A China Village Tour

August 24, 2016

This summer, Maya, Michael and I got to spend a lovely chunk of time in China Village with my family. Michael has already started school back in (still sweaty) Houston, but Maya and I are extending our visit by another ten days so that we can attend my Grandma’s memorial service this weekend. While my parents are at work during the day, Maya and I have been left to our own devices. Sometimes we drive an hour and visit my sister and her little family, but sometimes we just bop around China Village.

My dad is always suggesting that I should do a China Village tour for my blog, since it inspired the name. And now we’ve had time to make that happen! So today, a small photographic tour of even smaller (but still sweet!) China Village.

maya-china-lake It’s about a five minute walk down the hill to China Lake, where there’s a little ice cream/fried foods stand with picnic tables near the boat launch. Maya had her first licks of ice cream here last weekend and it was glorious. I’m tempted to give her ice cream every day just for her reaction of pure delight. But I’ll refrain, if only because I ended up eating most of the ice cream and I have very little restraint when it comes to chocolate.

A little ice cream interlude before we continue on our tour…

maya-first-ice-cream maya-ice-cream-smile Total and utter happiness. I feel ya, girl! And we started with chocolate and with sprinkles because that’s how ice cream should be done!

Right, so, back to business.

At the edge of the lake is the little Baptist church with a bell that tolls every hour and half hour. I rarely notice it, but Maya notices it every time and starts boogying.  china-village-baptist-church china-village-fire-department Right next door to the church is the fire station, where I learned to ride my bike because it was the only paved parking lot in the village. We’ve also got major respect for the fire department – it’s made up completely of such brave and dedicated volunteers. We had a fairly large fire in our house in the early 90’s and they were all brilliant despite the scary night. It was started by a plumber who came to thaw a frozen pipe (such is January in Maine in a really old house!) and smouldered up the inside of the wall in the kitchen for hours before my mom heard a crackle.

My dad worked nights at the newspaper back then and heard about it on the police scanner they used to pick up stories! He had a big old (slightly mortifying) bright orange former utility truck at the time and he always says he must have hit 100 miles an hour on the straight aways racing home to us that night! As soon as my mom called the fire department, she sent the three of us across the street to the neighbors (Charlie was maybe 2, so I was 9?) with our new puppy, where we waited while they got the fire under control. Turns out the walls had been stuffed with old newspaper for insulation and they had to take half of the second floor off and rebuild. It was dramatic! But I also remember all the teachers at our primary school sent us meals and someone brought over homemade donuts. Small towns are the sweetest.  china-village-home You might recognize this one. Built in 1811 and lovingly (and sometimes grudgingly) restored and continuously repainted by my parents, it’s why China Village is such a cosy home to me. They bought it when I was just ten months old and my mom reports that I was so chubby and uninterested in moving that she could set me on the counter and I wouldn’t move an inch. Maya would fling herself off the counter and be halfway up the stairs if you turned your back for a second!  china-village-library We grew up within shouting distance of the village library and took full advantage of the somewhat lax neighbor return policy. Luckily, the librarian Mary still likes us all! I used to go to story hour there, and then in middle school I ran the story hour. I wish I’d been on the ball, I would have resurrected it this summer since we’ve been here so long!

Next door to the library is Peggy’s house, she taught us piano lessons for years and there was a recital every spring. One year I got a bee sting on the behind right before the recital and still managed to play my little song! She still lives there and always makes homemade bread for us at Christmas time.  china-village-hydrangeas china-village-maine-2 A few other stately clapboard homes in the village. We actually lived in the one above for a few months while our house was being rebuilt after the aforementioned fire. The owner back then was another teacher at my mom’s school and they were selling the house, so they let us live there while it was on the market. I do remember having to go to the library a lot so we weren’t in the house while they were showing it! I also remember the aforementioned puppy pooping on the Oriental rugs!  china-village-maine china-village-shed china-village-post-office And the sweet little post office! Priscilla has been the post lady there since I was too small to even see over the counter, although I think she’s retiring soon. I used to come visiting with tiny, sweaty handfuls of earthworms plucked from the garden. It’s no wonder I’m still remembered there! 😉 There was also a phase when that handicap ramp came in really handy for our rollerblading laps. We used to love when they repaved the parking lot!

Thanks for touring my China Village and sticking around for my memory lane moments!

Monday Pick Me Up

August 22, 2016

maya-basket-toys After last week I thought maybe Monday might need a little pick me up. A handful of links, all cheerful and happy! I hope your Monday is off to a great start!

Elaine’s pretty framed Irish ceramic flower prints would make a lovely gifts.

I always enjoy Ashley’s travelogues. This one from their trip to Scandinavia was much enjoyed over coffee during Maya’s nap this morning.

In a little while I’m interviewing this inspiring man who cycled across the country to fundraise over $12 million to support The Center in Houston, which provides support to adults with disabilities. Fingers crossed Maya can stay asleep that long!

Tips for developing a baby’s language as they begin to talk. I can’t believe we’re at this stage already!

I’m hoping we’ll get to do a little more Texas traveling this year and Dallas is on our list. Adding these suggestions for places to go when we get there!

