“Home is where the heart is,” goes the phrase. And it’s true. But for children who are adopted as toddlers, it isn’t as if you can easily explain that a strange, unfamiliar place is home.
When we met our sons as toddlers in China, everything was new and different. We were strangers to them. We spoke a language they had never heard, fed them unusual foods, and expected them to eat and play and sleep in a different place.
For the first two weeks—for each of our adoptions—we lived out of suitcases in hotel rooms.
If home is where the heart is, a hotel room for a newly formed adoptive family is home. But if home is where you can make a meal with an instrument other than a hot pot and not worry about having to lock your passports in a safe, then a hotel room is not exactly home. Not even when there's a fantastic playroom down the hall.
Our older son stayed in two different hotel rooms in China and a hotel room in Chicago before we finally arrived home together at our house in Baltimore.
He had just turned 2 and, even after only two weeks of hearing English, he understood almost everything we said to him. But there was no way for us to explain to him that this had been our goal the whole time. This place, yet another unfamiliar building full of toys and food and beds, was our final destination.
This house, I wanted to tell him, was not just another set of rooms along the way.
This was special.
This was home.
Of course, after our long trip home—and it took days
—he was just happy not to be in an airplane or a car. He played contentedly, ate as I had never seen a child eat before, and he even slept well from the beginning. But I could tell he didn’t know whether we were there to stay.
When we left to run errands during those first few days, he wasn’t sure we were coming back. And who could blame him? We weren’t exactly reliable for recognizing a good thing when we found it. We had given up on a fantastic breakfast buffet in our Chinese hotels to travel for days just to a place where the food wasn’t ready made. Who would pick bottled yogurt smoothies over crisp strips of bacon and soft steamed dumplings every morning?
Yet he loved our house.
As the days and weeks went by, our little boy started to trust that this was our special place. And one night after our long daily commute together, I turned our car into the neighborhood and he called out with joy, “Home!”
My eyes filled with tears. Yes, we were home. Home to stay.
But it wasn’t until we returned from a weekend overnight road-trip that I realized he was just a little uncertain. We went away to see my sister and brother-in-law and their four children. All weekend he and his cousins played with abandon and joy. It was wild and fun and everything you would hope for in a weekend road trip.
Then we climbed into our car and came home.
When we walked through the door, I put our son down and watched him celebrate being home. He went from toy to toy, climbed onto the couch, pulled out some books, and beamed the whole time.
I realized then, after that first trip away, that he finally believed this was home. And we watched it happen again with his younger brother after his first weekend away.
So maybe that’s how you know you’ve found your home. When you come back to it again after leaving it behind.
This post is part of the “Home to Me” blog hop, hosted by Julie at These Walls. During the two weeks from Friday, November 13 through Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen bloggers will share about what the concept of “home” means to them. “Home” can been elusive or steady. It can be found in unexpected places. It is sought and cherished and mourned. It is wrapped up in the people we love. As we turn our minds and hearts toward home at the beginning of this holiday season, please visit the following blogs to explore where/what/who is “Home to Me.”
November 13 – Julie @ These Walls
November 14 – Leslie @ Life in Every Limb
November 15 – Ashley @ Narrative Heiress
November 16 – Rita @ Open Window
November 17 – Svenja, guest posting @ These Walls
November 18 – Anna @ The Heart’s Overflow
November 19 – Debbie @ Saints 365
November 20 – Melissa @ Stories My Children Are Tired of Hearing
November 21 – Amanda @ In Earthen Vessels
November 22 – Daja and Kristina @ The Provision Room
November 23 – Emily @ Raising Barnes
November 24 – Annie @ Catholic Wife, Catholic Life
November 25 – Nell @ Whole Parenting Family
November 26 – Geena @ Love the Harringtons
November 15, 2015 10:31
By Rita Buettner
Someone has a birthday this week. And his little brother has been really good about not being the birthday boy.
He has sung and watched as the candles were blown out.
He has seen his big brother opening gifts that aren’t his.
He has put up with the “well, it’s your brother's birthday” approach to the week like a champion.
But when his brother unwrapped an amazing gift, the non-birthday-boy finally reached his breaking point—and he fell apart.
