Greetings from Dublin!

July 13, 2018

We’re home. When we finally landed after our more than 12 hour journey back to Dublin from my parents’ house in Maine, we looked at each other and said, “We’re home.” We did it. The crazy plan worked, we had two beautiful children sleeping in our arms as we walked to baggage claim, and despite being utterly exhausted from the flight, moving out of our Houston home, shlepping suitcases across an ocean, jet lag. We’re home and we did it.

We’ve hit the ground running and started straight in on our new house (the one we bought before we left but that has been rented out for the last 3 years) and it’s currently in a total state of renovation. We are hoping to be in it by the end of July, and you’re welcome to stay updated with that crazy process via my Instagram stories (@emilyholmes).

We took the kids to our favorite beach tonight and Maya couldn’t peel the smile off her face. Even though we’re staying at my in-laws’ house, the kids have already settled more than they have been in months. It’s as though everyone knows this is finally home.  Not to be outdone in the gleeful smile category, our almost-one-year-old is pretty darn thrilled too.  This kid stood on his own for the first time tonight. We almost have another walker!  We are happy to be home. We can’t wait to (hopefully more reliably) share the next part of our journey with you. xx

Big News // We’re Moving Back to Ireland!

May 24, 2018

We are so excited that we finally get to share some big news! We’re moving back to Dublin this summer! While we had envisioned that this wacky Houston adventure would be a one year “sabbatical,” we’re very good at overstaying our welcome (remember how I agreed to live in Dublin for a year and then it was almost 8 and we bought a house and are planning to raise our kids there?) and by the time we leave we will be just short of three years in Houston. Three years, two forever kids, four foster kids, a whole slew of new and dear friends, a few extra pounds (blaming the barbecue and sleep deprivation!) and wrinkles, and utterly priceless memories. Once we knew Noah was ours forever last summer, we knew this would be our last year in Houston. While it has been an incredible experience and so rewarding to be here, it’s also been exhausting. Not having family around while we have two young kids has been really hard, and we have definitely outgrown our little apartment by now. We knew that once we finalized a second adoption, we’d start making plans to head home. So on July 9th, we’ll get on a plane with a squirmy baby-toddler combo and make our way to Dublin!

The kids and I will actually leave Houston in mid-June and head to Maine for a few weeks. Michael will stay on for a little while to finalize getting rid of everything we own. Ha! Just a small project, eh? That will be followed by a few more weeks in Maine with my family, and then another fairly large project once we get to Dublin: fix up and furnish that house we bought as we moved to Houston enough to live in by the end of August! ***

I’ve been thinking so much about our initial move here as we prepare to leave. What a wild leap of faith we took! We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we were so hopeful. It makes me teary to think about the months before we left Dublin and then the weeks of our Houston adventure before Maya arrived. We had so much hope and faith that this wild plan would work. And it did. It worked twice. It’s honestly hard for us to believe and we’re the ones living it! We have two incredible children, Michael (and I, sometimes) got to work at a school that is about as different from an Irish school as you could ever get, we were introduced to fostering, which broke our hearts in all the right ways, and our marriage grew so much stronger through the rollercoaster of this adventure. (Our kids are really receptive to direction when it comes to photo shoots in the heat and humidity!)

I’ve had to stop thinking about what it will be like to actually get on a plane and leave Houston because it makes me so emotional. We have so many priceless memories here, especially in our little bunker of an apartment. We brought both our babies through that door for the first time, they’ve crawled and walked and cried and laughed here, and we’ve all felt so safe in this tiny little space. Part of me is very glad that I don’t have to be part of the process of taking down their cribs or getting rid of the last of their toys before leaving. Good thing Michael is less sentimental about that sort of thing!

***

Last weekend, we had our children dedicated in our Vineyard Houston church, alongside a few other babies in the congregation. They asked us all to come stand up front with any family members who were with us. Of course, our family lives thousands of miles away, so we just expected to stand up there by ourselves, which was fine. I burst into tears of gratitude and surprise when half of my moms group came up to stand behind us and bless our children, standing in for our family. They are our family. People who didn’t know us at all three years ago threw us a baby shower, brought us meals when Noah arrived, loved our children and most importantly, took care of us like family.

