First Day of Preschool

I don't remember much about my first day of school. I don't remember what I wore or where I sat or the colour of my new backpack. But I do remember something: I remember being NERVOUS. I remember not wanting my mom and dad to leave me in that strange new place with all those other kids and that tall kindergarten teacher. Sure the sandbox was alluring and the crayons all sharp and new, but I was so unsure of myself; scared to do the wrong thing, sit in the wrong seat, or find the bathroom by myself. It was a scary new world and I felt entirely un-brave.

I was prepared with armfuls of empathy, ready to wrap around my little boy on his first day of preschool.

He needed none of it.

After visiting the school on an open house day last winter, Arie had been asking frequently when it would be time to go to "Ben's school?" (His big buddy Ben attended two years ago and Arie has decided to name the school after him. Never mind that Ben's sister currently attends… it's still "Ben's" school!) After an explanation of how long it would be until Ben's school started (first the snow will melt, then the spring flowers will come, then it will be summer time, and then you go to school!) came Arie's second question, "And I go all by myself right?!" Right.

I wish he would make his bed in the morning with equal all by myself enthusiasm!

Last year Arie attended an enrichment program one afternoon per week just for two months to introduce him to the concept of school. I was interested to see how he would do in his first large group setting that mirrored orphanage life. As I might have predicted, Arie stuck close to his teacher for the first few weeks, seeking her approval and looking to her for reassurance in the crowd. It was hard to watch him revert to that behavior but I knew he just needed time to feel safe. Sure enough as the weeks past he began to separate from her and interact more freely with the other children. It is truly incredible how resilient these little ones can be!

Anticipating a potential repeat of this behavior, I armed Arie's preschool teacher with some tactics (pushing reassurance over independence and passing on our family's "comfort phrase" Mama, Papa, and Arie are forever and ever and ever), but I'm not sure she'll need them. Arie walked into the preschool room on his first day, heart brimming with excitement. He picked out a space for his coat and backpack, found his name tag, and clipped it on with gusto. After clipping the tag onto this shirt by his little belly, he surveyed the activities and showed me just the slightest moment of apprehension, "Mama will you come with me to the sandbox?"

"Sure buddy."

I stood and watched with other nervous parents for a while, all of us contemplating our escape plan when finally I went for it.

"Hey Arie- I'm going to leave now but I'll come get you at the end."

Moment of truth. 

He flung his arms around my neck for a brief moment and chirped, "Okay Mom!"

And that was it. First ever preschool drop off complete. The sounds of a few other kids crying anxiously for their parents escorted me out the door and I wondered for a moment if their tears would become contagious for my sensitive little man, but he kept on playing happily in the sand.

It's a little strange to have a kid who is so different from you! I was still a nervous wreck on my first day of seminary for goodness sake. Whatever my little man has to make him so optimistically brave, I'd like a little of that!

On this first day of class, the preschool provided a light breakfast and coffee for parents, inviting us to stay in the building and meet one another until our children were done. Normally the class runs just over 2 hours but the first day was shortened to one, to ease the adjustment. I chatted and sipped my orange juice for the hour until finally it was time to go get the littles.

This was the best part of the morning for me! The children were seated on the floor in a circle, benches placed behind their backs where the adults could find a seat and listen to the day's closing storybook. Of about 20 parents, I came in halfway through scanning the circle of faces for the one that means the most to me. When my eyes met his, I saw his little neck straining up to catch my gaze. His face was absolutely glowing with anticipation, as if to say, "Mom! I'm right here! I know you're looking for me! I'm here!" A long white cord with a handful of beads and a hole punched paper frog hung around his neck. "I made this!" he whispered.

My heart beamed.

As an adoptive parent I find these moments deeply moving. I thought immediately back to the day when we picked him up from the orphanage and his nanny handed me a stack of pictures (scribbles) he had drawn along with photos from his babyhood. It was such an overwhelming emotion to think that for 2 1/2 years there had been no one to marvel over his meager creations like only a parent can, no mom or dad to search for his eyes in a sea of faces, to catch them and to say in an instant, "There you are! You're mine. You belong with me."

I remember poignantly what it felt like to not have him home, too. To walk around with an empty space inside, where he belonged.

Now he's here. Now he's home. Now he's the one I look for in a crowd. The little hand I reach out to hold. The one whose scribbled pictures and cut out frogs adorn our counters and tables and walls.

I'm so proud of my little boy on his first day of preschool. I'm excited to drop him off to share his beautiful smile and contagious happiness with his teacher and class three mornings each week. Most of all, I'm excited to drive over to his school at the end of each morning, to search for his little face in the crowd, and to take him home. Because he's mine and we belong together.



Being happy

The most memorable advice I've ever received about happiness came from an anonymous poster on a online photography forum.  Four years ago- after saving stacks of birthday, Christmas, and extra grocery money- I was ready to purchase my first (and current) DSLR camera. I had dreamed of this day for months- years actually- and now that it had arrived, I felt paralyzed by my choices. I knew so little about how to choose the right camera for me; what if I chose the wrong one?

In an effort to avoid that regret, I spent hours reading articles, watching review videos, and perusing photography forums. I quickly learned I was not alone in my fear of making the wrong camera choice. One poster voiced my exact concern when she posted something like:

Hi- I'm new to photography and am about to purchase my first camera. I've done a lot of research and have two top choices, but how do I decide between the two? I'm worried I'll regret my decision! What camera did you start out with and are you happy with your purchase? 

