Our Adoption Story In Image Magazine

January 17, 2019

Over the holidays, an article I wrote about our adoption journey to Houston and back came out in Image Magazine. There isn’t a version online yet, but if you’re in Ireland, you’ll be able to find it in any shop at the moment! And as soon as it goes up online, I’ll be sure to share it here.  And our story actually even made the cover! Not the model, obviously, but the huge headline right underneath the masthead. When Michael came home with a copy (on the first day it was on news stands!) I couldn’t believe it. And honestly, neither of us could believe that we got to share our story with a national magazine in the first six months since we returned.

Doreen Kilfeather took the photos and I love how they turned out. We have two kids who literally never stop wiggling and definitely do not sit still for posed photos, so the fact that she got a non-blurry family of four photo is such a gift. But she actually caught a lot of lovely candid photos of the kids and us with them.  When we left Houston, one of my goals was to begin to change the adoption situation in Ireland so that moving 4,000 miles away wasn’t an easier option than adopting here. When I met with Lizzie Gore-Grimes, the editor of Image, I was thrilled that she was interested in starting to push for change in that direction. She asked me to write about our journey to Houston and back, and then to write about the current adoption environment in Ireland. Every phone call I made doing extra research to top off what I already knew about the dire adoption situation here made me more sure that things need to change. What I found was discouragement at every turn, as though the people who are in charge of the entire adoption arena simply don’t want anyone to be able to adopt. And in fact, the number of adoptions completed has gone down in 2018 from the previous year. Adoption isn’t for everyone, but in most developed countries it is at least an option. And it’s most certainly needed, even if internationally rather than domestically. But a three year (arguably unnecessarily grueling) vetting process before you can even start the international adoption process is cruel.

I’ve heard from so many people who were shocked to learn just how impossible adoption is in Ireland, and then another so many people who have friends or family members who would have adopted if the process wasn’t so outrageously limiting. If you have a chance to pick it up, I’m biased, but I think you’d find it interesting! Plus, cute photos of my cutie kids!  I owe such an enormous thank you to Lizzie and her team at Image. They did our story justice, and they also put themselves on the line and took a really strong stand for change in the Irish adoption system. I’m also thrilled that I’m going to get an opportunity to tackle a few more big issues for them in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Our First Holidays As A Family In Dublin

January 10, 2019

Well, hello for the first time in 2019! What a hectic and full holiday month we’ve just had. It was our first home in Dublin as a family in our new house and while I’m still exhausted from its, overall it was a success. How about a little recap?

After ice skating, we drove out to Wicklow to get our Christmas tree! It was driving rain and cold when we got up there (even though it was sunny in Dublin when we left), so it was not the usual deliberative experience I prefer. But I loved it. We went to the Wicklow Way Christmas Tree Farm and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Maybe a tad more expensive than we would have otherwise gone for, but it’s on the side of a mountain, the staff are the kindest ever, and you get cozy mince pies and hot cocoa after while they cut your tree. But the best part is that the tree is still going strong a month later. Not crispy, not shedding, just ready to turn into a Valentine’s Day tree! I finally took it down today and couldn’t quite bear to part with it, so it’s in the front garden hung with suet balls for the birds.

We baked Christmas cookies — Maya’s first time using cookie cutters was a hit. She had her Christmas show at school, decidedly less of a hit. She is just not the kind of kid who can memorize song lyrics. She much prefers to create her own ballad directly after the first line. We were generously given tickets to see Santa at Malahide Castle, which was also nice. Apparently it’s a thing here that you pay to see Santa and the kids are given a gift by Santa directly. It’s all a bit much for me, but Maya is now totally convinced that Santa lives in a castle around the corner. It was a tick-the-box maybe not do it next year sort of activity. We put the kids in matching Christmas jammies and took them to the carols by candlelight at our church, which they loved. I wish we had had more of that sort of singing, so maybe we’ll go church hopping next year!