The realization that his own birthday is still a whole entire month away. It was too much.
All I could do was hug him and promise that his birthday really isn’t that far off—and that he’ll get some wonderful gifts. But his birthday feels like forever from now. And my promises sound hollow to our kindergartener’s ears.
Tonight I was thinking that many of us know that feeling of sadness—particularly couples experiencing infertility. You smile as your friends and family members celebrate accomplishments, marry the spouses of their dreams, move into lovely homes, land amazing jobs. And you smile for them, congratulate them, and truly are happy for them.
Then they call and tell you they are expecting their first child, or their second, or their third, and you fall apart. You know you aren’t supposed to be jealous. And it’s not quite jealousy because you are happy for them. You just can’t understand why others’ prayers are answered when yours seem to be unheard.
Except God does hear. He answers in different ways, in a different time, but he answers.
Eight years ago when we were starting to wonder whether we would ever be parents, a little boy was born on the other side of the world. As he turned 1, John and I were working on our home study. I was starting a new job. We were still a few months away from seeing his picture for the first time. We were more than a year away from meeting him.
And this week the birthday boy is celebrating with us, his forever family, including his little brother—whose birthday is still a long, long month away.
It’s an unbearable wait. It’s just not fair. But one day—and he’s counting the hours—he’ll get to be the birthday boy. And it will be well worth the wait.
November 09, 2015 10:39
By Rita Buettner
As our little boy walks into school to start kindergarten today, I’ll have tears in my eyes.
It’s not just that I want to hold onto our baby a little longer.
I’m crying because I worry that I should have prepared him better for the challenges and questions that come with starting this new chapter of his life.
I’m crying because even though his big brother will be nearby, our little boy has to stand on his own.
I’m crying because I know he has to make his own friends, which he’ll do so easily, but he’ll also have to figure out that children aren’t always kind.
I’m crying because I’m so very proud of who our little boy is—and how far he has come since we met him four years ago.
I’m crying because there were years when I wasn’t sure I’d ever be a mother—and because I know so many people who still yearn for motherhood or miss a child who’s in heaven.
I’m crying because I’m overjoyed and honored to be the mother of a child who is so packed with personality, compassion, and joy he brings to every single day.
I’m crying because I know there are people on the other side of the world who would love to watch our little boy beginning his first year of elementary school. They would be so proud of him.
And, all right, all right, I might as well admit that I’m crying because just a minute ago he was a toddler racing his big brother through our house, and I can’t believe he’s already in kindergarten.
We went through this two years ago, and I thought it would be easier the second time. In some ways, though, it’s more difficult. You see, I know how fast it’s going to go. And one day I’ll be packing lunches and realize the year is ending, and we’re on to the next.
I feel so blessed to be here with him right now, to be celebrating this moment in our family. And I know that as nervous as he might be to start kindergarten, tomorrow he will jump out of the car and run to the door without even looking back.
And that’s good because then he won’t notice that I might have tears in my eyes again.
Have fun in kindergarten, little one. Let your little light shine.
Joining Theology Is a Verb and Reconciled to You for Worth Revisiting Wednesday on Aug. 24, 2016.
August 23, 2015 11:21
By Rita Buettner
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the day we met our younger son, so we told him he could plan his day. He took that role seriously.
Daniel had announced we were taking the light rail to Gettysburg, but the light rail doesn’t run to Gettysburg, and he didn’t want to drive.
Next he decided we would take the light rail to Glen Burnie, Md. Now John grew up in Glen Burnie, and we often drive through it on our way to other places. But I couldn’t figure out what exactly we would do in Glen Burnie once we got there.
So I suggested that we go to BWI Airport instead. I made a pretty decent sales pitch for it, explaining that at the airport we could see airplanes.
“OK,” Daniel said. “We will ride the light rail all the way to the airport and then we will fly on an airplane.”
Well...maybe he didn't get to plan the whole day.
But we did board the light rail in Hunt Valley and make the long and fascinating ride to the end of the line at BWI airport.
We walked into the airport and almost immediately came across a recreation of an ancient vase from China.
We rode escalators and a glass elevator, visited the observation gallery, and watched airplanes take off and land.
