A Rite of Passage

June 16, 2016

maya-cheerios-11 We gave our sweet girl Cheerios for the first time a week or so ago and it seemed like such a baby rite of passage. I wanted to remember her tiny fingers pushing the Cheerios around and trying to squash them into her mouth. So many ended up on the floor, but she did pretty well getting a few of them down the hatch.

For your viewing enjoyment, way too many photos of sweet Maya eating her first Cheerios.

And bonus! My mom made her little raindrop dress! It’s too cute.  maya-cheerios-10 maya-cheerios-2 maya-cheerios maya-cheerios-8 maya-cheerios-12 maya-cheerios-13 maya-cheerios-14 maya-cheerios-15 maya-cheerios-5 maya-cheerios-7 maya-cheerios-9 maya-cheerios-10 Happy munching! (And much cleaning up for some of us….;)

No Take Backs, No Do Overs

June 14, 2016

maya mike tattoo 2016 Never in a million years did I think I’d marry someone who likes tattoos, it’s not really my thing at all. But I married this guy and here we are. Tattoos. This family tree was my gift to Michael for our first Christmas after we got married (against all my better judgment since I think this started a whole lot more!) nearly eight years ago. He found a tattoo parlor in Dublin and we went together with a vague idea of what he wanted. A tree, with his parents’ names at the bottom, ours on the trunk and room for our kids’ names at the top. The tattoo artist was Latvian and spoke literally no English. Like zero. We showed him a sketch and he drew a circle and two sticks and stuck it on Michael’s back. He said “Like this, yes?” and for some insane reason we both said, “Yeah, I guess?”

How on earth either of us thought that was a good idea, I will never know. But it was and it turned out really well.

Seven years later, it was finally time for the first of hopefully at least a few finishing touches. We took Maya (and our 5-month old temporary foster baby – making it quite possibly the most hilarious scene those tattoo artists have probably ever seen!) to a tattoo parlor for a quickie tattoo. Five minutes and one little grimace from Michael later, it’s official. No take backs, no do overs.

mike tattoo 2016 maya family tattoo maya and mike tattoo 2016

But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children

Psalms 103:17

Here’s hoping it’s the first of many!

Video: Maya’s Adoption

June 9, 2016

My friend Andrew helped me figure out that you can embed Facebook videos!

On adoption day, we live-streamed a few different videos leading up to the adoption and then a few after when we were basking in the excitement. You can watch them one after the other for the full effect, or you can just skip to the one with Maya’s Adoption right above it.

My favorite is obviously the adoption moment (followed by giraffe judge moment ;), but I also love that in one of the videos before the adoption I’m feeding Maya with my back turned to the camera. We were very serious about following all the foster baby rules and not showing her face until she was really official!

Pre-Adoption Anticipation! 

Maya’s Adoption! 

Post Adoption After Joys! 

Thank you all for joining us in our excitement! And thanks to Leah and Eanna for video-ing and figuring out this whole Facebook live thing for us. It was really fun!

Maya Catharine: Adopted!

June 9, 2016

IMG_0426 Friends, after a lot of back and forth about whether Maya’s adoption would go forward, we found out Thursday evening last week that it was a go. And it went! I’d love to share with you the play-by-play of adoption day! Sorry it’s taken so long, we’ve got our temporary foster baby back and there’s very little down time between refereeing babies!

So here’s the play by play of adoption day!

Once we enjoyed the partial relief that court was scheduled to open on Friday, we had to worry about my parents’ arrival. They were flying into Houston on Thursday evening and hit major thunderstorms. They were diverted to Dallas and got to Houston at midnight, only to sit on the runway for an hour! They are troopers. But we were so, so glad they were able to make it for Maya’s big day. leaving-for-adoption-day Friday morning, we woke up very early (Maya woke us all up at 5:23am!), got spruced in our adoption day finest, and headed west to Fort Bend County Court. We crossed over the very swollen Brazos River on our way, in total awe that court would go forward. But it did! When we arrived, the court was open and we waltzed right in.  walking into adoption We signed a few papers with our lawyer, met Maya’s ad litem, then waited for a little while outside of the courtroom. Our caseworker, Taylor, handled the termination of Maya’s birth parents’ rights with the lawyer, then they came out to get us. Maya charmed everyone and we took a little video to test the Facebook live stream before the actual court part.