A Legacy / Grandma Catharine and Maya Catharine

August 18, 2016

maya-happy-gg Last night, quite suddenly in the end and after several years courageously battling various cancers, my Grandma passed away. She was the Catharine of our Maya Catharine, and just so, so special to me – just as she was to my siblings and cousins, to my mom and her brothers and sister and of course to my Grandpa. They were married 64 years, a whole lifetime of love.

She was strong and feisty and incredibly talented. She painted and knitted and sewed – she sewed so well she made my wedding dress! She was absolutely selfless; she and my grandpa took the utmost care of my uncle after an severe accident thirty years ago which left him quite handicapped. My sister was just telling me that Grandma called her a few weeks ago, shortly after she received the news of her latest and saddest diagnosis, just to ask how Carolyn was doing with her new baby girl. She was the wrangling matriarch of our family, effortlessly hosting Christmas dinner and coordinating family photos for an ever-growing family every year since I was born. She was the queen of small touches – flowers from the garden in the bathroom all summer and ribbons tied around the napkins and silverware at Christmas.

And she made the best grilled cheese in the whole state of Maine, I’d be willing to bed.

I’ve been lucky enough to be staying with my sister while we’ve waited for news of the last days of my grandma’s life, so we’ve gotten to chat about how wonderful she was to us for a few days now. We’ve been talking about how incredible it is that we just loved calling her up for a chat, not many thirty-plus year-olds can say they get to do that – and truly enjoy it. She had a wonderful sense of humor and we always spent the half hour laughing and chatting. She was the token Republican in a whole family of Democrats, although we suspected that was mostly to be contrary. When I worked for Democratic congressional campaign, she changed her party affiliation just so she could vote in the primary, just because she was proud of her granddaughter running his campaign.

At eighty-eight she still kept a busy schedule – knitting clubs (to make hats and mittens for the homeless), book clubs, water aerobics and visits from kids and grandkids and friends. She completely inspired my theory that the key to a long life is to just keep moving. She was dignified and practical and always said exactly what was on her mind – which was rarely negative, but often hilarious. One time she asked my boyfriend at the time (previous to Michael 😉 what he thought of her implants. Ha! She meant her eye implants, but we’ve laughed over that interaction and his spooked expression for years.  maya-meets-ggs When Michael and I didn’t know whether or when we would be able to have kids, all I wanted was to have a baby girl and name her Maya Catharine, after my grandma. And to have my grandma still alive to meet her. Maya Catharine was many, many gifts, including that big one. When we met Maya we knew the name would be perfect for her. My grandma was tiny but mighty, just like our Maya Catharine will be!

Quite selfishly, I was also really set on having the first grandchild on my side, primarily because I felt that being the oldest grandchild was so great. I always felt like the favourite grandchild, which, of course, was my Grandma’s magic as well. She made each of her grandchildren feel like her favourite.

I remember the morning after we got Maya, calling my grandparents to tell them they were now great grandparents. My grandma, at 88, was out at water aerobics at the time, and when she returned my grandpa got to tell her that while she was out, they had become GGs!

I took these photos the day we finally got to introduce my Grandma Catharine to our Maya Catharine and both my grandparents were just so thrilled to meet her. (Maya was only eleven weeks old! She had so much hair but it hadn’t even started to curl yet!) I had waited for and envisioned that moment for so long and it was everything I had hoped for. They were thrilled to hold her in their arms and my Grandma kept saying how cunnin’ she was in her great Massachusetts accent. She couldn’t get over Maya’s dungaree top. She absolutely never called them jeans. maya-em-ggs maya-catharine-and-gg maya-and-ggrandpa The story of the past weeks and years wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the absolute love my grandparents shared for nearly 65 years, such an unfathomable and enviable amount of time they were able to share their lives. While I’m heartbroken that my Grandma has left us, the silver lining is that I have been wholly blessed watching my Grandpa’s love for her over the years, as well as watching him care for her so sweetly in her last weeks. He never left her side as he nursed her and held her hand, and he never stopped reminding us how strong and special she was, although we really couldn’t have forgotten. He’d shake his head and say, “She’s some lady, your grandmother,” his voice bursting with admiration and just a glimmer of a tear in his eyes at how lucky he was to have her.  maya-and-gg-meet I love this photo above. I think Maya Catharine looked right at Grandma Catharine and knew exactly what tiny but mighty looked like. I think they had a Catharine moment as Maya looked up at her. We’ll teach Maya everything else she needs to know about her namesake in the years to come. Her legacy of kindness and selflessness and spunk will absolutely be carried on in our girl. 

We loved her fiercely and will miss her fiercely. Xx

Happy Friday!

August 13, 2016

maya-swings Hello, friends! How was your week? Was it eight million degrees where you are? Maine was sticky and steamy, a painful reminder of what I have in store when Maya and I return to Houston in ten days. But at least there’s air conditioning indoors there! Today we drove to meet friends for lunch and in the space of an hour I watched the temperature gauge on the car go from 80 to 94! Positively stifling! Nonetheless, Maya and I had a nice little Friday adventuring. She’s learning so much so quickly at the moment. Today she said uh-oh! Twice! In context! And I’m pretty sure she’s close to understanding who mom-mom-mom is. She can certainly repeat it when she hears it. Words are going to be so fun!

We have a family wedding tomorrow evening, so Maya and I are making another car trip and hoping for just as many car naps as today! We’re also hoping for better weather than the forecast. It’s looking like it will be chilly and soggy for an outdoor tent wedding!

