Last Friday, we loaded the kids and Elise into a plane and headed to LA to visit Amy, Lilou’s first mom. The travel was as awful as we expected it to be. Griff and Lilou are not happy on planes! When we arrived, they didn’t have the car we rented, so we ended up with one fewer seat. By the time we got to our rental house early – so we could surprise our host cleaning – I was already annoyed and then embarrassed. He was gracious.
BUT the house was perfect, with room for the kids to play inside and outside. The kitchen was fully stocked and a grocery store closeby made getting settled easier. And Amy’s as delightful as always!
With four kids, everything at home or elsewhere has to slow down. The nap window has to be defended against our desire to explore and show the kids around. Realistically, we have a few hours in the morning to do something before we have to get them fed and settled for some quiet time – and they all still nap for a few hours in the afternoon! That’s frustrating in LA, where it takes forever to get anywhere.
Despite our best efforts, the kids were tired and off their schedule the first day few days. We always feel so frustrated when we have time with someone we don’t see often and the babes won’t just sleep when we need them to. Still, if you want a realistic glimpse of our life, nothing’s more typical than us dealing with nap protests and tired kids.
So we spent lots of time at the house, with all adults holding kids, reading stories, and overseeing chalk drawings on the driveway. They marveled at grasshoppers and hummingbirds, and dipped their fingers in the tiny fountain. We ordered in barbecue and chatted late (read: 9pm) after tucking the kids in for the night, sitting outside with a glass of wine and good company.
Catching up with Amy was great, and hearing about where life is taking her next delighted us. Seeing her marvel at Lilou and celebrate all of the kids was fantastic. They took to her easily and bounced between us and someone new and fun as we wandered the Getty and the zoo. Lilou never lets anyone hold her for long, but with the heat and the travel, she snuggled up to all of us way more than usual. Amy was thrilled!
One of our biggest surprises and pleasures in open adoption is seeing how readily Kat, Kerna, and Amy have taken to all of our kids. They’ve each commented on how they can’t picture them as anything other than a whole family, since the kids are so tight. Sharing all of our family with someone who has such strong ties to one child is so fulfilling, and builds stronger relationships for all of us to our kids’ extended family. We can’t wait for our next visit to Arizona, so everyone can meet Bianca too!
People often ask us if visiting our kids’ first families is hard. We easily answer no for the most part, but parts of it can be. Whether we’re visiting relatives of ours or theirs that we don’t see often, the kids take a minute to warm up. They’ve said weird things (like Tess announcing loudly and proudly that Amy is Lilou’s first mom everywhere including the airport and the museum!) that may startle the people we’re with. Seeing the hope and love on someone’s face and hoping our child can stop racing and give a much-needed and long-awaited hug can be hard. Trying to explain why one kid should get more time with someone the other kids are enjoying, getting them to leave some space for bonding can be hard. Mostly, saying goodbye and watching someone who loves that same child ferociously walk away with tears in their eyes is hard. The last hour of a visit kills me, because I know it kills them.
People ask if we worry about our kids loving their first families more. To me, that’s a weird way of putting it. We all have different roles and relationships with these kids. They don’t compare us or see us as duplicates; they just see people they love. That will be more complex as the kids get older, but right now it’s not an issue and I don’t anticipate it will become one in that way.
Hearing Amy explain where Lilou’s light eyes come from, hearing her talk about her parents and Lilou’s heritage, knowing that our daughter’s questions will be answered when she needs to ask them is worth flying fussy kids across the country. Sharing our family experience with one of the moms who made it possible for us to be a family feels right, and seems to make all of us happy. So we suffer through the goodbyes and the tears vicariously, knowing we can’t relate to the loss but understanding the epic love. We don’t have words of comfort, other than to promise the next visit won’t be too far away. At the airport, kind strangers help us load everything into shuttles (and steady suitcases and car seats on the ride) while others glare at us for daring to have children and travel. We pack crazy amounts of animal crackers and distractions, and battle our way through the airports with our social, noisy crew, and wedge them each into their seatbelt while cajoling them into a snooze. It’s worth it.
We arrived back in Milwaukee at 1:30 in the morning, with two screamy non sleepers and some less than impressed older kids. We gathered our belongings and headed back to our car, then home. After tucking everyone in, I opened the envelope waiting for us from our lawyer in California. There, after more than a year, sat Lilou’s birth certificate with our names on it. Dave and I went to bed with a sigh of peace, knowing our family is official and home. Another adventure is always around the corner, but the rest of the summer is about being together here, creating memories and stories for our next big visit.