And then on Christmas Eve, Michael and Noah and Michael’s brother’s family went into town. It’s a tradition Michael’s dad started when they were little — he used to take all 5 kids into the city for Christmas shopping! Maya and I stayed home and baked a million things for Christmas dinner. Michael actually loved being in town on Christmas Eve, so I think we’ll try to somehow incorporate that next year. It will definitely cut into my baking time though!

Once the kids were in bed on Christmas Eve, we stayed up and finished wrapping presents and watching Love Actually before Michael joined his siblings at the pub (our old pre-kid Irish Christmas tradition!). And then of course, Maya woke up at 4am Christmas morning (just because she hasn’t been sleeping well, not because she thought Santa was coming). Needless to say it meant a slow start to the morning! And by the time we woke her, it was almost time for Noah to go down for a nap. But Maya was so thrilled about her presents and it was very fun to see her face when she saw that she’d gotten a bike and a little doll bed.

I think this year might have been the most magical age for Maya to be at Christmas. She was so genuinely excited about the lights and the candy canes and ‘Santo’ as she called him. She didn’t really understand so much about the presents (although she definitely has more of an understanding now!), and especially loved playing with our little nativity sets. Baby Jesus was a firm favorite as was Balthazar from my mother-in-law’s set. It was hilariously complicated to explain all the concepts of the holiday to her very literal self, but I definitely tried my hardest!

After opening some presents on Christmas morning, we put Noah down for a nap and got ready for church. The kids looked absolutely adorable and I wish I’d gotten a better photo of them. Noah had suspenders and a bow tie for crying out loud! We tried to get both kids to nap after church and before going to Michael’s parents’ house for Christmas dinner, but that didn’t work at all. Everyone was way too wound up! So we made our way to my in-laws in the afternoon, played with cousins, had a delicious meal, exchanged gifts, and even went caroling! That was definitely one of the highlights of my day and I’ve already requested that it be part of our tradition in years to come!

When we finally got both kids to bed (so far beyond their bedtime), I was so tired everything hurt. Christmas as a parent is exhausting! But also very, very magical. It was sad to take all of the decorations down this week, but I think we’re all looking forward to recovering from the very long month that is Christmas in Ireland!

I hope you all had a joyful holiday!

Ice Skating In Dublin

December 13, 2018

Yesterday, we went ice skating in Dublin. The ice was soft and the skates were dull, but the rink was deserted and the Christmas lights were so festive and we had a very enjoyable afternoon. Maya and I went with my sister-in-law, Angie, and her older daughter Eabha, my first niece. The girls were so excited to take the train over to the RDS and meet Angie when she was finished with school.

The tickets were actually free from a friend of the family, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have gone initially (especially with a 3-year-old) if they hadn’t been. But it was enjoyable enough that I’ll probably shell out the €25 for the two of us every year as a pre-Christmas tradition! There aren’t that many opportunities to skate (and apparently this is the only open air rink in Dublin the rest are also temporary but covered in large tents) in Dublin, and I’m happy to be able to share a winter activity that I spent so much time doing when I was growing up in Maine. Skating on China Lake every year did make me very snobby about ice and skates, but we’ll take what we can get in our slightly milder climate.  I think the key to most of the success of the afternoon was the timing. We arrived right at 3pm, which meant we missed the school groups that would have come during the school day, but we were earlier than any after school or evening people. The fact that it was a random Wednesday didn’t hurt, either. But the rink was so quiet. There’s a kids rink and that only had two other people for the first 20 minutes we were there, and the rest of the time we had it to ourselves!  I will also give full points to the iSkate place for providing helmets and knee, elbow and wrist guards for the kids free of charge. With the double runner skates, they didn’t exactly get up enough speed to make any dramatic falls (you couldn’t even really call it skating), but it was a nice option and Maya was obsessed with the pink “elmet.”

They had little penguins the kids could push as they found their feet, and they had these yellow banana sleds you could push them on. Both kids did more riding than skating, but it was a good workout for the grown ups!  A little while after we arrived, the Christmas lights strung above the rink turned on and both Maya and I were pretty obsessed with the festive vibe.  I hope you have enjoyed these dark and grainy photos from my very ancient iPhone! Well worth documenting, however poor the quality!

