Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Hurt of Love

 My mom swallowed hard, trying but failing to contain her tears, and I followed suit. My dad tugged on my braid (universal man-speak for everything from I love you and am going to miss you to I have no idea what to say or do right now). They both hugged me harder than ever before the gate attendant called my flight number for the final time. We reluctantly let go, furiously giving last-second hugs and kisses. And then, shoulders squared, hands held and babies hipped, Nick and I marched onto the plane and into our future.

It hurt. Ripping one solid unit in half tends to do that.

But in the nearly four weeks since we left Oregon for England, it has occurred to me that the pain is a massive blessing.

It means we have someone to miss, someone waiting for us back home, someone who prays for us constantly. Every time a wave of homesickness hits me, I try to remember that it's better to love and hurt from the loss than to feel nothing at all.

I and my babies are ridiculously blessed that way. Not only do we have untold family members sending us gifts, cards, texts and messages just to say they love us, but also smaller, often-overlooked niceties that we can be just as thankful for.

We can color a penguin dubbed Pengo and watch proudly as the bank teller tacks it onto her wall.

We get to play Temple Run while a military barber chops off our curly locks (no tears from any of you, please, I think it looks fantastic and his curls, like always, will grow back!).

We even get rewarded with a sucker for behaving during said haircut. And look like a kindergarten thug while enjoying it.

We can enjoy the wonder of an automatic carwash. (What must she be thinking?!?)

We have an insane amount of toys given by people who would die for us if the situation called for it. We have our imaginations, our completely-healthy bodies, dozens of friends all over the map, an education, the church body, freedom to be and do and go wherever we want. To infinity and beyond, even.

And if all else fails -- if the internet tanks and we can't FaceTime with relatives back home, if we're constantly coughing and/or freezing from the damp British air, if suitcase living gets to be too much, if patience wears thin -- the Kuppers always have each other. We are alive, we are healthy, we are happy.

We are family, and we help each other up when one of us falls and is too weak to get back up.

Or not...

In all seriousness, November has made me realize anew how blessed my little family is, simply because we have the gift of family.

Not everyone is so lucky. And that's why this month isn't just for turkeys and Black Friday sales -- it's also National Adoption Month

I realize adoption can seem either like a fairy-tale (as an adoptive sister, I can assure you it's anything but) or a nightmare (once again, trust me when I say you eventually wake up). I understand why people look at our and other adoptive families and say, "There's no way I could ever do that. It's just too (hard, expensive, time-consuming, heart-breaking, or any other number of negative adjectives)."

Yeah, adoption is hard. It can be expensive, time-consuming and everything else people say about it.

But it can also be wonderful, a dream come true, a life-changing experience, joy-filled, funny, magical, educational and any other number of positive things. Usually, it's a mixture of both.

Beauty side-by-side with ugliness. Glimpses of heaven mixed with horrifying peeks into hell. Laughter combined with tears. A dream injected with a heavy dose of reality.

Pain and joy, all together.

As a Reece's Rainbow
volunteer, I daily see beautiful faces -- real lives -- waiting to find their forever families. Some of them have extreme needs, others barely a blip on the special-needs map. Most of them have significant grants that majorly reduce the financial burden of international adoption (and trust me, I will help you raise the rest!).

Yet ALL require the love of an imperfect family. For most, international adoption is their last defense against slow starvation, or even worse, an abusive, premature death at an adult mental institution.

I'll bet Felix
would LOVE to feel sad when his mom leaves for a dentist appointment.

I would guess that twins Nadia and Nancy would KILL to get into arguments with their siblings over who gets to sit in Dad's lap while he reads a story at bedtime.

I'm thinking sweet, ginger-haired Joshua wouldn't mind the pain of an impatient, snappy remark from his mom...because that would mean he had someone to forgive later on, complete with snuggles and kisses.

I'm sure Mindy -- who has mere weeks to find her family before her country kills off that chance forever -- misses the mom and dad she has never met, and wonders if she's worthy of someone coming halfway across the world to rescue her.

I'm positive that Eliah, with only a cleft lip and palate, would give his right arm to one day cry as he hops onto a plane, leaving his family behind, to journey into a bright, secure future with a wife and children by his side. 

And I know that Ruben, at the top of his class and bilingual, wouldn't mind being in my shoes at the moment.

My pain, compared to these kids', is minimal. Missing my family and friends, in fact, is a blessing in disguise.

The real heartbreak comes when I realize that so many of these precious kids will never feel the hurt of love...unless you and I do something.

Will you join me?

Update: Since I wrote, Mindy, unfortunately, has aged out of her country's program and will never be adopted. Nadia and Nancy, while still adoptable, have been transferred to an adult mental institution, which, in reality, will probably slowly kill them. But Joshua and Felix, thankfully, have found families. Eliah and Ruben still wait.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

To Avinly on Her 1st Thanksgiving

Today, Avinly, was your first Thanksgiving. And while you and your brothers you are already tucked away in bed, your cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles back home haven't even taken the turkey out of the oven. Like the very first Thanksgiving's participants, you experienced your thankful holiday's debut far, far away from home. 

