Gift Exchange

20141011_162049Eleven years ago yesterday I met my eighteen year old son for the very first time.

I remember sitting on the lemon chiffon colored leather couch in the perfectly lacquered and polished greeting room at the Beijing Children’s Welfare Institute thinking, “This is my delivery room. This is where I meet our son.”  But on that morning, in the smog filled capital city of China, I was delivered more than a son, I was delivered a life changing gift. It is one I will never ever forget.

I remember sitting there, waiting for this rock star to walk into the room when the door slowly creaked open and this little boy barely tall enough to rest his chin on the door knob walked in.  He stood in the doorway briefly and during those few seconds I scanned my new son from head to toe.   He was tiny.  And so frail.   So not the giant rock star persona his thumbnail images represented in my mind.  I looked down at his hands.  His bony hands, where every tendon was a network of ridges, and in those hands he held a simple paper bag the size of a lunch sack.  I looked at that bag and under my breath I said, “Isn’t that sweet.  He’s brought me a gift.”


We were introduced.  He called me MaaMa.  I called him Baoshan.  His smile captured my heart.  I gave him a blue paper  bag full of little gifts.  A watch.  Bags of fruit snacks. A matchbox car. Sculpey clay.    Then I coaxed him into handing me the bag he held in his hands. A gift exchange!   The bag was feather weight.   As I began to open it he snatched it back into his hands.  He reached into it and pulled out a sea shell, like one that would house a hermit crab.  Glued to the narrow end of the shell was a red straw cut to about an inch.  He brought it to his lips and blew.  It was a homemade whistle. After he showed me how it worked he carefully placed it back into the brown bag, folded the top of the bag over and put it inside the gift bag I had brought.

He had made me a whistle.

I didn’t think much of his grabbing the whistle and putting it back into his brown paper bag.  I thought he was going to hang on to it for me.

I certainly wasn’t thinking like an orphan who had been institutionalized for several years.

Then, not much later, as we were gathering our documents and getting ready to head back to the hotel,  I looked around for a small suitcase or backpack or something that  held his stuff and I realized he DIDN’T have anything to carry out to the van…no suitcase…no overnight bag…no nothing…and it hit me like a sucker punch to the gut.    That  brown paper bag?  The bag I thought I was entitled to because I was coming across the ocean to bring him home?  The one that held the simple sea shell whistle? That bag wasn’t mine.  That bag and what was in it was everything that little boy could call his own.

And it was then, at that moment, my entitled world shifted.

I’ve never been the same.

My son.  My eighteen year old son who on the day we met for the first time eleven years ago yesterday couldn’t speak a word of English but in our defining first moments as mom and son I gave him the gift of fruit snacks and he in turn gave me the gift of humility.





Posted in China Adoption, Growing Up, Older Child Adoption, Special Needs Adoption, The Waiting Child Adoption | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Still Only a Game

High school football season is ramping up and although I miss part of the game, looking at the weather forecast for Friday night makes me kind of glad I have the option of hanging back at the house. To date this one particular story, It’s Only A Game,  has received the most conversation out of all my other stories. The truth behind the story? I wrote it on a Saturday morning absolutely angry beyond spoken words because of a few adults who could not stay out of my son and his friends’ game.  Writing this was the only way I could vent my frustration. My pride. My sadness.

And a fitting epilogue to the story…at the opening kick-off to this season several of these young men pulled up lawn chairs near the end zone, the Hawks Greatest Fan included, and they sat side-by-side and cheered on the game they have all loved so much these many many years.



Photo credit: Dave Fisher Firehousefoto

There is something about a Friday night high school football game in late October. Lost in the action of the first quarter of play the sun sets and then suddenly a level of inwardness pulls you in, under the halo of lights, to where you forget the world beyond the glow. Voices carry. Pads crack pads. Whistles echo. Bells ring. Tempers flare. Hearts swell.

To many it becomes the only thing that matters. But after last night I reaffirmed in my heart one simple conclusion: It is only a game.

Four years ago a young man walked into Hockinson High School and I don’t think anyone could have predicted how he would singlehandedly change a community. Because he loved this game.