The court part was so fast! I wish we could do it over and just make it longer! But one of the first things the judge said was that there would be no do-overs, no take-backs. (Cue the tears!). But the adoption flew by, and Michael and I were both so emotional. Our judge, Walter Armatys, was wonderful. He even sent Maya away with a stuffed animal and posed for photos with us. We’ve named Maya’s new giraffe Walter in his honor!

The strange thing is that neither of us have ever felt threatened with Maya’s situation. From the moment we saw her face, we knew she was ours and the particulars of her situation meant we didn’t need to worry that she would ever be taken from us. But nonetheless, having Maya’s adoption finalized, having her officially become a Westbrooks, having her officially be our daughter in the eyes of the law, was a big deal. Michael pointed out over the weekend that part of the excitement was because we’ve never really had a chance to celebrate Maya with our friends and family. We didn’t have a baby shower and her birth was such a surprise that it took a while for most of our family to even meet her. Sadly, some of them still haven’t – but they will later this summer. So this was our celebration of Maya joining our family, and it was wonderful from start to finish.

If you are on Facebook, you can watch the whole video sequence from adoption day right here. If you are not on Facebook, you’ll have to wait just a little longer as I figure out how to pull the Facebook livestream video off Facebook to share with non-Facebookers. Anyone have any ideas?

In the next few weeks, I have more to share about Maya’s first 8 months. I actually have video of the first time we met her, which is rather tear-jerking, and tons upon tons of photos of her. It’s a lot to catch up on, and I haven’t the foggiest how to go about it, but we’ll get there eventually.  post-adoption-maya For the time being, this is our sweet girl after her adoption. She was a champion and looked absolutely gorgeous in her little blue and white dress! I went back and forth about the size of her bow, but in the end I figured what the heck, when in Texas, right?!

And now, a whole lotta photos from the day!

First, the waiting in anticipation for the lawyer to call us in…. adoption selfie Our adoption day crew! My parents on the right, Michael’s sister Leah in the red, our dear friends the Walkers on either side of her, and Leah’s boyfriend Eanna (team photographer! Thanks Eanna!) at bottom right. Our caseworker, Taylor, is in a lower group photo as well. Couldn’t have done this without her! walkers adoption day Maya and I with the Walkers, without whom Maya simply wouldn’t have been possible. Their encouragement before we moved here, their welcome and help when we got here, and their constant support as we have raised Maya for the last eight months. They constantly believed this would happen, which was such an enormous gift. em excited adoption maya pre adoption with grammy And here we go! Cue the waterworks! We do solemnly swear…. we do adoption moment with judge armatys To love this baby girl forever and ever! Thanks, Judge Armatys, for making it such a sweet moment. And for posing for photos with us! Ha!  family of 3 official First photo of our official family of three! If you look closely you can spot the alligator tear rolling down Michael’s nose. Big softy, that husband of mine. mike banty and maya And very proud sister/aunt!  mike and maya post adoption

maya and banty adoption crew post adoption courthouse adoption crew adoption crew courthouse While Michael and I were inside getting Maya’s adoption decree and filling out applications for her new birth certificate, my mom entertained Maya by letting her play with the courthouse roses. Thank you, Eanna, for snapping these! My mom and her first grandbaby!  maya and grammy flowers maya and grammy flowers 3 maya and grammy flowers 2 Then Maya’s grandparents treated us to a delicious lunch at Revival Market in our neighborhood! They know Maya and Michael by name, so we thought it would only be fitting to celebrate in a place that knows us well!  family of 3 celebration lunch em and maya lunch mike and maya adoption lunch mike and maya adoption lunch 2 maya first high chair Maya got to sit in a high chair for the first time. My dad was nervous she was going to slide out, so I’m pretty sure his hand was on her the entire lunch! Sorry, Dad! She also got her first taste of danish (minus the filling) and made a lovely, flaky mess – luckily we were eating on the patio! We spent most of the lunch trying to decide whether to go forward with our plan of a picnic celebration later in the afternoon. We went for it and we actually got sun!  adoption day party We had a lovely little picnic celebration in a park around the corner from our house, and apparently everyone got the memo to wear blue! 😉

Thank you all, for consistently and constantly being so excited for us and encouraging about our adoption journey. We loved knowing that so many people were rooting for us from afar even during the adoption itself! I’ve said it before, but it’s been so powerful to know how much support we have from friends, family, blog readers and strangers for the last eight months. I never anticipated what a boost it would be to have you all by our virtual sides! Lots of love from us! xx Em, Michael and Maya

Adoption Day Tomorrow…We Think!