Unlike the Pilgrims, however, at least we have a post office, the handwriting of your loved ones bringing your mama much comfort.

For the first time in my 28 years, I spent Thanksgiving away from my family. Your brothers, accustomed to long hours playing with cousins while their mothers prep in the kitchen, wondered why this Thanksgiving would be different than the others. Why couldn't we just go back home? I realize that for at least several more years, it will be normal for you to say hi to your grandparents over the phone on the fourth Thursday in November instead of leaning in for a hug.

And, aided by my 7-miler this morning around the barbed-wired base perimeter, my heart simultaneously cracks and heals, the little fissures making room for new experiences, new friendships, new memories, even as the pain hits.

Thankfully, the setting for your first Thanksgiving was not a lonely hotel room. Instead, it was a rambling farmhouse in the country, beautifully decorated and filled with people, kids, dogs and wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. Though we have only been in this country for three weeks, we scored a dinner invitation from some awesome hosts. (Who we met, by the way, through friends of friends of friends via Facebook. The world is small, though still so very large.).

We came at 1 p.m. as strangers. Seven hours later, we left as friends. You feasted on sweet potatoes, rolls, bits of turkey, and -- for the first time -- cranberry sauce with your buddy Weston. All were hits.

During dinner, I talked with your grandparents back home, still pajama-clad at 8 a.m. As my mom swept the phone around the room, with calls of "Happy Thanksgiving, Crystal!" coming from various family members, I so desperately wanted to be there. I wanted to discuss the strategy for the upcoming Black Friday shopping with the women. I wanted to play the annual guessing game of "Who is thankful for what?" (P.S. If the card says Josh Turner, it could be either me or my mom.). I wanted catch up with relatives, to fall asleep on the couch watching White Christmas, to revel in the tryptophan grogginess before tromping off to bed.

I wanted what I've always had, in other words. Because it's pretty amazing.

Blurry photo courtesy of Jude. I miss my Canon!
But then I started thinking about the first Thanksgiving. About the fact that there were no traditions, because it had never been done before. The Pilgrims and Native Americans weren't long-standing friends and relatives. Everything and everyone was new. Both sides just knew they were thankful to be alive, to be together, to be living in a beautiful, life-sustaining country, to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to be children of a God who created and loved them dearly.

Kind of like us today. The faces and the location weren't what we know. But the laughter, friendship, beauty and love flowing from each attendant was familiar. Because we're humans, and we never outgrow the need for connection, no matter where we are, what job we have or who we are around.

So yes, I miss our family. I'm sad that your grandmas and grandpas don't get to hold you on your first Thanksgiving, to gush over your adorable pumpkin dress, to laugh at the face you made when your tongue first touched the cranberry sauce. I'm bummed that the boys don't get to be with their cousins, and I'm nostalgic for what my family is missing -- for my holiday comfort zone.

But in moving here, I have been solidly shoved out of that zone. And in falling from that plane, I am forced to remember what that first Thanksgiving stood for.

It wasn't about familiarity, comfort or normalcy. It was about discovering that happiness isn't exclusive to your old life, finding joy in the midst of your new circumstances and realizing that one can always find reasons to give thanks no matter who surrounds your table.

After all, you have a table. And though you have someone to miss, you also have new faces to meet -- two things that so many the world over don't.

And so today, as I gaze at my babies' sleeping forms, as I hold my husband in my arms, as I hum "White Christmas," I pray and thank God for the day. I praise him for side-by-side hurt and happiness, the comfort of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow, the generosity of new friends and longings of old.

I give thanks on your first day of gratitude, knowing that together, we drink deeply of the true spirit of that first Thanksgiving day so long ago.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November Book Picks for Kids

When I was knee-high to a grasshopper (no "Was knee-high?" jokes, please), the library was a completely magical place for me, and not just because of the books. As our small town's former one-room schoolhouse, Creswell's library was living history. Farmer Quinn's wife used to teach there before she married, and sometimes she would tell stories about it.

As either a school or library, I loved the place. The old woodstove, long accustomed to defrosting farm kids, still stood watch up front. The wood floor, built with what I'm sure was local timber, creaked no matter where you stepped, and oh, the smell. The combination of woodsmoke, weathered hardbacks and this intangible something combined to make the most weirdly-wonderful aroma. To this day, I sometimes covertly sniff old books at garage sales just for the nostalgia.

This last month has found the Kupper Klan with a painful abundance of nothing to do. The library is just a short walk away from our hotel and through the wet, gloomy skies and sidewalks (note to self: TOMS shoes might be socially conscious and fashionable, but they are not good wet-walking wear). So to the library we go!

