough, not because he necessarily NEEDS to cough. He looks at me all serious and goes "eh eh" (he will be a terrible poker player).

Discovery 6: Crawling Gets You There Faster Than Creeping
He is the Lightning McQueen of Speed when crawling. Belly is completely off the floor now (creeping days are over...too slow). He's still not walking but showing definite signs that it'll probably happen very, very soon.

Discovery 7: His Own Voice
He is so much more verbal than he was in the beginning. He is babbling away, almost nonstop, and he has this deep bass tone that makes me wonder if it's really coming from the mouth of a babe. That being said, it is wonderfully sweet to hear.

Discovery 8: All Things Electronic
Remotes, phones, my netbook, Jeff's Mac laptop, and the list goes on--if it's electronic, he wants to play with it. Is this a boy thing?

Discovery 9: Jupiter
Oh, dear. He has finally realized that Jupiter is a living, breathing plaything and can be poked in the eyes, grabbed on the nose, pulled on the tail, etc. We are working on "gentle touches" and teaching him to pet Jupiter on the back and stay away from his face (although Jupiter has been nothing but sweet and indulging of Matthew's explorations, and of course we are always right there, supervising).

Discovery 10: The Chariot
We finally were able to start getting outside when we had those couple of weeks of nice weather in January. Matthew loves riding in his stroller (which is a mac-daddy stroller-to-end-all-strollers that was passed down to us from our friends; they dubbed it The Chariot, so we are continuing the tradition). Matthew and Jupiter and I have gone for many a chariot walk through the neighborhood (when we don't have 3 feet of snow, that is, and when people clear their darn sidewalks!!!). He frequently falls asleep (Matthew, that is; Jupiter is busy sniffing everything in sight). The Chariot, which turns on a dime and rides smooth as butter, is a mom's sanity check, best friend, and meltdown manager.

Discovery 11 (Just Because I Don't Want to Stop at 10 Like Everyone Else Does): Avocadoes
He likes "the good fat"! Hooray! And I even made them fresh for him. What a mom I am, huh?!?

Discovery 12 (Because I Just Thought of One More): Right Hand + Bathwater = Big Splash
Need I say more? We get soaked on bath nights, but the sheer joy of his smile makes it all worth it. This kid loves the water!

For everyone who is also dealing with the 2+ feet of snow we got socked with here in the Mid-Atlantic region, stay safe as you continue digging out. Just in time for tomorrow's predicted Winter Storm Warning. Wow, I will be so happy to see spring show us its warm, shining face. Of course, just in time for me to go back to work!

I go back March 8. Just a few more weeks. I can't believe how quickly it's passing. Trying to savor each delicious moment with Matthew before life changes yet again...

Peace out.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Postcards From Korea: Translated

So, my father-in-law did a cool thing. Here's the story.

Matthew's foster mom sent him to us with an awesome photo album containing pictures of him from the time he was born up until the day he left Holt (our agency) to travel to us. The very last page contains four photo-postcards, each one handwritten by a member of Matthew's foster family (the mom, the dad, and each of the two brothers). They were written in Korean (Hangeul), so I had no idea what they said, but clearly, they were good-bye messages. I cried when I saw them (even though I didn't know what they said, exactly).

My father-in-law, Ray, asked me if he could bring a photocopy of the four postcards to his barber. She happens to be Korean, and he's kept her in the loop over the months. We agreed that this would be a great idea (we wanted to do it anyway; Lord knows when we would have gotten to it ourselves!), and he took the photocopies to her to get translated.

All I have to say is, Oh my God.

Ray called on a Tuesday night and asked me if I was sitting down. I said yes. He said, "Open your e-mail. I sent you an attachment with the translation of each family member's sentiments."

I won't tell you exactly what they said; that is Matthew's information to share as he wishes when he grows old enough. But I will tell you that the messages were the most loving, warm messages...they seem like the nicest family, and I hope that we will someday meet them and arrange a reunion between Matthew and them. The messages were things like "Grow up good in America." "Go to school." "Be a good boy." "We love you." "Maybe you can come visit us someday."

I cried for four hours that night.

