A few weeks ago, I invited you to pray that Teresa would be listed for a heart transplant.
God is so good! Prayer has moved mountains yet again for Teresa! Not only has this sweet little girl been listed to receive a transplant, but her family received the news that their insurance will cover the transplant. Now Teresa and her faith-filled parents could receive the call to go to the hospital at any time.
So I invite you again to join with me, the Bartlinski family, and thousands of other people around the world to pray for Teresa.
O God, how great Thou art, to care so much for this magical child who is such a treasure to all her meet her. We pray that Teresa and her parents will be able to reach the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in time once they get a call that a heart is there. We pray for her recovery and for her parents and brothers and sisters, especially since her hospital stay may be months long--and her mother, Ann, will be with her. As we pray, we also remember the donor and his or her family, who also need prayers at this time.
If you haven't had the chance to meet Teresa—and even if you have—you will want to watch this Fox 45 story about her. Maybe you can watch it without tearing up when Teresa talks about the people praying for her from around the world.
"They're praying for me to get a new heart," she tells the Fox 45 reporter.
Yes, Teresa. We certainly are.
June 28, 2012 11:46
By Rita Buettner
Why are all the coolest superheroes adopted?
There’s Superman, whose parents rocketed him from Krypton to Earth, where he became Jonathan and Martha Kent’s son.
There’s Batman, whose parents were killed, and who is raised by their butler, Alfred.
Then there’s Spider-Man, an orphan who grows up as part of Uncle Ben and Aunt May’s family and whose parents we know very little about—well, at least, until the new Spider-Man movie opens next week.
What is it about adoption—or growing up and coming of age without your birthparents—that sets the stage for greatness in comic books and on the screen?
There’s the element of mystery, of course, which adds drama to a story. For a superhero, especially, the idea that a person might have an unknown talent or skill—something his father or mother might know about, but the superhero needs to discover on his own—gives an undercurrent of excitement.
Then there is that struggle for identity, the challenge in defining yourself without fully understanding the people who gave you life, and having to develop a sense of self-reliance and independence. We believe people can succeed without their birthparents there to help them, but we, as a comic-reading, movie-going audience, seem to see this as an enormous obstacle a person may spend a lifetime overcoming.
When I watched the trailers for the new Spider-Man movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, I was immediately struck by the superhero’s determination and yearning to learn about his parents. I almost found this trailer hard to watch as his parents say goodbye at the beginning:
The last line—spoken by Peter Parker—lingers as the trailer ends. “We all have secrets, the ones we keep, and the ones that are kept from us.”
From the earliest days of an adoption journey, you think about how the child you adopt will have a life before you meet him or her. Whether it’s a matter of hours or days or years before your child joins your family, that part of your child’s life will always, always be part of his or her story. In open adoptions, children will have some contact with their birthparents. In closed adoptions—as most international adoptions are—that is rare, and sometimes impossible.
No matter what our children’s stories are—and they are, first and foremost, their stories, which we share only with them and not even with our closest family and friends—John and I try to make sure we have no secrets from them. At our boys’ ages, there is a lot they don’t understand, but we speak with them in an age-appropriate way.
Before we met our sons, we took an adoption preparation class where we were talking about how often we should speak about adoption with our children. It felt unnatural and uncomfortable. Just tell them from your earliest days together, the social worker said. Tell them while they’re young so it will start to feel natural to you. Then, as they get older, talk about it as if you were dropping pebbles into a stream. You don’t talk about it all the time, just when an opportunity arises.
And so we do. And we hope we communicate enough without making it seem like too much. We don’t want our sons ever to feel we kept any secrets from them—especially since the stories of their earliest days are theirs and not ours.
Now, of course, our boys’ stories are also forever linked with our story as a family. We often tell stories about our time together in China, our time as a family of three and then four, as well as stories about Mama and Baba before we met Leo and Daniel—and even before Mama and Baba met each other.
None of our stories feature anyone lifting a car, using X-ray vision, or discovering that he has a Spidey sense. But one of the most wonderful gifts for me as a parent is that we have no preconceptions about what our children’s talents are. Will they be good at math or music? Art or airplane modeling? Knitting or knuckleball throwing? So far we can only guess. And that is such a gift.
Maybe our sons will be superheroes one day. At 4 and 2, as they try to scale the living room wall, take flying leaps off the couch, and take turns pulling each other across the floor in the family cooler, it’s obvious they believe they already are.
Still, I’m pretty sure you’ll never see an action film about our family. A comic book is more our speed.
The Spider-Man image is courtesy of CNS and Columbia Pictures. The Superman image is courtesy of CNS and Warner Bros. Pictures. The comic strip is obviously drawn by someone who has no artistic training, the author.