As a freshman he would pace the visitors sideline, because it was less crowded, and as he did he recited a play by play of Hawks football in his head. He was friends with #15, #65, #55, #11 and #78, freshmen who were called up to play varsity ball and classmates from primary school. Every Friday, as part of a socialization skill he would deliver home baked cookies to each football player at lunch.

“Find #55, Colton.”

He would find #55.

“Say, ‘Good Luck’, Colton.”

“Good Luck, man!”

With a genuine smile and thanks, every player on the team respected and regarded his need to build his social skills.

Sophomore year. More of his friends moved up to varsity. More cookies were baked and delivered during lunch. More, “Good Luck, man!”. That year he was honored with a football jersey to wear on Friday nights and he moved to call his play by play behind the Hawk bench.

Junior year. More friends. More cookies. More, “Good Luck, man!”. More realization that the young man walking in front of us was perhaps the greatest Hawks fan the school had ever seen and, maybe, just maybe, a little bit more.

Senior year. More friends. More cookies. More, “Good Luck, man!” and finally a lesson in selflessness played out not on the field but on the sidelines…delivered to us by an entire football team of young men.

There were rumblings that the Hawks Greatest Fan might be nominated for Homecoming Court. And when he was, it affirmed that this young man was something special with his peers. Fast forward to the Homecoming Game. He rode the float with the court. He was announced to the thunderous cheers of the student body. He fist pumped #21 while waiting for the crowning of Homecoming King. He smiled his infectious smile. Yet, he didn’t win. #15 did. But as fast as the crown was placed on #15’s head, it was taken off, by #15’s own hands, and placed gently on Colton’s head and in that moment Colton became everyone’s Homecoming King.




Fast forward to a few weeks later, Senior Night. The last time this group of boys would play together on their home field. The last night Colton would pace the sidelines cheering on his friends. To honor him the entire Hawks football team donated their own money and purchased a letterman’s jacket, complete with an “Honorary Team Captain” patch sewn onto the left sleeve and four football pins representing the years he has been their greatest fan. He walked onto the field, hand in hand, to be a part of the pre-game coin toss.



The boys lost their final home game that night but they won big in this game we call LIFE. They didn’t make the night about THEM. They made the night about someone else. They made the night about HIM. And because of their actions off the field it has reaffirmed in my heart that when these boys walk off the field for the last time ever this November they are what we can only hope all our sons will be in life. Gentlemen. Compassionate souls. Winners.

Oh, and football? Except for maybe the Greatest Hawk Fan in school history, we should all remember. It. Is. Only. A. Game.

Photo credit: Mike Schultz Battle Ground Reflector

Photo credit: Mike Schultz Battle Ground Reflector


Posted in ...and In My Humble Opinion, Good Kids, Growing Up, Herding Boys, Life With More Than 2.5 Children, Snips and Snails and Compassionate Tales, The Greatest Sports Fans: Moms!, You Can't Make Up This Stuff | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment



I hit a deer Friday night.  It somersaulted off my left front bumper and flew into the central Washington night.  As if my day hadn’t been eventful enough, I punctuated it with an 11:55pm roadkill exclamation mark.

That morning Nick, Noah, and I packed the Dodge Ram pickup truck full of all Nick’s possessions and took off on the long drive north to Seattle. We all knew this day would come, and finally it was time to collectively wrap our minds around the moment when we would drive away from the memories of radio flyers careening down big hills, and tree forts built into century old cherry trees, and of a golden van transporting a quarterback, 3 linemen, a receiver, and a golfer around the county on epic adventures. As a parent you know it is coming but you can never fully understand that moment until you live it.

It is no fun having to parent a “grieving” child across the cab of a Dodge Ram pickup truck, a long legged Ethiopian between us, going down the highway at 70mph.

I was much better by the time we got out of Clark County only to lose it again when Nick spotted one of his  best friends driving north on I-5, heading to his new volunteer firefighter position in Longview.  Nick told me to speed up and I did.  And for a good bit of time we drove side-by-side. Windows down.  Best friends. Wingmen.  Maverick and Goose.  And then his friend signaled right, and with one last wave and “I love ya, man!” he was gone and we continued to stay the course.  Heading north.

I wouldn’t give back that tearstain moment for anything in the world.

