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Archive for the ‘Love, Loss & Laughter’ Category

In a blog I wrote prior to my Father’s Day post, I touched on a recent vacation my family took to visit The Littlest E’s Grandpa and Nana.  While we were in Washington State, The Littlest E met some extended family for the first time.  Extended family covers a lot of territory, part of that being the family you marry into.  When my husband, Tom, and I married, my extended family increased substantially.  Tom’s dad and stepmother, sister and brother-in-law all became family.  I also became family with Tom’s 3 stepbrothers and 2 stepsisters, and their respective spouses and children.

I’ll always remember our wedding weekend at the end of September 2003.  I was very nervous about meeting the “Avery clan” (Tom’s steps), four of who decided to make the trip to our wedding.  The rehearsal dinner was a barbecue organized by my future in-laws, as well as all my future mother-in-law’s grown children.  Now, Tom didn’t grow up with his stepsiblings, but their families knew each other and they were friends when they were little.  I had never met any of them before and there they were welcoming me into the fold with open arms and open hearts.  It was a glorious weekend all around and what made it that much more special was the warm embrace both Tom and I felt from his, and now my, extended family.

If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that our son, The Littlest E, is originally from Ethiopia and we brought him home with us in August 2010.  I know this is a needless concern, but sometimes I wonder if having just the three of us as a family will be enough, as The Littlest E gets older.  My husband and I haven’t decided on whether we plan to adopt another child.  We probably won’t make that decision any time soon.  For one, we are having too much fun being parents to our son and enjoy the family dynamic we have created together.  For another, we don’t have the square footage in our house to accommodate another child.  Lastly, we don’t know if The Littlest E will even want another sibling.  What we do know is we have lots of extended family that love our little boy.

The Washington crew bestowed that same welcome and love they gave me onto The Littlest E.  They all welcomed and embraced him without question, without judgment, and without hesitation.  This warm reception he received has only made his and our world a larger place.  We’ve formed even tighter bonds with my husband’s stepsiblings and some of their kids.  When we were boating at Gig Harbor with the Avery gang, one of The Littlest E’s cousins is 7 yrs old and his parents owned the boat.  He knew his way around the boat since he’d been boating from the time he was 18 months old and he was extremely helpful in helping our almost 3-year old get his sea legs.  They were so cute together.

Tom also has extended family from my side.  My brother is married and he and his wife have two children and I have sister who has a son.  There is ample family to go around.  Even though there’s a big age difference with my brother’s kids, they love The Littlest E and it’s wonderful to watch them play together when we visit.  My nephew is 5′ 9″ and The Littlest E is 3′ 3″.  It’s a kick watching the two of them play basketball.  My niece is so loving and warm toward her little cousin.  My sister’s son is Jamaican American, and without fully realizing it, The Littlest E has a kinship with him that is truly special and on a deep level.

What adds icing to this particular family cake is that both sides of our families are multi-ethnic.  Cumulatively, we represent part of the melting pot that is America (Caucasian American, Jamaican American, African American and Indian American) and we are fortunate for that.  Mind you, this is not necessary to have if you are adopting a child from another race or culture.  It’s an added bonus that my sister’s son is Jamaican American.  When we Skype with my sister and nephew, our son sees another family that looks like his (a white mom and a black son).  Identification is important for The Littlest E and also knowing he’s not the only child in the world with parents of a different color.

I guess what I’m really writing about is love, love and gratitude.  It was indescribably nice and wonderful to have the visit we had when we went to Washington.  It’s a blessing to have loving extended family.  I’m filled with gratitude that should (God forbid) anything happen to Tom and me, The Littlest E has enough family surrounding him to love him through life.

Images: Melanie Elliott

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As a child, my family and I spent part of our winters and summers with Grandma Sara and Grandpa Jack (my mom’s folks) at their home in Windsor Gardens near Denver, Colorado.  I have wonderful memories of them.  At night, Grandma Sara used to tuck me into the roll out bed and tickle my forehead with her beautifully manicured nails while singing lullabies as I drifted off into slumber.  I loved watching Grandpa Jack clean his dentures and shave with his electric razor, pretending to do the same while watching him.  I stood there, transfixed, as he splashed Lilac Vegetal on his face after he finished shaving.  My grandparents doted on us and loved my brother, sister and me.  We loved them right back.  Our vacations with them were great.  We left their home, full, loved and happy.