Daniel wanted a hot dog, which sounded simple enough, but all we saw was a Dunkin Donuts and a Subway—both fine options, but not for our boys who don’t really eat sandwiches (and don’t eat donuts for lunch, even on Gotcha Days).
We found our way to a small-plates place in the observation gallery. It wasn’t child-friendly, so it seemed somehow appropriate that we would be there—especially since on our adoption trips we often ate in upscale restaurants in China that weren’t designed for children.
There is a small play area in the observation gallery, so we enjoyed that and learned that at the peak time during the day there are 19,000 planes in the air over the United States. I can’t begin to get my mind around that.
There are not 19,000 light rail rides, though, so we kept an eye on the schedule and caught one home just in time.
I thought the round-trip light rail ride was a little long for our boys, but Daniel didn’t think so. Of course, he rested for part of the trip.
Back at home we played and relaxed and watched Mighty Machines until dinnertime—Chinese food with candles stuck in dumplings and a round of “Happy Gotcha Day to You.”
More than a few times during the day we heard, “Well, it is my Gotcha Day...” as our honoree enjoyed the day he had planned for our family and tried to persuade me to order even more won ton soup for him. It wasn’t the day I would have organized myself, but it was absolutely perfect for him—and for us.
August 23, 2015 10:08
By Rita Buettner
Maybe because I always imagined I would be a stay-at-home mother, I never even considered the fact that one day we would be using daycare. But after we adopted our younger son, we started looking for a program.
As I searched, I realized quickly that there were some that just wouldn’t work for us. Some were too impersonal. Some were overly concerned with academics. Some just rubbed me the wrong way.
When I walked into the small preschool we ended up choosing, the atmosphere was low-key and friendly. The teachers and children were smiling. And they had a wooden train to climb on.
I was sold.
I was still nervous, of course. You hear people talk about how they could never have “strangers” raise their children. But our sons’ teachers are not strangers. They are our very dear friends.
And the friends our son has made are a special group, some of whom have been with him since he started as a tiny 2-year-old more than three years ago.
This photo is more than 3 years old, taken on our little guy's first day there. In my mind they are still that small.
Yesterday Daniel and I said goodbye to his teachers and classmates, and we made it through without tears—well, very few tears, anyway.
Off to kindergarten, big boy.
On Saturday we gathered at a playground with other new kindergarteners and their families. We have one very social incoming kindergartener in our household, but I knew he would feel better to connect with his new friends ahead of time.
He ran in circles with one little girl, pretended to be shy with another, and did some rock throwing with one boy, who is clearly a kindred spirit.
On the way home, he said, “I have a new best friend, Mama.” And he talked all about the rock-throwing boy. Then each of our boys listed their top five best friends—lists that do not include their brothers. Where did they find all these friends?
I don’t know why I don’t rank my best friend list more often—or ever. If you’re reading this, though, you can assume you’re in the top five.
This morning Daniel and I are off to kindergarten orientation! He will meet his teacher, see his new best friend and his other new friends, take a look inside his classroom, and I will hope the carpool pick-up situation hasn’t changed much since I finally have it figured out.
If I have to pack lunches, I might as well make it fun (for me).
We’re excited about school, but I would like another two weeks of summer, please.
Families decide to homeschool for many excellent, legitimate reasons, but at the top of my list would be: To avoid all the paperwork for school. There’s the form for the dentist, the form for the doctor, the form for emergency contacts, forms for the afterschool program, the milk program form, and probably 15 others I’m forgetting.
It’s funny that it bothers me so much because I thoroughly enjoyed filling out adoption paperwork.
Four years ago today John and I were admiring scenes like this.
Four years ago tomorrow John and I met Daniel for the first time. I remember so many details of those first minutes, and then hours, together. Tomorrow the day is his. He asked to take the light rail to Gettysburg, but the light rail doesn’t go that far. So he is trying to decide how he wants to spend the day. Whatever he chooses, we will be together as a family of four.
I’ve written many times about adopting. Here are a few posts that might be interesting to you:
There’s much more where that came from, but these are supposed to be “quick” takes.
