The Unexpected

After all of the dust settled around our decision to adopt, and to adopt our daughter, specifically, the lovely, helpful, generous, understanding folks at our agency told us a few things. And one of them was:

“Don’t expect everything to go completely smoothly. Expect bumps in the road and prepare for them.”

Now, I am probably what you’d call an optimistic realist. I try to look on the bright side, but I completely “got” what they were saying: no two adoptions are alike (much like no two pregnancies) but there are  the general good and bad you can be on the look-out for. So while my heart ached each time the Polar Vortex slowed down delivery of a document or closed a government office (sometimes TWICE) I got it. I understood. I hadn’t expected the crappiest winter the Northeast has seen in FOREVER the year I am trying to bring my child home, yeah, but  like they said: expect it.

But there’s really so much more I didn’t expect:

I didn’t expect to love my husband even more, but I do.

I didn’t expect to become this floppy, public-crying, sack of heart, but I am.

I didn’t expect to randomly wonder if Yu Yu had a lunch that she liked, or fought with a friend today, or felt lonely for no reason at all.

I didn’t expect to have dreams about my daughter, such vivid, detailed dreams, that she may as well have been sitting in front of me, then waking up, knowing that particular space in my heart was still waiting for a Yu-shaped piece.

One of the truly wonderful things I didn’t expect: the people. The other parents, the agency employees, the volunteers. The moms. Oh, the adoptive moms. I have hugged and cried with so many women I may have nothing in common with: except, except, except, our children are waiting on the other side of the world for us. There is a shorthand that goes beyond all of the acronym-laden “adoption-ese” that creates a quick connection

And here’s the thing. I generally like people, and I love more than a good handful. But most of these people are family or friends I’ve known forever, who lives, beliefs, choices, values, political leanings, families, tastes in pop culture (or lack thereof) are similar to mine. We laugh at the same YouTube videos (well, usually). We drink the same wines. We love the same restaurants. And we can tell that story about that time we did that thing, and it’s always, always hilarious.

Here’s a secret I learned, the most unexpected thing about this journey for me: it’s really easy to like people who are like you! Duh, right? But we all do it. I mean, life’s hard enough right? Why surround yourself with people you cannot be harmonious with?

I am not suggesting that just because a random person I meet is adopting they are suddenly going to be my new bestie. I have besties, and they are the best. What I am struggling to say is, adoption is the chance I get to see inside their hearts, past all of the other BS. I speak their language, so there’s no need to fear them, or dislike them, or generalize about a particular person, even if everything else about them is fully different than me.

And I am really grateful for that chance. For the chance to take my own blinders off, and maybe come towards people in a different way than I would have, if I had met them in a different context. It’s a bit embarrassing, actually, to admit this, to say, “Yep, I totally generalize about large swaths of the population, and even if I am not 100% about 100% of them, life’s not that simple, ‘kay?” This is a cause of some chagrin from this flaming liberal, I’ll admit it.

My daughter is helping me be a better, more thoughtful, more open-minded person, before I have even met her.

I didn’t expect that.

Painting Day

After seeing my wife’s eloquent posts, I thought I would throw my hat into the ring and add to our journey to Yu Yu.  Our lives are usually pretty busy, with my wife being a part of an all-women’s choir, working a full-time job while starting up a catering business, running half marathons and me taking care of…well I have done…hmmm, I am sure I do something besides my job.  No wait, I got it, I do take banjo lessons, I run 5ks, and I have made a very feeble attempt to brew my own beer.  Anyway, the point is, we lead very busy lives, and we are still trying to manage to fit in all of the things we need to do on our road to Yu. So, the other day, I sat down, opened up an Excel spreadsheet and took an inventory of all the things we need to do to our house, home and hearts to prepare our lives for the arrival of our precious little one.  I am sure there are tons of things I have overlooked, but as I write this, I think I got the big stuff accounted for (checkout nearby schools, clean out rooms, get rid of clutter and painting and readying her bedroom).  Now I wouldn’t consider myself a handyman; my idea of a home improvement project is finding a better bottle opener for guests, but ever since I met my wife, and then became her husband, I have continually tried to improve myself. And now that I am about to become a Dad, I would like to improve myself even further.

So I thought I would start off on the easy end of handy work…painting our daughter’s bedroom. I’ll worry about insulation, installing stairway carpets and dryers for another time.  So my wife and I headed to Home Depot to look for paint and painting supplies.  And when we got there….so…many….colors.

So, here’s another thing about me: I don’t make decisions quickly.  As an example, when we needed a new couch, I spent endless hours trolling the net trying to find the exact right couch on the most lucrative sale with the most stellar reviews for comfort and style.  One of the few times that I have made a decision in under a day was the day my wife showed me our daughter’s profile on Rainbow Kids, and said “What do you think about her?” And I just knew. Funny how easy some of the big decisions wind up being the easiest to make. A couch took six months, a daughter, just the instant it took  to touch my heart.

Anyway, I digress; back to painting.  So, we are going through the color pallets, and we narrowed it down to a yellow shade (one of the things we know about Yu Yu is her favorite color is yellow). But who knew there could be so many shades and variations of one hue?  After a bit of back and forth, we settled on a Cornbread Yellow and a Buckwheat gray which is a little funny when you think about it because my wife has a gluten allergy and could not eat either foods the colors are named after (ok, well I find that funny).