What are you up to this weekend? Here are a few interesting/terrifying/exciting things from around the interwebs. Enjoy!

Trump’s assassination dog whistle was scarier than you think. Ugh.

Great mom quotes to remember for when Maya’s older. I really loved be kind or be quiet. Goes well with When they go low, we go high. Both applicable so often!

The dangers of kissing newborns – the terrifying spread of the herpes virus.

The Clinton’s houses through the years.

A super roundup of well designed (of course!) Paris city guides from my friend Anne.

How to help a friend through infertility. Not sure I agree with all of these, but some of them ring true.

Hilarious stand-up act about choosing the state abbreviations. Very, very funny. (via DesignMom)

Happy weekend, everyone!

(Almost) 8 Great Years Married!

August 10, 2016

anniversary-8-years Saying we’ve been married for nearly eight years makes me feel rather old. But as my brother pointed out the other day, “We can’t all be child brides!” Or something like that. 😉

Since we won’t be together on our actual anniversary, Michael and I spent a night away together right before he flew back to Houston as an early anniversary present from my parents. They took care of Maya and we drove down to Portland for dinner, a sunset drink overlooking the city, and a night in a hotel. It was such a treat! I asked my dad to take a few photos of us all spiffed up before we left.  family-of-three And of course, a few photos with our happy Maya before we left her for the night. It was the first time we had both been away from her for the night since she was three weeks old! We loved the little break though, and of course it helped that we knew she was in great hands! Maya loves her grandparents and sometimes seems to prefer them! Could be something to do with the spoiling they’ve been doing already this summer! family-of-three-2 family-of-3-anniversary em-throwing-maya The light was so nice I snapped a few of Michael with Maya before we waved goodbye. She just learned to wave this week! It’s quite flappy and hilarious. Goes well with the incessant clapping we’ve also got going on. So much enthusiasm at ten months old! Michael won’t see her now for two weeks, so he was getting all his squeezes in.  mike-and-maya I love that she’s still so tiny and her little booty fits in Michael’s giant hand!  mike-and-maya-3 mike-and-maya-2 maya-and-grammy And big smiles for her Grammy as well. What a gift you are, sweet girl!

Happy early anniversary, handsome husband. What a wonderful, wild ride we’re on and I couldn’t ask for a better partner in it. Year eight is going to be hard to beat!

Zucchini Season / Easy Summer Side

August 9, 2016

honey-mustard-zucchini-recipe We took a pre-dinner China Village walk around the corner the other day to visit the neighbors’ goats and chickens. We left with a dozen eggs (the week’s delivery a day early) and a box of zucchini and summer squash. “We’re inundated!” They said. We gladly took a few off their hands. I remember that season from growing up, before the trees near my parents’ garden grew so big there was only shade underneath. My mom used to put a box down by the side of the road with a sign that said free! There was a lot of zucchini-crusted pizza and zucchini bread in those summer days.

Houston and Ireland may be different from Maine in the zucchini (or courgette) department, but this time of year in the northeast, zucchini is plentiful and bordering on overwhelming. Here’s an easy zucchini summer side we made a few weeks ago.

Honey Mustard Garlic Zucchini

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, sliced thin

2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch rounds

2 tablespoons honey mustard

1 tablespoon grainy dijon mustard

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup chicken broth

Heat a nonstick skillet with the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions, and then a few minutes later the zucchini. Let them cook until they start to soften. Add the two mustards and sprinkle over the garlic powder. Add the chicken broth and give it all a stir. Season with salt and pepper and let everything cook until the chicken broth reduces and the veggies are cooked but not too soft that the zucchini falls apart.

Bon appétit!

(p.s. Can you believe it? A post not about Maya or adoption or fostering? 😉 Shocking!

Happy Friday!

August 5, 2016

maine-sunset Happy Friday, friends! We’ve had a good week, with a few firsts for Maya (first playground swing!) mixed in with sunshine and one squishy baby niece. Maya turned ten months old yesterday…and promptly decided to show us that she could climb all the stairs to the top without anyone noticing. My heart nearly jumped out of my body when I found her clapping away to herself at the top step. She’s a speedy little thing and stealthy when she knows what she wants, so it’s baby gates and hawk eyes on her at all times from here on out.

We have California and Rhode Island family visiting us in Maine this weekend, so we’re excited for Maya to meet everyone. She’s much more fun in person than on Instagram, although she has certainly taken over my Instagram!

On a more serious note, we’ve been talking quite a lot (with heads in our hands) about the upcoming presidential election. It’s the first time since Obama was elected in 2008 that we will be in the country for election day, and that we have been in the country for the run-up to it and it’s heartbreaking to watch on a daily basis. I don’t talk much about politics here, despite having worked in political campaigns for several years before moving to Ireland, but this year is so different – and so personal.

I watched this New York Times video yesterday, a compilation of hateful clips from supporters inside Trump rallies, and just cried. Because you know who they don’t want in this country? Maya. And Maya’s birth parents. And anyone different, and people with darker skin. I often wonder what Maya’s life would be like if her birth parents, homeless Mexican immigrants, hadn’t been treated as second class in this country, if they hadn’t been instantly marginalized. It may not have mattered, but it may have made all the difference.