If you’re in Dublin, there are rinks dotted around the city over the holidays, but the one we went to was called iSkate at the RDS.

Reining In Christmas

December 13, 2018

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is really getting close. When the stores start to stock holiday things before Halloween, it’s a very long run-up! But we’re less than two weeks away! This is the first year that Maya has had any sort of inkling about Christmas, although she’s still most excited about the lights she sees popping up around the neighborhood. And also candy canes. That girl could get a handful of candy canes for Christmas and be so thrilled.

We actually haven’t really given our kids Christmas gifts yet. When they’re babies, they’re too young to care, and last year I made the mistake of having presents I ordered shipped to Houston…while we spent the holiday in Maine. (That’s the second year in a row I’ve done that, it was no fun!) She obviously didn’t notice, especially since my parents gave her such lovely and thoughtful and homemade gifts. She still thinks everything she’s ever been given came from Grammy and Granddad!

But this year she’s aware of Christmas, and we’ve been talking a lot about all of the other things that the season means, while also planning for how to keep our own impulses to buy them all the things in check. After seeing Maya’s face at her birthday, when we gave her a single, very small Barbie-for-little-kids doll (because it had hair and she loves to brush hair!), I could give her presents every day. She was so darn excited and the pure joy on her face when she realized she had a gift to open was priceless.

That said, we don’t have an unlimited budget and we would probably run the risk of spoiling the kids, so we’re trying to put some parameters on ourselves. We’ve chosen something to read, wear, need and play for each kid. The categories help me stay organized!

I recently wrote an article for The Journal about how to keep Santa and holiday consumerism from going crazy when you have kids at home. I asked for suggestions from my friends on Facebook and Instagram and got so many great suggestions. You can read the full article here if you’re looking for ways to keep Christmas simple. One of the suggestions that I got multiple times was to sort of limit Santa, so I think we’re going to try sticking to stockings from Santa and the rest of the gifts will come from us. Maya will get to choose a gift for Noah, and Noah will “choose” one for Maya as well. We’re trying to focus on the giving rather than receiving, but with a 3-year-old, that is still a little tough.

If you’re still mid-Christmas shopping, have a peek at these suggestions. They were helpful to me and I hope they’ll be helpful to you!

Two Irish Jewelry Options (Hint, Hint)

December 4, 2018

It’s the time of year when I get to write about a whole lot of amazing gift options for American websites and my column in the Irish Mail on Sunday and even here. And do you know how often Michael thinks to check here before he does any Christmas shopping brainstorming? I’m pretty sure never. I make it pretty easy, and yet he claims I’m hard to shop for.

If you see Michael in the next few weeks, maybe point him this direction!

First, the new collection from Names, by my all-time faves Claire and Laura at the Irish Design Shop, who are both jewelers by trade. When I got my citizenship, I got to commemorate the occasion with a pair of rose gold geometric studs from their Lineage collection And now they’ve released a new collection called Homespun and I would be very pleased to see one of their creations under the tree this year!  I’m still in the market for everyday wearable earrings (which these are) but a bangle wouldn’t go astray either!

For more fun outings than trips to the park or sitting at the coffee shop writing, Capulet & Montague’s statement pieces from Longford-born designer Lisa McCormack are so fun and colorful.

So if you have someone just like me on your Christmas list this year, you are welcome.

 

A New Venture // Wordsmiths

November 27, 2018

I have some more fun news to share! For the last six months, my friend Rachael and I have been working on a new venture. We’re starting a copywriting agency! Meet Wordsmiths!

It’s so fun to think how the universe works to make this sort of thing happen. I met Rachael years and years ago at an Irish food bloggers event back when we both thought we were food bloggers. To be fair, Rachael knows much, much more about food than I ever will, but we’ve both since learned that we’re writers, actually, no matter the subject. Rachael actually does still write about food for Food and Wine magazine, whereas I’ve chosen to just enjoy food and write about nearly everything else!

