Growing into the family

Let me start by saying we love, love, love all of our children to the point of pain. When you don’t know if you can ever have children, that sort of blessing stays with you, even though it sometimes feels maudlin. To be honest, the ferocious mama bear came out pretty much upon meeting each kid, which is a little scary considering that’s not necessarily when things are official. We’ve been very lucky in that respect, for which I’m grateful.

Lilou is the only child we adopted a little bit older. Her mom is very attached to her, and that was mutual. For our first few months together, we almost felt like we were taking care of Amy’s child. Because that mother – daughter relationship existed and was so firmly entrenched, it took a little longer for us to truly feel like Lilou’s parents. It occurred to me tonight that sometime between Thanksgiving and now, she has become 100% part of the family in the most organic way possible.

I remember wondering if she could climb stairs, if she’d eat spicy food, if the drama queen was her nature or if she would learn how to dust herself off watching her siblings after a small spill. We didn’t know if she would respond better to us ignoring her for a minute and letting her calm down on her own, or if she needed snuggles immediately to feel safe. We didn’t know if she’d appreciate all of the hugs and holding extended family brings to the table, or if she’d need more time with just us. Would she prefer books or dolls or trucks? Does she get hot when she sleeps, or cold? Does she listen when you say no, or run the other way? Or do it again? For the record, she runs the other way giggling her head off!

Over the last months, we learned all of the answers to those questions. We know she doesn’t like spicy food, that she’ll do almost anything to be like her older siblings, and that she loves dolls and books. She also loves stealing Remy’s toys, so in a way she loves trucks too. She loves kisses! And as we learned the answers, she melted into the big pot of soup we call family.

At the beginning, we felt so much guilt anytime she cried. Amy gave up so much to let her join our family that it felt inappropriate to let Lilou be unhappy. Besides, she was going through so much! At a certain point though, babies and toddlers cry. We had to make a concerted effort to treat her the way we treat the other kids: to wait and see if she could handle a mini crisis on her own before jumping into save her, to serve her one meal and give her an extra large portion of the next if she didn’t like the first one, to teach her that she can’t steal Remy’s toys but that she can have dolls (or trucks) of her own.

We know now that when she’s done eating and bored, she will run her hands luxuriantly through her hair, getting her leftovers everywhere to shock us into releasing her from her high chair. We know she loves to play with the buttons on the lullaby machine in her bed, and does not need us to do this for her. We know that Tess and Remy will spot her every time she tries to come downstairs, even though she can totally do that by herself. And she lets them and loves every minute of their attention. We know that she adores dogs, and considers Stella one of her best friends in the world. In learning all of these answers and in getting to know her, she became truly one of us.

When Tess steals a snack for her and her brother, she also steals one for Lilou. When Remy runs into her when doing laps around the counter, he hugs her instinctively and kisses her on the head. He knows she won’t cry if he takes a minute with her. We know that when we tuck her in at night, she’ll snuggle down and laugh at the luxury of being in bed when she’s tired.

As I look back at photos from all of last year, I’m stunned to see the ones from our first week home. The picture of Tess meeting her sister will remain one of my favorite all-time photographs for the rest of my life. So we watch Tess and Remy and Lilou play peekaboo through dinner. When Remy tells us what Lilou wants, we thank him for being so thoughtful. Besides, he’s usually right! And we revel in how beautiful our family has come together, and how momentous 2015 really was. It’s amazing what a yearful of pictures can show you.

Today I woke up so tired and nervous I could barely keep coffee down- not because today would be terrifying, but because so much is going on. At 4pm, a judge declared Leah an official Oplinger, giving us closure to five uninterrupted years of adoption roller coaster. Still, the true moment of transition came when Amy, Dave and I created that fragile pact of transferred parenthood last July. How could a stranger, a charming judge who kept waving hi at Lilou but a stranger nonetheless, have more impact on this relationship than two mothers sharing a heart? So we’re officially and joyfully a family of six today – but that transition happened in a more profound way over the course of the last nine months. We loved her instantly, she grew into our family day by day, and now she’s legally part of the family. But those first moments in a restaurant and on a beach in California, where this journey began, are the ones we tell her about when she asks about her story. Being loved so profoundly, by Amy and by all of us, that’s the core message.

And as we share the story of the judge today with the kids over breakfast, we’ll also discuss Elise’s arrival Friday. We’ll talk about Sassy and Poppy being back from Florida, and Joy going home. And the constant parade of loving people continues through this crazy life of ours!