But no matter how many tears I’ll probably cry between now and when we leave Houston, returning to Dublin with two children feels like getting to take a victory lap with two giant trophies. We are so grateful for what Houston has given us over the last three years, and what the city has meant to our family. We are looking forward to returning one day to walk our kids through the memories of their first years of life, and to hug our friends again.

***

These photos, taken by our dear and talented friend and Houston Heights neighbor Andrew Buckler, were inspired by the photos I shared almost 3 years ago when I finally revealed the reason we hadn’t returned to Dublin after a summer in the States. It was a fairly vulnerable thing to share that we were uprooting our lives to try to adopt when we didn’t know what would happen or whether our plan would work at all. But not 12 hours after I shared that post, with this little bistro table and chair set I DIY’d back to life, we got the call that our daughter was here.

The chairs are now surrounded by a growing menagerie of toddler toys and plastic vehicles. The fabric covering the chairs has faded, but they’ve been the place we’ve watched Maya and now Noah play outside (until the mosquitos arrive) for hours over the last few years. They’ve been our welcome home to this little bunker of an apartment building, reminding us of the outrageous hope we had when I literally held my breath and posted that blog post, half wondering if everyone would think we were nuts. And reminding us of what our bravery accomplished, what our giant leap into the unknown to find the baby and then babies we had been waiting for achieved.

Weirdly, that little bright green patio set symbolizes our big dream and our even bigger gratitude for this life we get to live because of the leap we took.

***

We are embarking on some exciting new projects upon our return to Dublin, including starting the licensing process to become foster parents over there, launching a copywriting company with a friend, and beginning to document our travels with our own kids around Ireland. Who knows, there might even be Delightful Dublin for Kids on the horizon!

I’ll be sharing all of those adventures here more regularly. I hope you’ll join me. xx

More photos from our little Houston life. 

How To Love Where You Live

May 21, 2018

I’ve been thinking lately about how to love where you live. It’s by far one of the skills I most appreciate having learned. For almost eight years, we lived in Dublin and I think often about how much I struggled to enjoy Dublin when I first moved there. That might even be an understatement. For the first full year, I think I cried more than I didn’t. I was so homesick as a brand new ex-pat, especially because I hadn’t really ever lived very far from my family or where I grew up.

But I actually remember the moment my attitude toward Dublin shifted. It was such an ah-ha moment that I wrote it on a piece of paper and I think it’s still saved with our belongings somewhere back in Dublin. I remember realizing that my unhappiness wasn’t something I wanted to tell our kids decades down the line. What a silly story that one day we’d tell our kids, “Well, we moved to Dublin but your mom hated it and cried all the time.” I realized we’d have to make the story we’d want to tell our kids and our grandkids one day.

That first year in Dublin wasn’t exactly anything to write home about. Skype was brand new, email was still pretty spotty, and texting internationally was expensive. We were so poor, Michael was in grad school and no one would hire me in the height of the recession. We actually ended up having to move out of our first apartment and in with Michael’s parents because we just couldn’t make it work. It felt like we had failed in our first year of marriage. And to add to it all, I couldn’t help but feel that Michael’s friends were hand-me-down friends to me. I hadn’t made new friends in so long and it was hard to do without having a job or any hobbies to do without him. It was all a bit dire!

But changing my attitude toward living there made an enormous difference and quickly. And what I learned in that first year was that despite the challenges, I got to make a choice to love where I lived, and that made me see the place in a new light. Heck, we ended up buying a house over there, so my attitude certainly changed! Eight years later, when we moved to Houston, we weren’t technically expats anymore, but we might as well have been. Michael and I both have American passports, but we’d only ever really lived in Maine. Michael spent a few months in Houston in college, but Houston was still a little shocking for us when we first arrived. And while we did have the exciting purpose of trying to adopt when we were settling in, I think consciously enjoying the place where we were was the key to settling in to Houston quickly and happily.

