Rita and her husband, John, adopted their two sons, ages 6 and 4, as toddlers from China.

She writes about adoption, parenting after infertility, and other topics relevant to Catholic families. Follow her on Twitter: OpenWindow_CR or email her at openwindowcr@gmail.com  Also check out her Facebook page

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I love that he wants to dress up, Anna! I'm not sure how long that phase will last. :)

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I love your little guy's party outfit. It sounds like a delightful birthday party.

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Quick & easy DIY gift: Do you want to build a paper towel snowman?


A few months ago my mother-in-law gave me this.



Ever since then Daniel and I have talked about making paper towel ladies for people on our Christmas list. I bought some red and green kitchen towels and thought about assembling the other pieces. If we were going to do it, this was the weekend to make it happen. But somehow I just didn’t get started.

Then this morning I had an idea.

We could make snowmen.



It seemed simpler and seasonal and fun. I am so happy with how they turned out that I am breaking one of my rules, which is that I never blog about a gift I am going to give in advance.

So now our friends and family who are going to receive these won’t be as surprised, but they are good people who would want me to share this idea with you during this season of giving.



If you too want to build a paper towel snowman, this is what you need:

-          Paper towels (I actually didn’t buy the really thick rolls because I was worried about the cloth towel fitting around the paper towel roll)

-          Kitchen towels

-          Scotch tape

-          Safety pins

-          Cups and small paper plates to make the snowman’s hat



-          Googly eyes (or you can draw them on)

-          Markers or a pen to make the nose, mouth, buttons, and arms



To assemble:

-          Roll the kitchen towel on a diagonal to make it longer. Wrap it around the paper towel roll at the snowman’s “neck.” Use a safety pin to keep it in place.

-          Attach or draw on eyes. Draw nose, mouth, buttons, arms, and eyebrows or even eyelashes, if you like.

-          Take one piece of tape that is about 5 inches long. Insert it into the top of the tube as an upside-down U, with the sticky side facing up. Place the plate on top of the tape.

-          Tape the cup to the top of the plate. (I just put the tape on the outside.)

-          You are finished!



Isn’t that easy? And who can’t use a roll of paper towels and another kitchen towel? Next year I need to find a way to give people pens or measuring spoons or car keys or something else that you never have when you need them. But I’m getting away from myself.



The only thing this gift needs is a gift tag with a note or a poem. So I will write a poem along these lines to attach with a ribbon to the snowman’s scarf. My husband thinks Larry might be a good name, and it does lend itself to a limerick. Perhaps our note will say:

We’d like you to meet our friend Larry.
He’s chill and he hasn’t a care-y.
He has no magic hat,
But he’s cool rolled or flat,
And he hopes that your Christmas is merry.

There you have it. It takes up no space. It's useful, fun, and thoughtful. And if that won't work for everyone on your list, you can always give them stomp rockets.

December 20, 2014 11:44
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes Friday: 7 highlights from throwing a multi- or non-themed 5th birthday party


This is Christmas program week for us, with one beautiful one down and one to go today. We are excited for our younger son's wise man appearance, especially since he lost that very job last year. Where has Advent gone?

Before Christmas Day arrives, I want to share some of the birthday party fun we had here last weekend. Our little guy couldn’t settle on a theme—we went from Frozen to the Ravens to Pokemon to World War II and beyond—so we decided to celebrate everything he likes. And that turned out to be just right for him.

~What He Wore~

Daniel selected a button-down shirt and tie for the day.

Then he noticed that my hairbow—a Christmas gift from his big brother last year—had a clip that slipped perfectly onto his shirt.



Add some snow boots and our birthday boy was ready to greet his guests. He was so excited.

~The guest list~

This was a moving target. Daniel wanted to invite everyone and anyone he knew. But with all the excitement of the holidays built into December, I wanted to keep it smaller and more intimate. I also wanted to include some friends who don’t get to see him that often, rather than his school friends—especially since they were celebrating with him at preschool.



It turned out to be a mixed group, and a fun one. There was a large age range, and that worked well for Daniel who had told us he was turning 15.

~The menu~

Daniel is always my helper in the kitchen. He and I made two kinds of cupcakes, chocolate and orange. We also made our own guacamole, even though we always disagree on how much tomato should be included.



I designed a fruit tray and a veggie tray, and I tried to create shapes, but I was only partly successful.



I think the veggie tray is recognizable, but the fruit tray...well...let’s just say that even when I told Daniel what it was, he said, “Maybe if it had wheels.”



There’s always next year. And bonus points if you can guess what the fruit tray is.