There’s a special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.  What is it?  My father jokes that the bond is there because each has a common enemy.  I love being the parent now and watching my 2 ½ year old son interact with his grandparents.  He lights up every time my husband or I mention any of them.

It’s amusing.  Some grandparents want to be called specific names.  My dad wanted to be called Papa, but The Littlest E calls him Bubba.  Somehow our son came up with the name Mamama for my mom.  She’s called Grandma by her other grandchildren, and my stepfather has been deemed Poppy.  I don’t think any of my folks care what they’re called; they’re all happy my husband and I have a child.  My in-laws are Grandpa and Nana.  The Littlest E has a play phone and frequently calls his grandparents to say “Hi” and ask them “You okay?”  The love emanating from those pretend calls warm my heart.

When we brought The Littlest E home from Ethiopia, it was of utmost importance to establish attachment as soon as possible.  Only my husband and I, and the grandparents were allowed to hold our son those first couple of months we were home.   This was to ensure that our son would know my husband and I were his “go to” people and not be confused.  We spaced out the grandparent visits so as to not overwhelm our new son.  And let me tell you, it’s difficult to describe in words the wondrousness of those first visits, especially for my father-in-law.  He has step-grandchildren whom he loves, but The Littlest E is his first (and probably only) grandson.

Both of my parents live in Northern California and we are able to visit more frequently with them, than with my in-laws who live in Washington State; however, The Littlest E Skypes with his grandparents fairly often.  Whenever we’re near the computer he’ll ask to “kype” with one of them.  Whether it’s an in person visit, or a Skype chat the grandparents give The Littlest E their undivided attention, waiting to hear what he says or does next.  It’s the best.

My mom visited us recently and had a terrific time spending time with my brother’s kids who are 12 and 9, and our son.  The Littlest E showed Mamama his toys; they played together, joked together, read together.  He has a mini kitchen set out on our patio and he cooked for her.  They had good, quality visits, and she doted on him.  I asked my mom about the bond she has with her grandchildren and she said it’s like having all the benefits of being a parent without the responsibility.  She said it’s pure joy.  The Littlest E’s Mamama participates in his life, but she is not the parent, which, in some ways, allows her more freedom for lack of a better word.

I watched the two of them together and they were both fully in the present, each completely involved with the other.  It’s total and absolute devotion.  My in-laws are the same.  I see the joy in each grandparent when they’ve spent any amount of time with our son, the amazement at his growth and development and at witnessing the unfolding of his personality and character.  What is this special bond between grandparents and grandchildren?  It’s unconditional love.

Image: cantaloupe99

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My husband’s mom died eighteen years ago from cancer.  We have a wonderful picture of her in our hallway outside The Littlest E’s room.  In the photo, Grandma Jane, as we call her, is standing outside near a tree.  She’s smiling, appears healthy and radiates life and happiness.  If I’m holding him, we often say Hi to Grandma Jane as we walk by her photo.  The other day he asked if we could Skype with her.  My heart filled with sorrow as I replied, “No, Sweetie, we can’t Skype with Grandma Jane.  We can only see her in pictures.”  I proceeded to show him another picture of her.  I didn’t mention she died, wasn’t at all sure if I should say anything about death.  I wanted to call my husband to ask his advice, but he was at work and I didn’t want bother him, especially with something like this.

I was filled with so many questions.  Was it okay to say to my two year old that Grandma Jane had died?  How should I bring up the topic?  What should I say?  Luckily, that day we were going to the parenting class I take at Burbank Adult School, and this was a perfect topic to bring up during our discussion time.  It made me feel sad knowing our son would never see his grandmother in person.  I, too, have never met her, and my husband talks about how much she would have loved The Littlest E.

During our class discussion, I brought up the topic of death.  I told our teacher, Karin Wright, what transpired between my son and me.  She let me know how I reacted was fine, and that it was also okay to say Grandma Jane died.  I had been afraid to use that word.  She said he’s too young to understand what that means, but it’s okay to talk about it.  She advised to never say that someone who died is sleeping or that they’ve gone away.  She conveyed that wording death in such a way might cause a child to be afraid of going to sleep or be afraid of anyone leaving, which made sense to me.