June 3, 2016

family of 3 in pool Oh, friends. What a week! You’ve probably seen the news that Texas is getting record storms and we are in the thick of it. Personally, we’re high and dry in the Heights. It has certainly been many days of torrential rains and I think there’s a leak in one of the bedrooms, but overall we’re completely unscathed and grateful. Some people have had their homes flooded twice or three times in the space of a few weeks or months.

One spot that’s not high and dry? The courthouse where Maya’s adoption day is to take place tomorrow morning. It’s on the banks of the Brazos River, which is experiencing its highest levels in over 100 years. What are the odds?! The courthouse was closed on Wednesday and yesterday, but they have tentatively said that it will be open tomorrow. So we’ll drive an hour west and cross our fingers that the flood waters have receded and are going to stay that way!

But to add a little insult to injury, my parents were supposed to fly in tonight and with constant severe thunderstorms today they were diverted at the last minute to Dallas. So as I write this, Maya’s grandparents are stuck in Dallas and we’re so hoping they’ll make it to Houston in time to see her adopted.

If all ends up going as planned tomorrow morning (which will shock me to no end after the drama of the last few days’ weather), we’re still planning to stream her adoption on Facebook Live. Now, that said, Michael nor I have any clue how to do that, so we’re going to work on it while we wait for my parents to make their way here!

And meanwhile, Maya not only broke through her first two teeth (adorable bottom ones!) this week, she also started crawling! It’s halting and punctuated by belly flops, but it’s forward movement and it’s glorious. She will never cease to amaze and delight us. So, all in all, we’re hanging in there and remain excited for tomorrow…or whatever day she’s finally adopted. But man, we really hope it’s tomorrow!

Thank you for all your prayers and well wishes. We’ll be updating my FCV Facebook page tomorrow morning if you’d like to keep track of how it all turns out!

And hopefully that photo of the three of us in the pool is the last time I have to hide Maya’s face!

Houston Home

May 25, 2016

dining-area-houston How about an impromptu and imperfect and mostly unstyled tour of our Houston home? There was a clean moment a week or so ago and we snapped some photos. Maya makes a cameo. She’s the cutest.

We live in an apartment in a building with only four units, two upstairs and two downstairs. The bottom floor was apparently renovated just before we moved in, which is so nice! The floors are polished concrete, which doesn’t photograph terribly well since it’s a little on the dark side. And totally worries me with Maya learning to sit, crawl and walk someday. But we’ll likely never live with concrete floors again so it’s kind of a novelty.