We arrived in Seattle a little after lunchtime. By that time the vibe of the city was beginning to creep into the cab of our pickup truck.  It was exciting, this new adventure Nick was on the edge of jumping into.  He is pledging a fraternity so our destination was greek row on the north end of campus.  I knew exactly where I was going since I had been to his house before, but I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter next.

Sorority girls.

Pods of sorority girls. No, masses of sorority girls. Balloons.  Daisy Dukes. Tank tops. Greek letters.  Singing. Chanting. Blocking traffic. It was like we had rounded the corner of Seattle urban vibe and unwittingly driven right into the middle of the Sorority House Apocalypse.  But instead of zombies with eyeballs hanging out of their sockets and jaws barely attached by a tendon thread our Dodge Ram truck filled to the rim with a dresser, a desk, a bike, a suitcase, and four big plastic rubbermaid bins was surrounded by perky, bubbly, cheery fresh faced  young ladies who were obviously thrilled to be a part of the U of W Rush week.  So, as we became (for the 3rd time) entrapped at another intersection (this time at the corner of 47th and 20th) while we waited for the Tri Delts to pose for a group photo in the middle of the road I did what any mom would do in that situation.  I madly blurted out a speed review of the facts of life.  In the time it took for the last tiny tank top with three triangles across the chest to clear the road I had made my point.  Maybe not as clearly as I would have liked.  But in my mind I could rest at ease knowing my 18 year old son knew exactly where his mama stood.

I wouldn’t give back that frantic mama bear moment for anything in the world.

Noah’s eyes were WIDE by the time we had fought our way through the latest episode of Walking Keds and found safe haven in Nick’s house parking lot.  I’m 100% certain they weren’t wide with fear though, if you know what I mean. We spent the next three hours getting Nick unloaded and set up, meeting his fraternity brothers, and just enjoying our last moments together before we had to say good-bye.

And then, there was that good-bye.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Its a secret society whose initiation into it is heart wrenching.  But when it has all been said and done, there is something  extremely gratifying  about seeing my son bound up the steps of his new house two at a time because HE is ready for this.  I may not be.  But HE is.

I wouldn’t give back that “go free” moment for anything in the world.

The tears began to fall as I drove away but the soft grasp of Noah’s hand on mine made it just a little easier because with that touch he reminded me that I may have just pushed my second baby out of the nest but my job as a mom was still long from being over.

I pointed our emptied Dodge to the east and drove across the Cascade mountains to begin the second half of my day.  Spending time with my Hannah in the middle part of the state.

The plan was to meet up with Hannah and her best friend Malia.   Malia’s housemates weren’t moved in yet so Malia had extra space for Noah and I to spend the night.  Unfortunately a first of the month miscommunication between Malia and her landlord led to her power being turned off just about the time we showed up on that late Friday afternoon.  It was all good though.

Who needs electricity anyway?

FYI on a DIY: A light made of a plastic milk jug that had to be emptied anyway because the milk would go sour by Monday and a headlamp turned inward really does work, just like Pintrest said it would.  

We sat under the glow of the 1/2 gallon milk jug for several hours just talking.

I wouldn’t give back those dusk into nightfall off the grid moments for anything in the world.

As the night grew older we decided  to drive to Manastash ridge to see if we could catch the Northern Lights.  We left the the smoothness of the pavement and bumped our way up a dusty mountain road until the glow of the city lights disappeared.  And we began our wait.  We had no idea what we were really looking for but still, we waited.   And we waited some more.  We never did see the Aurora Borealis that night.  Colorado might have. But we didn’t.

I wouldn’t give back  those star gazing, universe blanketing moments for anything in the world.

We headed down the mountain a few minutes before midnight. And that’s when I hit the deer, just a mile or so after the dirt turned to pavement again.  It came out of nowhere.  We all saw it but it was too late to do anything.  To us, and our truck, the damage was non existent.  To the deer, well, she wasn’t so lucky.

In all my moments of that moving my son into college day, the happy the sad the good and the bad, I can honestly say this single moment was the only one I would give back. Without hesitation or pause.

In a single heartbeat.












Posted in Good Kids, Growing Up, Herding Boys, Life With More Than 2.5 Children, My Heart | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Holy Water, Batman!

DSC01450For the first time in many years I am sitting at my counter on a Friday morning without even the tiniest pang of anxiousness in my stomach.  This is how it is when your son no longer plays football on Friday nights.