Sometimes we wish we were back in Ireland already and that we didn’t have to be faced with a political candidate’s hatred (and the 43% of the country who supports that hatred) every day. But most days I believe it’s important that we’re here to fully understand and feel what’s at stake, especially for our daughter, but also for all the daughters and sons – and to work hard to make sure that hatred and nationalism and protectionism don’t win in November.

Small rant over for now, but it probably won’t be the last before November. Fair warning!

And now, a few happier links for your weekend. I hope it’s sunny and happy!

Rev. Barber speaking inspirationally at the DNC last week. There were so many great speeches, including Michelle Obama’s of course.

The weird world of medical debt – and John Oliver buying and forgiving medical debt for pennies on the dollar.

You just got out of prison, now what? Such an inspiring read about two former prisoners driving around, picking up released prisoners and helping them reintegrate. And a follow-up on how the White House employed them to help with prisoners whose sentences have been commuted by President Obama.

A sweet school bus turned tiny home.

European countries taking new measures to lessen food waste – or put it to better use.

President Obama the feminist.

Happy weekend, everyone. xx

Nuts and Bolts / The Adoption Process

August 3, 2016

we do I thought it might be interesting to share a little about our adoption process now that Maya has officially been adopted! I know every adoption/fostering experience is different, but this can serve as one example. Adoption is often referred to as a journey, and that’s a pretty apt word for what the last year has been. Our journey is admittedly much shorter than a lot of people’s, and I’ll explain a few factors that played into that as well.

We’ve jokingly called this adventure the path of most resistance, because in some ways it certainly doesn’t seem like the easiest route. But for us, it was the route that gave us the most peace. What our path will be for building the rest of our family, we aren’t sure yet, but doing it this way for this last year just made sense to us.

Here’s how we got started. First, we decided that adoption was how we wanted to start building our family. Adoption is something that Michael and I have always said we wanted to do, but, like most people, we imagined it would be after we had biological children. After several years of infertility testing and an ultimate recommendation for specialized IVF, we decided that adoption felt much more right for us than infertility treatments. I know many people come to adoption as more of a last resort after failed fertility treatments, but we tried to embrace the idea that it could be our first resort instead.

The trick, of course, is that we were living in Ireland, where adoption is very, very, very difficult. I’ve shared this article before but I’ll share it again. Adoption is nearly impossible in Ireland (and I hope to help change this however I can when I return because it’s something that breaks my heart for friends and family there). So we knew that if we were going to adopt, we’d have to (at least temporarily) leave our life of seven years and move back to the United States. We are lucky in that we both have American passports, so while moving to another country seems like a hard part of the process, for us it was simpler because we’re both American citizens. We have social security numbers and didn’t have to worry about visas or anything like that. After lots of discussion for several months, we actually made the decision to try to move and adopt when we were having this dinner in Skerries. I’ll never forget it.

The other thing that made it possible for us to leave Ireland for a year or so, was that public servants can apply for career breaks from their jobs. Michael applied for and was granted a career break from his job as a high school guidance counsellor. He can extend his career break for up to five years, and he can apply for two career breaks in his entire career. When he returns from his break, he will either be given the same job or a job within a certain radius of commuting with the same number of hours that he had before. It’s an awesome perk of being a teacher in Ireland. So last spring, Michael applied for his career break and when it was granted, that set the ball rolling for our move.

At the same time, we were also in the process of trying to buy a house before we left so that we would already own a house when we returned. We had a deposit saved and we knew we’d likely be approved for a mortgage – but if we waited until after we came back, we’d have to wait several more years before we could show income in Ireland. Career breaks in Ireland are great, buying a house is definitely not. It’s extremely difficult, especially for people who are self employed – and 3/4 of our income comes from being self employed. So! We were also in the thick of buying a house paperwork and uncertainty, but it meant we knew we’d be moving out of our apartment one way or another. It actually worked out perfectly, although we did need to rely on the help of Michael’s family because we had already left before our closing! Michael’s brother signed our closing papers and Michael’s parents got our new house all ready to rent and moved a lot of our belongings into the attic. We couldn’t have done it without them.

That was a little tangential, but it’s what was going on last spring when we were trying to move, and it adds to the slightly insane picture of what we were up to.

When we decided to move to the United States to adopt, we also decided to move to Houston to do it, instead of back to Maine where my family is. The amazing couple who married us adopted Michael’s godson ten years ago and were well connected to our agency here. We also liked the idea of an adventure in a new place! We figured if we were going to go somewhere to wait for a baby, we may as well use the time to explore somewhere new. Little did we know that there wouldn’t be so much time for that! Ha!

It’s also my personal opinion that there are more children and babies in need of homes in Houston than there are in Maine, where I’m from. I don’t have statistics to back that up, but it’s the impression I get. What we didn’t realize before we got to Houston is that there is a huge culture of adoption here and it is amazing. Adoption is normal and common and in some churches even expected and encouraged. Our adoption attorney has 9 kids – 6 of them are adopted! The awesome family that has little bird baby that we minded for a few weeks has 4 girls, the youngest is 2 and they’re fostering a 5 month old and now her 3 year old sister! People have big houses and big hearts and there are more kids who need homes than homes available for kids.