She went on to explain that as our little ones get older, we could use the analogy that the body is like a house.  When a person is alive, it’s like the house is full of people, the lights are on and there’s a lot of activity occurring.  When someone dies, his or her house is empty and the lights are off.  Great example.  The Littlest E is too young to comprehend this parallel, but when he’s old enough, I will definitely use it.

After class, when The Littlest E and I were back home, I showed him the photo of Grandma Jane again and said she died and is no longer with us.  It felt strange saying those words, but I knew it was good to get it out in the open.  As a parent, I want to be emotionally accessible to my son and that may mean talking about difficult subjects.

Yesterday, he asked to see Grandma Jane’s photo and, again, wanted to know if we could Skype with her or call her on the phone.  I responded the way I did above.  He wasn’t quite sure what I was talking about, but knew we could only see Grandma Jane in pictures.  He said, “That’s sad.”  I said, “Yes, it is sad.  But, see her picture?  She’s happy in the picture.  She’s beautiful.”  Our family will eventually have to deal with death first hand, along with questions about death such as where we go when we die.  This brief conversation The Littlest E and I had was but a beginning.

Image: AlicePopkorn (Cornelia Kopp)

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Around Thanksgiving I think about the things for which I am grateful.  We are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head, food on our plates, and heat for when it’s cold.  We have loving family and friends; we have our son and enjoy a nice life.  I am especially thankful for my wonderful husband who is the love of my life and an amazing father to our son, The Littlest E.  I sometimes get so caught up in my daily tasks as a wife and mother that I overlook how important my husband is to me and to our lives, and how much he contributes on a daily basis.

He’s a stand up guy, a caring, loving, compassionate, responsible, intelligent, giving (can’t forget handsome), and incredible man.  He’s also a true partner.  Throughout our marriage we’ve been a team.  When we were going through all of the infertility stuff, the IVFs, acupuncture, shots (which he kindly gave me because I was too chicken), endless doctor appointments, we were in it together.  It all was a team effort.  With each miscarriage, he was devastated as well.  More than anything, he wanted to be a father and for quite awhile, that seemed to be an impossible dream.

Well, that dream finally became a reality.  After we received our referral for our son, two of my friends and my Mom threw us a baby shower.  They didn’t throw it just for me, but for Tom, too.  That baby shower was a celebration for both of us.  It was a joyous occasion.

We brought our son home with us from Ethiopia last year.  We decided I would stay home with him and that decision wasn’t an easy one for my husband to make.  When Tom leaves for work each day, I know deep down he wishes he were here with our son.  When he is home with us, OMG, The Littlest E loves, loves, loves his Daddy, and visa versa.

Our son is so eager to see his Daddy when he comes home that it’s difficult for The Littlest E to give his Daddy any rest after a hard day’s work because he wants to play.  Tom is an awesome hands-on dad.  My heart fills up with so much love when I see the two of them together, reading books, making forts, playing with stickers, and just hanging out.  Father and son, there’s nothing like it.  He changes diapers, gives The Littlest E his nightly bath, he does “down time” with him before bed, and they sometimes do things together on the weekends when I need a bit of a break.  He’s not the kind of husband or father that leaves everything in my lap.  He plays an equal role in our decision-making when it comes to our family and The Littlest E.

This Thanksgiving, I’m particularly thankful for my husband.  When I see how he looks at our son, the love that emanates from him, when I watch him teach, guide and comfort our son, I think how blessed we are to be together.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Image: Melanie Elliott

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This past Halloween, was our two-year old son’s first trick or treat complete with dragon costume and decorated candy bag.  Last year, The Littlest E had only been home with us from Ethiopia three months and he was fifteen months old.  We stayed home with family and he was fast asleep before any trick or treaters came to our house.  For years we listened for our doorbell to ring and opened it to see the excited children all costumed up eagerly awaiting their treat.  They were such adorable kids with cute costumes.  Little hands outstretched hoping for that piece of delicious chocolate and happy faces once they possessed their goodies.  Halloween can be a night of innocence, youth and joy.