~The games~

Since we were inviting guests ranging from Pre-K through middle school, we wanted to have some games that worked for more than the 5-year-old set. This is what we did:



1.       A Scavenger Hunt. I printed pictures of things Daniel likes—avocadoes, horses, the beach, Matt Bown (a TV personality you have never heard of), Fort McHenry, kites, birds, rainbows, a playground, etc. Then I made a page with small versions of all the pictures on it. John, who is a skilled and creative hider, hid the pictures around the yard.



Then the children could look for them and circle the items on their pages as they found them. It was so much fun, especially because people learned about Daniel during the hunt.



As each person completed the hunt, I awarded the winner a plastic cupcake ring that had never touched a cupcake. I’ve learned a few lessons from spending other parties in the kitchen washing sticky, gooey rings for children.

2.       Pass the Present. It takes forever to wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap the gifts, but it means we have a brief respite when everyone is sitting in a circle, peeling the paper off layer by layer. I don’t even think the prize needs to be exciting—though the winners might disagree with me. The only problem is that now I don’t feel like doing any gift wrapping, and I do have quite a bit left to do.

3.       Pin the Flag on the Map. I ordered it for $4 on Amazon, and it came. John cut out the flags and we used a kitchen towel and clip to blindfold the children.



The blindfolds that come with those sets are a joke, but for $4, I really can’t complain. The children enjoyed it, and the winner received a chocolate bar.

4.       Free Play. This is always the most popular part. The children ran around outside, kicking balls, waving light sabers and swords at (and sometimes hitting) each other, and just having a great time. It’s tempting to do a party with no activities, but I think the younger children still enjoy them. And so do I.

~The favors~

OK, this is not at all creative. It’s just easy and fun and inexpensive. Since the party had no real theme, except things our son enjoys, I decided to let him pick the favors. So we headed over to the dollar store.

We found a pack of 25 race car goody bags for a dollar. Then we walked around the store picking out things he thought the children coming would like: dollar-sign glasses, little trophies, medals, reindeer pencil sharpeners, glitter glue pens, Christmas ornaments shaped like drums, little plastic tools, and bop-it balloons (which have a real name, but it escapes me). We also picked out plates and napkins and the prizes for the Pass the Present, and the whole bill was about $40.



When we got home, Daniel and Leo sat on the floor and assembled the bags. Not everyone got one of everything. But I loved that they took ownership of the project.

Would I have filled the bags with those items? No. But who knows better what a child wants in a goody bag? Someone who hasn’t been a child in 30 years or someone who is living childhood to its fullest right now?

~What we wish we had caught on video~

Every party has to have its surprise moment. For Daniel’s party that was when the guests started to sing Happy Birthday to him.


The birthday boy wanted to stick Thomas the Tank Engine picks into the cupcakes, so we did. Why not?

All eyes were on him, so our grinning little boy decided to slide off his chair under the table. As he did, he bumped the table, and the cupcake with the lit candle in it fell to the floor. It was out long before it reached the floor, but we didn’t know that, and there was a collective gasp as we all watched it fall—and John lunged forward, prepared to save our child and our house, if necessary.

Daniel thought it was hilarious. We lit the candle again and gave strict instructions on how to blow it out.



Then we sang the whole way through, and he blew and made his wish.

~What he wished~

I don’t know, of course. He can’t tell us or it won’t come true!

