Friday, June 14, 2019

10 year journey

Cadence is 10 years old! All of my children - double digits now. It feels impossible. She has been with us for a little under 9 years. Cadence and Sierra got in an argument the other day with Sierra arguing that Cadence was born in 2010 and Cadence stating that she was born in 2009. Is Sierra really bad at math or was she just trying to get under her sister's skin (entirely possible!). Or does it seem like Cadence's life started when she came home with us in 2010? She had a whole 16 months that happened before we came into her life. Think of ALL of the things that happen in a child's first 16 months of life. All of the milestones that are cheered about and celebrated. All of the connections that are forming in their brains. So many things!

We have been very open discussing with Cadence what few details we know about those first 16 months of life. We have 24 pictures that we can share with her. We have a short journal that a wonderful volunteer with Half the Sky made when she met with Cadence the last four months that Cadence was in the orphanage. We have speculation about what happened the first few days of her life. Cadence has a very inquisitive mind. I know that there is a lot going on inside her little head about her life story that she is may not be talking to us about. Maybe she can't even formulate the thoughts and questions that are circling around in there. She may not even know where to start. It will be a lifelong journey of processing for her and sometimes I feel like I am failing on helping her navigate it all. 

Recently we went to this wonderful American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. On one wall there were postcards from postsecret blown up to 8x10's and displayed. Check out the link if you don't know what it is but basically people can send anonymous postcards to an address and they may make it into a book, website, or the wall of a museum apparently. Sierra and Laurel were reading them and Cadence was just wandering around... not seeming too interested. Until I saw her standing in front of these. The only two about adoption. I read them and felt like the air was sucked out of the room. What did they mean to her? How did she feel about them? Later that evening I attempted a conversation with her to no avail. She had no questions or desire to discuss anything. I have walked the line of  pushing her to possibly talk about her thoughts/feelings/etc versus letting her discuss in her own time. So I will sit with it some more and wait for a moment that feels right or for her to feel like the moment is right. 

Just a week later we attended a concert in Richmond. Last year I received a pamphlet for events at the Modlin Art Center. I set it aside to look at it another day. Months later I finally opened it and saw that Anda Union was touring in the US and would be just down the road from us! They are musicians and story tellers who share Mongolian culture and heritage through songs and native instruments. I was very excited for Cadence to experience such a rich part of her culture just an hour away from where we live! Once we got there and started reading the bios of the performers I was blown away that each of them mentioned a connection to Hohhot City, Inner Mongolia. Almost all of them had lived there or currently were living or working there. Hohhot City is a huge place but it took my breath away knowing that they may have walked past Cadence's orphanage, maybe even while she was there. I knew that we had to meet and talk to the members of the group! The music was mesmerizing and beautiful. Throughout the show there was video footage of the grasslands, yurts, and nomadic life. Cadence was riveted throughout the performance. We rushed to meet the group at the end and they were all very excited when they learned that Cadence was from Inner Mongolia. They surrounded her and she was seemed very happy and proud to be there with them too. When we were leaving we stopped to meet one of the singers. She sang the "Mother Song"which combines two long songs lamenting the distance between families and wish for reunification (let that sit for a minute here..) When we introduced Cadence she put her hand on Cadence's cheek and said "Mongolia is your Homeland". It was truly one of the most beautiful moments that I have witnessed. I don't know that Cadence fully understood the gravity of the whole night but I know that it made her incredibly happy to be in that space with those people and music and the story of her heritage. I know that our bodies hold on to all of the experiences throughout our lives and deep within Cadence she knows how special that evening was. I also know that it held more for her than I can probably grasp. Maybe one day, as she matures and processes her story, she will share with me what these moments have meant to her.

"I wish you knew that every time you talk about how much you hate people who put up 
their children for adoption.... your talking about my mom."

"To a Birthmother:
You and I have never met, though I've cried for you many times. You gave up your son so that he could have everything, and for that I love you. He has and is everything you could have ever hoped for. He'll look for you someday, and I hope he finds you. My greatest wish is that you want to be found so that you can see what a wonderful person your son has become, and all because of you and your love for him. I love you. PS You're invited to our wedding!"