The responses she got were filled make, model, and lens recommendations, but among these expected answers was one response that has stayed with me for years. Someone wrote:

The best advice I can give you is to just pick one and then stop looking. Once you buy your camera, focus all your energy into learning how to use it and becoming a better photographer. If you keep looking at "better" cameras, you will be discontent. If you focus on the one in your hands, you will fall in love with it and the amazing images you can capture. 

"Pick one and then stop looking." "Focus on the one in your hands."

Doesn't this apply to so many other areas of our lives? From couches to spouses and wealth to health: it is excruciating how hard it is for us to be happy with what we have rather than envious and discontent. 

I have struggled with unhappiness because of my infertility over the last year. I don't feel guilty or ashamed of being unhappy both because I know those feelings are valid and also because I know I am free from condemnation in Christ. I am, however, convicted that I can't wallow in my discontent. I need to work through it and choose to be content in the life I've been given.

This week I received a stirring lesson in "focusing on the [life] in my own hands" when I set about to print and albumitize (new word) pictures I had taken over the year. I printed over 550 photos starting in last October, which incidentally was when I had my first IUI, and ending with a dozen prints from a trip we look to our friends' cabin over labor day, 4 short days ago.

You know what I  saw when I looked at my life?


I saw the three of us- Mama, Papa, and son- celebrating our one year anniversary since a Russian judge made us a family.

I saw my little boy picking out the wartiest pumpkin in the patch for the first time in his life.

I saw my family in Ontario, finally all together for Thanksgiving.

I saw the cutest little elephant you ever did see all dressed up for Halloween.

I saw joy on Christmas,

love on Valentine's Day,

celebration on Easter,

and sparklers on the Fourth of July.

We had fun in the snow...

... and in the sun.

I saw my long-awaited-child celebrated as we said goodbye to three and hello to age four.

I saw an abundance of treasured expeirences and memories made on our summer road trip.

And I saw the warmth of friends sharing tranquility in the woods.

As I slid the last photograph into its place in our album, I felt a certain bliss to realize how happy I've been this year. All of these experiences I see as gifts from the Giver of all good things. Why he blesses me so lavishly with these happinesses but does not end my infertility grief, I do not know. I simply know I've been happy. Sad, overwhelmed, grief-stricken, and anxious too, yet: happy.

This is not a paradox. This is the human experience.

There is no secret to avoiding pain. But I believe there are ways to find happiness even in the pain of life. One step is this: stop looking for it and focus on the gifts we already hold in our hands.


"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." 
1 Timothy 6:6-8
"This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart."
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20


Thoughts before preschool

Arie's hand feels big in mine lately. His whole body is growing, of course, but it's the feel of his hot little fingers and palm in mine that I notice the most. It used to be a baby hand, small, soft, and mostly limp in mine. Passive.

Now, when he reaches up for comfort in a shy moment or safety before a busy street, I notice how much farther into the space between my thumb and pointer his fingers reach. He hold tight, mostly. A firm grasp, a preview into the handshake he'll one day extend to others as a man. He also wiggles and squirms, pulling away from my grasp when he wants to explore. More and more I am letting go: learning to trust, push boundaries... and hope to God he doesn't knock over that mountainous display of wine bottles at the grocery store.

He is growing socially, too. I remember last summer watching him on the playground as other kids would run up to play. "You wanna play?" They'd ask. He would stare blankly in return, then his eyes would dart me, anxious for rescue. Last weekend my sister got married and we spent time with her new extended family setting up for the wedding. In contrast, immediately upon meeting a new little cousin, Arie's eyes little up and he grabbed the boy's hand and exclaiming, "LET'S RUN!"
Family picture at my sister's wedding last weekend.
In two weeks he starts preschool. He's excited. He's ready. I can't wait to see how he'll grow! New friends, new experiences, new knowledge. Lately he's been absolutely ravenous to learn; asking questions, doing projects, celebrating victories like learning to write his name.

This week I rearranged his playroom to make a reading corner with low shelves, a lamp, and new chairs. A small change in our home to symbolize our first steps into a new leg of our parenting journey: school. I feel a heightened sense of awareness that these next few years will greatly shape how Arie feels about learning: will be it exciting? Fun? Boring? Frustrating? I deeply hope to nurture his sense of curiosity and wonder.  People often remark to me how imaginative he is and John and I want to keep that spirit alive in him! We want him to claim his capabilities, to widen his sense of wonder and to take pleasure in learning.

Today he will learn with hands in the sandpit and finger paints, but I know how soon those hands will grow to grasp a microscope in science class or gesture widely on the drama stage or etch slowly with pencil on a math page.

For certain, we will have our schooling ups and downs, but for now I take joy in the possibility set before us. In two weeks I will take his little hand in mine, walk through those preschool doors and excitedly begin.



Men, adoption, and three common fears

Today I'm blogging over at the National Registry for Adoption on a topic that frequently finds its way into my inbox: men and adoption fears.  Join my over at the nrfa.org blog to hear my response to these three questions: 1) Can I love a child who is not genetically mine? 2) What if I don’t bond to the child? 3) What if the child has special needs?

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