We aren’t staying in Houston forever (more on that soon!), but I’m pretty sure we could now that I’ve learned that priceless art of loving where you live. Half of it is deciding to love it, and the other half is finding people and places that make you feel like you’re home. We had a total of two friends and one family member in Houston that we knew when we arrived, and they all lived 45 minutes away. Since we are sort of fussy coffee people, we ended up going to the same coffee spot often in our neighborhood (with our Brother Hubbard KeepCups that are still going strong several years later!) and it wasn’t long before they knew us (well, Michael at least) by name.

So I suppose that’s my advice. Decide to love the place you’re in, explore it, and frequent places you love often. Strike up conversations, be friendly, ask for recommendations. Having someone know your face and your name goes such a long way in feeling like you belong somewhere. I was recently approached by the Allianz Care team, a health care company with Expat Health Insurance plans that include an Expat Assistance Program. Isn’t that an awesome idea? And get this, they offer a 24/7 multilingual support service that can help expats and their kids (presuming they’re a bit older than ours) deal with cross-cultural transitions, cultural shock, coping with loneliness, relationships and workplace challenges. I can tell you that having lived in America, where health care is a less holistic or preventative or mental health oriented than ever, I think this is an incredible offering from an international health plan, and if we were staying longer we’d fully take advantage of it.

From time to time, I get emails from people who are moving to Ireland and other places, and I’m always happy to chat about what that transition was like for us.

This post was written in partnership with Allianz. Thanks for supporting the posts that make this blog possible! 

It Took A Village

May 10, 2018

I started writing this post back when Noah was this tiny – 9 months ago now! And now I can hardly believe he was ever this tiny! But once the shock of having a new little one in our house had worn off a little, I was (and still am, and still probably will be) overwhelmed with gratitude at how many people have helped make our family.

Any time a new life makes its way into the world, it takes more people than just its parents to make that happen. Noah’s case might have been just a little more extreme on the needing-help level than most, but I’m reminded so often that so many people helped make Noah’s arrival possible. Now that he’s been in our lives for more than nine months, it’s well past time to acknowledge just how much of a village it took to get him into this family.

I’ve written before about the sheer amount of paperwork needed to complete our adoption license (which, by the way, we did all over again with our new agency three months before Noah arrived), but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about how many people helped make our application possible, and I want to thank them because really, we wouldn’t be a family of four without them all. First, our friends and family who stood by us and behind us as we figured out if changing agencies was the right decision, which wasn’t easy or simple or fast. Then another handful of our close friends and family who filled out extensive reference letters for our application.

When it came time for Noah’s arrival, another whole slew of people made it possible for us all to get to him.

Michael took wonderful care of Maya while I sped back to Houston to meet Noah when he was born, but he had a ton of help from his parents, his brothers and their wives, and literally everyone else who passed through the house. I’d get photos from him of Maya having a great time with his cousins or friends of his family’s and it was so reassuring as I was sitting in the hospital worrying about the baby in my arms and the baby across the ocean.

Michael’s sister and her new husband made it possible for me to get on a flight four days after we got the news that Noah was arriving two weeks early, which took the tremendous financial pressure of that journey off of us.

When Michael headed back to the States with Maya, he had almost a 24-hour layover in Boston (because of the way we originally booked our flights a few months earlier). Last minute, he asked a friend from college if he and Maya could stay with them and she and her family were so welcoming to him. Honestly, knowing that they were being so well taken care of between such a difficult journey back to me and Noah was exactly what I needed in order to just focus on our new little dude.

Because we’d rented our apartment for the two months we were gone, I didn’t have our apartment to come back to for the first few days I was in Houston. A dear friend’s mom let me stay with her, and her house turned out to be just steps away from the medical center where Noah was born. And during that period of anticipation, being in a home with a mom instead of on my own in a hotel was exactly what I needed. Then my dear friend, Jamie, whose mom I was staying with drove in from Dallas to be with me until Noah was born. On the day Noah was born, she went out of her way to keep me distracted and encouraged as we waited (and waited) for news of his arrival. The day after Jamie had to go back to Dallas, my sister flew in from Maine to be with me for the weekend. It was perfect timing, and she not only helped me get organized and settled with Noah, she also stocked my freezer with meals that lasted us weeks. When those ran out, my mom’s group started a meal train and brought yummy meals that lasted us through the hurricane and subsequent flood.