June 27, 2012 10:09
By Rita Buettner
Ever since I started blogging for The Catholic Review a few months ago, I've been trying to read more Catholic blogs. Today I came across a group of Catholic bloggers who participate in "Sunday Snippets," sharing their posts from the previous week.
Some of the links posted by Catholic bloggers at RAnn's Place led me to interesting topics and to bloggers I hadn't read yet.
Between Father's Day and the Fortnight for Freedom, we had a full week here at Open Window:
In Our son's unscripted love on Father's Day, our 4-year-old son melted our hearts as he expressed his love for his father.
In Let freedom ring, let the choir sing during the Fortnight for Freedom, my pride in being a Catholic American swelled at the opening Mass at the Baltimore Basilica.
In Playing the hunger games at our house, I talk about gaining a new understanding about why our 2-year-old couldn't bear to watch me prepare food.
In John is his name...unless John was that third grader who threw spitballs, I talk about naming our sons--and how helpful it might have been to have an archangel here to guide us.
If you're a Catholic blogger, you're welcome to join in the fun. Go to RAnn's Place and follow the instructions.
Now off to the carnival!
June 24, 2012 10:02
By Rita Buettner
This morning at Mass we listened to the story of John the Baptist’s birth and naming. There’s that wonderful moment when everyone present assumes the child will be named Zachariah for his father, but Elizabeth says he’ll be named John. The family and friends assembled are shocked, and then Zachariah writes, “John is his name.” And so it is settled.
If only naming a child were always so easy, with both parents in absolute and immediate agreement—and with input from God sent via an archangel.
For the purposes of this blog, I use carefully selected pseudonyms for our sons—trying to offer them a little bit of privacy. The names Leo and Daniel are names associated with saints who have a connection to our boys and family. They are wonderful names, but they are not our boys’ real names.
Choosing our son’s actual names presented us with a totally new challenge. You would think that, if you waited for five years to become parents, you would have had some time to discuss names. But we never had—not seriously, anyway. When we did talk about it, it seemed we had negative or positive associations with many names that ruled them out somehow. We also noticed that lots of the good saint names were already sort of taken by other family members who became parents first.
We also wanted to consider the fact that our sons already had Chinese names before we met them—names that will always be special to them. When we were matched with Leo, we found he came with a Chinese name that led us directly to his new American name. It was not a name we had considered, but it fits him perfectly—and that decision took about two minutes.
When we were matched with Daniel, we had known we would almost certainly be matched with a second boy, and yet we had no list of names. We both wanted to see what he looked like and read about his personality before we made a decision. It took us a few days to pick his name—while folding laundry together—and again we went with a name that was inspired by what little we knew about our new son who was still a few thousand miles away.
Listening to the Gospel this morning, I found myself enjoying the concept of an angel naming your child. It’s one of the first big decisions you make for your child. It’s a joy and an enormous responsibility—but then, so is parenthood.
How did you choose your children’s names?
June 24, 2012 01:56
By Rita Buettner
When I picked Daniel up from his first day of day care last week, his new teacher commented on two things. At naptime he had sung happily to himself for two hours instead of napping. “And he has an amazing appetite!”
That describes our boy—and his brother too. Of course, I can’t take any credit for our sons’ willingness and ability to eat, especially since we met them as toddlers. Both of our boys just happen to be fantastic eaters.
Whether a child joins your family through birth or adoption, a healthy appetite is certainly not a given. We know other families who have adopted internationally whose children have had eating issues, likely because food was not always available to them. Some children hoard food. Others reject food with certain textures.
My biggest food challenge with Daniel turned out to be one I had never anticipated. He couldn’t stand to watch me cook. To be able to see and smell the food and not get to eat it was terribly frustrating for him—and for me, as I tried to cook and he stood screaming with tears running down his cheeks.
For a while I couldn’t understand why he was so upset—even angry—with me for cooking. Then, one day, I thought back to our time in China. About a week after we met Daniel, we traveled to his orphanage. John stayed outside holding our little boy—we didn’t want him to be confused—and I went inside to meet the people who had cared for him.
The orphanage director showed me the rooms where the children slept and played. Then she showed me the room where the food was prepared. When the food was ready, she told me, they called the children, and our boy was always first in line. I told her—through an interpreter—that I wasn’t surprised to hear that, and we laughed together.
It was one night while I was cooking and Daniel was crying—and Leo was asking me why Daniel was sad—that it hit me. Of course, our little guy was upset. He had never seen food prepared. He thought it was always ready to eat.