Anda Union

Cadence busting into her new year! Happy 10th birthday, baby girl!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Babying my baby

As my children get older I realize that there is a lot of truth to the whole "birth order" thing. Sierra, the first born, is responsible, reliable, and very cautious (thank goodness now that she is behind the wheel!). We are probably the toughest on her out of all of the kids... for better or worse. Even though I am aware of and acknowledge this phenomenon it still exists. Laurel, the middle child, generally is the most low-key, fly under the radar kid. When she was a toddler, she'd literally play in the corner of the room with her toys, solo, for hours. Granted, she is 13 now and since the middle school years started the dynamic has changed a bit. Typically, though, she doesn't get in trouble often and when one of her sisters is in trouble she tries to be the peaceful presence. Another middle child fun fact that Laurel aligns with... she is the biggest saver of money in our house. She may even be better at it than her dad or me! Cadence, our baby, hits all of the youngest child standards. She's fun loving, outgoing, and likes to be the center of attention (when she's comfortable). Interestingly, her love of the spotlight seemed ingrained in her from the very beginning. (On day 3 of being with us she finally opened up when we laughed at something silly that she did... but that's a whole other post!)

The older girls, in typical sibling fashion, are often complaining that we "baby" Cadence too much. I don't put up much of a fight when they say this because I do realize that we baby her a lot more than the other two. The other night I came home from work and Cadence had been sent to bed, but was lying there crying. She said that she couldn't go to sleep until I sang her the song. "You are my Sunshine" has been the bedtime lullaby for all of them. I was a bit confused at her tears and strong need for the song since I don't sing to her every night. But that night I laid down next to her and held her and sang "You are my Sunshine" a couple of times. Then it struck me... I baby her because she will let me. Cadence will let me give her endless hugs and cuddle. She asks me to sing her songs. She will even let me wrap her up and rock her if we are being silly. Sierra and Laurel are 15 and 13 years old. They are the antithesis of wanting to be babied. Usually they will still let me hug and kiss them, but that often depends on the specific mood of the moment! Once in a blue moon they will come lie on the bed when I sing "You are my Sunshine" or read a book to Cadence, but not on the daily. They used to let me baby them. It seems like it was just last week that I babied them. I miss being able to baby them. I miss being able to make feel happy and comforted with a cuddle and a lullaby. I miss being able to ease their lives just by my presence.

To make it harder, I never knew when it was going to end. What moment was it? When was the last time that Sierra asked me to sing her a song before bed? When was the last time that Laurel asked me to carry her upstairs? I don't think I knew that it would be the last. Without ceremony it just was. At some point time had passed and I realized that it hadn't happened in a while. Cadence is 9 years old now. She is going in to 4th grade. She has two more years of elementary school. I am fully aware of the shifts that happen when girls go to middle school. Hormones and stress and drama, oh my! Tick tock. My days of babying my baby are coming to a close and will be here before I know it. Before I'm ready for it. So, yes, my dear oldest and middle children, I will baby my baby for as long as I can.

Babying my "bigs" when they were little

That sweet spot when I could baby all of them

Alfie loves to be babied!

She's almost as big as me... but she still loves to cuddle!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sierra's poems and courage