So, Houston it was. Hot, sweaty, under-appreciated Houston. We arrived in late August after spending most of the summer with my family in Maine. We spent a week looking for the neighborhood we wanted to live in, and then for an apartment in that neighborhood. In one day of looking, we settled on Houston Heights because it’s so walkable, has giant trees, and is a ten minute drive from downtown Houston. While Michael’s sister and our friends live in a suburb about 45 minutes north of the city, we knew if we were going to have a waiting adventure, we wanted to be close to the action.

Once we knew it was going to be Houston, we bought a tiny, old Prius from a friend here because Houston is nothing if not a driving city. So essentially, when we arrived we had two suitcases and the hippiest car on the block!

By the grace of God, we found the cutest little ground floor apartment in a four-unit building with enormous trees and single family homes all around. On September 3rd, we moved into that unfurnished apartment with our two suitcases and a mattress my sister-in-law hand-me-downed to us. We worked on setting up the apartment with furniture we found for cheap on Craig’s List and at the few used furniture stores in our neighborhood. Within a few weeks, we had a couch, a bed frame and a table and chairs. Thank goodness the apartment is tiny and simple because setting up a whole apartment from scratch is daunting! But we started with the basics and worked on making it cosy bit by bit. I had forgotten what goes along with renting an apartment – setting up gas and electricity contracts, getting internet connected, it all takes time and energy.

The first week we were in our apartment, Michael sent a note to a principal of a small charter high school 8 blocks away asking if they needed any substitute teachers. She wrote back right away and asked him to come in. He had to get fingerprinted before he could substitute, but then he had his first day of substituting and by lunchtime, the principal asked him to stay for the whole year! We’re so grateful things fell into place so quickly. Michael had been applying for jobs in Houston for the whole summer but he hadn’t gotten many replies, so this was extremely serendipitous! (I shouldn’t say it was perfect, though. Michael was hired to teach American government, Dollars and Cents, and Interpersonal Skills to high schoolers. He has teaching experience but those were all new classes that came with no curriculum or direction! So he learned and created it as he went along. He’s a champion.)

A friend of my sister’s connected me with a magazine editor down here, so I met with her and started writing one or two articles each month, which helped me instantly feel more connected and also added a little income. I continued my Irish Independent articles and a few other freelance pieces as well. So, we had income and an apartment!

Both of which we would need in order to start my new part time job: adoption paperwork. When we first got to Houston, our agency emailed me the adoption paperwork, which you need to complete along with 20 hours of training. The email with the adoption paperwork had 25 attachments. HA! And one of those attachments was the main application, which was 25 pages long! Double HA! But we had just finished a ton of paperwork to buy our house, so more paperwork just seemed like our normal life by that point.

So while Michael was gone each day teaching, I would work on checking off our adoption to-do list. Here’s roughly what we had to fill out, copy and send to our agency (and I’ve included rough costs if there were any associated because that’s something to think about as well). This list changes often and might differ by agency, but it’s what we did for ours and roughly what you’d expect for others:

Application (25 pages!)
5 References (one pastoral, one relative, and 3 non-relatives)
Background Check Consent Form
Family Consent Form
Criminal History Statement
Fast Application – Fingerprints (these took 3 weeks just to schedule! They cost $40/person)
Self-Affirming Health Form for everyone living in home
T.B. Tests (this meant two visits to a TB testing place, once to be stuck with TB and once to be checked that we didn’t have it, $25/per person)
Physician’s Statement of Health (thank goodness our doctor in Ireland was able to send us a letter because it’s hard to find a doctor in this country just to get a regular physical!)
Floor Plan of your home with room dimensions
Evacuation Plan
Copy of Driver’s License (husband/wife)
Copy of Social Security Card (husband/wife)
Copy of Education Verification (Diplomas husband/wife)
Copy of Marriage License
Copy of Divorce Decree (if applicable)
Birth Certificates-For everyone living in home
Pet Vaccinations (Thank goodness we left Coco with Michael’s parents or that would have been another kettle of fish!)
Copy of W-2’s (Since we hadn’t worked in America in over 7 years, we had to provide statements from our Irish accountant and bank statements for the last six months)
6 months pay stubs (Michael only had two of these, so we also included his Irish pay stubs)
Insurance Verifications – Health, Life, Home, Auto
Health & Environmental Checklist
Fire Inspection (for some reason, this was also difficult – I had to go to the enormous permit office and pay and then wait for the fire inspector to call us, but he didn’t for weeks so I finally tracked him down after about 17 phone calls! This cost $250 but could be cheaper in other counties)
Photograph of fire extinguisher listing date purchased or the annual inspection of weight
CPR & First Aid Certification (I’d recommend the online course! You take most of it online in a video game format then do the practical test at a Red Cross center, $110/person)
Pre-Service Classes- 16 hours ($850/family but we availed of a scholarship for it!)
Photos of all outside areas around your home where children would play
And then we had to sign the following documents:
Notice of Legal Counsel
Confidentiality Statement
Appeal Process
Firearms Safety
Foster Care Agreement
Foster Parent/Agency Rights & Responsibilities
Discipline Policy
Phew! My blood pressure is rising just thinking about all that paperwork. Some of it was satisfyingly simple, like photocopying driver’s licenses. But other parts were more time consuming or seemed to have endless parts just to be able to check off one item from the list, like the fire marshall’s inspection. There were things we hadn’t realized we would need and had left in Ireland, so we had to call Michael’s mother way too often to ask if she could dig out a piece of paper and scan it to us. But she did and we did and all was accomplished in about six weeks.
Once all that paperwork was done our caseworker had to come for our home study, where they inspect your home and ask you a lot of personal questions for the whole afternoon. Our interview was a little shorter than most because we don’t have children who also needed to be interviewed, but our caseworker, Taylor, talked to each one of us individually as well as both of us together. Taylor asked us quite a lot about our relationships with our parents and siblings, and our parenting philosophies, but the questions all required thoughtful answers. We were exhausted when it was finished!
And once the home study is complete, the caseworker types everything up and meets with the team at the agency and makes a final decision on your licensing. We got good news, and so we had one final piece of paper to sign – our license! We are licensed by the State of Texas to foster/adopt and we have to display that license in our home at all times (if we have foster children present). Maya was a foster baby until adoption day, technically. State law requires that a baby or child is in your home for six months before it can be adopted. We could have left Texas with her and gone to Maine or somewhere else in the country (after paying her adoption fee), but we would still have been required to return for her adoption court date after six months. A guardian ad litem is appointed and goes through all the paperwork from the caseworker and the agency and evaluates whether the child is thriving in your home, and if they are, then you have a court date for a petition to adopt and a petition to change her name. At that point you are able to get a new birth certificate (with your names on it as parents! Woohoo!) and then a passport. Then you’re allowed to leave the country if you’d like. (Interestingly, because of the size of our apartment we’re licensed for up to three children, although only two of them can be under the age of 18 months. Doesn’t that sound like a hoot!)
Phew! Still with me? Longest post ever.
I should mention that our agency, Loving Houston, is a non-profit that works primarily with rescue babies and street moms. They are also primarily a foster or foster-to-adopt agency. They work with state child protective services in some cases, and in other cases they work directly with birth parents. They are also a faith-based agency, which is why we needed a pastoral reference and why our application involved statements of faith. This is something we have loved about our agency, but it’s obviously not for everyone. For us, it has been an added blessing and bonus that we hadn’t even really anticipated before we started this adventure. When we were waiting on news of the baby boy we thought we would adopt, it was incredibly comforting to know that several families who also foster in our agency were praying for us and for birth mom along with our family and friends – and our whole agency. We found so much strength and solace in that.
Because our agency is primarily involved in foster-to-adopt cases, they rarely have birth moms who choose to relinquish their rights at the birth of the child, as was done in Maya’s case. She is our miracle Maya and we are so grateful for the simple situation we were able to start with. There were so many other variables (like 1500 words worth up there, apparently!) going on in our lives that starting with a complicated fostering situation might have been too much for us. Ten years from now, if we lived here with a whole family of our own bio or adopted kids and had an enormous house in the suburbs, I would foster every baby they ever offered us and we’d probably end up with 20 kids! But for now, for us, Maya’s simple situation was perfect for us.
Finally, because our agency is a non-profit that primarily deals with fostering cases, the fees are significantly lower than they would with a straight adoption agency. Interesting fact, foster families with our agency are also not paid for their services as they are in most child protective services systems in the States.
And that, my friends, is nearly 3,000 words on our adoption adventure. Whew!! All seven of you who made it to the bottom, congratulations! 😉 I’m an enormous advocate for fostering and for adoption, obviously, so I’m happy to answer any questions I might have missed if it’s something you’re interested in. And now, time to go snuggle my miracle girl!

Life Lately / Summer Travels

July 28, 2016

We’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel to see both our families again this summer. Thank goodness for school summer vacation! Michael worked a few weeks at his school and at a basketball camp at Rice University and then we hit the road. First, Cincinnati for a family wedding on Michael’s side (congrats, Anna and Mitchell!), and then a flight to Denver for more time with Michael’s immediate family in the lovely dry air. After a quick stopover in Houston, we escaped the heat again and headed to Maine to be with my family for a while. Michael will go back to Houston to start work next week, but Maya and I are staying a few weeks longer – and avoiding the dreadful Houston heat!

maya-summer-02 Our first flight with two babies! We dominated. Go team Westbrooks! The girls were so well behaved and charmed everyone around us. Or put them to sleep apparently!  maya-summer-04 Maya hadn’t seen her Grandma Lois since she was three weeks old, and she’d never met Grandpa Jerome! Once she inspected his facial hair she warmed right up.  maya-summer-03 Not scared of the wolf dog in Cincinnati one bit!  maya-summer-05 Couldn’t help myself. I love watching her sleep since we never get to at home because she sleeps in the very dark!  maya-summer-06 These are all snaps from our time in Denver at Michael’s brother Aaron’s house. He and his wife Summer are so hospitable and always put up with our crew and mess in the summer! Their two-year-old Julius is a wild man who was so sweet to both girls, always offering toys and helping calm them if they were sad. Heart melter, that kiddo!  maya-summer-16 Hiking with her dad while I was doing the sad thing in Houston 🙁 maya-summer-15 Acrobatic bottle feeds (and wet hair with no makeup ;). So glam!  maya-summer-14 A wine tasting party on the back deck while the babies slept! It was such fun!  maya-summer-13 maya-summer-12 maya-summer-11 Maya’s just about had it with bouncers that keep her cooped up, but they’re useful when you need to contain her or when she keeps bopping Baby J!  maya-summer-10 Michael’s aunt Monica came out to Colorado from Chicago – we hadn’t seen her in seven years! Maya loved her, of course. maya-summer-09 And then we did a crazy thing and decided to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs! We’ll never do it again, that’s for sure. SO SCARY. But we lived to take a photo!  maya-summer-08 You can’t tell from this photo, but Maya’s wearing a kiwi dress and Baby J was wearing a pineapple dress – and they’re both chewing on plastic lemons. Fruity ladies! 😉 maya-summer-07 Pool time on the 4th of July!