It gave me a renewed perspective on things...from the foster mother's viewpoint. It must have been so hard to say good-bye to him after taking care of him for six months! She and her family truly loved him like a son. He wasn't just a "charge" to her...he was hers for 6 months. It really helped me understand the deep level of grieving that he went through in those first few weeks. And why.

We plan to take several trips to Korea during Matthew's growing-up years. There are entire companies that run trips known as "homeland tours" specifically for adopted kids and their parents...they help you look up birthparents, foster families, any orphanages the child may have lived in (although this is moot in Korea, as all children are in one-on-one foster care), etc. All the friends who have taken homeland tours with their children have absolutely raved about their trips...the emotional intensity, the powerful feelings elicited in all parties, the sense of closure for many adoptees, and of course the sheer fun of the trip (bonding with other adoptive families). And the amazingly beautiful country that Korea is.

And yes, we plan on staying in touch with, and eventually meeting, this wonderful foster family of his, particularly his foster mom. I am in the process of writing my first letter to her. I keep starting it and restarting it, wondering how on earth to put into words the incredible feelings of gratefulness and joy that live inside of me as I reflect on the enormity of what she did for our little boy.

What a reunion that will be.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Matthew Day Part 3

So, there we were in the hotel lobby, sitting around in various hotel-looking chairs and couches, watching Animal Planet and checking Matthew's flight status via Jeff's dad's laptop. Kyla and Steve and Jack arrived, followed 5 minutes later by...SURPRISE!...my sister Ann Marie. They wanted to keep it a surprise! I was freaking out and crying and laughing and hugging her so hard. I was SO HAPPY she was there to experience this moment with us! We were laughing because all along while they were driving down, I was calling/texting Steve, then calling/texting her, when the whole time, they were in the same car together! At one point, when I was telling Steve the address of the hotel, he said, "Hold on, I have to get a pen. Am...I mean Kyla...do you have a pen?" But I didn't even notice his slip-up! Another time, I asked him what road he was on, and then I was confused about why he was on that particular road if he was coming from NJ. He did a good job of bullshitting his way through an answer...one that I actually bought!

We left for the airport shortly thereafter. We didn't have anything better to do; might as well settle in and stake our claim to the seats that were as close as possible to the doorway they'd come through! John and Donna met us there and videotaped the entire experience...thank goodness for that videotape. It's something I will always cherish. Even though Kyla did a phenomenal job getting 152 super-awesome photos that really captured the moments leading up to Matthew, the moment we met him, and our departure with him in tow...and everything in between!

I was so nervous, I started feeling ill. Especially the last half-hour or so before he was due to arrive. In one of the pictures, my mother-in-law Peg is sitting next to me rubbing my head and my back. (I did end up getting a bad cold for the first 10 days Matthew was home, starting at that moment, pretty much!) John videotaped us meeting with Margie to do the agency paperwork (this was well before Matthew arrived). He taped that moment that both of us signed the adoption decree, which states that we are authorized representatives of Catholic Charities and that Matthew is a ward of Catholic Charities (they are his legal guardian), and as such, we have the power to make all decisions regarding Matthew (medical and otherwise). We have been advised to photocopy this document and carry it with us wherever we go (typically people just stick it in the diaper bag), in case we have to "prove" that Matthew is indeed ours (it's complicated because legally, we are not yet his parents...we are acting as his "guardians" on behalf of Catholic Charities). So that moment of signing the paperwork was a pretty big deal.

And even though the government may not recognize us as his official parents yet, in our eyes, he's already ours! Six months from Matthew Day, we will be able to have a formalization hearing that deems him legally our son according to the good old U.S. of A.

But enough of all that. Back to the good stuff.

The plane arrived at about 11:30, and we anxiously watched as people streamed down that ramp and through those double-doors. There was one wave of people (with a disappointing realization that the boys were not among these people!), then another, and then another. That final third wave of people included our boys and their wonderful escorts, Mr. Kim and Ms. Park (a married couple). I remember seeing Matthew for the first time...I was crying and smiling and had my hands to my mouth in disbelief that this moment was finally happening. Our son was finally HOME! And he had a big crowd of well-wishers (complete with Ava's big orange "WELCOME MATTHEW" sign!) to welcome him. Most of whom were crying as hard as I was.