This is my girl. My sweet, shy, beautiful girl who is quickly growing into a young woman. She took a creative writing through the county's summer fine arts academy. She's not one for sport camps but this was right up her alley. Until she got there the first day and I got a text that said "Mom, we have to read out loud. I can't do it. MOM. I can't take this class." My beautiful girl and her anxiety. She's always so worried that she will mess up or look dumb. It breaks my heart. Some of it is the stage of adolescence where she feels all eyes are on her all the time. Some of it is her personality. All of it I hope that she grows out of and that this hard time makes her a stronger person. But she did it. She stuck it out (and loved the class) through to the end. On the last day the class went to a bookstore on the downtown mall and she stood up in front of at least 50 people, took a deep breath, gathered all of her courage and read her beautiful poetry. She spoke loudly and clearly. I couldn't see her face (she was turned towards her classmates who were downstairs) but my parents were did and said that she looked happy. And proud of herself, I hope,
because I sure am.
Since she's actually given me her blessing to write about her on my blog I'm taking the opportunity and running with it to show off some of her fabulous poetry. The first poem is what she
read in the bookstore. The last two she did during the school year as a "guess what I am" theme.
The Carnival
Snow drifts to the ground
Red and white cones that once spiraled into the air
Lay torn and wounded on the ground
Beasts have been freed
Their metal constraints lay broken on the frozen ground
Memories of laughter and cheers ring through the abandoned playground
Horses that went around and around stand frozen
Hooves paused at the ready
Waiting for their turn to spin again
Distorted mirrors line the hall, cracked from an old drunk's fist
Shattered glass is scattered across the ground, sharp and ready to cut
Now I know why they left
What am I?
I drift through the air
And ride the wind
Twisting through cracks in the walls
I disappear a little more with each twirl
I am graceful and quick as I dance away from my creator
A violent and deadly creature
I serve no purpose but beware -
My sickly sweet scent will drown you with pleasure
I am nothing
Yet I intoxicate all who dare to breathe
What am I?
Only I hear a song
As I dance and I twist
As I glide up the walls
And slide across ceilings
I hiss and I hum
I crackle and roar
A tap of my fingers
Illuminates forests
One whisper can kill
When it turns to a scream
My warm glowing light
Will leave you devastated
(Answers: Smoke and Fire)

Monday, July 6, 2015

If this is 40...

The celebrations started clear back in February with a very fun and relaxing trip to Cancun with these lovely ladies! Six of the 10 of us who went are welcoming the Big 4-0 this year. That completely justifies a trip to a warm, tropical place, especially when it's grey and cold at home. The party started on the plane and didn't end til we got home to an ice storm in DC. It was such a fabulous weekend!

When the mimosas start pouring at 9am it's tough to keep everyone
together for a group shot of all 10!

Blue skies, blue water, white sand... bliss!

Really fun group that was celebrating the Big 3-0 in style!
After recovering from Cancun I had another 2 months until my birthday. I'd alternate between thinking "I've totally got this! I'm going to rock 40!" and "Dear God, I'm going to lay in bed all day with the covers over my head". It's not so much the number that is the issue. It's just how ridiculously fast time is flying by. How is it possible that I've lived half of my life already? And if these last 40 years have gone by this fast, the next will be here, like... tomorrow. That's the part where I start to hyperventilate. I just need it all to slow down.
I'd been dropping hints to Brad for over a year about what I wanted for my 40th. Okay, no hints, I just told him and everyone I knew (to make sure he'd do it!) that I wanted a surprise party. I LOVE surprises! They are kind of my love language. I gave him a list of names and told him to pick a date and send out invites but make sure I know nothing about when he was having it. He started talking about dates in July and I tried REALLY hard not to be annoyed and just be "appreciative" that he was trying. Regardless, he put it together (with some help from a few great friends!) before my birthday and truly surprised me. And the icing on the cake was that our dear friends, Shawn and Theresa, drove all the way from Ohio for just one night so that they could
celebrate with me!
Theresa brought a box full of photo booth stuff and managed to get pictures of everyone!

Cancun girls

Cadence hamming it up

Love this girl!

This one cracks me up! Theresa's arm looks like Cadence is holding the beer!

Some of my oldest friends (not old, oldest!)
A couple of weeks later I rounded out my birthday celebration with some good friends from my old hood. Miss seeing them everyday and was so happy to have them join me!

Theresa managed to get in one more surprise for me!
She sent two of my favorite things to work... cupcakes and
Adam Levine!

It was a great couple of months celebrating with family and friends, old and new. I have to say that if this is 40, it ain't so bad!