And now a few photos from our first week in Maine.  maya-summer-17 My brother looking for favorite uncle status letting Maya climb the stairs. She can climb them all and it’s terrifying.  maya-summer-25 Grammy with my new niece, Claire Elizabeth! She’s so snuggly and has the softest skin ever.  maya-summer-24 Wasn’t happy at all to meet her squishy self, can you tell?! She’s also only 3 pounds behind Maya despite being nearly 8 months behind her! Come on, Maya, eat up!  maya-summer-23 Maya in her daily chaos. That dress/top (gotta love Old Navy clearance!) is my favorite though!  maya-summer-22 My parents got Maya this elephant that plays little Jamaican style jingles. It’s hilarious and Maya loves it. maya-summer-21 Whole lotta soft grass outside my parents’ house in China Village! Houston grass is so sharp and scratchy that this is really Maya’s first grass experience and she enjoys taste testing every single blade and prowling around like a tiger. maya-summer-20 Maya’s first real ocean visit! So thrilled! Very sweaty.  maya-summer-19 Stroller naps with her lovie (lovey?). Love those dimpled fingers. maya-summer-18 Chilling with her dad on the porch! She (we) got him that portable speaker for Father’s Day and she loves playing DJ and bopping to his tunes.  (Video of that bopping here!)

And that, there, is a roundup like you haven’t seen in months! I’m back in the game. Ha!

Braver Than You Think

July 28, 2016

IMG_0827 I feel like half of what I’ve been writing here this year has been explaining long silences here. Blech. That wasn’t the plan at all for this year, but this year has been a whole different ballgame than we ever anticipated, and I’ve realized that when we’re working on something particularly emotional in our family, I don’t have room in my brain to put words together and I’m quiet here. I can’t say this will be the last time that happens – heck, with the wacky way our year has been I’d be shocked if that was the case! But I’ve decided to just keep diving back in when I can. Here’s what we’ve been working on in the last few months.

If you follow me on Instagram or follow my FCV Facebook page, you likely caught the general gist of it. At the end of May, even before Maya’s adoption day (gosh, that feels like an age ago already!), we got a call on a Friday evening (it’s always a Friday evening!) from our agency asking if we could take a five month old baby girl for a few weeks while they finished licensing another family for her to go to as a long term foster family. We said yes, and at 9pm that evening, our caseworker dropped Baby J to our home. A sweet, sweet baby with the longest eye lashes, the chunkiest thighs, and the easiest sparkly smile.

We knew very little about her case or circumstances at the beginning, although it seemed there were quite a few family members involved and it seemed like it would be complicated. We enjoyed the insanity of having two babies just ten weeks apart in age, but prayed that her next family was ready for whatever was ahead.

Baby J took a little break and went to my friend Jaimee’s house for a week while we focused on Maya’s adoption and the subsequent celebration. We didn’t really anticipate that she would return to us, we thought she would go from there on to her long term foster family. But lo and behold, she boomeranged her sparkly little self back to us.

By this point, we started to learn a little more about Baby J’s circumstances and the prognosis for her in the long term. Without getting into any specifics, her case moved quickly into Child Protective Services (from voluntary placement with our agency), and they took custody and officially placed her in our home. We’d never been part of a CPS case, so that was a learning curve in itself. Court ordered DNA tests, visits from her guardian ad litem (the lawyer assigned to ensure her best interest was being served) and more caseworkers in addition to our agency’s. And what we began to learn from everyone involved was that they thought Baby J would likely be headed for adoption by non-relatives.

Just a week before we were set to head out for several weeks of traveling around the country visiting both our families, we were asked again to consider whether we could be Baby J’s forever family – not that that was a guarantee, but it was such a strong possibility that we needed to consider. But our extensive travel plans were a hitch. CPS denied the travel for Baby J, but her ad litem thought it was best that she stay with us rather than moving to another temporary foster family, so they pushed hard for her to be able to come with us. The night before we got on a plane, we found out she was approved!

To be honest, by that point, Michael and I had already been up and down on the Baby J roller coaster. We had tried to protect ourselves from falling in love with her, then fallen in love with her a little anyway, and then mourned the loss of her from our family once when CPS said we couldn’t bring her with us out of the state. But when she was cleared to travel, and when we were being told by everyone on her case that she would likely stay forever, we let ourselves completely fall in love with her as a part of our family. I don’t regret giving her that love one single bit, because what she needed from us then was to feel unconditional our love in a scary time for her, but it certainly made what happens next much harder.

Two weeks into our travels, at an emergency hearing back in Houston, a judge ruled against all of the parties who testified and ruled that Baby J was to return to a family member within 48 hours. We knew the hearing was taking place, and we knew that decision was a possibility, but according to everyone involved in her case, the decision that was made was a complete shock.

