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!


Introducing Leah!

So in the neverending unpredictability of our amazing life, we’d like to introduce our daughter, Leah.

When we became Griffin’s parents, our hearts exploded with happiness. But we still feel the ache of the twins we lost. I don’t know how to describe it – Griffin is our angel baby and we adore every hair on his head. And yet we knew there was another kid coming. We finally admitted that to each other about two weeks ago.

Then something crazy happened. I heard about a little girl, thought about it, shared it with Dave, and we both felt this might be our missing piece. We ran it by all agencies involved in our family’s adoptions, and they all weirdly agreed this would work well for us. We told Joy, assuming she’d be livid. She clapped. No one advised against it, even though it would be highly irregular. So we told this mom Amy we were interested, along with 11 other people.

We thought, why would she ever pick the family with a one-month old?

But she did. This mom in California chose us to adopt her 8-month old daughter. She picked us immediately for the same reasons that compelled us: a connection to Germany, languages and opera. And the joy of siblings! Despite knowing that Griffin just got here. The thing is, Griffin and Leah are only a little closer than Tess and Remy. We were ready to have another child when Leah was born; she just wasn’t ours. And Griffin is still the baby, which is obviously what he needs!

We told Joy, who exploded with laughter. As insane as this sounds, it feels right to all of us. Griffin has a sister close in age, who looks like him. Tess has the sister she’s been make-believing for nine months. Remy gets a new playmate and hug buddy. And we have another wonderful daughter to love and cover in pink! Although I suspect Tess will have that well in hand.

This new match wasn’t a typical domestic adoption, where we waited 3-6 months and to see if it happens. This is a mom saying, “I can’t parent anymore, even though I love my daughter madly.” This is us frantically building a new homestudy in days, then flying to California a week later to immediately meet a beautiful 8-month old girl and her loving mom. Adoption at lightning speed!

So we found out at 2 am Sunday June 28  that we’d been picked. We were amazed and elated. I submitted Griffin’s one-month follow up report (tons of photos coming, Bianca and Claudia!) and finished building a new homestudy. We got plane tickets and found someone to stay with our older kids for two weeks or so. Friends will back up the A-team with play dates and carpooling.

Leah’s adoption went through in ten days. Ten days from saying we were interested to parental right relinquishment and her placement with us. That sounds like no time at all, and yet I assure you, we have lived a lot of life this week and a half. The idea of leaving Milwaukee and our older children after just getting home was really hard to face. They need time with us and to get settled again. Still, we knew this was such a special match! We made the best decision ever – a decision of a lifetime. Amy is smart, loving, funny, and an excellent mom. We got to spend a few days with her, and were amazed at how easy it was to pass the children around and have great conversations about life and family. Even fishing! She’s curious; Dave’s delighted. Griffin took to her very easily, as easily as Leah took to us. Leah and David seem to have a special bond, which is beautiful to watch. The days after we met and before we signed everything felt almost like a honeymoon. The goal was to learn as much about each other as we can, to build trust, and to see how we all fit together moving forward.

In hopefully a week or so, we’ll come home. We can’t wait to see Tess and Remy’s faces as they welcome their little sister, the one they’ve been talking about for ages and make-believe lives here. They have been so incredible with Griffin. This will make them even more excited! We also can’t wait to introduce Tess and Remy to Leah, who we suspect will be thrilled by her new sister and brothers. She’s certainly fascinated by Griffin! Our crazy household will suddenly become even more amazingly unusual and wonderful than it already was.

This adoption is open, which we love (and all of the birthmoms asked about when we let them know what was happening!). After four adoptions, we could not be bigger fans of open. Adoption can be really intimidating on all sides. Paperwork, interstate legal issues, fear of disappointing each other – everything looms bigger when the person or people you’re most involved with are unknown. Leaping into the void and getting to spend time together makes me nervous every time, and then makes me delighted every time. Amy is smart, warm, curious, energetic and determined. We really like her, and look forward to getting to know her better in the future. We are so excited to bring a thoughtful, ambitious, and fun birth mom into our extended family! She’s in great company.

That said, Leah Lucile is superhealthy and sunshine incarnate! She’s eight months old and in 18 month old clothes. As mom said, we suspect she will tower over Tess. From day one, she seemed absolutely taken with people, new settings, and exploring her world. We fell in love with Leah on sight. She never cried when we took her in our arms, and she falls asleep when David sings to her and holds her. Adding her to the family is the most natural thing ever. She just feels like she’s been here forever. Amy said we need more of us, which was adorable! But Leah is one of us. Our kids may not be related to us by blood, but they sure act like it! Maybe that’s because both of our families embrace every family member’s interests and direction. There are so many of us, and we’re all interested in so many different things. It makes it easy to assimilate someone new. 🙂

Amy named her Leah, which suits her and is beautiful – and also David’s sister’s name! And her middle name, picked out years ago for our next girl, comes from my university voice teacher Lucile Evans. Lucile made me believe in myself when no one else could. She’s strong, funny, welcoming, brilliant, and cooks like an angel. I can’t imagine a better namesake for this sweetheart than that dame I adore still with all my heart, even if we don’t see each other!

I can’t communicate the unbounded, peaceful joy in our hearts as we revel in becoming Leah’s family today. Yes, she and Griffin are very close in age. Yes, we and Joy will be very busy for the next year. (Yes, we told her about this entire process and made sure it was OK first!) Our kids will go through their phases together. Right now, they’re all in diapers and love ride on toys. Soon, they’ll get more into Legos and Disney. After that, it will be all about bikes. We love that our kids will share the obsessions of different ages. Tess and Remy love playing together because they want to play the same things. Griffin and Leah will hopefully be the same.

Even if they aren’t, because kids never seem to be what we expect them to be, we have the most beautiful family in the world and we feel incredibly lucky. Thank you Amy! For choosing us, for getting to know us, and for trusting us to be Leah’s parents. We look forward to a lifetime of funny pictures and great conversations about this little person we all adore.

And for Dave and I, another amazing adventure is starting. As we always say,

We’re never boring!