Friday, May 22, 2015


We have a new(ish) girl in our home who has totally captured our hearts! After Shiloh died last year Brad had a hard time thinking about getting another pet. The girls were all ready, but we had to wait until Brad felt it was time. These four legged animals really do find a place in your heart and home and when they are gone it can be difficult to think about opening up that place once again. One day last September, though, Brad saw this picture.
Jolie is such a beautiful girl. She's a mutt... a little husky, maybe some shepherd, something small! She's only 30 pounds. But those eyes just draw you in. She was with an organization called
Animal Connections. They rescue dogs from shelters and put them into foster homes until they can find a forever family.

She was in a foster home not far from us so Brad and I went to visit her. We didn't tell the girls because we didn't want them to be disappointed if it didn't work out. As soon as we sat down on the couch Jolie came over to Brad, gingerly climbed up into his lap, laid her head on his chest and looked up at him with those eyes. He was sold! She loves attention and will sidle up to almost anyone she meets and test the waters to see how much love they will give her. She can be protective when someone (men usually) come into the house. Her hackles are raised and she is high alert if it seems like someone isn't a friend. She's very intuitive.
Jolie was found as  a stray in Abingdon and Animal Connections rescued her from a shelter down there. We think she's about two years old and she had had puppies fairly recently. She didn't bark until she was in our home for almost a month and she still doesn't bark much now. We noticed shortly after she came home that she cowers when we hold an umbrella, so we realized that she's not been treated well at some point. We didn't know how bad until I took her to the vet because she limps sometimes. The x-ray showed that she is full of buck shot. Poor girl. Maybe she
was shot on purpose or maybe someone mistook her for a fox. Regardless, she has had a hard life before we found her.
Despite all of that though, she is completely full of love! She
gives and takes all the love she can get. If anyone lies down and
simply says her name she shimmies on over, tucks her head
into their neck, and is in 7th heaven!
Jolie's position of choice!

I think she fits into our family very well!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My journey through nursing

It's funny, the looks that I get and the things that people say when I tell them that I work in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Often there is a look of shock or horror along with "I don't know how you could possibly to do that" (it's my job) or "That must be terrible" (I wouldn't do it if it was terrible all of the time) or my favorite "I just can't stand to see kids hurt" (it's not my favorite thing either, but there is lots of healing going on too). I understand that nursing can be a hard profession to fathom, especially for those who faint at the sight of blood or hate invading other's personal space. Working with sick babies and children can seem like a completely foreign concept for many.

At some point in high school I decided to become a nurse. I had wanted to be a vet but I watch our vet do something to a dog's anal glands and I was out! No thanks! It's quite ironic considering some of the not so charming aspects of nursing. I went to college, worked for a year in adult critical care and then became a travel nurse. For those who don't know, this is truly the best gig in town. Travel nurses go to a different city of their choosing for thirteen weeks and her/his company puts them up in a furnished apartment. If they like it they might stay longer, if not they move on, no commitment. I was in my early 20's and had lived in Ohio my whole life and it was one of the best things I've ever done!

Eventually I met Brad, we settled in Virginia and I needed a change of scenery from the adult patient population. I took my first job in pediatrics before we got married and I absolutely loved it! It was a whole new world of nursing that invigorated me. Honestly, though, I think part of what made it work was that I didn't have kids yet. Once I had Sierra things definitely changed. After being back at work for a couple of months we had a 2-year-old boy who had fallen out of a second story window and suffered a severe head injury. I went home that night and cried to Brad that I couldn't do it anymore. It was just too hard. I saw Sierra's face, literally, saw her face, on every single patient. It didn't matter if they were a baby or a teenager. The SIDS babies, the tragic car accidents, the newly diagnosed cancer patients... it felt too close to home. That could be my child, the one who holds my heart, lying in that bed. I could imagine their parent's pain in a way that had not been tangible before I had my own child. It was a whole new perspective that I had a very hard time dealing with. Sweet Brad talked me off my ledge. I'm so glad that he did. I have since left the PICU for a couple of years simply to have more control over my work-life balance, but when I returned to the PICU I absolutely felt like I had come home.