Since that fateful food blogger event (I think we went to eat some oysters?), Rachael and I have become close friends. We traveled to France for her wedding and they came to Houston to visit us a few years ago. Luckily, our husbands enjoy each others’ company, because we often drag them along to whatever we plan! We’ve shared so many words back and forth between each other on email and WhatsApp over the years, and when we were away in Houston, Rachael’s emails were always some of my most favorite to receive. She has a way with words that is so thoughtful and well-considered, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s just incredibly smart.

So we’ve decided to join forces and write words together for other people and businesses, and it’s already been such fun. If you’re in the market for any words, look no further than Wordsmiths!

An Irish Holiday Bucket List

November 15, 2018

I keep trying to explain to Maya that it’s sort of almost Christmas, but Thanksgiving comes first. I’m not sure the concept is really landing yet. She asked to wear a Christmas shirt yesterday and fawned over the Christmas trees when we got to Ikea the other day. Christmas just seems to start so darn early now and while I’m not one for Thanksgiving to get eclipsed, I’ve already started booking and planning a few Christmas festivities for our family.

So here’s what we’re going to try to squeeze into an already hectic season.

Dublin Zoo Lights and Hole in the Wall Pub Lunch

I posted about the Dublin Zoo Lights in my Instagram stories because I wasn’t sure it would be worth it for such small kids. The tickets are expensive (€20/person for adults and €15 per kid over 3), so I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be something that I wished we had saved for next year. But a lot of friends said the kids (or at least Maya) would love it. And Noah’s free anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if he enjoys it! Ha!

Another friend suggested going to the Hole in the Wall Pub in Glasnevin for late lunch/early dinner before going to the Zoo Lights right when it starts at 5pm. That sounded delightful and festive, so we booked that, too, for early December. Sure, what else are we going to do when it gets dark so early!

Grafton Street Lights and Hot Chocolate

With the exception of church on Sundays, we rarely make it into the city at the moment. Sometimes it kills me, but I’m trying to remember it’s just a nap-heavy season and we’ll have lots of time for city exploring in the months and years go come. So we’re going to make a point to go in to Grafton Street and look at the lights one afternoon and have hot chocolate. There isn’t a city that does hot chocolate better than Dublin, so we’ll have lots of options on that front!

Cut Down a Tree

I haven’t yet found a Christmas tree farm, but I will (any suggestions?) and we’re going to go cut one down. Maya has spent every Christmas so far in the snow in Maine, so she thinks she’s getting snow and I hope she’s not disappointed that she doesn’t get to ride in a sled to cut her tree down like we’ve done the last few years!

See Santa Somewhere

Here’s the thing about Santa. I did enjoy the magic of Santa when I was little, so I’m going to try to put a little more effort into the whole thing, but when I talk about Santa I just can’t take myself seriously. It just sounds so ridiculous! But we’ve visited Santa in Houston every year so we’re going to find one here. But here’s the other thing. Maya’s not old enough to appreciate the whole “experience” that’s bundled into seeing Santa in most places now. And it’s so expensive when you do that sort of thing! I just want to find a reasonably inexpensive Santa they can see for a for a few minutes, snap a photo, and then we’ll go get hot chocolate somewhere. Any suggestions?

Last year we went to Second Cup in Houston and got several photos, decorated cookies and ornaments for $20 and it all went to support victims of human trafficking. That’s my Santa style if you know of that sort of thing in Dublin!

Bake Christmas Cookies

We haven’t met a lot of our neighbors yet, but I’m figuring bringing Christmas cookies is a good excuse!

Host a Billion People for Christmas Dinner 

Well, not a billion, but ALL of Michael’s large family plus our wonderful nanny and her friend from home (who is also here from Uruguay studying English) and possibly one of Michael’s teammates are coming for our very first Christmas in our new home. We aren’t entirely sure they’ll all fit in our small house, but we’re going to give it a shot!

Make Ornaments

I wrote a post for Mabel & Moxie that will be published next week about DIY Christmas ornaments you can make with kiddos and I have about 15 different ones I want us to make together. I mean, marbled baubles with nail polish and these sweet little silhouettes? I’m also going to whip up a few pom pom wreaths for the kids rooms and hopefully enlist Maya’s help somehow.