I knew which kid he was (the bigger one! ha ha!). Margie walked over to the escorts and put her finger over Matthew's head and was pointing at him, saying, "This is Matthew. Kathleen and Jeff, this is your son!" But I already knew from the photos we had received. We have that first moment we saw him preserved in a photo (thanks, Kyla!)...the very first time we saw our son. The emotions are very difficult to describe, so I'll leave it at that.

Then came "the transfer." Matthew was stuck to Mr. Kim like glue and was unwilling to let go. I had to peel him off Mr. Kim and then took him into my arms. Matthew was crying and was definitely out of sorts. But oh so cute! He immediately found his thumb and then settled for a while, looking around at all the action and wondering "what the heck is all this commotion about? And why are these darn lights so bright?" He cried on and off the entire time (we lingered for about an hour before we left for our car). The other little boy, Aaron, was quiet as a mouse and looked very calm. But Jeff and I were able to empathize with what he must have been going through, so we didn't take offense that he didn't seem thrilled to see us and didn't necessarily want to go to us (and where did that nice Mr. Kim guy go, anyway, Matthew probably wondered). Whenever Matthew really revved up, I'd move him physically away from the crowd, patting his bottom and "ssshhhh"ing him and stroking his amazingly thick (almost adult-like!) hair. He has so much of it! Oh, and he seriously had about five layers of pajamas/clothing on; my mom recommended removing some of them, that maybe he was so fussy b/c he was hot. Sure enough, we peeled them off of him; he was all sweaty. Margie tells us that the Korean people like to bundle their babies up in several layers, routinely (not just for long plane rides)!

Mr. Kim spoke limited English and was able to tell me the last time Matthew had the bottle, how much he had, etc. I kept repeating to Mr. Kim "com-som-ee-dah" (my attempted phonetic version of "thank you" in Korean). I even hugged him, which I'm not sure was culturally appropriate to do or not but I simply couldn't resist. Mr. Kim and Ms. Park told us "Merry Christmas" and, after receiving the gifts we had brought for them, hugged the babies good-bye and went on to book a connecting flight (with the help of my father-in-law, Ray). (I got Mr. Kim a huge chocolate bar that said "Nothing says thank you like chocolate!" and an assortment of coffees/teas.) Our friend Jungwon (the other new mom who was there with her husband, also named Jeff, to meet their son Aaron (Matthew's travel buddy) translated for them, so they could hold a conversation with Ray and he could help them figure out all of this flight rebooking. They seemed like such nice people, and I was so happy that Matthew was in their care during his long trip to America. I was hoping that the rest of their trip would work out OK despite all of these delays.

At one point, Matthew got really fussy and I transferred him to Jeff's arms. He really took to this (maybe because he traveled with a man all the way over here!) and seemed to calm a little. Then I had him playing with the pendant I had around my neck (my friend Debby made it for me and it contains a photo of Matthew enclosed in a see through circular piece of glass). He really loved that.

After more photos and some final video moments, we prepared Matthew for the walk to the car. We departed the airport about 1 a.m. We said good-bye to my family, who we wouldn't see again for several weeks. Steve, Kyla, Jack, and my sister were heading right back--driving first to PA, to drop off my sister, then onto NJ and home sweet home--they left at 1 a.m., made it to PA by 5 a.m., then made it home to NJ by about 7...how AWESOME is my family????!! I will never, ever forget what they did; it meant so much to me.

We put his jacket on (that was interesting...the first of so many wrestling matches to come!) and put the hood up, and Jeff carried him all the way out to the car (we were unwilling to put him in the stroller just yet, as he clearly needed human contact during this transitional time). As I walked slightly behind Jeff, I couldn't help but think how adorable he looked...his little head bobbing on his daddy's shoulder, hood covering him. The stroller carried all of our crap, so it was still put to good use (shout-out here to the original chariot-owners, Kellie, Reed, Calvin, and Nolan).