But if I were to guess, I imagine it would be to wish that every day could be his birthday. Daniel has so much fun celebrating life, and his life in particular, and it was so much fun to watch him thoroughly enjoying every moment of the celebration.
~~~

And now we are counting the days until Christmas! We are looking forward to celebrating another birthday that day. Our boys can’t wait to light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath. I hope these last days of Advent are good ones for you, and that you can find some peace and beauty in the busyness of the season.



Check out more quick takes at Kelly’s blog!

December 19, 2014 12:03
By Rita Buettner


Remembering our Advent journey 5 years ago: Our first flight with our son


We had just met our son in China a few days before we flew with him for the first time. We had to go from Changsha to Guangzhou to get his U.S. visa so we could travel home.

 

The trip didn't start well. Our flight was delayed. Everyone was hungry, but especially the children, who ate every snack we had packed before we even boarded the plane.
 
When we were finally in the air, our little boy started crying.

This was no sniffle or whimper. It was a piercing cry. The kind of cry you imagine can be heard miles and miles away. He shrieked as if in tremendous pain. We didn’t know what to do.

We offered him a drink, but he wouldn’t take it.

We rocked him and held him and sang to him and pleaded with him.

We changed positions, took turns holding him, and promised him anything in the world if he would just stop crying. Naturally he couldn’t understand us. It didn’t matter.

He just kept crying. And I am certain everyone on the plane could hear the screams.
 

Some of the people around us ignored us. Others turned to us and offered advice in English and Chinese. I remember one lady rubbing her ear lobes and saying words I couldn’t understand. I just nodded, rubbed Leo’s ears, and apologized over and over. I felt like a terrible mother. I was ready to start crying myself. I wished we could disappear.

The flight was probably less than an hour. In my memory, our son screamed for hours and hours—though John thinks it was closer to five minutes. I suspect it was somewhere in between. We laugh about it now, as we laugh about so many family stories. But at the time I wasn't laughing.

When we finally touched down, Leo stopped crying. He settled back into his friendly, happy self as if nothing had happened.

I was still shaking as we climbed off the plane and boarded a tram. Fantastic. I had never wanted to see the people on that plane again—and I was sure they felt the same way—and here we were sharing intimate quarters.

I stepped on board with Leo and immediately people stood up to give me their seats. I was certain that that would not have happened if we were landing at our home airport.
 

On the tram a Chinese man in a suit started speaking to us in English. He readily acknowledged how loud Leo had been on the plane, but he was also polite and friendly and kind. He chatted with John about the United States while I sat there holding our son and marveling at how gracious people can be.

I imagine that no one on that plane—except maybe our fellow adoptive parents—recalls that flight. But I can still recall how it felt to be on that plane, unable to quiet our son, and feeling judged by everyone around us.

During this week of Advent we focus on rejoicing. I couldn’t feel joy on the airplane that night. But as I think back on that time, I find myself realizing that sometimes in the darkest moments, there is nothing you can do but wait and pray and trust and believe that brighter days are ahead. Through it all, at least I knew the flight would end.

When we finally gathered our luggage, we climbed into a van and drove off to our hotel, the White Swan, the loveliest hotel we have ever stayed in, and on Shamian Island, one of the most charming places we have ever visited.
 

And, the next morning, we woke up to see our child sleeping peacefully on our hotel bed.
 
 
There was a waterfall in the hotel lobby. Christmas trees were everywhere. And we didn't have another flight to worry about for a few days. We could just enjoy our time together as a family in this beautiful city.

Joy.
 

  
How are you finding joy this Advent season?

 

December 15, 2014 10:25
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes Friday: Visits from St. Nicholas and the Tooth Fairy, someone turns 5, why have one tree when you could have two, and letters to Santa



~1~

St. Nicholas came last weekend. The shoes were filled.



Leo woke up long before dawn cracked. When my mind was finally working well enough for me to realize what time it was, I sent him back to bed. I have a feeling no one will sleep much on Christmas Eve.

~2~

I had joked that maybe the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus would be tripping over each other on Christmas Eve, but it turned out that the Tooth Fairy just missed St. Nicholas. Leo wiggled his loose teeth all day on Saturday and he finally pulled it out—it was hanging by a thread—at the dinner table on Saturday. It was his first lost tooth!

John helped him prepare it inside a treasure chest inside a box Aunt Maureen had given us. Thank goodness for people who are more prepared than I am.



On Sunday morning he came running into our bedroom to tell us he had just yanked the second one.

“Did the Tooth Fairy come?” John asked him.

Leo hadn't even looked. He raced back to check under his pillow. He received $2 for the first one and a $1 gold coin for the second. Nothing too special, just special enough. Leo was excited. He thinks the Tooth Fairy should be renamed the Tooth Taker. It has a ring to it.

