Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Greatest Call Ever Answered

When at first I saw Oakley's photo, she was not quite two years old. I gazed into her eyes and saw an old soul .. a baby who had endured too much, laughed too little, and waited too long for the unconditional love of her family.

We answered a call and I praise God every day for whispering to our hearts. She is happy, she is loved, she is ours, she is needed. We needed Oakley as much she needed us.

Sheer joy that cannot be contained!

We've Come A Long Way, Baby

If you'll remember, Oakley was TERRIFIED of Scrabble, our Springer Spaniel, when she first met him. He was very patient, well-behaved, and never tried to approach her. After three days of screaming, shaking, climbing the walls, and what can pretty accurately be described as sheer pandemonium whenever in his presence, she began to calm down. She watched him wearily from afar, and then gradually, a little closer. Within a week, she actually stroked him, if ever so briefly, on her own accord.

Well, now, she adores Scrabble, whom she affectionately calls "Kraggle." She still doesn't like him kissing her and if his tongue should happen to brush her arm even slightly, it sends her flying to me to be wiped down, then kissed. Only then does she deem his minor infraction, "all better."

It's so funny to hear her commanding him to his kennel when I announce that we are ready to leave the house to go bye-bye. "Nennel, Kraggle, nennel!" (aka, Kennel, Scrabble, kennel!). She then runs around the house gathering all of his toys and will carry them by the very edge (hence to avoid any and all contact with dog slobber) and places them in his kennel.

I took these photos last Sunday while they were playing in the front yard. Oakley and Kraggle ... a little girl and her dog!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Six SHORT Weeks

Today marks Oakley's sixth week being home. Home, where she has three adoring brothers and constant companions; home, where she is safe, loved and cherished; home, where she is growing, learning and thriving every day.

We are SO BLESSED. I know I sound repetitive sometimes, but when I reflect on our experience there is no other word that can adequately describe it. I love this little girl with all my heart and being, and she is grounded already so deeply in our family -- I cannot begin to imagine life without her.

She's smart, smart, smart and is picking up the English language at record speed; she's already putting together three word combinations with great animation. She's funny and playful and shares her sense of humor readily. She loves music, blocks, books, bracelets, baths, hair bows, shoes, her tea set and her Barbie Jeep (THANK YOU SPENCER!).

Her manners have improved greatly and she now covers her mouth when she sneezes or coughs, uses "excuse me" and "I'm sorry" appropriately, and will fetch a tissue BEFORE she begins to blow her nose.

Everything she does, she does with great exuberance. She seldom just walks through the house; she usually skips, jumps, hops and sashays! She's affectionate and she loves to cuddle, hold hands, hug and kiss and she's very compassionate and considerate of other's feelings. She's the first to comfort Sullivan if he's feeling sad or upset.

She's a champion eater (seriously) and goes to bed easily for naps and nighttime. With only a prayer, hugs, kisses, an I love you, a goodnight and a see-you-later (repeated in succession even as I am exiting her room) she sleeps soundly with her little blanket tucked beside her face. She loves playing with her dolls but refuses to allow them or her teddy bear to sleep in her bed. She's funny!

She still won't come out of her room when she awakens in the morning, but she now opens her door and waits for me to come up and get her. I'm generally up before she is and I listen for her to arise. She greets me every single morning with arms open wide, a huge smile and an I Love You. Her transition has been remarkable.

This week we had our follow-up appointment with her pediatrician and discovered that she's gained 2 pounds since our first meeting with her. She's more than doubled her vocabulary, has just about mastered the ABC song, can count to 7, knows her colors and her body parts, and recognizes and repeats the letter "O" for Oakley!

Unfortunately, we are having to repeat most all of her vaccinations because despite the records we have from China, her blood work labs did not show antibodies for the majority of her immunizations. She left her appointment on Wednesday with a band-aid on her arm and four on her little legs. She cried briefly (but mightily) until I assured her that we were "all done." She left the office pitifully muttering "all done, all done," but stopped on the way out to say thank you to the nurse who inflicted the harm. She has a heart of gold, I tell you. It was a long afternoon of sympathetic "I knows", and she limped around the house stiff-legged all afternoon like a little 90-year-old woman. But after a dose of Motrin, a nap, and an afternoon snack, she was as good as new!