So, now we had the paint (check), the materials (check), now all we had to do is find the time.  That time was this past weekend, the place, was Yu Yu’s future bedroom.  It took me a little while  to get into the painting groove; I can’t say I am the most graceful with a roller, but I will say that it turned out nicer than I expected.  Our cat (“Bailey”, or as I usually call her “Kitty”) even joined in by stepping in a small puddle of paint and then proceeded to march around the house in a FAMILY CIRCUS way that I could trace her footsteps. Colleen and I called her Cornbread Paw the rest of the day and had a good laugh about that the rest of the weekend.  We were able to knock out both coats of paint and clean up the remaining items we took out of the room.

So that was our first big project on the road to Yu. I am sure there are more ahead, but like I said before…baby steps.  There is nothing more satisfying than a job well done, other than doing a well done job with the one you love.  I cherish these small moments, because that is where the good life lies.  I don’t know what kind of father I will be, but I am excited to find out as I continue to stretch myself in directions that I never expected.  I’ll keep you posted, now where is that dryer that needs fixing?

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Crying at the University Club

So, I don’t really do the crying-in-public thing. Maybe it’s my stoic Midwestern family, or my early childhood dealings with bullies (“Never let ’em see you cry!”) but if I gotta do it, it’s alone or in the privately, in the arms of someone I really trust and love.

Yeah, well, anyone who is reading this and is a public crier, feel free to mock me (I’ll probably cry). Something has happened to me after we saw our daughter’s photo. A friend of mine likes to tell me: “You gained a mother’s heart”. She’s probably on to something. 

Four very whirlwind days after we saw Yu Yu’s photo for the very first time, I was riding an elevator in the posh University Club in Midtown, up towards a special event on the Asia Program hosted by our adoption agency. This is the kind of place where my cell phone, not in use but clutched in my hand, got a reprimand from an intimidating guy with a $3000 suit and bushy eyebrows who rode the elevator with us. Well then. 

But things changed the minute we walked into the event space. Steve and I clutch each other’s sweaty hands, got ourselves a bracing drink, and went to look for Wendy, a director from our agency who had invited us to the event since I work right around the corner (luck…we have been so lucky, and it keeps happening).

We found Wendy and shook her hand, smiles all around. Then she turned to introduce us to a very very special person. Her name’s Pat and she’s an integral part of the Super Kids charity ( Pat is a physical therapist who traveled, as she has done so often, to many orphanages all over China last summer, talking to the kids, assessing their needs, and advocating for them when she returned to the States. One of those kids was our kiddo, Yu Yu. 

How to describe Pat? She’s someone you hug rather than shake hands with. She’s a small person with a huge heart that is so easy to see, and she wears it, strong and warm and beating, right on her sleeve. She is a warrior of kindness, a champion of children. When I engulfed her in a hug, after only exchanging names, right there in this posh place and trying not to spill my red wine on her, I realized something:

I was fighting back tears. I was ALMOST crying in public. Uh-oh. 

Steve was already teary-eyed. He’s my heart, the soft buffer to some of the sharp edges I show to the world, via snark and sarcasm. He smiled a little when he saw my tears. 

“I’m not crying!” I exclaimed, and everyone laughed. I wasn’t QUITE. Not yet. 

Then Pat and Wendy wanted to introduce me to their law intern, Chelsea, who had taken the trip to China with Pat and the Super Kids’ volunteers in summer 2013. Chelsea knew that Yu Yu’s parents would be at the event, but hadn’t met us yet. 

Pat walked us over to the sign-in table, where Chelsea sat, a tall young woman with a cloud of curly auburn hair. 

“Chelsea, this is Steve and Colleen, they are -” That’s all Pat got out. 

“You guys are adopting Shayla! (The agency’s “code name” for Yu Yu) She stood up, and began sobbing. I know she said a few other things, but that’s when I really lost it. I started sobbing too, and we hugged over the check-in table, probably dripping our tears all over the pamphlets and information set so neatly up. 

And that’s it really: I would never have called my life tidy, myself tidy. But I definitely feel myself letting go of little things, little expectations of my “public” self: there’s no “right” way to behave or look or say. 

Sometimes, you just need to be. And yes, I am crying as I write this post. 

In the moment. In the messy, emotional, genuine moment. It’s okay to show yourself fully. I’m learning this, in my newly-minted mother’s heart. 

Starting Somewhere

Every journey begins somewhere, in a specific physical and emotional place.

For us – me (Colleen) and my amazing husband, Steve – the journey started late last summer, when we decided we wanted to expand our family from the two of us and our crazy, loving, elderly cat, Bailey (sometimes called just “Kitty” or “Miggy”).

We had been feeling the tug towards adoption for  awhile, but they were soft, vague tugs. Something clarified for us in those warm, late August weeks, and we signed up for the waiting child photolisting aggregator, We had just started researching this whole “adoption thing”, looking at a few profiles of children that brushed against our hearts and then BOOM!

It was around 8 a.m. on October 4th when our lives changed forever, though we didn’t really know it then. I was sitting with Steve on the couch, drinking my morning coffee and enjoying his company and the morning news before we hustled out the door to the train, to work in Manhattan (me) and Brooklyn (him).

I saw I had an email from Rainbow Kids – featuring a child they called a “Guang Ming Star”.

And there was her face. Our daughter’s. Grinning up at me from my smart phone.  I showed her to Steve, who smiled and read her story. I said, “I am going to email the agency when I get to work.”

He said, “Yes, do it.”

We left the apartment and I said again, “I am really gonna email them. You ready for all of this?”

“Yup,” he grinned at me and I could see he was. Well, as ready as you can be when you see your child for the first time and she lives halfway around the world. It’s a crazy, heady, exciting feeling.

So that was our start. On our couch on a sunny warmish October morning. Looking at this face.Shay