Leo turned 7 in November, so he seems to be on the later side for losing teeth. I had actually started worrying that his little brother might beat him to it and lose one first. I didn’t lose much sleep over it, but it would have been a little less fun for our bigger brother here.

~3~

Daniel turned 5! He had the most fantastic birthday. I know that most people enjoy their birthdays. But Daniel loves every single minute.


He picked this hat out at the dollar store last week.

If we happen to forget that it’s his birthday, he reminds us.



He and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a cake for him to take to school, and he told the lady at the bakery. She took the cake from us and wrote his name on it—and handed him a free cookie, of course.



Then at the cash register, he announced to a lady in line with us, “It’s my birthday today!” She smiled and wished him a happy birthday. Then she told him her birthday is Dec. 23. We all chatted for a bit about birthdays near the holidays, and we all parted smiling.

I went to preschool that afternoon to be there to sing and cut the cake. We even played a round of Pass the Present and unwrapped Mardi Gras beads for the class.



Then, at Daniel’s request, we went out to dinner and Daniel had store-bought cake again at home. I have never bought a cake for a family party, but we aren’t allowed to bring homemade items to school, and I was sure there would be leftover cake. But I had underestimated Daniel’s class, and there wasn’t enough cake left for a round of “Happy Birthday to You” in the evening, so John went to find a cake.



I’m sure I owe Daniel a baked good of his own, but I do think he had enough sweets today to last him until next year—and beyond.

He also picked out Hot Wheels masks to share with his class. Suddenly I'm sorry I ordered the Christmas cards.



After his party at school, I offered to take Daniel a few different exciting places.

"I want to go to your work," he said. And here I thought I had taken the end of the day off. So we went to the office for a brief visit. I was replying to some emails and glanced over to see this.



No wonder he thinks coming to work is so much fun. And yes, all those items are stored in my office.

Daniel thoroughly enjoyed his day.

As I was tucking him into bed, I said, “How did you like your birthday?”

He smiled. “I want another one just like that,” he said.

~4~

We’ll actually continue the celebration with a smallish party this weekend. The theme went from Frozen to Pokemon to World War II to I don’t know what. Finally I told Daniel we didn’t have to pick one thing.

The theme now is “Everything Our 5-year-old Likes.” We started a list of what he likes, and it is vast.

“I love the whole universe,” he says. “And I love God.”

“What are your favorite foods?” I asked him. “Tell me five of your favorite things to eat.”

“Well, I like big marshmallows and little marshmallows and cupcakes....”

Right now it’s a party with a vague theme, no real menu—except that Daniel wants jelly sandwiches—and not much planned activity-wise. A party this poorly planned is destined to be the best party ever. I’ll let you know how it goes.

~5~

Our Christmas trees are up! We have two again this year, a small one we have had since our first Christmas and a slightly larger one we added last year. We were going to get a larger one and retire these, but the boys are quite happy. They think maybe we should add more and more trees. Then the living room could be a forest.


Those are birthday gifts, of course. None of the Christmas gifts are wrapped.
You have to buy them before you can wrap them.

Meanwhile, I believe the question of whether to get a real or artificial tree should be raised during pre-Cana. John and I had artificial trees for years thinking we might have a real one when we had a child. But who knew how many allergies we’d have in the family, and in the end the fake tree seems to be the safer route. This year we almost chanced it, but we finally decided to play it safe.

Either way, I love decorating the house for Christmas. Maybe we’ll add the ornaments before Christmas Eve.



~6~  

Leo went to a friend’s karate birthday party over the weekend and he broke a board with his foot!

Before you get overly impressed, I should tell you that so did all of the other children, so maybe breaking a board isn’t as hard as I had thought it would be.

But Leo was so proud. We came home and he said, “Mama, let’s find another board so I can break it!” Maybe we can just give him a pile of lumber for Christmas.

~7~

Our boys wrote their letters to Santa. Leo is asking for Pokemon items I can’t spell. Daniel has requested a remote control car, a construction vehicle, and 15 cans of Chickarina soup.

Soup might be even more fun than the wrapping paper tubes.



For more quick takes, visit our new quick takes host, Kelly, at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

 

December 12, 2014 07:10
By Rita Buettner


Remembering our Advent journey 5 years ago: Getting to know our son


What can I tell you about our first few days with Leo?

It was a time of discovery, of learning about one another.



We marveled at everything he did.

He sucked his thumb.



He adored stuffed animals almost as much as he loved the toy school bus he had brought with him.



He opened a banana by taking one small bite into the skin and peeling it off. Then he'd eat three right before consuming a full meal.



And you have never seen anyone peel a Mandarin orange—and eat it—so fast.



We also started getting glimpses into his personality.

He loved to laugh—and joke with us.

He was a mimic, imitating what he saw us do—and what he saw the other children do when he first encountered a slide in the playroom.



We also saw how compassionate he could be. When one of the little girls who had just met her family was sad, he put his hand gently on her chest and talked to her.