And then we got to experience putting him into the carseat for the first time. Ever. I don't mean "the first time in a carseat in America." I mean, "the first time in a carseat...ever." The Koreans apparently do not use carseats! Oh, he SCREAMED! It was so comical--Jeff, Jason, and a few others, trying to adjust the seat so that it fit well to Matthew's physique. Kyla has the pictures to prove it...even though it wasn't as funny at the time! But as soon as the car started moving, he calmed down (to this day, he does well in the car).

We gave him the bottle in the car, and he loved it and it calmed him right down. He fell asleep before it was done. He slept the ENTIRE car ride home. We carried him straight up to the nursery. We had put a twin size air mattress on the floor next to his crib, so Jeff and he slept there for several hours. Although we had two, maybe three, somewhat "trying" days getting him used to sleeping in the crib, we did successfully transition him to crib sleeping very quickly. And he did well with transitioning to our time zone and to his new schedule. Within a week, we had him on schedule and sleeping through the night.

And he's been sleeping well ever since!

It was such an incredible experience. Every minute, every moment, is carved into my brain. All of it: The looks on people's faces, the tears streaming down my sister's and sister-in-law's faces, the loving comments people made, Ava's big orange sign, the coffee runs (especially for the NJ/PA family members!) at the airport, friends who sacrificed their work nights/school nights to videotape Matthew's arrival at oh-dark-hundred hours on a Monday night, family members who drove pretty much all day and night (round trip) to be here with us but still get back to their busy lives, Kyla taking a billion pictures of the "Arrivals" board to show that magic Flight 100 from San Fran, my mother saying over and over "he's such a miracle," and the list goes on. The outpouring of love and support, and the resulting emotions and deep sense of gratefulness that we feel, can never be adequately described in words, but here, I humbly try.

I, and the mother I have become, will never, ever forget that day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Matthew Day Part 2

So, where were we? We were four hours away from getting Matthew. It was 4:00 p.m., and the sun was setting over the Holiday Inn Dulles. I waxed poetic about the sunset. Yes, now I remember.

As we were checking in, we got a phone call from our caseworker, Margie, with an update on the boys (remember that Matthew and his little friend Aaron were being escorted by a husband and wife who were traveling ultimately to NJ to visit their son, who lives in the states). They had landed safely in San Francisco. Both babies did wonderfully well on the flight...attentive, calm, and well-behaved. (I thanked God that the escorts had such a pleasant experience on that long portion of the trip!) They were met at the gate by an employee of Catholic Charities, a Sister Ellen, whose job it is to meet babies and their escorts at the gate in San Francisco and usher them through customs, give the babies over to a cadre of volunteer parents (who give the escorts a break and bring the babies to a quiet place in the airport to eat and nap). Apparently, Sister Ellen not only ushers them through the whole process but she gets on the plane that they are boarding and if they don't have an aisle seat, she approaches passengers and asks them if they would kindly switch seats to allow these people with babies to have an aisle seat just in case the baby gets fussy. (And as my caseworker put so well, "Who would say no to a nun?")

I was so relieved that such good care is taken of our children, even in this intermediate, "almost there" leg of the trip!

Both babies slept in San Francisco...they were sleeping when Margie called us, actually! Again, relief washed over me, knowing that our son was getting the sleep he was going to need for this trip, which takes a toll on bodies both big and small, adopted or not! It's a long and tiring journey.

However, there was a slight problem: Sister Ellen reported that the crew inspecting the plane found that it had mechanical troubles, so they were calling in another plane from Los Angeles airport. The plane hadn't even left L.A. yet! So, translated, this meant DELAY. Probably several hours. It turns out that the ground crew had actually fixed the mechanical problem and cleared it for takeoff. However, the pilot staunchly refused to fly this particular plane. He or she insisted that another plane be brought in from L.A. in the interest of passenger safety. I was impressed by that pilot, and we were no longer bothered by the delay!

Although it was fairly likely that they would get out of San Fran that evening, just in case, Sister Ellen called and booked the escorts and babies a flight for the next morning out of San Francisco. Bases were covered just in case.

