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!

4 Toddler Activities We Love And One Total Fail

February 9, 2018

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we took Maya out of daycare because we were worried about her immune system not being able to withstand the winter’s germs. I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard and exhausting, mostly because I’ve been working in the evenings once Michael gets home to take over. But she’s also stayed healthy, which was and is the goal! I’ve written enough about the terrible flu season in the last few weeks to know that we made the right decision. That said, I’ve needed to be a little more creative in keeping her busy and active and learning, and in case you also have a cooped up toddler who needs some action, I thought I’d share a few of our winning activities with you.

While the weather in Houston has been pretty good, we’re still cooped up at home a little because Noah naps so often and (sometimes) for so long. He’s also stopped napping in the wrap or carrier (FOMO much?) so it’s not as easy to just up and go to the playground when Maya starts to get stir crazy. We still try to get out every afternoon, but that leaves some long mornings to fill with educational-ish activities.

In the few weeks since she stopped going to school two days a week, I’ve tried out a lot of new activities with her. Some have been great, and I thought I’d share them with you in case you have a cooped up toddler needing some distraction. We also had one total fail, which I thought was hilarious, so you’re getting that one, too. You’re also getting primarily grainy photos from my phone of Maya with bedhead. Unless we’re going somewhere in the morning, we don’t do hair until after nap time.

Slime

My friend Jamie sent me this recipe for slime that doesn’t require buying a giant box of Borax that we then have to store for the next 10 years. Instead, it uses contact solution and baking powder! At first, I thought it would definitely be a recipe for a giant mess, but she claimed it wasn’t so we decided to give it a shot. Turns out, it’s less mess than play doh! Maya loves to play play-doh but it does leave tiny bits of the stuff everywhere for days. Slime, on the other hand, stays mostly contained. We’ve been able to reuse it for at least a week by keeping it in a sealed plastic bag.

We made this recipe for slime, minus the glitter and halved. It was a cinch and she could do almost all of the stirring herself.

Pouring colored water

Another friend suggested the instagram account Busy Toddler, which I’ve found myself scrolling through whenever we’re feeling a little tired of playing baby dolls or farm animals. Pouring colored water in a giant tub using different size vessels was an idea found there. We have concrete floors, so I don’t worry too much about getting them wet and mopping them up again. We set the tub on a towel and she scooped and poured for a while. She started with blue and red water and eventually exclaimed, “Purple!” so maybe there was a subliminal message in there, too.

Washable markers on giant paper

I haven’t wanted to spend much money on my new daycare project, but I did stock up on some more art supplies, including washable small markers from Crayola. Those aforementioned concrete floors really come in handy. I should really pick up some kraft paper but I used a giant piece of brown paper that came in a package and she drew for a long time.

Flash card mail

We had a set of bilingual flash cards already that she enjoys looking at and organizing into their little pouch. I decided she could “mail” them if I cut a slit in an empty water jug. We’ve kept the same jug around for weeks because she’ll keep going back to it. I just cut a trap door in the bottom so she can take them out again and start over.

Now for the fail: Shaving cream painting

I’d seen on Pinterest (famous last words, eh?) an idea for painting with shaving cream. Essentially, you put the shaving cream into a baking tin and squirt on some paint. Then the toddler can use the paint brush or her fingers to swirl the paint around. Here’s the problem. Once she stuck her fingers in (I’m pretty sure she never touched the paint brush), she couldn’t get the shaving cream off and she got all clogged up. Pretty soon it was all over her stomach from trying to wipe it off and then we just moved the whole ordeal to the tub because it was clearly heading toward disaster levels.  Maybe an older child would do better with the shaving cream painting, but a word to the wise if you do try it. Get unscented shaving cream. That stuff is stinky in large volumes!

Have any toddler activities (minus the shaving cream) that have worked for you?

How We Spend Our Days

February 7, 2018

I couldn’t remember what the saying was, so for the last 24 hours or so I’ve been repeating in my head “How we spend our days is….how we spend our days?” I knew it wasn’t quite right, but for whatever reason, it was a little bit calming. Then I googled it and learned that it’s actually “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard, from The Writing Life, which is ironic because when I’m not in the midst of the mom-ing life, I’m racing to the writing life. Also, very, very true. How we spend our days is what adds up to how we spend our lives.