And here are our top finds for the month of November, keeping in mind my kids are 6, almost-3 and 7 months:

"How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?" by Wendall Minor
The boys loved this silly book about all pumpkins could accomplish if only they grew bigger. As the pages pass, the silliness escalates. By the time that roller coasters are careening down the track into a giant jack o' lantern's mouth, Jack and Jude are laughing hysterically.

"Otis" by Loren Long
This sweet story about a tractor and his calf who outgrow their usefulness made me miss my dad's John Deere. "And this is why we can never get rid of Tucker or Austen," Jack said matter-of-factly. As much as I love our much-used Corolla and Odyssey, we'll have to see about that.

"Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin" by Mary Serfozo
This toddler book about the search for the perfect pumpkin was far and away Jude's favorite. We must have read it a dozen times.

"The Dream Shop" by Katharine Kenah

Lately, Jack has been enjoying books with more-complex story lines (and somewhat sadly for this end-of-the-day, might-collapse-in-the-middle-of-the-page mama, more words) and concepts. Fantasy and imagination, in other words, are right up his alley. He really enjoyed this slightly-weird tale about shopping for dreams. There was a fire-breathing lizard, you see. End of explanation.

"Chief Rhino to the Rescue" by Sam Lloyd
Have you discovered Whoops-A-Daisy World yet? If not, you should. It's like Richard Scarry's Busytown reinvented.

"Mr. Tiger Goes Wild" by Peter Brown
Even the jungle creatures in the UK are prim and proper, apparently. But nature always wins in the end -- and so will you, when you hear your psedo-cherubs' giggles.

"Llama Llama Misses Mama" by Anna Dewdney
Okay, I have to be honest: I'm the one who grabbed this off the shelf and threw it in the book bag. Let's just say Llama Llama and I have a little maternal longings in common at the moment. At any rate, any Llama Llama book is a big hit with the boys, and this one was no different.

"Sugar Snow" by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I'm all for new books (after all, how else am I going to get published someday?), but I also want my children to know the thrill of the classics. I've got a whole arsenal of literati lined up for Jack as he ages -- Narnia, Hardy Boys, Little Women (he's going to need to impress some girl on a date someday, and I figure this is a great way, right?), Little House on the Prairie, Caddie Woodlawn, etc. So it's nice to read a smaller version of the real thing to get him hooked in the meantime.

Hence my excitement over these adaptations of LIW's classics. When I told Jack that I read this book as a young girl, he was dubious. Like, you mean, they had printing presses back then, Mommy?

Now it's YOUR turn! What good books (kids or otherwise) have you read lately? Share in the comments!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fending Off the Fever

I'm totally not a tourist. Doesn't everyone take their kid's photo in front of American phone booths?
 I have spent most of my life around small children. I am an active, energetic individual. I am decently patient and usually creative. Yet this cooped-up-with-three-littles (one of whom needs to be in school) thing has nearly killed me.

Nick has a job to do. I do, too, but its parameters are slightly more ambiguous. So here is what my and the kids' day looks like, AKA "Here is how we have been fending off hotel fever."

We find fun places to bathe
It doesn't matter if the kid is dirty or not. Had a bath this morning? Doesn't matter, throw them in the tub (or sink, whatever)
and let them splash around.

We practice our letters
To the boy down the hall who gave Jack a card and some chocolate for his birthday: "Dear Caleb, thank you for my Happy Hippoes. Your friend, Jack."

We kiss. And punch, wrestle and other various male expressions of "I love you"
The boys are always energetic, but this month has seen the testosterone jump off the charts. Thankfully, Avinly manages to bring out both Jack's and Jude's tender sides.

We try out new toys
Lo, the post office runs have been abundant. P.S. Avinly could use some size 12-18 month pajamas.

Because even Spiderman is responsible for cleaning up his web mess
We copy our older brother's superhero moves when he will not share said toys
Don't you know Spiderman and Mickey Mouse are distant cousins?

We take a page straight out of every teenage girl's playbook
How Jack manages a simultaneous duck lip and tongue roll, I'll never know. Who taught him how to take a selfie, anyway? (And did you know that "selfie" is officially the Oxford Dictionary's "Word of the Year"? Oh, the horror!).

We burn calories in any way possible
Exercise is one of the best cure-alls I know. Thankfully, we can keep a small slice of normalcy through Fit to Be, our family's favorite fitness site. They have an entire section devoted to kids' workouts that the boys love (be sure to enter the coupon code CRYSTALKUPPER at checkout to get $10 off a three-month subscription!). It cracks me up every time Jack removes his shirt, "'cause you know I'm going to get sweaty when I exercise."

Jude, meanwhile, has no idea what's going on -- but he does know that Downward Dog is similar to a center's stance. In fact, he grabbed the pigskin out of Avinly's hands shortly after I took this photo and lobbed it across the room. "Downward Dog is just like football!" he squealed.