I had been told Nick would suit up for varsity four years ago…my 125 pound 5 foot and a half foot more little boy…and I kind of scoffed at the idea until I was standing on the sidelines in LaCenter on the opening play of the opening  game of the season and #25, in a white jersey,  streaked by.  My #25.  My Nick.  I did what any mom who saw her fourteen year old son diving headlong into a scrum of stinky sweaty bearded men who had already registered for the selective service would do.  I screamed.  And I screamed a little louder than I probably should have in public.  But still, I screamed.  Two words.  Oh shit!

Suddenly my season of just hanging out in the stands with friends while I watched the backside of my son stand next to his manly-men teammates on the sidelines on a Friday night shifted and I was forced to be engaged wholly in what was going on inside that 100 yard long rectangle.

Not long into that same game our starting quarterback, a junior, left the game with an injury.  Our backup QB? Nick’s buddy Jess, a fellow 14 year old on a field of men.  I didn’t actually see it but I can guarantee when Jess’ mom Monique saw her son walk on to the field to take his first varsity snap her reaction was exactly the same as mine. Oh shit.

We lost.  45-6

The following week Nick and Jess suited up for varsity again to play Prairie.  Again Nick streaked by and Jess took the snaps.

We lost. 54-21

The Hawks played Tacoma Baptist the next Friday night.  How hard could a private christian school from 2 hours north hit?  Apparently hard enough to shut us out.

We lost 23-0

This losing streak kept building, one game after the other.  Mark Morris.  Tumwater. R.A.Long.

After every game  I would wait for Nick by the locker room door.  He was too young to drive.  He didn’t know any of the upper classmen to hang out with so I waited for my little boy to come limping out of the locker room and I would drive him home.  After a shower he would crash on the couch and we would talk about the game and then settle into an episode of Ghost Adventures where he would fall asleep exhausted about half way through. That was our routine on Friday nights four years ago.

The losing got to Nick and Jess.  I know it did.  It also got to me.  But I think it especially got to Monique.  There is a sense of responsibility when your son is in charge of executing the plays on the field.  Its a lot of responsibility for a fourteen year old to bare.

Homecoming was the next game. Woodland was our opponent.   Our Hawks were 0-7 on the season going into this game and it was a battle to stay out of last place in the league.  We had a chance against the Beavers. A slim chance. But a chance, none the less.

The Friday morning of Homecoming I got a call from Monique.  It was a quick call because we were both getting our boys out the door for yet another team breakfast before the big game that night.

“This is kind of crazy, Julie, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“What do you mean?”

“I sprinkled Holy Water on Jess’ jersey this morning.  He doesn’t know it.  You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

I remember pausing,  thinking, and then reacting.


I think Monique was a little taken back at my supportive reaction but the truth was I was watching my son take the hits and the defeats right along her own son.  First and foremost every time our boys walked out on the field I was scared for their safety.  They were still boys in this game of legalized assault among men.

We made a pact.  We wouldn’t tell our boys  we were doing this.  It was our own private mom way of coping.  A few years earlier Monique had gone to Lourdes and brought my family back a bottle of Holy Water. I pulled if off the mantle and while Nick was showering I stealthily crept into his room and sprinkled his jersey.  By the time he had put it on it had dried, the Holy Water absorbed into the fabric.

That night, under the halo of lights, I watched in complete amazement through all four quarters as our team held on desperately for their first victory of the year.

We won 14-10.

I caught Monique’s eye at the end of the game celebration huddle in the end zone and together we mouthed the words to each other, “Holy Water.”

Not quite in the habit of sprinkling Holy Water on my son’s jersey, I forgot to do it the following week when we played Washougal.

We lost 36-0.

For the last game of the season our boys travelled north to Tenino. And so did their uniforms sprinkled with Holy Water.  Very few parents travelled the distance on that cold rainy November night.  But I did.  And so did Monique. We sat in the weathered lumber stands most likely built by trees fallen on the spot during the timber heyday of the area.  And we watched them play their hearts out in the last game of their freshman year on varsity.  A blanket of fog descended on the field and enveloped our boys in the fourth quarter.  We hardly saw any plays from where we sat but in the end it didn’t matter.