Finally I got it. It wasn’t that he was impatient. It wasn’t that our happy-go-lucky boy waited until 4:30 every afternoon to have a meltdown. And it wasn’t that he hated having me cook. It was that he thought I was withholding food from him.
I realized I had to change my approach. I started feeding the boys whatever I had ready while I cooked. I gave them noodles or edamame or cheese or grapes or yogurt—anything I had that was nutritious and ready. Then while they ate, I cooked the rest of the meal. It wasn’t a perfect solution, and some days worked better than others. Some problems take time and understanding—and I am grateful that I was able to visit Daniel’s orphanage and figure out why he might be angry to see me doing a simple task.
(As you can see, we're still mastering our chopstick technique, but the boys both love to use them.)
Now that we have been home for more than nine months, we have a better rhythm—and a better kitchen relationship. Daniel understands that I need to cook dinner before he can eat it. I still try to have something for the children to nibble on while I’m cooking—and it keeps them safely away from the stove.
Lately I have a new issue. Daniel has decided he understands so much about cooking that he is going to be the chef himself. He pulls a chair into the kitchen, announcing, “Hep you, Mama! Hep you!” When I can, I give him a task. The other day when we visited John's parents, he pulled a chair up to her sink and jumped up to help Grammy rinse ears of corn.
As I watch my sons getting taller by the day, I have a feeling those appetites are only going to grow. It's good that someone else wants to help with the cooking.
June 23, 2012 02:30
By Rita Buettner
There are moments when you’re really proud to be Catholic.
Then there are moments when you’re really proud to be American.
Last night, as I watched dozens upon dozens of priests process into Baltimore’s Basilica for the Mass to open the Fortnight for Freedom, I experienced both. As people filled every space in the cathedral on a hot summer night, I was just happy to have a seat—thanks to my father, who saved it for me. As I looked around, I saw religious brothers and sisters, families, children and grandparents, people of different races and languages. We were united not just for a cause, but in our faith—which is much greater than any cause.
When someone spotted Archbishop Lori walking in before Mass, everyone stood and clapped, giving him a warm, respectful welcome to Baltimore. It was my first time meeting our new archbishop—even though I just barely got to shake his hand in the crowd outside the Basilica afterwards. But I got to hear him give the homily, and I found his words were delivered as powerfully in person as they are in writing.
When he opened with a story about being stranded in London by a snowstorm the week before Christmas a few years ago, I had to smile. You see, John and Leo and I were stranded by what I suspect was that same snowstorm in 2009, which closed airports all along the East Coast.
Instead of being stranded in London, however, we were stranded in Chicago on our way home from China with our new son. Rather than spending our time touring spots related to St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, as Archbishop Lori did, we rented a car to drive back to Baltimore, stopping at exotic places such as a McDonald’s in South Bend and nondescript rest stops selling Cup of Noodles soup. As so often happens, what seemed like an ordeal turned into an adventure, one we laugh about now and which is a fun part of Leo’s story.
This evening, though, I left the boys home with John, my generous husband who wanted me to be able to go to Mass. We wish we could have gone as a family, but it has been a busy week for the boys, and expecting them to come to an evening Mass with us seemed to be asking too much. I wish they had seen the cardinal and the bishops, the priests and religious. I wish they had heard the Basilica reverberate with “Faith of Our Fathers.” I wish they had received the archbishop’s blessing. We’ll have to find another opportunity.
Because my sons weren’t there, though, I was able to focus on the homily. And it was certainly worth hearing. The archbishop asked us “to connect worship on Sunday to work on Monday.” He explained why the HHS Mandate threatens religious freedom, and I found myself realizing that even the sisters from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity who were sitting near me probably wouldn’t qualify for an exemption. Their work, after all—and thankfully—isn’t specifically for Catholics.
In the intentions, when we prayed for people whose religious freedom has been limited, my mind went to China, as it often does. I am so proud of my sons’ Chinese heritage, and we feel a great deal of gratitude to the Chinese people for letting us adopt these two wonderful boys into our family. But we are also well aware that the freedoms we have in the United States are not shared by those in China and other countries. That makes me even more passionate about this issue and more committed to working to preserve the religious freedoms we have.
And so, for the next two weeks, we will pray—in gratitude for the freedoms we have and with hope that they will continue to be preserved.
“Freedom is not the power of doing what we like, but rather the power of being able to do what we ought,” Archbishop Lori said at one point.
It was a night of joy. It was a night of hope. And it was exhilarating.
June 22, 2012 08:34
By Rita Buettner
You can try to create the perfect Father’s Day weekend.
You can let your husband sleep in.
You can commission your sons to help you make Baba’s favorite cupcakes with chocolate frosting.