I’m an aunt again! My younger brother and his wife welcomed their fourth child and first girl over the weekend, and she is beautiful! They live out of town, so I don’t know when I will meet her, but a new baby is always so exciting. Her three big brothers are so proud.
One of my friends recently gave birth to a little boy she named Leo. When I wrote to congratulate her, she replied that she had given him our son’s “blog name.” It made me laugh. I love the name Leo, though it’s not Leo’s real name. The other day he asked me to change his blog name to “Odie,” but I find it confusing enough to use alternate names. We won’t be alternating the alternate names here anytime soon.
Twelve years ago on Sunday John and I met for the first time in person. We won’t celebrate it in any special way. You can only celebrate so much in one weekend, and our 5-year-old’s Gotcha Day will overshadow everything else. But you can read about that first meeting here.
Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog!
August 20, 2015 11:44
By Rita Buettner
During the homily last Sunday our deacon was speaking about spiritual adoption. He told us we should consider God’s love from the perspective of a person who has been adopted.
Prior to being adopted, the deacon said, that person feels rejected. That person feels that no one has ever loved him. Then after adoption everything changes.
Sitting there in the pew, I started to get upset. Later that evening, John and I discussed the deacon’s words. He reminded me that not everyone has been educated in how to speak about adoption. He is absolutely right. I can’t expect people to know how to approach adoption with sensitivity and understanding.
But the truth is that my frustration with the comments had less to do with our children and more to do with a larger issue for the Catholic Church.
If we are a pro-life community of faith, and I believe we are, we must approach adoption with a pro-life view.
If we are concerned with the child, we must also be worried about the mother. We must acknowledge that if she chooses to place her child for adoption instead of abortion, she is not rejecting the child. She is, in fact, embracing her child with a love so deep that she would carry her little one, give birth, and then entrust her child to someone else’s care.
Go ahead. Tell me I’m reading too much into the deacon’s words. Tell me I’m misconstruing his meaning.
But if we can’t speak of adoption as a form of love—not just on the part of the adopters but also on the part of the birth parents—we are perpetuating the myths and stereotypes about adoption that make it seem like a negative. And a woman in a crisis pregnancy needs a positive option. Let’s help her see it for what it is.
Placing a child for adoption is an act of love. As adoptive parents, we don’t love our children more than their birth parents loved—and continue to love—them. We are merely adding our love to theirs.
If the Church is on board with that, let’s say so. And let’s use the right words.
Related post: A Letter to a Woman Considering Abortion
June 07, 2015 10:18
By Rita Buettner
Even before we adopted our children, we knew we would protect the stories of the first part of their lives—long before they met us.
In our pre-adoptive parent training the social workers told us that you never want your child to learn about his or her origins from someone other than you. The story of their birth and how they came into their orphanage or foster home should be theirs to hear, to make their own, and to share when they want to.
John and I have protected our sons’ stories and kept them close. We share and re-share them within our own family of four. Each of the boys has a photo book I made with pictures that predate their lives with us, explaining details of their lives before meeting our family.
But we don’t share that information outside our family. Even our closest relatives don’t know about our sons’ first days. They don’t need to. Those stories belong to our sons.
Then one recent afternoon Leo came home and told us he had been selected as “God’s Special Child.” He was allowed to bring items to school to share—and he knew what he would bring.
“I’m going to take my book to school,” he said.
I knew immediately which book he meant. I was surprised—and pleased.
I was also a little nervous. No one outside our immediate family had seen that book—or heard the information inside. Would the children ask difficult questions? Would our son feel comfortable talking about himself and his origins? Had we prepared him well enough to share his story in public?
I couldn’t answer those questions. But they weren’t my questions to answer.
So I found a bag and asked him what else he wanted to take. He packed his baptismal outfit, a Chinese silk outfit he wore as a toddler, a blanket his aunt knitted for him even before we met him, pictures of him with his brother and us, and the photo album we sent to him months before we met him in China. And he took his book, the book that had never left our house.
As he left for school the morning of his big day, I was nervous for him, but I was also so very proud.
Throughout the day, I kept thinking about our baby boy, marching so bravely into his classroom, ready to talk about his life. What an amazing thing for a first grader to be able to do. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was what we were preparing for all this time.