I’ve already shared a corner of the nursery. The few tweaks I’ve wanted to make still aren’t made to finish off the nursery, but this is the rest of the apartment (minus the bathroom). My one complaint about the apartment is that it’s darker than I realized it would be. I miss our light-filled living room, especially on days that are too hot to go outside or pouring rain. It can feel a little cooped up faster than our old apartment did and faster than our new house in Dublin will. There’s good light in that little house! But otherwise, this apartment has been a perfect little spot for us as a new family of three.  kitchen-dining-houston Here’s the view from the front door. You can see the patio out the back. The time has passed for us to spend much time back there — too hot and too many mosquitos! But Michael grills back there every day. houston-kitchen This is also possibly the only time we’ll have stainless steel countertops. I’m not sure they’re my favorite surface since they show every mark. But they go with the concrete, so that’s fun. Know what else is fun? The disposal. And the dishwasher. We haven’t had either of those in seven years. And a little pantry on the right there, which is more storage than we know what to do with! It’s mostly filled with formula and pretzels.  houston-kitchen-shelves I’ve enjoyed the open shelving, but I think it would be way more fun with all my pretty kitchen bits that are currently in storage back in Ireland. When we make some changes to our kitchen back in Dublin I think we might have just a few small open shelves for the pretty things. I’d rather the everyday things be tidied away. houston-kitchen-shelves-2 living-room-couch For the living room walls I picked up two big pieces of handmade marble paper with gold ink swished throughout. I tacked them onto mat board and had Michael secure them to the wall with copper nails. Cheapest and cheerful-est. Funny enough, we ended up with a used Ikea couch that was my vote when we bought our last couch in our old apartment. I didn’t win but now that we’ve ended up with this one, I think I’ll win when we get back to Dublin.  living-room-houston living room houston A tiny baby hand made it into this photo! Ha! Couldn’t bear to crop it out. We haven’t managed to cover the TV cords, but at least we hid the boxes and all that behind this little bookshelf. The bottom piece needs a better cover, but for now it has contact paper draped over. Like I said, we’re not shooting for perfection these days. Our Irish house is getting all my perfectionism when we get back. Maya’s toys are in the bin on the right. so far, they’re mostly contained and haven’t taken over. But as you can see there’s very little room if they do start taking over!  maya-jumping You can see Maya’s nursery on the left, dark from blackout material pinned over the windows. That kiddo needs total darkness or she’s convinced she’s supposed to be partying. Also, Maya in her hilarious jumper (here’s an action video!).  bedroom-houston Kind of wonky curtains (left Michael in charge of that one weekend 😉 and a pillow my mom made from a Nicole Miller dish towel for me. I do really like our quilt but I don’t think Michael will let me take that back to Ireland. That won’t stop me from trying though! bedroom houston I found the side tables for $15 – for both! – on Craig’s List and painted them dark teal. The rattan boxes, if you can believe it, I’ve had since my first apartment after college. They fit perfectly. I found a lamp for my side because I am in charge of bedtimes. Michael gets sucked into books and keeps the lights on for hours and it drives me nuts. One day he’ll realize there’s a reason he never has a lamp, but for now it’s a very sneaky trick. 217 bedroom I found this painting at the creepy second hand Sand Dollar store in our neighborhood. It came in the frame below, which I painted and put a Rifle Paper card. The painting is coming back to Ireland with us, I find it so cheery.  bedroom vignette Michael and I have been walking two blocks over to the community tennis courts to practice for the family tennis match this summer. We’re going to win. Maya is a great cheerleader, so long as she gets to keep one ball at all times. maya-jumping-houston Maya looks like she’s walking out the door. Won’t that be a crazy thing to see! My aunt made the batik fish wall hanging decades ago and it used to live in my dorm in college. My mom sent it down when we first moved in and Maya and I counted those fish a million times while rocking her when she was tiny.

Thanks for visiting!

Cushions and Quilts from Live Love Smile / Etsy Ireland

May 24, 2016

002 We unexpectedly had a tiny temporary visitor arrive Friday evening, so forgive me while I dream about all the pretty pillows I can lay my head on while I wrangle a 5 month old and 7 month old all week. So much cuddling! So many bottles and diapers. Thank goodness for sleep training, though, Maya slept 13 hours last night and her tiny friend slept 9! I think they’re wearing each other out!

Looking for some Irish baby gifts on Etsy a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the sweet shop Live Love Smile. Owner Lise O’Malley sews the prettiest cushions (not so much for babies) and affordable baby quilts, among other bits and pieces. In related trivial information, did you know that in Ireland pillows are called cushions? Fair warning, this post uses both words interchangeably.   004 Lise’s baby blankets are so lovely – her fabric choices are impeccable. This papel picado printed play mat is my favourite.  016 (1) 025 I asked Lise for a little advice on choosing cushion inserts, because she sells mostly the cushion covers and you’re responsible for finding your own insert. She said to always use a pillow insert that’s two inches bigger than the pillow cover. That sounds like a brilliant idea and is probably the reason so many of my pillows look so sad!  sidebar-1 Lise also told me that ikat (the print above and below) is pronounced eee-kat. How have I missed that? Two very interesting pieces of information in a very short interview. Thanks, Lise! sidebar-2 I love these pillows that are backed with linen. The combination of modern colors and two different textures is really fresh.

Live Love Smile

Happy Weekend!

May 20, 2016

maya playing

Happy weekend to you, friends! The weeks are flying by at the moment, mostly because we’re cruising to the end of Michael’s school year and Maya’s adoption day. Wahoo! We start every week saying, gosh, I can’t believe it’s only Monday, and end them saying, how is it already Friday?!