I love this little girl ... love, love, love her!! And it makes my heart sing when we pull up to our neighborhood and she shouts happily, "We're home!"

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Zoo Crew

We made plans with some friends of ours to visit the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden yesterday. The weather was beautiful -- sunny, low humidity (comparatively speaking) and a little cooler than it has been. I loaded up the kids (everyone but Sawyer, who chose to remain at home, in bed, when he found out that we were leaving at 8 am) and we headed out for a day with the animals!!

The kids all had a great time, and although it was crowded, it wasn't unBEARable (yes, my feeble attempt at a joke). We really enjoyed getting to spend time with Sherry, my friend from Salt Lake City, and her beautiful family, and my friend Michelle and her two adorable girls. Here's a picture of all the kids, minus Harper, who opted out -- appropriately deemed the ZOO CREW. It really WAS a zoo trying to keep up with all these little monkeys!

This wasn't our first visit to a zoo with Oakley. We actually toured the zoo in Fuzhou, the capital of her province, in China. I can't say, however, that we enjoyed that visit. The animals were living in squalid conditions -- tiny, overcrowded, filthy quarters. The majority of them looked sick and the smell was so awful that it was difficult to breathe. There were also large (LARGE) rats running all over the place. We left there feeling really sad, depressed, and thankful for the zoos in the USA.

We really enjoyed our visit yesterday to the Cincinnati Zoo.

Oakley loved seeing all the animals and the monkeys were, by far, her favorite. Actually, I think they were the favorite among all of my family. Oakley spent all afternoon shouting, "Oo, Oo, Ah, Ah," the call of the monkey.

We spent a lot of time in Gorilla World watching the baby gorilla being taken care of by its Mama and the big silverback. They were amazing, and with my zoom lens I was able to capture some great shots.

I love the one of the Mama gorilla holding the baby to her chest -- it looks like she's smiling. Just another proud Mama!

Oakley was just as enamored with the ducks and turtles as she was with the big tigers and the elephants. The only things she was a little leery of were the giant cockroaches and centipedes in Insect World, and the blind pygmy moles. And really, who can blame her? They made me shudder, too!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Celebrating Independence Day

Oakley celebrated her first Fourth of July with a trip to the lake for an afternoon of boating, swimming, and her very favorite thing ... eating!!

She was so much more comfortable on the boat this time and she'd even sit next to me (as long as my arm was wrapped securely around her) while we travelled fast. The last time we were on the boat, she'd sit on my lap with her face buried in my chest.

She spent more time in the water this trip, although she still won't let anyone but me hold onto her. I'm so glad that she feels safe in my arms; it's just a matter of time before she feels just as secure in Michael's.

We were able to spend time with Nicole and her family, which made for a very special day. The kids had a great time tubing and jumping in off the boat, impressing us all with their daredevil moves.

The sun shone bright all afternoon at the lake, but we drove home through some monsoon-like weather conditions.

Although we intended on attending our county's fireworks show that evening, we decided to stay home so Sullivan could play with all the neighborhood children. We had our own little party right here on our street and the kids had a wonderful time running around with sparklers as some of the parents set off some REALLY BIG fireworks.

Oakley wasn't scared at all and she'd wave her little arms in circular motions and then raise them to the sky as she shouted, "Boom!"

It was almost 11 p.m. before we got her in bed and she was completely wiped out. For the last 30 minutes or so of the show, she'd alternately clap and cheer and then lay her head on my chest and ask, "Night Night?" This little girl likes her sleep almost as she does her food!

A girl after my own heart ....

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Oakley spends a lot of time talking to her family and friends on her Princess cell phone ... a gift from her Mamaw. She LOVES her phone and her conversations, although one-sided, are hilarious! They tend to go something like this ....