This is why we haven’t shared his information, why we have kept it close, why we made sure it was his and his alone.
We kept it safe so that if and when he decided to share it, he could. I didn’t know whether he was ready—but he knew, and he was.
And this is, after all, his story.
May 04, 2015 11:07
By Rita Buettner
I'm tucking our younger son into bed and he's grinning up at me.
“Mama,” he says. “I want you to call me” and he says his Chinese nickname. “Because that was my name first.”
“OK,” I say.
As I tuck him in, I think back to the woman I was six or seven years ago—before we adopted our children. I wonder whether that version of myself might have balked at the idea that our sons might one day ask us to call them by their Chinese names.
A younger me might have worried about what that said about my role as his mother, and our bond as a family.
A less-secure me might have worried that one day our children would want to track down their biological roots.
A me who hadn't become a mother yet might not have fully appreciated the value of our children's lives and stories before meeting us.
Thanks to all the pre-adoptive training we received and all the prayer and conversation John and I went through prior to meeting our children, I was prepared. But something happens when you actually meet your children and consider their individual, personal stories in a new way. You realize just how much their stories are to be treasured, valued, and protected. You come to understand just how important those stories are to them—and how much they will become part of your family’s story.
There's a reason we guard those stories so closely.
I never considered how at peace I was with our role as our children’s second and forever parents until the day our older son used the term "my real mother" to refer to his biological birth mother.
He wasn't belittling my role or trying to hurt my feelings. He was using the words he had available to him to make sense of a situation that can be difficult to get your mind around. As I searched my mind for an answer, I was cheering inside that he had found the words to ask the question. He trusted me. He believed in me. He sought me out for help.
In that moment, a woman on the other side of the world was his real mother—and so was I.
Tonight as our little boy asks me to call him by a name he doesn’t remember hearing as a toddler in China, I feel nothing but gratitude and pride.
He is hearing and absorbing his story. He's making it his own. And he knows we love him and his heritage and his story that predates our family’s.
As I turn out the light, I think of the people on the other side of the world who love him.
I kiss our son’s smiling face, smile back, and say, “Good night.” And I use his Chinese name.
April 22, 2015 10:08
By Rita Buettner
We bought new shoes for the boys last week. When the shoe salesman asked Daniel what kind of shoes he wanted, Daniel said he wanted fast shoes.
Today we decided to give those shoes a test run. After being snowed and iced in for so much of the winter, we were ready to get outside.
So we set out for a walk through the neighborhood. Our destination? A playground, of course.
But half the fun is getting there. You get to see so much along the way.
Sometimes you decide you just can’t go any farther.
Then you jump up and sprint off into the distance, pretending you can’t hear your parents calling for you.
We finally made it to the playground.
They ran and jumped and climbed.
They found sticks that looked like weapons.
Then they started acting out a scene from The Longest Day, a scene my husband tells me is the British commando raid on the Pegasus Bridge.
They found spiky balls that had fallen from a tree and decided they were grenades, the perfect thing to toss around the playground.
Daniel would yell, “Hold until believed!”—which John tells me should be “Hold until relieved.”
Leo, who is not as interested in military history as his 5-year-old brother is, happily played along, calling Daniel “Commander.”
Luckily no one else was playing on the playground equipment. It might have been hard to explain what was happening.
It’s almost impossible to remember a day when this little guy wasn’t in our family. And it’s even harder to imagine Leo without his little brother.
As we walked, we passed yards of brown grass—grass that will turn green soon enough. I looked at the buds on the trees, just waiting to bloom. Spring is coming, and there will be many more walks to the playground.
I can’t wait. But I think I’d better get a pair of those fast shoes.
March 21, 2015 10:55
By Rita Buettner
What are you making for dinner? Lenten Fridays never feel
like a big sacrifice to me since I love canned tuna and fish sticks. But my
family doesn’t share my enthusiasm there, so the other day I decided to try to
make a shrimp pasta dish. It turned out well and the house smelled so good all
So, in case you are trying to decide what to make for dinner
tonight, here’s an idea:
Savory Shrimp Pasta
I pound shrimp peeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. parsley
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tsp minced onion
Ground black pepper to taste
½ cup apple juice
½ pound cooked spaghetti
Sauté the shrimp in the oil with the parsley until the
shrimp curls up and turns pink. Add the garlic powder, minced garlic, minced
onion, and pepper and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the apple juice and cook for
another 5 minutes.