You can take the man of the hour to lunch at Matthew’s Pizza and leave a hefty tip to cover whatever damage your family of four might have done.
You can give him a stomp rocket knowing he will enjoy it at least as much as his sons do.
And, after months of hearing him hint that he’d love a fondue dinner, you can finally come through for him.
But there’s no way you could script the dinnertime conversation Leo treated him to this evening.
Toward the end of the meal, Leo insisted on getting up and going to give his father a spontaneous hug. Then he made his way back to his seat.
“Baba,” Leo said, “I love you more than the universe.”
John thanked him beautifully, and I assumed the conversation would move on to another topic.
“Baba,” Leo said, “I love you more than the planet earth.”
“Well,” John replied, “I love you more than the planet earth, the moon, and the sun.”
“Baba,” Leo said, “I love you more than all the things God created.”
For a few moments, neither John nor I could speak. We were so overcome with emotion. Through my tears, I marveled at our older son, the one who first called John “Baba”—the Chinese form of “Daddy”— in a hotel in China two and a half years ago.
“You win,” I finally said. “There’s no way Baba can top that.”
The conversation took another path, and a few minutes later, I suggested to Leo that, if he didn’t want the shrimp on his plate, his father might like it.
“Baba,” Leo said firmly, “you can never steal my food.”
That’s parenthood for you. There are touching moments when you realize your children love you with a heartwarming, infinite love—well, infinite as long as we’re not talking about food.
June 16, 2012 11:35
By Rita Buettner
We did it.
We had promised the boys a trip to the Strasburg Railroad once our jar was full of noodles.
And last week it became clear that—as long as the boys continued to demonstrate moments of helpful, polite, kind, and considerate behavior—we were going to reach the top of the jar. And Leo insisted that we get those noodles up to the very tippy top.
We’ve celebrated a lot of good behavior as we’ve gone through rigatoni, farfalle, rotini, and whatever other noodles we could find in the cupboard.
When Daniel tried to say grace with us, he got a noodle.
When Leo used words to show his anger rather than hitting, he got three noodles.
When the boys worked together to help clean the living room one night, they each collected a handful.
And you can bet that when Daniel sat quietly while getting his blood drawn at the doctor’s office, he got a few, too.
I can hardly believe we’ve managed to fill what seemed like an enormous jar—and without resorting to manicotti or lasagna. But we have. So we decided to use a planned day off of work yesterday to head up to Strasburg with two excited boys.
The weather was perfect.
That part of Pennsylvania is always lovely—but especially as the corn is starting to grow. Of course, our boys were more focused on the beauty of the vehicles.
They had been looking forward to that train ride for weeks.
We watched the steam engine pull in, bell ringing, steam streaming from its funnel, and enormous wheels rolling steadily over the rails.
Then, from inside the train, we spotted cows and horses and train cars and the makings of a corn maze.
We even saw a full-sized, steaming Thomas the Tank Engine, visiting for the Day out with Thomas event, which we managed to miss by coming in ahead of time. That was a bonus. We weren’t sorry to miss the crowds, and we got to see Thomas without actually having to pay a premium price for those tickets. The boys were quite content.
I don’t remember exactly when we started the noodle jar—maybe about six weeks ago—but noodles have quickly become a family currency. It has been fun to hear, “Mama, you should get a noodle for that.” Mostly, though, the noodles have been rewards for the boys. There’s something innately fun about giving someone a noodle or—even better—letting that someone drop it into the jar himself. And I do feel it has helped us focus on the positive achievements and contributions our sons are making.
On the way home from our fantastic adventure, I asked the boys whether earning noodles to make a trip to Strasburg had been worth it.
“Yes,” Leo said. But he had a bigger question. “Mama, can we eat the noodles for dinner tonight?”
That was an easy yes—though we barely made a dent in them. There are quite a few noodles in the jar.
Over dinner we discussed whether we should start earning noodles for another family treat. At first Leo suggested going to Washington, D.C., but then he decided he didn’t want to fill a jar with noodles again. That’s fine with me. Noodles are just something we always have on hand. They’re inexpensive and they’re edible. But I can be open-minded. Maybe there’s a better idea.
“What else could we use?” I asked, thinking how wonderful this was that Leo was so invested that he wanted to help design the next version of the noodle jar.
“Milk!” said Leo. As we started considering how that would—or wouldn’t—work, he changed his mind. His eyes lit up with a better idea.
“We can use pizza!” he said. Then he started laughing.
The pizza jar? I’m not sure how that would work. Guess I’ll have to use my noodle.