Well, this week I became an aunt again! My little sister had a baby girl, Claire Elizabeth, and I’m unnaturally obsessed with her already. I won’t likely get to meet her until July and until then I’ll be bothering everyone looking for more, more, more photos! I can’t get enough!

When I wasn’t ogling tiny baby toes on my phone, this week was spent working on a few articles, rolling around on the floor with Maya, trying to keep her from licking the library books, and watching her bounce up and down a million times. Even though it’s been seriously sweaty outside, we’ve been trying to get out for a walk every day for fresh (ish?) air, which has helped my mood tremendously.

We don’t have many plans yet for the weekend, but we’re hoping to make some and make the most of it!

Lots of links I’ve been collecting during my last little hiatus. Enjoy!

My dad’s latest book came out this week and it got an awesome mention in the New York Times! He’s kind of a big deal and he turns 60 today! Giant happy birthday hugs from Houston, Dad!

Really helpful explanation of Muslim headwear, although I wish the gif moved slower so you could really remember which is which!

A career site that helps combat the motherhood penalty. All of a sudden, this became especially relevant to me.

Throw a crepe party!

The all-white-wall debate heats up. Oddly interesting.

A few Houston fourth graders are petitioning to ban plastic bags and I already voted. If you’re Houston based, you can vote too!

Michael and I have been dreaming of an RV trip around the American west. This family has tons of tips (start here and here) and makes it look amazing.

The long form story of the million people buried in mass graves on Hart Island off New York City will blow your mind. The drone footage is incredible, too.

And on a lighter note, great ideas to make your week feel more like the weekend.

Until next week!

Time for Good News!

May 19, 2016

mike and maya I promise it’s not a sad post today, friends! But first, I wanted to thank you all so much for your enormous virtual hugs on my last post. I received so many emails and comments and texts from people sending us comfort and encouragement. I love you all and I am so grateful that I have this blog that connects me to the nicest people with the biggest hearts. I’ve said before that it’s taken a village to make Maya official but it’s taken my (From China) Village to carry us all through this adventure. Who would have thought?!

And speaking of making Maya official, that’s where the good news comes in!

Two weeks from tomorrow, Maya will be an official Westbrooks! Her court date has been set for June 3rd in the morning. We won’t know exactly what time her case will be called, but our caseworker told us they always finish by noon. So at some point on the morning of June 3rd, Maya will be official! We are hoping to be able to live stream her adoption on Facebook Live (through my FCV Facebook page), so if you haven’t already, you might want to ‘like’ FCV on Facebook so it will come up in your feed. If you miss the live stream, you’ll still be able to watch it from my page later in the day.

If we can’t make that technology happen, we’ll post a video to my FCV page later that day. And then you’d better get yourselves ready for an onslaught of Maya photos because she is the cutest little lady and I have a lot of catching up to do. (Speaking of cute, you might want to check out this little video I posted of her on Instagram yesterday. I’ve watched it eleventy million times already, ha!)

I hope you’re having a wonderful week, ours is definitely picking up a little each day, thanks to you all!

Waiting and Wondering

May 17, 2016

em and maya may 2016 If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ve probably guessed from the few weeks of silence that we’ve been working some things out. I hemmed and hawed about writing this post, like I do with all the posts that are especially hard to put into words and then end up lifting a huge weight off my shoulders. Like when I finally wrote about moving to Houston to adopt a baby – and Maya arrived less than 24 hours later. Or when I wrote about how hard we were finding securing Maya’s adoption fee – and it was funded and raised in 2 weeks. If there’s anything I’ve realized in the last year’s adventure, it’s that no matter how hard it is for me to write the words, the power of writing and sharing them is bigger and better than the fear I have in getting them out.

So, here’s what’s going on behind the scenes. We found out in late February that a birth mom had chosen us to adopt her baby boy once he was born. We were in the thick of quite agonizing discussions about whether to try to adopt another baby before going back to Ireland when the phone rang on a Friday afternoon. We just couldn’t believe it could be true. Another possible miracle adoption baby. No fostering, no visitations with struggling parents, just straight adoption.