Do you have any awesome Irish Christmas traditions we should add? Happy holiday planning, friends!

 

National Adoption Month / What It Feels Like To Have A Failed Match

November 8, 2018

First, can you believe how little our littles were at Noah’s adoption day? Nothing like a photo of two kids with their hands in their mouths. Ha!

Second, it’s National Adoption Month in the States in November, and I wrote about failed adoptive matches for ParentMap. In the span of a year between adopting our Maya and finally finding our Noah, we had two failed infant adoptions fall through, and we had two foster-adoption situations fall apart. I’d love for you to read that article, and then read this back story. And bear with me, because it starts as a downer, but I hope it’s reassuring in the end to people who reticent to consider adoption because they fear a failed match.

I think a failed match or a failed adoptive situation is one of the biggest fears people have when they consider or think about adoption. I actually didn’t consider it happening until we started our search for Maya’s little sibling, because Maya came so quickly and her situation meant that she was all but legally ours from the minute we laid eyes on her. But when we were matched with an expectant mother when Maya was six months old, there was a really intense period of wondering whether it would actually come to be. And then we did that same wondering and waiting that melted my brain three more times before we got to Noah.

I can only speak for myself, but we didn’t name that first potentially-ours baby — in fact, we couldn’t decide on a name for that baby, which I now believe was because he wasn’t meant to be ours; the only baby we have ever been able to name before he arrived was Noah. But we did call that first failed match baby ‘Little Man,’ for the whole time we waited for him. Our whole family called him that. We packed a hospital bag for him with tiny newborn clothes and snacks for us and it sat in the living room for weeks; the expectant mother had cut off communication shortly before her due date and no one could find her until about ten days later. And even then, it was only by the grace of God that we found out that she and the baby were safe and supported in a mother-and-baby home, and that she had decided to parent her son.

Maya was napping in her room as I sat on our bed and got the call from our agency. It was our first true heartbreak in our adoption process, a fact for which I will always be incredibly grateful. A failed match is hard to process; Michael and I kept saying to each other, “This is what you want, you want a mom and son to be together.” And yet we had to grieve the loss of a member of our family we imagined and planned for and would never meet. (Of course, we did end up meeting Little Man seven months later — and again thought we would be able to adopt him, and again were heartbroken when that decision changed.) Your head knows it’s the right thing (if it’s safe for everyone involved, which it isn’t always and wasn’t in Little Man’s case, but luckily we didn’t know that at the time), but your heart is broken for what never was.

That day when our hearts were feeling bruised and sad, we decided that the best thing to do would be to go get margaritas a few blocks from our house. It was April and hot out already and Maya was wearing a sundress my mom had made her. We laughed and cried and processed and grieved — and thank God for strong margaritas in a case like that!

My editor, Vicky, asked me if I could sum up what it feels like to have a failed match and I’ve been thinking about that ever since. I had to find a way to express it a little more succinctly for the purpose of the ParentMap article, but if I’d had more room I would have tried to explain this: a failed match feels like your heart has dropped out of your body. It feels like the worst thing that could have happened did happen. But counterintuitively, there’s a huge strength to be found in surviving what you think is the worst thing that could happen. I didn’t think I was strong enough to cope with the sadness of not holding a baby I envisioned for weeks, but I am, and I’m grateful for that silver lining.

I’d also explain that a failed match feels very different with time. In retrospect, we know that the children who didn’t end up with us weren’t meant to be our children. We hope we played a role in their lives through fostering them, or maybe we played a role in their moms’ lives, giving them a plan that gave them a modicum of peace in a crisis, but they weren’t meant to join our family forever. Failed matches, in the months afterward, feel more like a missed connection than a loss.

The hardest thing about experiencing a failed match was trying to hold onto hope in future adoptive situations. But as I mentioned in the article, we owed it to whoever was going to be our child in the months or years to come to hold onto hope that he was out there. We owed it to Noah to be able to tell him that we were so excited about his arrival — not that we were so fearful of it falling through that we didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to dream of his little self.