Let me tell you why I have been ruminating over this quote for the last few days.

We had a grouchy, grumpy, overtired few days last weekend and I knew half of it was my own overdone-ness. The other half was a grumpy toddler who dissolves into a whiny puddle if she doesn’t get enough sleep and a fussy baby who must have just gotten the memo about fussy being an option. He went from the chillest baby on the block for his first 5 months to not wanting to be put down. Ever. They’re both recovering from whatever the heck that was (maybe that blue blood eclipse moon?) and resuming their normal sweet selves, but the combination of the three of us grumps (plus one Michael who does. not. do. mornings)  didn’t produce the most relaxing or even pleasant weekend. I suppose we all have those days, when you can’t get out of your own grumpy cloud, but I was determined to start the week on a better foot. And apparently that started by reminding myself that how we spend our days is how we spend our life. Ahem, grumpy mom, these are the days, the most precious, perfect, whiny, exhausting days. No matter how early they get up (and it’s creeping earlier by the day), you’ve got to try to remember not to waste these days reminding them how early they dragged you out of bed.

I also reminded myself that the day starts anew every morning, with a clean slate for the whole family. And if I’d only get myself into bed earlier I could really capitalize on that! We have better days when we get out and spend the afternoon at the park around the corner. Maya can swing for hours and Noah is warming up to it. He’s mostly content to just sit in my arms and watch his sister play.

She doesn’t always wear a dress to the playground, and Noah doesn’t always look so stern or blinded by the sunlight. Sometimes it’s not worth changing Maya out of whatever we started the day in just to go to the park, and sometimes Noah is totally overtired and won’t crack a smile. You win some, you win some. Very, very good hair day: documented. This girl finally realized, after 2 years and 4 months, that she could cheese for the camera. I’m so grateful she only realized it now, and now I think it’s absolutely hilarious to see that cheesy grin.

I’m finally getting used to my replacement camera and trying to bring it with me when I can. It helps when the playground is deserted so you don’t look like a weirdo taking pics of all the other playground kids, even though I only ever care to capture my own!

Here’s to appreciating the days ahead, no matter what time the tiny humans wake us up.

Happy Weekend

February 3, 2018

My mom got this great new rug, so when we were there over Christmas I took a few photos of Noah laying on it and then attempted to get Maya to stop for a split second in his relative vicinity. You can see how well that worked. Ha! You can also see what zero humidity, tons of wood stove heat and my total refusal to let her head be wet and cold for the sake of her locks does to her head. Ball o’ frizz.

This weekend, we’re dividing and conquering while I get ahead (or catch up, I’m not quite sure which I’m doing at this point!) on some work. Tonight, though, we’re going to take a break from work and have tacos at the park (if the weather cooperates) and start planning Noah’s adoption celebration. His adoption finalization is on Valentine’s Day, and both sets of grandparents and his uncle are flying in for the occasion. We’ve got a party to plan! We’re also hoping to meet friends at a new neighborhood bagel spot tomorrow morning, and then feed Noah his first real non-formula food!

And now, a few things to share with you.

I’ve begun posting a few pieces of writing on an Irish mom website, including a few old faves – Maya’s birth story, meeting Maya’s birth mom, and Noah’s birth story. I still cry every time.

One of my dear friends had a baby last week (we’ve been praying for these W babies for over a year, and now they are both finally here!) and I picked up Noah’s favorite made-in-Maine chewy Q for him.

I saw this fab video about composting in Portland, Maine, this week. We miss having the ability to compost so easily as we did when we lived in Dublin. But the Maine version allows you to request compost to use in your garden and directly benefits organic farmers. Much improved and entrepreneurial!

Halsey’s women’s march poem is worth at least one listen, probably two.

A really important reminder that what our kids might need most from us is to teach them how to be okay with not being okay. Or maybe a lesson we can all keep working on as well.

The Lost Kitchen restaurant is bringing notoriety to little old forgotten Freedom, Maine.