In addition to the paperwork and waiting, adoption also involves cost. When Maya was born and totally surprised us, our entire community, on and off line chipped in to make her adoption fee happen in less than two weeks. This time around, we were a little more prepared and had saved part of it ourselves. But we didn’t have it all, and there are a few people who made it happen and we are so grateful. I wish cost wasn’t a common barrier to adoption, but it very much is and we are so grateful that we had the support network to get things in order twice, for the two biggest, most priceless gifts we could ever have imagined.

All that to say, we are so grateful to all the people in our lives who helped make our family of four happen. No matter how sleep deprived we are, we are always, always grateful that we have two little people making us sleep deprived!

Exploring Texas / Spring Bluebonnets and Fire Ants

April 17, 2018

Let me tell you a funny story about a family of non-Texans trying to take photos with the Texas state flower in a field with 100 other people.  Our kids were characteristically not up for the photo opportunity, but I’m getting used to that. Ha! But our friends Amy and Jensen were very patient and snapped a whole bunch of our foursome and we managed to find quite a few serendipitously cute.  This photo shows just how many other people were actually out in that field in Brenham with us. It was sort of painful and sort of hilarious, but my desire to take photos of my tiny Texans with the state flower won out. Sorry, Michael!  And this is where the story takes a turn, because this is the exact moment Maya stepped in a giant fire ant hill. Womp womp. That basically cut our photo shoot and our afternoon short. She ended up with only about five bites on one ankle (which characteristically swelled up more than any ant bite I’ve ever seen), but we’re so lucky I figured out what was going on quickly and managed to get most of the ants out of her leggings before they did more damage. The field did have a sign that warned of rattlesnakes, but they should have had a sign for us foreigners about the fire ants! I always forget about them. Poor Maya!  Thereafter, Maya was shoes-off on Michael’s shoulders, far away from potential ant enemies for the rest of the excursion.  I’m obsessed with Noah in his tiny jeans and shoes. He’s such a handsome little dude! He also never stops moving and twisting and wiggling. My kids have no chill mode! But they do now have photos with bluebonnets, whether that will ever matter or not!

If you’re looking for bluebonnets in the springtime in the Houston area, Brenham and Chappell Hill are about an hour northwest of the city. Just remember to wear socks!

America Made Us Activists

April 10, 2018

Despite the fact that I spent 2 years in college and almost two years after college working for political campaigns, I can’t say that I had been particularly politically active since then. Other than voting and sharing articles online and talking a lot about the state of the world, I hadn’t done much to actually show any sort of activism until we moved to Houston. Until we moved back to the United States.

Of course, America over the last year and a bit has changed a lot of people in that department. Since the 2016 election, I’ve participated in two marches and a walk. The walk wasn’t exactly activism, but it was leaving the house and showing up for a cause that’s important to our family.

In early 2017, I brought Maya to the Women’s March in Houston, and it was really therapeutic after the pain of the presidential election. There were so many people and so many clever, smart signs. We should have made a sign, but we’re getting better with experience!

In February this year, our whole family attended the Houston AIDS March downtown, and we were a little better prepared with red balloons to tie to the kids’ stroller. (Total side note, can I tell you how much we love that stroller? I get so many comments on how sneaky the second seat is down by my feet. I recommend it to everyone!) In the past, I would have thought about going to a walk like the AIDS walk, but probably wouldn’t have made the final effort. Now, when we can possibly make our schedules work (let’s be honest, naps are crucial to the success of any day with two little kids), we make the effort. We get the balloons and we show up and we ensure our voices are heard. We also ensure our kids know that very small sacrifices of our time are the least we do as a family to support people we love.

Most people don’t know that one of our kids’ birth moms is HIV positive, and that was most likely a factor in her choosing to make an adoption plan. Neither of our kids is HIV positive, as passing the virus from mother to baby is very rare and can be avoided with C-sections and antiretrovirals, but it’s something that we feel strongly about supporting — both researching a cure and taking down the stigma of what has become a really manageable disease. We’re also passionate about supporting a woman who didn’t have to choose life for her child, but did anyway. She took the medicine she needed to and attended every appointment she was assigned, all so that her child would have the utmost chance at normal, healthy life. We are forever indebted, and so we showed up for her as well.