June 15, 2012 12:36
By Rita Buettner
Our sons are lucky to have two aunts who are librarians—and one of them is a children’s librarian. Somehow the latest and greatest books always find their way into our boys’ hands. When Leo says, “Mama, we haven’t read The King’s Stilts in a while,” or when Daniel wants more books about fire engines, we can make that happen.
When summer comes around, we always sign up for the free summer reading program at their aunts’ library, the Enoch Pratt.
We would be reading several books a day even if there weren’t a free T-shirt on the line.
And we would keep on reading even if the boys didn’t get to go dig through a treasure chest of prizes.
But I like that the summer reading program compels us to make a list of books each of the boys is reading—or in our boys’ case, sitting and listening to—and we can hold onto those lists to remember some of their favorites.
This is Leo’s third year of summer reading. And even though we still have the whole summer ahead of us, once we’ve listed enough books for a shirt and a prize, Leo is ready to jump in the car and drive to the library. As soon as the lists were ready, we picked a good day and stopped by the Pratt branch where their aunt is the children’s librarian, and headed inside.
What is it about a new T-shirt that gets children excited?
Daniel and Leo were giddy.
Then they had the choice of accepting a rubber duck wearing pajamas or digging into a treasure chest of prizes. The chest was irresistible.
They picked every item in the chest three or four times, deciding among fish clappers and star slinkies and beach balls. In the end, Leo picked a foldable Frisbee and Daniel picked a pack of Go Fish cards.
Then, because each realized he would rather have his brother’s prize, they traded in the car on the way home.
Reading is its own reward, of course. There are lines in Arthur's Funny Money and the Frog and Toad books that leave Leo giggling so much that we have to stop and laugh together before we can go to the next page. When Daniel requested Go Dog Go tonight, he proudly finished some of the lines for me. So I feel confident they'd ask for their favorite books even if there were no extra incentives.
But I do love that something as simple as a pack of cards can help our boys understand that reading should be celebrated and treasured. And I really love those free T-shirts.
June 12, 2012 09:44
By Rita Buettner
A few weeks ago Leo got an invitation to a friend’s birthday at a store where you make your own stuffed animal. There were a few long weeks, but finally, finally, finally it was the day of the party.
While his preschool classmates picked rainbow bears and rabbits and dogs, Leo settled on a horse.
He—and each of his classmates—put a small stuffed heart inside the limp animal skins and then helped blow the stuffing inside, all while singing “Happy Birthday to You.” Then they took turns grooming their new animals and picking out clothes for them to wear.
Leo, who believes you can never own too many stuffed “friends,” thoroughly enjoyed it. He told me the horse was a girl, and he chose a yellow dress for her.
At one point, though, when Leo came over to me, I heard him—or, as it turned out, the horse—whimpering.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“She’s crying,” Leo said, “because she just met me, and she doesn’t know me yet.”
Immediately I understood, and I remembered a conversation Leo and I had a few months ago while playing with his stuffed animals.
That night he announced that his cat and dog were going to China to adopt his stuffed train. The cat and dog—played by me—flew across the room to reach China and landed on Leo’s bed. The train—played by Leo—was cowering in the corner of the bed, whimpering.
“We’re your mama and baba, Choo-Choo,” I had the cat and dog say. “Why are you so sad?”
“I’m scared,” said the train.
“Why are you scared?” the cat asked.
“Well,” said the train in a squeaky voice, “I don’t know you yet.”
And, of course, the train was right. The train didn’t know the cat and the dog—and this new horse didn’t know Leo—any more than Leo knew us the day he met us. Sure, he had seen photos of us and our home. And yes, he had been told that his parents were coming and that he would be going to the United States. But he had just turned 2.
I like to think that we’ve talked about Leo’s adoption story often enough—and shown him photos of that initial meeting—that he realizes that the sadness and grieving was real. The way he talks about it through his animals, however, makes me wonder whether he remembers those first days together. Whether he remembers or just recognizes the emotions from the photos of that day, he is almost certainly thinking and processing more than he is articulating.
The horse’s whimpering didn’t bother Leo. I think he actually liked that she was sad so he could comfort her. He held the horse up to show her how the stuffing machine worked. He was protective of the horse when a couple classmates got a little rough and accidentally almost knocked her out of his arms. And he sat her on a stool to show her the computer where her “birth certificate” was being made.
I am sure none of the other animals created at the party were crying because they didn’t know their new owners. I suspect your average 4-year-old wouldn’t think their new animal would be anything but overjoyed to meet them.
Still, for Leo—for better or for worse—it was a natural part of the process of meeting his new horse for the first time. And the horse? By the time we left the store, she was happily talking about how she had never ridden inside a car.
June 10, 2012 10:03
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By Rita Buettner