Last year I went to an ELNEC conference (End-of-Life nursing education consortium) where I did a lot of reflecting on my nursing career, the patients that I've taken care of and my relationships with them. I did notice that most of the patients and families that I remembered the minute details about and felt strong connections with were primarily patients that I took care of before I had kids. There have been plenty of families that I’ve taken care of in the last 12 years that I remember and who impacted me, but somewhere along the way I had to figure out how to “leave it at the door” when I left work… at least most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen all of the time. I have the kids that I go home and dream about, the parents that I cry for when I lay in bed, the patients that I get to hug when I’m lucky enough to see them walk back into the unit whole and healthy after they’ve been discharged. There are many, many who have left their mark on my heart and in my memory.

People often give nurses high praise for “being able to do that…”  Honestly, though, I feel incredibly lucky to have this job. I love the patients that I work with and my coworkers are some of the best people around in so many ways. I feel honored to be able to be a part of peoples’ hardest moments and to be able to at least try and make it a little better. It’s humbling to be with a family as their child receives new life or moves out of this one. As challenging as it is to have face hard realities everyday it also makes me completely aware that we cannot take this one life for granted. No one knows how long they will be on this earth so they need to live fully. Every. Single. Day. I hug my kids tighter each night because I see this each day. And while there are days that I leave a little piece of my heart behind at work, there are many days where I get to witness and feel overwhelming love and joy around me. I get to be a part of the celebration of healing and miracles. These are the moments that define why we do what we do.

And that little boy who affected me so much that I almost left pediatrics... check him out here!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The beauty in our differences

As Cadence is getting older she's having more "new" friends over to our house. Most have only known Cadence for a few months or a year. Almost none of them know that she has a cleft lip/palate. If they ask why her nose is flat on one side or that it looks like she's missing teeth even though she hasn't lost any yet, she'll easily tell them that she it's because of her cleft palate. Of course, I don't think that any of them know what that means. But they got an answer and off they run to the playground.  Until they come to our house.

We have Cadence's referral picture in a frame. The picture that introduced me to my third child. The picture that I stared at endlessly, getting lost in her eyes, wondering if she was being loved and taken care of. Worrying about how she would transition into our family. Wondering if our love would be enough to help get her through whatever has happened to her before she was placed in our arms.

Another one of my favorite pictures that we have out is the first professional ones of my three girls. I swear my heart grows every time I look at the pure joy on their faces! Cadence's big, beautiful cleft smile... I fell in love with it because it was her. I even had a hard time when she had her lip repaired. I missed her cleft smile desperately.

When I look at those pictures now I don't see her cleft lip. I just see her. However, when new friends see the pictures, the cleft is all that they see. It does look dramatic. Most kids have never seen a child with an unrepaired cleft. And I think it can be hard to relate that to the crazy, giggly girl that they know.  Most of them ask questions about it, understandably. Some are a little confused, some listen and move on. A few have said things that can hurt if Cadence is really paying attention. "I'm sure am glad I wasn't born with a cleft" and "That is soooo weird". I don't fault them. They are young kids. I'm sure my kids have said inappropriate things in similar situations.

I know from our six months that Cadence was first home with her unrepaired lip the reactions that happen in stores and on the street. We're standing in the grocery line and Adult makes every effort not to look at Child with cleft. Kid can't stop staring at Child with cleft. Adult grabs staring Kid and whispers "Stop staring" and tries to hustle them away from Child with cleft so they can't see. Back then, I made every effort to reach out to that family though. To explain to kids that this a cleft lip, it's how Cadence was born, just like staring Kid was born with brown hair/freckles/blue eyes. Yes, it looks different and because it makes it hard for her to talk a doctor will fix it one day and her lip will look like most kids. I wanted to use the moment to teach them that it's okay to look and ask questions (hopefully politely) but mostly I wanted them to know that she is a kid just like they are... just one that looks different. Because all of us are different and that's what makes the world kind of awesome! There is beauty in our differences and they don't have to be ignored, just respected.

Cadence is a pretty self assured little girl but I worry that as she gets older about comments that she hears might not roll off her back like they do now. For now I'll try to help my kids see the beauty in everyone's differences as well as the things that makes each of them different from every other person in their class or on the street. Hopefully they will carry that with them where ever they go and with whomever they encounter.