Add the pasta to the pan and stir as the spaghetti absorbs
Serve with Parmesan cheese. Enjoy! If it's too delicious for Lent, you can just wear your hair shirt for an extra hour tomorrow.
How are your Lenten activities going? Our boys have a few
daily projects to update, but we struggle with anything that has to be done
every day. So I have a feeling we’ll be playing catch-up this weekend—well, except
for the sticker project we’re doing because Leo finished that on Ash Wednesday.
We aren’t talking about 25 days of chocolates in an Advent
calendar. It’s a series of stickers about Jonah’s stories. It didn’t seem worth
the effort to stop him.
This is the Disciple Ship.
I’m pretty sure Easter will come anyway.
You know how they say that the first day of the New Year
will define how the rest of the year will go? Well, the Chinese New Year
started yesterday, and this is how it started for us:
We forgot Daniel’s lunch.
I spilled 50 red envelopes full of chocolate
coins in our driveway and had to pick them all up. Did I mention how cold it is?
I was late getting to work because of the lunch
My hair was damp when we went outside and I
forgot a hat. It froze solid.
When we arrived at preschool, we realized that Daniel
had put his shoes on the wrong feet.
Will every day of the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram be like
this? Only time will tell.
Our boys have had four of their cousins visiting town this
week. Is there anything quite like fun with your cousins? Our sons are 7 and 5,
and this set of cousins is just-turned-6-this-week, 7, 10, and 11. A friend
invited us to bring the younger two cousins with Leo and Daniel to her daughter’s
birthday party at a gym.
So I loaded four children into our van. As we drove, they
had real conversation, chatting about TV shows (Lego Chima, of course) and
reenacting favorite episodes. They talked about their last visit together and
things they had done with Grandpa and Grandma and the other cousins.
As someone who has watched these children grow, I loved
hearing them having an actual conversation.
The party was so much fun. I mean, who
doesn’t love a ball pit? How many children can you see in this picture?
The only moment of stress for me was when the instructor
leading the party announced the children were going into the other room for
cake, and that their parents would collect all their things. I had no idea what
the cousins’ coats and shoes looked like. But I managed to get it all together,
and we had fun.
I think the lesson is that four children can be as easy as two
if they are the right four children? Or if they are all part of the same group
of spies. Wait, did I say they were spies? Whoops.
Yesterday I went to visit both our boys’ schools to give
Chinese New Year presentations. It was so much fun. I read a few books, and we
made Chinese dragon puppets out of paper bags.
Leo and Daniel passed out a red envelope and a fortune
cookie to each child—and yes, I am aware that fortune cookies are not Chinese,
but they are a Chinese-American treat, and they are simple and fun.
I over-scheduled for Leo’s class and ran out of time. As we
were packing up to leave, he said, “What about Chinese New Year Bingo? And the
bubble wrap?” We will have to save those for another day.
Next year I may not even be needed. During his preschool
presentation, I noticed Daniel was sitting on a ledge waving an American flag.
“Do you want to make a dragon?” I said.
“No, Mama,” he said. “I’m the boss of the Chinese happy new
So I may be able to hand over the reins soon enough. I mean,
he is the boss.
Last weekend we went to our local Families with Children
from China event.
It is one of the highlights of our year, with a Lion Dance,
many fun crafts, Chinese food, and—here’s the best part—other families formed
through adoption from China.
Some are close friends, some we only see once a
year, and others we have never met. But we always enjoy connecting with them.
And this year we actually got to talk to some of them before we had to go help
make a lantern or color a dragon.
And we came home with two lanterns our sons decorated. Aren’t
Are you tired of hearing about Chinese New Year celebrating? Well, I’m not quite finished. We have more celebrating to do this weekend if the weather doesn’t get in our way.
Have a wonderful weekend—and stay warm!
Read more quick takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.
February 20, 2015 07:32
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By Rita Buettner