And there was an additional problem: The escorts would now miss their connecting flight to JFK to meet their son. Their son was very worried about them and had been in contact with our agency. Margie asked that we appoint one of our family members to help the escorts get another flight to JFK, as they spoke only limited English. My father in law, Ray, agreed to do this (and he and Jeff's brother Jason did a great job of getting them where they needed to go, with the help of some airport personnel who they alerted to the problem before the plane even hit the ground).

I immediately called my brother on his cell phone (he was driving from NJ with his wife and youngest child Jack--Ava, their oldest, was staying home in NJ with her grandparents--again, the lengths that our loved ones went to be there with us were staggering, humbling, amazing). And then I called my sister, who wasn't going to be able to make it but she's the one who I always call to vent to, to keep in the loop, just because (I was disappointed she couldn't be there but I TOTALLY got it...she's got two little girls and both her and Brent work). It was just natural to call her and let her know what was going on. Plus she was dying to be there so I wanted to make her feel part of all this.

So in we went to the hotel to check in. Jeff ran out to the drugstore to buy me some saline and a contact lens case, just in case we needed to stay over (we'd share the room with my parents, or get another room and share it with my brother and Kyla...unknown at this point).

Already the adrenaline was pumping, and now I was not only nervous about meeting Matthew and the enormity of it all (including becoming a parent in public at a major suburban airport) but I was also nervous about the now-unknown, still-to-be-determined situation with Matthew's flight from San Fran.

They said they'd keep us in the loop. In the meantime, we had plenty of time to kill. No sense going to the airport when we didn't even know if their flight would be coming in that night. Off we went to the Irish pub in the Holiday Inn's lobby, for dinner. Nothing like nachos and burgers and beer to calm the nerves.

All along, Margie kept calling us and keeping us apprised of the situation. By about 6:00, she told us that they WOULD be coming in this evening, but it wouldn't be till about 11:30 p.m.

So back we went to the room. Which was small and was now attempting to accommodate seven people (me, Jeff, my mom, my dad, Jeff's mom, Jeff's dad, and Jeff's brother Jay). We decided to move the "waiting party" into the lobby where there were couches and chairs and tables and a TV. Jeff's dad was constantly monitoring the flight status--showing me the little plane icon indicating where exactly Matthew was at that moment. I can still see Jeff and Jay and Ray huddled around Ray's laptop, anxiously studying the flight information. So much love and anxiety for one little boy from Korea! We were so excited to have him finally coming home.

At this point, the only certain thing we knew was that Steve and Kyla and Jack were almost there. They had called to say they were really close and would be there in a couple of minutes. They hadn't yet decided if they would stay overnight or turn right around and make the trip back home.

I have to pause here...time for dinner. Matthew is sleeping peacefully, which means that Jeff and I get to enjoy our salmon, jasmine rice, and steamed green beans (and wine!) sans a crying child...ah, the little things...

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Story of Matthew Day: December 14 (Part 1)

I have decided to tell the story of Matthew Day in several smaller parts, kind of like a serial publication or a multi-chapter novelette. So sit back and enjoy this first part of a series of, let's just say, several. I would say a nice, even three, but knowing me, it won't be nice, or even "even" or just "three"! I'm not sure how many parts this will truly be...reliving this day brings up such strong emotions--admittedly overpowering at times--so bear with me, and just enjoy these next couple of posts! Even now, I struggle at times to make sense of it all...even the most intense joy, the most incredible beauty, the most powerful dreams realized, and the firmest of fellowship can be fraught with complex and difficult-to-decipher emotions, feelings, and senses. I am feeling all of that as I write this, and as I struggle to sift through.this recounting of a moment that instantly made me and Jeff (we think) the luckiest people on the planet...and made Matthew the most beautiful baby in the world.

Matthew came on a Monday.

My parents drove down from PA on Sunday afternoon and stayed over our house just that one night (Sunday to Monday).

The night before he came home to us, I barely slept. How can you sleep when your life is about to change forever? Over the past several months, I had become accustomed to wandering ghostlike around our dark, quiet house at ridiculously late (or early!) hours while everyone else was sleeping soundly. I would read, do crossword puzzles, write in my journal or here in my blog, do Facebook, check email, create photo albums in Shutterfly, and on goes the list. My brain simply would not turn off at night. So, on the night of Sunday, December 13, 2009, I did it one last time. (Fast forward briefly here: I haven't had trouble sleeping since!)