We said yes within the hour. It was an offer we couldn’t have ever refused, despite the financial cost and the insanity that would ensue in bringing a newborn home to a seven month old. So we said yes, and then we waited. For nine weeks. We thought of baby boy names (tougher than girl names, that’s for sure!), we picked up a handful of baby boy outfits and washed Maya’s neutral newborn clothes. And then we held our breath for two months, slowly allowing ourselves to think about what life with two tiny people would be like, imagining Maya as a big sister, imagining our two little buddies playing together in the yard behind our house in Ireland one day. We prayed for him and for his birth mom, for their health and safety, for peace in their time together. And of course, we fell in love.

There is always uncertainty in adoption. Birth mom could always change her mind, no matter how certain she may seem in the months leading up to the birth. That’s what we prepared ourselves for, as much as humanly possible.

I wrote these few paragraphs below when we were still waiting and wondering but I left the post half written until tonight.

We aren’t at that threshold yet, in fact we are still waiting to hear that she has gone into labor. But the waiting has taken on a slightly painful edge. Baby boy’s due date was last week, and our agency hasn’t heard from the birth mom since a week before her due date. They haven’t been able to get in touch with her, although our caseworker explained that this is normal for her, that it happens with her fairly regularly. They have a strong relationship with her; her last son was adopted through our agency. Our caseworker is still confident she will get in touch when she goes into labor or shortly thereafter.

Since we heard last week that birth mom has ‘gone dark’, as Michael and I have been calling it, time has nearly stopped. Michael, my strong husband, is utterly confident that baby boy will come home to us when he is ready. And until anyone tells him otherwise, he is looking forward with excitement and expectancy. I, on the other hand, can’t breathe. Every fiber of my body hurts from waiting and wondering, playing out every possible scenario about a woman I’ve never met and a baby who hasn’t been born but I already love. Two months of cautious optimism has used up nearly all my patience reserves.

But not quite.

We’ve got a little wait in us yet. And I’ll let you know when our wait is over, for better or worse. Until then, you’ll find me snuggling Miss Maya, checking my phone every three minutes and praying without ceasing for strength to make it through whatever happens next.

And of course, this time it’s not news for better. A week past birth mom’s due date, after an excruciating wait in which our agency hadn’t heard from birth mom in nearly two weeks, we found out that she had changed her mind. That her baby boy had been born and that she had found a mother-and-baby home to help her get her little family back on their feet. And all our cautious optimism and preparing for possible disappointment was instantly useless. It was good news, of course, it’s what you want for families, to stay together and thrive. But it was also impossibly hard and heartbreaking. A baby boy who gets to stay with his birth mom, but a baby boy we’ll never know or meet or welcome into our family. A baby boy already loved by two moms, but a baby boy who will only be held by one. No baby boy for us for now, for now instead we heal and put one foot in front of the other, simultaneously mourning a loss and rejoicing for a family intact.

When I heard the news a week and a half ago, I had a short, heartbroken cry by myself in the bedroom while Maya slept in the next room. Michael came home from work as Maya woke up and we had a family hug and then went around the corner for a margarita in the last of the day’s sunshine. I watched Maya giggle and smiled from behind sunglasses with sporadically tear-stained cheeks as she charmed everyone around us. We went to bed a little numb that night and woke up sore around the edges. Michael turned to me and said, “Well, I’ve definitely felt better.” And we both laughed a weary laugh.

Michael feels strongly that our role in this difficult situation was to be obedient to what God was asking of us, to give birth mom peace in the last few months of her pregnancy knowing that her baby boy would have a home. My mother-in-law thinks our extended family’s collective prayers for birth mom lifted her up and gave her the strength to keep her son. I think they’re both right, and for my part, I’m grateful that God answered, over and over, my many prayers for peace in my heart as we waited, and for strength for whatever would come.

I’m grateful for the role we played and for the outcome, however hard. I’m grateful that I know that with time my heart will heal the little baby boy sized hole that’s left. And, as I have continually felt through our journey with fostering and adoption, I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many people who love us, especially when we struggle and wait and wonder – and that as a family, we have so much love that we even have extra ready to give. Our cup still runneth over, even with slightly sore and worn out hearts.

And that, my dears, is the latest explanation for radio silence on FCV. I’ll be back again soon. xx