Not every moment was happy or easy.

And, as new parents, we were most definitely learning on the job. We often turned to our new friends who were in China to adopt their second child. They were a voice of experience and calm.

They are such kind people that the night their daughter stayed up all night crying they sent us flowers because our room was next door.



Getting to know the other families who were adopting at the same time was an unexpected pleasure. When we had been trying to decide which country to adopt from, someone had told us how special it was to have other families there in China on the trip. That sounded nice enough, but it didn't really seem necessary.

But when we were in China, we turned to those other families for support all the time. Everyone we could have asked for advice was on the other side of the world asleep when we were awake. These families became our extended family.

Some were experienced parents. Some were new parents.



All of us were eager to meet at breakfast every morning to compare notes on how much sleep we had gotten, who had found the nearest store selling Vaseline, which foods their child was enjoying (our answer to that was everything), and many child-rearing details I never thought I would share even with family members, never mind people we had just met a few days earlier.



Becoming a parent to a toddler on the other side of the world while living in hotels may not be the easiest path to parenthood. But there is something to be said for having someone make your bed, clean the bathroom, prepare all your meals, and do your laundry while you are navigating those first days.

And getting to know Leo was a joy. As we watched him grieve and grieved with him, we knew he had been well-loved. He was also a happy, outgoing child. He was naturally curious and liked people, especially other children.

He loved to shop. When we went to Walmart, he sat in the cart and pointed at the shelves and called out in Mandarin, “Get that! Get that!”

Some things never change.



And he loved to play. There was a fantastic playroom just down the hall from our room in Changsha, and we spent hours and hours playing there. We would sit cross-legged on the floor with adoptive families from other countries, unable to communicate much, while our children talked to one another in Mandarin.


A sign in the hotel

When we got tired of the Chinese food—delicious though it all was—we had pizza delivered to our hotel and held a pizza picnic in the hotel hallway. The hotel staff kept walking by, unsure how to handle the strange Americans who were sitting on blankets in the hall.



As I look back on that time, I marvel not just at how incredible it was to become Leo’s mother. I also see so many ways where God took care of details, providing help and support in ways we never imagined we would need it.


For the record, he didn't like pizza then. He doesn't really like it now.

He made sure there was a playroom in the hotel where we could find a special opportunity for bonding with our child—and where some nights we just let him play, play, play until he was so tired he fell easily asleep in our bed.



He matched us with other adoptive parents who could advise us and laugh—and sometimes cry—with us.

We hadn’t known how to prepare for this part of the journey, but God had known just what we needed.



As we continue this Advent, I am trying to remember that during this time of preparation, I have much work to do to prepare to greet the Infant Jesus on Christmas. But I am also trying to remember that God knows what I need. I need to be open to trusting in Him and accepting all that He offers to me—through the Eucharist, Confession, and in numerous ways every day.

How is your Advent journey going? I'll share my 7 quick takes tomorrow (with an update on Daniel's birthday festivities!), and then I'd like to share a bit more from China.


December 10, 2014 11:27
By Rita Buettner


Remembering our Advent journey 5 years ago: The day we met our son


Five years ago today we drove to the government office where we would meet our son. Sitting together on a wooden bench in a stark room, John and I began the last leg of our wait to our little boy.

John and I had Cheerios and apple juice and a toy airplane for our little boy--and at least one of us had a stomach full of butterflies.



We watched as our new friends, two couples who were with the same agency in the same province, met their daughters. We took photos for them, admired their little girls, and rejoiced for them.

With noise and chaos all around us, we saw other families were formed. Parents with tear-stained faces and video cameras running held infants. A family with children welcomed a daughter who looked 9 or 10.

On an ordinary day I would have been fascinated by all the family stories being written around us. But this was no ordinary day. And, after the other families welcomed their children, they started to leave. The room was quieter. John and I were still waiting for our son to arrive.

He's on his way, we were told.

He's stuck in traffic, they said.

He will be here soon, they assured us.

It didn't feel soon. And sitting with John while all these other families were being formed, I couldn't help thinking how unfair it was. Where was our son? Why was it that 11 months after seeing his photo, now that we were finally in China, in his province, we had to wait yet again for him?


A view of Changsha that day

It still felt a bit surreal. What if our little boy never came?

Then all of a sudden there he was. He walked into the room himself, with a lady from the orphanage at his side. He was hot and tired. He was confused and sad. I looked at him and had a rush of feelings all at once.