"Wei?" (the traditional Chinese phone greeting, meaning hello)

"Howww yewww?" (said with a very southern accent)


"Yeah." (she sometimes throws in an obligatory chuckle)


"I luh you."

"Bye. Bye."

And then it all begins again ... over ... and over ... and over ...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Blessed Day

What a beautiful, special, emotional, blessed day. Yesterday at the 11:30 am mass, with Father Nick Pagano presiding, we celebrated Sawyer's Confirmation of faith and Oakley's baptism. We stood in front of our church community and our family and friends, and witnessed God's grace. I have never felt more in awe of His love and His guiding hand, knowing fully that He completely orchestrated our journey's timeline and understanding so well how meaningful the day's events were for us all.

Sawyer was unable to be confirmed last month along with all of his classmates because he was in China, on a journey to bring home his little sister. Michael and I actually contemplated delaying our departure date so he could complete Confirmation along with the other candidates. Along with Sawyer, we ultimately decided that the arrival of our TA was God's timing, and with our church's blessing, decided that he would be confirmed by himself upon our return. His classmates stood in as proxy for his sponsor, his cousin Shelby, who is now in South Carolina, completing boot camp for the U.S. Marines.

I have no doubt that Sawyer grew in faith while on our journey. It's hard to experience the miracle of adoption and not grow in faith. I feel blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to spend some truly quality time with him in China and I saw clearly, time and time again, the man that he is becoming. He is patient, kind, helpful, charming, bright, personable and funny; and he welcomed Oakley into our family with loving arms and a loving heart. He is her biggest fan and her biggest brother. They share a very special bond and it seemed only fitting when he asked to be her Godfather.

Her Godmother, Nicole Maher, is one of my oldest and dearest friends. She is a woman of great faith, unconditional love, wonderful family values, and she has the most caring and giving spirit. She celebrated every milestone of our adoption journey with us and she supported and encouraged us all the way. She has a loving husband and four beautiful daughters. She is a devoted mother and I am honored that she is Oakley's Godmother. I know that she will be there for our little girl throughout her life, to support her in love and faith.

The Mass was amazing - the readings, the music, the sacraments, and Oakley, our little trooper, just took the day in stride in true Oakley-fashion! We walked down the aisle at the beginning of the service as members of the congregation signed the cross on her forehead. She was a willing participant and solemnly took it all in. She stood before the church, she sang, she knelt, she gave a big shout-out to my sister Lori and her Mamaw whom she spotted in the pews, and finally, she was baptized.

As the first cup of water was poured on her head, she shouted "water" and smiled up at me. As the second cup was poured on her head, she shouted "coolllddd!" and smiled up at me with a little shudder. After the final cup was poured, Nicole dried her off and she resumed her spot at the front of the church to be anointed with the holy oil.

Yesterday Father Nick celebrated his last mass at St. Peter. He has only been there for a year but we will miss him greatly, not only for his gentle nature and his ability to speak from the heart, but for his innate understanding of our desire to adopt and for his desire to be a part of our celebration.

During the Litany of Saints, I was overcome with emotion. God was there with us, leading and guiding Sawyer toward manhood and the path that he is to follow, and welcoming Oakley into His house and into a life of grace. With her little arms wrapped around my neck and her spirit so full of love and trust, I thanked God for His abundant blessings.

Five weeks ago to the day of her baptism, we received Oakley in China. We promised to love, cherish and educate her, and to never abandon her. She has experienced too much abandonment in her short life already, but oh, how she has blossomed in the love of her family. I find peace and comfort in the fact that God remained faithful to her in her time of need and kept her safe until she was placed in our arms. I thank him for opening her heart to us, for allowing her to place her trust in us so quickly. After her baptism we all sang "This Little Light of Mine -- I'm Going to Let It Shine." There truly is no song more fitting for this little girl. Her light shines for the world to see and she sings this song from the top of her lungs, shouting the words Mine and Shine with all of her two-year-old might!

I am honored and humbled to parent Sawyer, Hagan, Sullivan and Oakley. I pray that I can be the kind of mother that they deserve, the kind of mother that God wants me to be.