Yes, son. Yoga and football do share so much in common.

Reverse planks!
 We chill and use sophisticated phrases like Namaste
Okay, that's a big fat lie. My children are NEVER chill. But for some odd reason, after beating us up to our third-floor room (the elevator here takes longer than the stairs), Jack assumed this position while waiting for us in front of our door.

"I'm like a sensei on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," he explained. And per his outfit, like a moose, a fighter jet pilot and an astronaut (the costume underneath his jacket). All most definitely relaxed, meditative occupations (that is, if you can call being a moose an occupation. Canadians, what are your thoughts?).

We bowl each other over
So maybe life doesn't come with bumpers. Maybe, because of circumstances out of our control, this November will not be our finest. Maybe we've thrown more gutter balls than strikes. Maybe we have lost of our tempers, whined more than the allowable nice Christian amount and forgotten how blessed we are to be together. Maybe the ball is so dang oily from a recent greasing that it totally threw Mommy off her normal 120-pin average. Ahem.

But we make those mistakes as a family, and we keep bowling, side-by-side, no matter what the cheesy-themed scoreboard says. Besides, we don't need any more turkeys; we've got enough of our own already.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding the Familiar

See? Oregon isn't that far away!
 My mom knows pretty much everything about babies and children. One of her highest-priority pieces of advice centers on routine. "Children thrive on what they know," she's told me approximately 1,237 times. "They don't do well with change. Stick with what they can predict, and everyone will be happier for it."

But she was never a military wife.

Still, what she says has merit. So despite the fact that we're stuck in a hotel room for a month with just our suitcases, Jack is out of school, Avinly is sleeping with us (and nursing like a newborn) and Jude has no idea why we're here, I am trying to find the familiar. I'm hunting for it like a Robertson in a duck blind.

Hence, we revel over finding a street named after our beloved state and eagerly Skype to best friends back home.

Hi Gustins!
 We rejoice (as in, jump up and down, squealing with glee....and you should have seen the kids) when our much-missed minivan finally makes it to England two months after leaving Salem.

Oh Austen, we have missed you! No more Jack and Jude sitting next to each other!
 Of course, not everything can be the same. Our cloth diapers are still with our household goods, which we don't get until the first week of December. So Avinly has been experiencing not American Huggies or or Pampers diapers, but British Nappies. (P.S. I had forgotten how much disposables cost -- sheesh!).

Everywhere the Kupper family looks, we see differences. And when you're just a few months or years old, that's a big deal. The only people the kids recognize are their parents (and the Youngs, also stationed here) and the lone thing from home they can hold onto is their blankie. It's rough.

Like two days ago, when Jude (nearly three) climbed up onto my lap. His lip jutted out. "Mommy, I wanna go back my old house," he pouted. Amazing, since this is the first time in two months he has complained about all of his toys and belongings being carted away by strange men.

Yet no matter how backwards out little world may be at the moment, there is something we all know and recognize: love and friendship.

Meet Sarah, a Compassion International advocate
like myself. We "met" through this awesome child sponsorship organization a few years back. Sarah is British and was quite happy to hear we were moving here, and I must say, knowing I would be in the same country as her did help a little.

Sarah and her father

Sarah and I have never met in person. We only know each other through our online activities (though hopefully that will change in the near future). Yet that didn't stop her from mailing us two giant "Welcome to Britain" packages in the royal post.

Thanks for my British remote, Ms. Sarah!
To Jude, she gave a sticker atlas of the UK; to Avinly, a remote control toy (and did you know Fisher Price records each toy's voice with the local accent?); and Jack, a travel game called "The Great Game of Britain," because she "knows how intelligent Jack is."

Sarah saved the best gift for last. To me and Nick she enclosed a gigantic package of Cadbury's chocolate buttons. She had no idea that Cadbury's is my favorite kind of chocolate in the entire world (a habit passed down by my grandma Audrey). But God did!

The kids eagerly dove into their unexpected gifts (and when no one was looking, so did I). We played the game before bedtime, learning about the different major cities in the UK and having a ball all the while.

Jude was the designated dice-roller. Jack practiced his reading on each card. And Avinly gurgled and happily reached for the choking hazards. It was everything a happy family evening should be, really.

Nick would probably want me to inform you that he won.

So while everything here is unfamiliar, life daily reminds me that no matter where you are in the world, people are the same. We may not have the same accent or background, but we can all understand love, friendship, a helping hand, a considerate deed, a smile, a thoughtful gesture. We're all humans designed for connection with our Creator and each other.

Love and happiness are not confined to America, in other words. They're universal, if only we can see them in everyday treasures.

And those gifts -- from an unmet-friend, relative, lifelong buddy or complete stranger -- will always be familiar.