It was a rollercoaster eight months of Little Man, then Baby J, then Little Man again, then another failed infant situation that fell apart on New Year’s Eve. I think we were fueled entirely by adrenaline and tacos (and let’s be honest, a few margaritas). But I’m so glad we were able to continue to hope with every situation that whoever was meant to make us a family of four would find us, and in the meantime, we would just keep saying yes without fear of our own sadness.

If you’re considering adoption or are even just interested in the ins and outs, I hope maybe this elucidates what a failed match is like. It’s crummy and sad, but it’s survivable, and certainly not a reason to avoid adoption altogether. And the ability to hope in the face of potential heartbreak is a gift I never knew I needed. Xx

Our Dublin Home / Kitchen Reveal Photos

October 31, 2018

Noah would like to welcome you to our new kitchen!

First, a peek at the before:  This was taken before the house was rented the first time, right after we bought it. We had been prepared to live with most of the kitchen, but when we got back and saw the state of it, we figured it was worth gutting. The brown linoleum counters, the shiny black tile, the sagging cabinets. It was all pretty yucky and we are so incredibly glad we have a brand new kitchen now.

Here is the after!  It’s so. much. better. I think the oven and the dishwasher are the only things that remained, and that’s because they had been replaced not that long before when their predecessors bit the dust.

Michael and Julian, our builder, ripped out the tile, the backsplash, all of the cabinets, the countertops and sink and island. I never thought I was going to get a brand new kitchen, but I’m so grateful! I spend a ton of time in it and I’m very, very happy with it.

The light fixture is going at some point, but I’m having trouble finding what I want to replace it with. But otherwise, the kitchen is done! The counters, stovetop and sink are all from Ikea and are holding up quite well. The cabinets are from The Paneling Centre, and they were a little terrifying to choose. Julian recommended The Paneling Centre and because we were trying to make decisions fast, we just went with what they had to offer. They didn’t have as many color options as I was hoping (I originally wanted white uppers and dark blue/navy lowers) but I think the light grey and dark grey combination is probably more timeless.

I also think I’m going to take down the blinds in the window. We never put it down and it’s a little wonky. I’d prefer it to be clean and open once we take down the autumn leaf decorations.

This photo might help you understand the layout better. The dining area is right through the old double doors and the kitchen is right across the little peninsula bar.  Here’s a photo that will show you just how useless that peninsula was before.  Not only was it ugly, but it didn’t even have any cabinet space! Now it has cabinets that Noah likes to empty daily. We also got rid of that hideous rounded corner. Thank goodness!  The stools are from Harvey Norman and they’re really comfortable, although I’m a little worried they’re not going to hold up to Maya’s sticky jam fingers every morning. She knows she’s not supposed to have dirty hands on them, but she’s three, so you know. I know they won’t hold up like a completely wipe-able option, but hopefully we can keep them nice for a little while!  Another before:  And after!  The copper handles are from The Paneling Centre as well, and while I don’t really like subway tile, I did like this more textured version for our backsplash. The leaves are seasonal but since I forced Michael to put them up for me the other day, I figured I’d leave them up for these photos! I love having a window over our kitchen sink since we didn’t have that in our Houston apartment or in our old Dublin apartment. The kids aren’t really old enough to be out in the back garden by themselves, but one day that will be my view!  And this is my view from the sink across to the dining table, which I also love. The dining table is sort of darker than I thought I’d like, but it helps the space not be too matchy-matchy. The light fixture makes me so happy and is from Lights.ie. We found Stokke high chairs second hand and they’ve been great for both kids for the most part, except Maya has started to prefer sitting in my seat, so we might pick up a third of the navy Ikea chairs sooner than later.  Although I do like perching on her Stokke, which is what has to happen when she kicks me out of mine! It’s quite comfortable!  And that’s my view of my sweet son having a snack (before he starts throwing it all on the floor!). If you asked me what my favorite part of our new house is, I’d tell you it’s that I get to stand in the kitchen and have the view of my family at the table. I love having company in the kitchen, I love when my kids sit at the bar with their dad and steal all his scrambled eggs in the morning. Jammy fingers and all!