Finally this year, after adopting our son, it was our turn to be the family going trick or treating and The Littlest E loved it.  We went to a party given by friends who have a son The Littlest E’s age and an infant daughter.  There were other families there all celebrating this night of adventure and wonder.  Most of the kids were too stimulated to eat any dinner.  It was awesome watching them play with one another in their costumes, a dragon with a Star Wars character, a ladybug with a Harley Davidson dude.

It was time for the big moment – trick or treating.  We’d previously explained to our son what we’d be doing that night, and so it began.  It was past The Littlest E’s bedtime, but when asked if he wanted to go home, he replied a definitive “No.”  Four families, including ours, stuck together as we walked from house to house.  We had great weather, not too cold, just right for an evening stroll.  Tom, my husband, and I took turns carrying our dragon (our son’s preferred mode of transport) up the walkways of each home.  It was precious hearing the words “trick or treat” or “Happy Halloween” sweetly coming his mouth.  After a couple of houses, he got the hang of it and asked, “more trick or treat?”  He was so proud after each drop of candy into his bag.

Halloween can also be a night of community.  People open up their homes to, in many cases, hordes of children, neighbors meet neighbors and for a brief period of time, there’s a common purpose for everyone – the happiness of the children.  All ages opened their doors that night, teenagers, young couples, parents of possibly older kids, and grandparents.  There was one house where there was a woman, a caregiver and an elderly woman in a wheelchair all waiting.  The woman in the wheelchair just sat and watched the kids come and go, her way of participating.  I’m sure seeing those happy faces did wonders for her.

Some houses were more spirited than others, with lights, creeping mist, fake cobwebs, tombstones, witches, floating ghosts and ghouls.  Toward the end of our trip around the block we stopped at an eerily lit and spookily decorated home.  Emanating from the window was theme music from The X-Files.  Our children were oblivious to any of this and were only interested in their next morsel.  I commented on the choice of music and heard one of the other dads say, “Yes, it’s the X-Files, Preschool Years.  They’re out there but they won’t go to bed.”

The evening was winding down, and our son was definitely ready for bed.  He enjoyed himself on his first Halloween.  He wasn’t running from house to house like some of his friends, but stuck close to Mommy and Daddy.  Not a bad first outing with his bag filled with goodies.  We said our goodbyes to everyone and thanked our hosts.  It was a memorable night filled with energetic toddlers, good friends, great company and lots of candy.  Time is fleeting and before we know it, our son will be a teenager and not want to be with his parents on this day.  I’m grateful that, for our first trick or treat, it was a perfect evening.

P.S.  My husband and I strategized the candy eating.  We’d allow The Littlest E to pick from his bag one piece a day (after we’d removed all candy we deemed too old for him to eat yet).  Much to our surprise, our little dragon does not have a sweet tooth!  This year we’re safe.  I’m sure that’ll change next year.

Image: joshparent

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I take a parenting class with our son, The Littlest E.  It’s like a toddler & me class, there’s individual play and circle time.  Then four moms stay back to watch all the kids while the other moms go into a discussion.  During one discussion, our teacher posed a question to all of us; if you had only one word to describe your experience parenting, what would it be?

Before I answer the question, I’ll give you a little back-story as to why I chose my word.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know my husband and I spent a couple of years trying to conceive a child through various means: natural, medical and Eastern medicine.  It was a heartbreaking roller coaster.  We also spent a number of years hoping to adopt a baby from China.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, that process had slowed to a trickle.

It seemed like whatever we tried, it wasn’t working.  My age was one of the factors in sustaining a pregnancy, so we were too old.  Our dossier in China was one of thousands and we were near the bottom of the pile, so we were behind the eight ball with that.  It often appeared as if parenting wasn’t in the cards for us.  We never gave up hope because we really wanted to be parents.

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn.  In August 2009, we began the process to adopt a baby boy from Ethiopia and on April 9, 2010, we received a referral for our son.  It took 6½ years, but we finally had a son!  We held The Littlest E for the first time on August 2, 2010, and have been parents ever since.