We won 21-14

Now, our Holy Water plan wasn’t perfect.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. There were loses.  And in truth after a 2-8 record that first year, there really was no where to go but up. I have to admit though, at the end of Nick and Jess’ high school career Holy Water had posted a decent winning record.  20 wins. 12 loses.  But even more impressive?  Nick and Jess made it through just about every game without serious injury.  And in the end, if you ask,  that is why I found Monique’s Holy Water plan brilliant in the first place.  It wasn’t about the wins and loses.   It was about needing just a little something more to add to my already heartfelt prayers for our boys health and safety each and every Friday night during their high school football careers.

For me?  A little sprinkle of Holy Water did just that.


Posted in Good Kids, Growing Up, Herding Boys, Life With More Than 2.5 Children, Snips and Snails and Compassionate Tales, The Greatest Sports Fans: Moms! | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Story Behind the Picture (because there always is one at Barclay’s International Finishing School for Men (free tuition))


This morning I got an email from my cousin Mary and she asked a simple question, “How’s your summer going?”  I love loaded questions like that because then I can use my computer to paint a scene with my words about the little things that are too good not to forget but unless I am prodded I won’t write them down.  Simple questions like Mary’s are my muse to a bigger picture.

I told her I never wish my summers away although I do like my quiet mornings where I can write and concentrate on other things besides Nerf bullets and boys being duct tape to trees. I attached the picture of Noah duct taped to a tree at that point of the email and I realized the story behind this picture is just too good not to share.

So here is my email to Mary explaining the story behind the picture because  for those who know me, by now you know, there always is one at Barclay’s International Finishing School for Men (free tuition):

Noah brushed by me last week and casually asked how much duct tape it would take to tape him to a tree for 6 hours.

I half listened and said, “I don’t know.”

Then it became suddenly very quiet in this house. I set off to investigate and from my living room window I saw this.  I went out and asked them what their purpose was with this. Noah said he wanted to be duct tape to a tree for 6 hours. Like on Duck Dynasty.

I said, “Ok, fine.”

Sam asked if he could go play a video game while Noah was taped to a tree.

I said, “Ok, fine.”

Then I turned to Noah and asked, “You’re okay with this?  This? This being duct tape to a tree?”

“Yeah Mom, I want to do this.”

“Okay then.  I’ll be inside.”

I came out periodically to check on him, in the spirit of June Cleaver, and each time he was content.

On one of my visits I pulled up a chair and had a serious discussion in regards to trees and people of color and how in some people’s eyes this may appear to be history repeating itself. I talked about Billie Holliday and her song Strange Fruit. I talked about the impact of that song in the 20th century.  I talked about what was going on in Ferguson, Missouri. I hate to think I had a captive audience with my history and civics lesson, but I did. And he listened. As he always does about history and unfairness.

I walked away again to change the ink in my printer and left him contemplating life until the super wedgie he didn’t bank on, around 45 minutes into it, and the colony of ants that lived at the base of the tree began investigating the warm object hovering above their nest.  He began second guessing his 6 hour goal.

I walked out to check on him right when a neighbor was walking up our driveway. I had a brief second of fear of a visit from CPS until I realized it was Kevin, our 20 something neighbor who spent a good part of the past 10 years being a Barclay in spirit.  Another Eddie Haskell to my June Cleaver.

Noah casually glanced over his left shoulder and said, “Hi Kevin.”

Kevin smiled and said, “Good afternoon Mrs. Barclay. Hey Noah, whatcha doing?”

I looked back and forth between their casual conversation and interrupted their friendly greetings by saying, “He’s duct taped to a flippin’ tree Kevin…that’s what he is doing!”

Kevin’s response in a reminiscent tone, “Man, this just reminds me how much I need to hang out at the Barclays.”

June Cleaver. Over and out. I tapped Kevin’s shoulder and said, “Tag your it,” and went inside.

The next time I came out Noah was a mass of cut duct tape and ants at the base of the oak tree and Kevin stood next to him holding a hacksaw. The super wedgie had won. The colony of ants had won.

Kevin had freed him.

And the rest is finishing school history.

Except for the sticky lines of duct tape residue across his arms and legs. Those aren’t going away anytime soon.

Posted in Growing Up, Herding Boys, Life With More Than 2.5 Children, You Can't Make Up This Stuff | Tagged , , | 1 Comment