He was so beautiful.

He was taller than he had looked in the pictures.

He was so brave and strong.

He was all bundled up.

He was our son forever and ever.

We were his. I hoped we could be everything he needed us to be.



We showed him the little metal airplane we had brought, and we talked to him, calling him by his Chinese name. John was the first to reach over and pick him up. We held him and talked to him, marveled at him, took him in, and tried not to overwhelm him.

He was absolutely perfect.



Holding him, John and I cried, tears of both joy and sorrow.

On the way back to the hotel, Leo fell asleep in his father's arms.



That first evening together was full of raw emotions. It was also a time of discovery for all of us. Our guide suggested that we turn on the TV. Hearing the Chinese language might be comforting, she said. So we sat in front of the TV watching Chinese music videos and eating Cheerios.

At one point we took him for a walk in the hotel hallway. And John showed him how to ring the little Christmas bells hanging from the hallway ceiling. That's when we first saw our little boy smile.

Our journey was just beginning, but we felt certain we would all be OK.



When Leo finally fell asleep in my arms, I eased him into the bed in between us. John and I both woke up many times during the night, gazing at him, not believing he was with us, and noticing something new about him every time.

We were in love. We still are.



That day doesn't seem long ago. The memories are vivid, the emotions unforgettable. But then I look at our 7-year-old son who just yesterday climbed into our bed at 5 a.m. because he couldn't wait to see whether St. Nicholas had filled his shoe, who lost his first tooth during dinner, and who broke a board on his first try at a friend’s karate birthday party. I know then how much time has passed. And our little boy has grown in so many ways.

This Advent I think back to those moments of impatience as we sat on that bench in Changsha.Then I think of how beautiful it was to be the only family meeting our son in a quieter room. By the time we met Leo--at least as I recall it--the only families there were our friends.



And, as time went on and we got to know Leo better, I realized that the 11 months we waited to meet him had been invaluable--not necessarily for us, but for him. His foster mother had worked so lovingly to prepare him to meet us. And I found myself thinking about how that time truly had benefited our son.


The next day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, our son stamped his handprint and we finalized our adoption.

So, especially because being patient is not natural for me, every Advent I try to think of the benefits of waiting.

Waiting requires a great deal of faith and trust. It forces me to acknowledge that I am not in control.

But at the end of our wait we became a family. And it was worth every minute of hope and prayer along the way.

Next I'll share about our first days together.

December 07, 2014 09:13
By Rita Buettner


Reflecting on our Advent journey 5 years ago: Exploring Beijing


So we had arrived in Beijing, and our agency had planned some touring for us before we went to our son’s province to meet him.



John and I didn’t have time to visit the Great Wall, but we were able to go to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Even though we were jet-lagged and tired, we had no idea when we would be back in Beijing as tourists. We set out to explore with the group of parents from all over the U.S., all waiting to meet their children for the first time.



It was magnificent.



As I’ve mentioned, John and I haven’t traveled much internationally. I have been to Italy twice, and John has been to England and studied in Germany for a semester during college.



Here we had the opportunity to encounter China, even if we could just see a sliver of it.



I had had no idea what to expect.



Around every corner was another beautiful building.



They were ornate.



They were full of character.



They were packed with history and stories our guide shared with us, and which I wish I had recorded better along the way.



The truth is that even as we explored, we were thinking of our son. And we were chatting with the other parents about the children they would meet, and telling them about our little boy. Discovering these other families who were on a similar journey to ours was fascinating.



And we were having those conversations as we walked through the Forbidden City.



If you ever have the opportunity to go to China, go.



Don’t hesitate. Don’t wonder whether you’ll enjoy it. Just go.



John and I had been seeing this trip as a way to bring our son home and learn a bit about his country and its history and culture. But once we were in China, we understood how wonderful it was that the trip was required for adoptive parents. And we were so grateful that we had been able to come to meet our son in his country.



It wasn’t perfect. The sky was gray, thick with coal smoke.



And December in Beijing is cold, especially when you have decided to pack a winter coat only for your child.



I would have paid anything for a pair of gloves and a hat. It’s funny to me that we don’t look that cold in the photos.



But everything we saw was extraordinary.



I was intrigued by the history, of course, but also by the signs and the advertising and the people selling merchandise on the streets. There was so much to take in.

And I realized yet again that God was asking me to stretch myself, to prepare myself to meet my son by immersing myself in the culture he knew. By encountering China, perhaps we could be better parents to our son.