So, when asked for a word to describe my experience parenting, the choice was easy:

A W E S O M E

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines awesome as:

“1. expressive of awe, 2a: inspiring awe, b: terrific, extraordinary”

As challenging as being a parent is, not a day goes by where I’m not filled with gratitude and awe that I get to be a mom.  The gift of adoption has allowed me to fulfill that lifelong dream and I absolutely love it!  Even in the hardest of days, like when The Littlest E is extremely tired and fussy after not sleeping well, or when he’s having a day, or when he’s sick, it’s still awesome.

It’s also awesome to try to look at life through his eyes.  Everything is new to him, and he’s fully present and in the moment.  There’s such discovery, especially now when he’s in the midst of a language explosion.  It’s wonderful watching his wheels turn as he figures out what to say, and says it; it’s awe-inspiring.

I’m not sure if my word would be the same had my path to parenting taken another route.  I’ll never know.  Parenting can be demanding, taxing, difficult, incredible, miraculous and awesome.  Which word would you choose?

Image: Melanie Elliott

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I recently went to my OB for an exam and it was the first time in many years that I felt good about being there.  In an earlier blog, I mentioned that my husband and I tried assisted reproductive technology (ART) to build our family.  While going through the major ups and downs associated with infertility, the last place I felt comfortable was my OB’s waiting room looking at all of the pregnant women, wishing I were in their shoes.

We used ART for over 2 years and did 3 IVFs, 2 IUIs and 1 FET during that period.  Anyone who’s had infertility issues and has used ART to try to conceive knows how crazy the process is.  I got pregnant 2 times from the IVFs, and each of those pregnancies was a chemical pregnancy.  I was pregnant, but there was nothing viable.  Literally, one minute you’re pregnant, and the next you miscarry.  It was miserable and heartbreaking.

So, I dreaded this yearly appointment and would sit in the waiting room green with envy trying not to stare at the glowing mothers-to-be.  It was difficult to keep from crying.  I love my OB, and once in the exam room, would joke with her about my situation, finding the humor in having ½ a uterus and older eggs.  But deep down, it hurt to be there.  Luckily, I only saw her once a year.

After 2½ years of ART, my husband and I stopped all medical, except for acupuncture (which I had been doing from the beginning).  During those next 2 years, against all medical odds for both of us, I got pregnant naturally, twice.  One was another devastating chemical pregnancy.  Then, in 2008, my numbers kept going up.  This pregnancy seemed to be sticking.  We were thrilled and petrified to finally be the expectant parents in the OB’s waiting room.  It’s like we graduated into new pregnancy territory.  I was so happy, yet it felt like the other shoe was going to drop.  This was our longest pregnancy, 7 weeks, but there was no heartbeat.  Another miscarriage, my final miscarriage was on its way.

I surrendered the idea of a full term pregnancy many times throughout our trying to conceive journey, but kept up hope.  This last miscarriage was it for us.  At home one morning, I got on my knees and asked God, or Spirit of the Universe, whatever is out there, to please show me how I could best serve as a parent.  With that final letting go came a dramatic shift in my outlook.  I knew in my gut and in my heart that it would all be okay.  My husband and I had already started the adoption process and I had my answer.  We would be parents through adoption.  I was at peace knowing that.

Many of my friends were successful with ART and had their children in a multitude of ways.  Their dreams also came true.  I always say, if you want to be a parent, it’ll happen, just maybe not in the way you’ve envisioned it.

I recently wrote about reflections on family, in celebration of our year anniversary with our son, The Littlest E.  At this last OB appointment, my husband and son happened to be with me.  We all sat in the waiting room together – a complete family.  The pregnant moms looked at us, at The Littlest E, and got to see what a 2 year old looks like, their future.  I even had conversations with a couple of them.  You see, I’m a mom, too.  I’m a MOM.  No longer do I look at pregnant women wanting to be them.

During my exam, I proudly showed my OB pictures of The Littlest E.  She was happy for me.  I know I will never be pregnant again and it doesn’t matter anymore.  The grief is gone.  I came to this appointment a cheerful and content woman, and left the same way, with my family by my side.  I found a joyous life after infertility.

Image: Liber (the poet)

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