A few weeks ago, we showed up again. This time for the March for Our Lives to advocate for gun control. The Houston Heights march started about one block from our house, so we whipped up a sign on an old piece of cardboard and walked up and down Heights Boulevard. Part of me realizes that it might be a little inappropriate for a 2-year-old to carry a sign that says “We call BS,” but the larger part of me hopes both my kids grow up to be as outspoken, thoughtful, passionate and articulate as Emma Gonzalez, from whom that quote originated. I never, ever, want my kids to experience even an active shooter drill let alone an active shooter. It is total BS. And I hope our kids know that’s the least of the strong language we have for the causes we believe in. America has made us activists, and while that’s in large part because there’s a heck of a lot going wrong from the top down right now, it’s a silver lining I’m grateful for.

No Take Backs, No Do Overs, Noah Edition

April 5, 2018

Before Michael and I moved to Houston on this crazy adventure, he had this big family tree/tree of life tattooed on his back by a Latvian tattoo artist in Dublin who spoke no English. We laugh every time we think about how it managed to come out so well when there was a very serious language barrier that could have made it a total disaster. We got to have Maya’s name added to the tattoo after her adoption was finalized just under two years ago, and a few weeks ago we stopped by a different tattoo place in our neighborhood for Noah’s name to be added. Maya was really worried about her dad and couldn’t figure out why he was voluntarily getting an “owie.” Luckily, it was a very short tattoo to complete!  Noah wasn’t terribly fazed by any of it, mostly because he had just popped through his first tooth and had a lot of chewing to do.  We celebrated our very official, very tattooed family of four with dinner at the restaurant where we ate the night we met Maya. It was a total blur (not unlike the original night we went!) but we’ll take any chance we get to celebrate these two and the fact we get to be their parents. No take backs, no do overs — squared!

Easter 2018

April 3, 2018

Happy belated Easter! In lieu of words that explain why the dramatic pause in blog posts for the last month and a half, a billion photos of the most lovely and colorful Easter.

Michael and I both had Good Friday off (which might be a good time to mention I went back to work in his school part time, in addition to writing for Romper and writing my Irish interiors newspaper column….does that explain the blog absence?) so we packed up our little family and drove to Dallas to spend the weekend with good friends and meet their new son!

First, my friend Jamie set up dying Easter eggs for two 2-year-olds. She’s much braver than I am, but the girls did pretty well!    Followed by popsicles because it was the most delightful warm, dry weather in Dallas.

We stayed in a really cute Airbnb a few minutes away from their house and on Easter morning I set up the kids’ Easter baskets on the porch swing. It was pretty adorable! This is Maya’s third Easter and the first time I bothered to do Easter baskets. I couldn’t help myself when I saw that $3 llama basket at Target! These photos of the kids on the porch swing are all off center and some are a little blurry, but I love the sequence of them. Maya was pretty sure Noah got chocolate that she needed to confiscate. She also thought those little Lindt bunnies were dinosaurs. Ha! We may not be able to wrangle them into a photo, but they are so sweet nonetheless. We stopped by our friends’ for bagels and a little Easter egg hunt for the toddlers. Maya was born to hoard Easter eggs!   Then we drove most of the way back to Houston for Easter dinner with more friends. We tried to take a few family photos before everyone lost pieces of their outfits, but we’re really just not good at getting everyone to not squirm.  And one last Easter egg hunt for this girl. Michael’s godson, Isaiah, who was our tiny toddler ring bearer at our wedding, put it together for her and it was so sweet to watch them bopping around the back yard. Also, Maya in bunny ears was over the top cute. Happy belated holiday to those celebrating! I’ll hopefully have a little more time to share in the coming weeks.

Noah Michael: Adopted!

February 18, 2018

Another amazing adoption day in the books for the Westbrooks family. It was a little more chaotic than Maya’s adoption day, in part because getting four people ready and wrangling a toddler in addition to a 6-month-old is a little more chaotic generally. But it was wonderful and felt monumental and celebratory. Gosh are we lucky. God chose these little beings for us to love of forever and ever. No take backs, no do-overs, just endless love for these perfect souls.