Looking back on that time, I wonder how God might be asking me to stretch myself this Advent, to embark on new experiences that could help me become a better wife, mother, daughter, and friend.



After we returned to our hotel, we went walking to see if we could find a flyswatter for my collection. We found one in a 7-11 just around the corner, and I probably paid five times what I should have. But you can tell it's a good one.



We barely had time to get a taste of Beijing before we flew to Changsha, the capital of our son’s province, Hunan. When we arrived, we found a Christmas tree waiting in the hotel.



In fact, Christmas greetings were everywhere--and they said, “Christmas” rather than “holiday.”



When we finally reached our hotel room, there were two beds and...whoa. What was that in the corner?



That’s when it hit me. We were just hours away from meeting our son. Were we ready? It was hard to say. We had been tested, fingerprinted, taught, evaluated, and thoroughly vetted by officials on both sides of the world. But in that moment of waiting, you still wonder whether you are truly prepared.

There was no time left to wonder. We were about to become parents. All we could do was hunt down a bottle of apple juice and a snack to take to our first meeting--and pray.

December 05, 2014 11:42
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes Friday: Family celebrations, fun with a metronome, kite-flying, meeting Santa, Christmas train displays, knitting, and more


~1~

This weekend we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the day we met our older son in China and became a family. I’ve been reflecting on our journey to Leo during Advent.

Meanwhile, Leo gets to pick dinner and how we’ll spend the day Sunday. If I know him, it will be a not-so-quiet day at home with Chinese food for dinner. He loves family days at home.

Then next week Daniel turns 5!

~2~

When my aunt and uncle gave us their piano a few months ago, they sent along a metronome. This week when Leo was having his piano lesson, the teacher told him that he could start using the metronome to count the beats of each note.



It’s a great idea.

But he and his brother have decided that this battery-powered metronome, which ticks at regular intervals, is a perfect part of their spy operation. They sneak up on me and John and leave it ticking behind us.

Then I started hiding it from them and letting them search for it. I put it in closet corners and desk drawers, and they have to creep up on it quietly to find it.

Children tiptoeing around the house? This may be the best game yet.

~3~

Last weekend while we were cutting up yellow yarn for the hay in our Advent manger, Daniel had an idea.

He took paper, tape, and yarn, and created a kite.



Then he and his brother ran around the yard watching it trail behind them.



It didn’t fly well, but they didn’t seem to mind. I hope Santa isn’t packing anything too extravagant in that sleigh.

~4~

When we were waiting in line to see Santa this week, Daniel started getting nervous.

“I don’t want to see Santa,” he said. “Mama, you come with me.”

I was surprised. This is his fourth time meeting Santa, and they got along beautifully last year. I told Daniel he had his big brother to go with, and that I could walk with him, but I wouldn’t sit in the photo.

He still wasn’t sure.

“Well,” I said, “it’s OK if you don’t go see Santa. You won’t be that disappointed. But I feel bad for Santa because this is the only time he’ll get to see you awake. When he comes to our house on Christmas Eve, you will be fast asleep.”

That did it. He marched right up and sat next to his old friend Santa.



Leo requested two obscure Pokemon you may have heard of, one of which is no longer available, and Daniel asked for a remote control monster truck.

We’re a little excited for Christmas, and we imagine Santa is, too.

~5~

We always visit Santa at Kenilworth Mall, where they have a beautiful train display every year.



John loves trains, and he and I have been going to Christmas train displays together for years, long before we were parents. Having two boys just gives us an extra excuse.



The Kenilworth display, at least in recent years, has a model of Fort McHenry and lots of fictional characters. It is probably my favorite of the local displays because you don’t have to lift the children up to see anything and because we can meet there in the evening and get an easy dinner.

~6~

Years ago I tried to learn how to knit with no success. My mother and younger sister knit, but I didn’t get that knitting gene.

Last night I was picking Leo up from his afterschool program, and the teacher told me he had learned to finger knit. In fact the yarn was still wrapped around his fingers as he worked on an orange scarf.

He set it aside when we stopped to eat (I suggested we stick his glove’s fingers through the holes so he could put it down, and it worked), but he focused on it in the car and then while watching TV. He didn’t even take it off his hand to practice on the piano.



~7~

We are gradually getting some of the Christmas preparations completed. I am up to “M” on the Christmas cards, which I really enjoy writing. There are still plenty of people on our list who are not on social media.

Leo and Daniel are counting down with chocolate-filled Advent calendars and with our Advent wreath, of course.



John and the boys hung our outdoor lights, and one day we will put up the tree.



We even baked some Christmas cookies and I let the boys do the decorating.



We delivered a few to the neighbors, and I’m hoping they could tell that I had had some help.



Through all of it, I am trying to be very low-key. I'm not really worrying about what doesn't get done and trying to keep my mind on what really matters.

How is Advent going for you? Are you enjoying this time of getting ready for Christmas?