And then, bam, the day was here. Cool and partly cloudy here in Maryland, a typical winter day...it was hard to believe that our life was about to change forever. That we were about to become parents at last. That the dream we had held for so long (cheesy as it sounds) would finally come true. That we would drive to Dulles Airport as a couple--a family of 2--and drive away from Dulles as a trio--a family of 3. Baby in the backseat. Completely and utterly dependent on...us? Relying on...us?...for his every need? Part of me wanted to run away and hide. The other part wanted to jump into the sky to get him down to us all the quicker.

Yeah, the best word I can use to describe the day of December 14 would be surreal.

We wanted to keep things small, so we invited only family to come to the airport with us (except for our friends Donna, John, and Caitlyn, who agreed to serve as our photographers/videographers--Donna and John have adopted four children from Korea, all mostly grown now, and Caitlyn is their youngest--she is 14). We knew that the likelihood of ALL of our immediate family being able to make it was slim, with such short notice. Well, only a couple of people didn't make it (for perfectly good reasons); our family went WAY out of their way to be there for us and for Matthew. We were truly and deeply touched. More on that later, I promise. We have one INCREDIBLE family, that's all I'll say for now.

Per our agency's strong recommendation, we asked my family members (they are the out-of-towners; Jeff's family lives locally, in the Manassas, VA, area--very close to Dulles Airport) to book rooms at a nearby hotel on Monday night rather than staying with us. This was very, very difficult for us to do, knowing that my family members, in particular, were driving from 4 hours away (NJ and PA), with only 6 days' notice. And my brother and his wife with 3-month-old Jack in tow!

They were all taking time out from their busy lives--at the very last minute--to be with us on a very special day. It was asking a lot for them to be there, and then to tell them they couldn't stay with us was...well, just very hard. I felt like the coldest, most callous, most ungrateful person! And on top of that, our agency explained that no one should be holding, feeding, or changing Matthew but us. No passing him around from person to person at the airport. No crowding him, no cuddling him, no kissing him. He must start learning, immediately, who Mom and Dad are--and that we will never, ever go away. Keep the welcome wagon warm but calm. He's already going to be startled by the harsh lighting of the airport and the crowds and the busy-ness of it all.

I cannot even tell you how much all of this went against the person who I inherently am. Jeff, too. But we honored our agency's request, knowing that they have done this a million times and their advice really was in Matthew's best interests. We trusted them. My family was so respectful and kept a decent physical distance (but I know they were dying to squeeze him and kiss him, hold him and love him!). But wait a minute, I'm getting ahead of myself here...I'm going chronological, and so he's not even technically here yet!

Matthew's plane was scheduled to arrive at 8:11 p.m., so we left Olney (which is about an hour from Dulles without traffic) at about 3:00. My parents took pictures of us getting into the car, and of the four of us at the front door, Jeff and I embarking on our path to parenthood (scrambling to make sure we had everything we needed in the diaper bag!). After so much had gone wrong in our life during the past 3 difficult years, finally something was going right! Hope was no longer being yanked from under our feet just when we thought it was safe to exhale. It was Matthew's "gotcha day" (which we are calling Matthew Day from here on in)...and we were finally about to exhale.

My parents had booked a room at the Holiday Inn Dulles, and we pulled into the parking lot at about 4:00 or shortly thereafter. A brilliant sunset streaked the clouds blood red across the sky over top of the hotel's roof. Just your regular run-of-the-mill hotel, backed by one breathtaking display of beauty. How perfectly poised the irony! How cleverly captured the contrast: ordinary vs. extraordinary. A dance of two extremes, brought together. An ordinary day in Dulles, VA--but a far from ordinary day in the lives of two people from Olney, MD, and one little boy from Korea.
 
In just 4 hours, we would finally hold our son Matthew in our arms for the first time. It was surreal--for months, we had only five photos. The same five photos (as I've mentioned in previous posts) hanging throughout our house, in various frames, in varying sizes.

After months of having only photos, in just 4 hours, we would have HIM.

(to be continued)