An hour after receiving that news, I left Colorado to head back to Houston to relinquish her to her family member via CPS. Between learning that she had to leave us and dropping her off, was a space of forty-eight agonizing hours. Michael and Maya stayed in Colorado with his family, so Baby J and I were on our own, sharing a list of lasts before dropping her off. Last bath, last bedtime, last bottle and snuggle before a last nap. It was heartbreaking. To look at her and know that we will never know what she grows up to be, to wonder forever whether she would be safe and loved, and to know that I would always miss her infectious smile.

But.

But through the sadness of our loss, we weren’t broken. It was actually quite a strange feeling. Absolute heartbreak, but the kind where you know that you will be okay eventually. Perhaps not fully whole, because I think Baby J (along with our baby boy who wasn’t meant to be) will have a piece of our hearts forevermore.

I should make a few disclaimers at this point. First, from the very start of this roller coaster we always knew this was a possibility, and we protected ourselves as much as possible with the knowledge that it’s not over ’til it’s over when it comes to foster-to-adopt situations. Second, we do always support reunification of babies and children with their families. We know that that’s the best place for them if that’s a safe, secure place for them – as determined by the agencies in charge of determining those factors. It’s not our job to decide that, it’s our job to trust the people whose job it is. Baby J’s case is particularly hard because her safety was and is at question, but the judge ruled against every recommendation that was made to the court that she stay in place.

Our job was simple in theory but emotionally complicated nonetheless. Our job was to love Baby J as hard as we could – as though she was our own – for as long as we could. As we met family in Cincinnati and Denver and Colorado Springs, I explained Baby J’s story – including the fact that she could be returned to her family at some point. And I also joked that if that one day had to happen, we would do just that, but they’d probably have to pry her from my hands. But I wasn’t joking when I added that if we had to return her, God would just have to give me the grace to hand her over.

And He did. Until the moment the CPS worker took her, she was loved and loved unconditionally. And He gave us grace to pray for her safety, to pray for her caregivers, to pray that she always keeps her sparkle. And as if that wasn’t gift enough, He has already begun to heal our broken hearts. We miss Baby J, and for the first week Michael and I both felt there was just a hole in our little family. But little by little, it stings a little less.

As we were driving up to my parents’ house after meeting at the airport in Boston, Michael turned to me and said, “I just miss her back there.” Even though two babies certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to do, taking two flights with an 8 month old and a 6 month old, or to take care of them each day. It was so much baby food and diapers and formula! But it didn’t really seem hard either. It seemed normal. Maya loved playing with Baby J, even if she enjoyed using her to pull up even more. There’s enough hubbub on our travels that Maya has been distracted from the loss of her little playmate, and thankfully that has mostly been the same for us.

The last hard part of this story was the moment I actually had to relinquish Baby J. I am so grateful for the prayers and texts and calls of so many of our friends and family at the very moment I had to bring her to CPS. And I will be forever grateful to our caseworker, Allie, who drove us there, hugged me when it was over, and prayed for me and our family in the parking garage after the very unpleasant deed was done. Without Michael or any family there, I needed her there more than I even knew. By the time she dropped me to my car, I felt like I’d been run over by a tractor, but I wasn’t crying anymore. I’ve cried since, of course, especially in those first few days when everything was missing a Baby J shaped piece. But when I got in my car, I felt strong and hopeful that Baby J will be okay, because that’s all we can hope and pray for every day.

That day, of course, turned comically awful, as some of those really bad days have a tendency to do. My car broke down on the enormous highway in the horrible heat at the same moment that my phone died. I had to flag down a passerby and try to convince him I wasn’t a total weirdo while hoping he wasn’t one either! Turned out Brent was totally nice and absolutely saved the terrible, horrible, very bad day. And then I had two glasses of wine, dinner with family and slept so many hours that night.

I mentioned before that this experience felt like utter heartbreak without being completely broken. I woke up the next morning, the first morning in nine months without one tiny life, let alone two, depending on me or at least playing with dad in the next room. I spent two hours in bed just because I didn’t want to see and feel the reminders of that Baby J shaped hole. But what doesn’t kill you, can in fact make you stronger. I never thought I’d be strong enough for that kind of roller coaster with that tragic an ending, but I’m still standing. Our family is only better for the blessing Baby J was for those two months. Life is perhaps a little harder than we knew it would be, but we’re often braver than we thought we could be.

I’m forever looking for the lessons God is teaching me in this roller coaster season. This one for sure came with a few. I believe strongly that we were supposed to open our hearts and home – like really, utterly open – to care for Baby J, and that we were supposed to learn what it’s like to love that hard through complete uncertainty. We were supposed to practice ultimate service, hospitality, sacrifice and love, and we were supposed to learn that whatever the terrifying, scary outcome, He would be with us to help heal our broken hearts.

We’re in Maine for another few weeks and so grateful for the rest and distraction and help from Maya’s grandparents. My brain is coming back after the busy-ness of two babies and the emotion of the last few months, and I even have a post for later this week (two in one week, I know!) with a few highlights from our summer so far. It hasn’t been all drama, I promise! More soon, friends, thanks for sticking with us (and praying for us!) on our wild and crazy sabbatical roller coaster. xx Em