~~~

For more quick takes, visit our new 7 quick takes host, Kelly! Thank you, Jen, for creating such a great linkup and hosting for so long.

December 04, 2014 11:34
By Rita Buettner


Reflecting on our Advent journey 5 years ago: Flying to China


You might think that because John and I have traveled twice to China, we are great travelers.

It’s not true.

Five years ago today when John and I boarded the plane to travel to Beijing, we had been married for more than five years, and we had never flown together. Only the desire to become parents—and the knowledge that our son was in China—could have compelled us to board that marathon flight to a part of the world we had never considered visiting. Yet we went.



We knew that our son was on the other side of the world. Burning with love for a little boy we had never met, we climbed aboard that plane.



After we had flown forever, I looked at my watch. We weren’t even halfway through the trip.

We kept flying.



And flying.



And flying.

On the way, we talked about our little boy. We wondered what he was doing. We wondered how he would deal with the return trip. We wondered what it would be like to spend two weeks in China.

I can’t honestly tell you that we were looking forward to experiencing China. We were so, so excited to become parents. But seeing China? We were determined to make the most of the trip, and we were curious to learn more about China because it was our son’s homeland, but we didn’t expect to fall in love with the country, the people, and the culture.

We also didn’t expect to meet people who would become such dear, forever friends.

The next two weeks would be full of surprises.



For many people, climbing aboard that plane might have seemed easy. For some, it might even have seemed fun.

For us, it felt like a critical step on the path to parenthood. It was the final leg of a long journey to welcoming a child into our family. Our son awaited us. So we went.



Finally, after hours and hours. we landed. A guide holding a sign was waiting for us.

Then we met another couple. They had been on our flight, but we hadn’t seen them on the plane. We discovered that we were headed to the same province to adopt our children. We fell easily into conversation and, as can happen when you are on the other side of the world about to become parents, we instantly became friends. Suddenly the trip didn’t seem so daunting.



The days ahead were full of unknowns, but we were not alone. We had known that God would be with us every step of the journey. What we hadn’t expected was that He would help us connect with so many warm, positive, caring people along the way. Yet they were there at every turn—especially our new friends, friends who are like family to us today.



I wonder whether St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother felt the same way when they encountered the innkeeper who offered them space in his stable. Or maybe, far from home and family, they were overjoyed to be able to share their new baby with the shepherds the night he was born.



As we travel through this Advent, we are looking for ways that God—Emmanuel—is with us, coming into our lives. Perhaps this is also a time to pause and appreciate the people we are encountering, those who lift us up, walk at our side, and share our journey.

You might also like to read the previous posts:


and the next installments:




December 04, 2014 06:49
By Rita Buettner


Reflecting on our Advent journey 5 years ago: Preparing to go to China


This Advent I am looking back on our Advent journey to meet our first son in China five years ago in December.

As we counted down to the day we were leaving for China to meet Leo, John and I worried about whether we had what we needed.



We were packing for three different parts of China. It would be frigid in Beijing and warm in Guangzhou and somewhere in between in Changsha.

We didn't know much about our little boy. What size clothes was he wearing? Did he still use a bottle? Was he potty-trained? What kind of toys did he like?

We thought about the trip itself, the language barrier—with our son and with others—and the different world we would encounter, all while becoming new parents. Mostly, though, we wondered about our son.

For the 11 months we waited to meet him, we had prayed that he was getting the love and food and medical care he needed.

Now we were days away from meeting him. So I packed. And unpacked. And repacked.

How do you prepare for a journey to a new country where you will become a parent for the first time? All I could do was think about our little boy, living on the other side of the world. Maybe he knew we were coming. Maybe he didn’t. John and I had to be ready to become his parents and meet him wherever he was.

Looking back on that time, I wonder what it was like for St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother as they prepared to make their journey to Bethlehem. They must have known that Jesus would be born on their trip. How could they prepare for that experience, not knowing what accommodations and support they would find along the way?

They faced so many unknowns, far more than John and I did. We had a travel agent and an adoption agency guiding us every step of the way. Of course, Mary and Joseph were welcoming the Son of God. Did that make it easier for them? I imagine they had to trust and hope and talk constantly to God.



What did John and I need? Our passports, adoption paperwork, and a few changes of clothes—and, I would argue, a camera with a large memory card.

But all we really needed were an openness to the possibilities ahead of us, deep love and empathy for our child, and a realization that we could not control this trip.

Today as we look forward to Jesus’ birth at Christmas, I realize that I need to be less concerned with what I’m putting into my suitcase. The gift-buying, the wrapping, the card-writing, the baking, the decorating will happen. If they don’t, Christmas will still come.

The key to a beautiful, fruitful Christmas is not worrying about what I’m putting under the tree, but focusing on preparing myself to meet our Lord and Savior.

What are you doing to prepare yourself for Christmas?

November 30, 2014 11:36
By Rita Buettner

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