Want the play-by-play of adoption day? After we got everyone ready in the morning (except Noah, because he can’t be trusted not to spit up on his outfit for a 45 minute drive), we realized we were late. Before we even left. I’ll half blame Houston traffic, but we sort of just forgot how long it takes to get to the courthouse. I’m pretty sure they build in a little buffer when they tell you to show up at 8:30 in the morning, but it was still a little hard to remind myself that as we were driving the whole 45 minutes already late.

But we got there and found our lawyer and were whisked right into the courtroom. Noah needed a quick bottle before we got started, but then Judge Ronald Pope called us up to finalize Noah’s adoption. Our lawyer asked us a few questions about how long Noah had been with us, and our caseworker, Amy, answered similar questions. Then we got to answer whether we felt it was in Noah’s best interest and in our best interest as a family for him to remain with us forever. Yes, yes we do.

Judge Pope granted the adoption and then everyone clapped! We got to take a few photos in the courthouse before heading outside for a few more.

We were so excited to have both our sets of parents and Michael’s brother there to celebrate this time.

We followed our harried court appearance with a much more relaxing brunch at Revival Market near our house. It’s where we celebrated Maya’s adoption, and they treat us so well over there. And then we headed home to nap those babies before we hosted a little party at the Airbnb where our parents were both staying. The sun came out for the first time in weeks and we all sat on the deck, celebrating love. Our friend Andrew came and took photos for us and I’m so grateful to have these. I’ve already loved reliving this flash of a moment several times over.

That’s our whole crew on the far side. I think the guy in the foreground was maybe in the courtroom for something a little more serious? We were probably the lightest load of the day!  Maya was very quiet until the part where Judge Pope broke out the stuffed animals. She’s carried that kitty around for days since!  This is our whole adoption day crew — to my right is Depelchin’s birth mom liaison, Leah, who worked with Noah’s birth mom since March of last year. Exactly the time that we decided for sure to stay a little longer and commit to switching agencies to adopt again. And to her right is Amy, the caseworker who dealt with all our paperwork and then visited us every month since Noah was born. Michael’s mum is on my other side, and his brother Aaron on the far side of her. And then my parents are on the farther other side. Don’t you love Noah’s jeans? They’re Maya hand-me-downs! Ha!  My very short mom got lost in this photo, but we gained Sophie, who was one of our flower girls when we got married! Maya was a little grumpy because we took the Oreos my mom let her get from the vending machine away.  After lunch, I wanted to take a few photos with this sign, which Kristin from One Tiny Heart made us the day before. Luckily, there was a blooming tree right across from the restaurant where we could snap just a few more photos.  Both of these children desperately needed a nap by this point! I’ll also take this moment to let you know that Michael came home several weeks ago with Maya’s shoes. He had been shopping for sandals to wear to the pool for himself and walked in with these red velour shoes in exactly the right size and said, “She has to wear these to adoption day!” Why yes, yes she does. And she did!

What a glorious whirlwind of a day. The general chaos meant we didn’t livestream it like we did with Maya’s, but I’ll have a short video to share next week. Thank you to everyone who was so darn excited for our family this week. You made this celebration so special!

Another Adoption Day!

February 12, 2018

We have another adoption day coming up! This week!

Before Christmas, we had our lawyer ask the court if we could maybe switch Noah’s adoption finalization day so that Michael’s parents could attend. They were planning to visit from Ireland in February, and luckily the court was nice enough to accommodate our change. We offered the 13th, 14th or 15th of February and guess what they picked? Valentine’s Day! So, at 8:30am on Valentine’s Day, we’ll be celebrating by making Noah’s addition to our family official!

We’ve never been big Valentine’s Day people, but you can bet we are going to be now!

We were able to live stream Maya’s adoption through my From China Village Facebook page, so we’re hoping to do the same again with Noah’s. You can keep an eye on that page, but it will likely be between 8:30am and 9 Central time.

And for old time sake, Maya’s adoption video and photos!