A Bunny and an Angel Head

1,500 homes burned in the Bastrop fires

32,000 acres, charred

250,000,000 in insured losses, the costliest in Texas history

1 bunny that didn’t burn.

1 angel head that survived.

Nate and I were able to volunteer with the Austin Disaster Relief Network this past weekend (ADRN), joining a team to help clean the sites of two homes destroyed in the fire. One was 1,500 square feet, the other 4,500 , but after fire ripped through them both, square footage didn’t mean much.

I’d heard about these horrible fires, prayed for the families, but not until I strapped on a mask and felt my feet sink into the thick layer of ash did it all seem terribly real. We drug bits of metal, some giant sheets and other smaller pieces of picture frames or the middle of ceiling fans, into a pile to be picked up by crews later on. There were piles for appliances, toxic items like paint cans and electronics, and metal. The metal piles were huge.

Metal springs from mattresses. The guts of a grand piano with metal strings that tangled around our ankles as we hauled it out. Garage doors. Folding chairs. Elfa pantry shelves.

But in the midst of all the mess and ash were treasures.

Most of them were bits of china, already fired and used to the heat. We put aside the things we thought the owners might like to have, some broken and some intact. To me, these small tokens were pictures of hope and survival. Maybe to another they would be reminders of all that was lost. The writer in me saw them as concrete details. Things you could hang on to. Things that made it all seem real. They were the sorts of things I’d put in a story, if I wrote one about a fire.

We have some of these concrete details for our future daughter.

 

We’ve read warnings about buying things for your adopted child too soon. These things, hanging out in a closet for months or even years, can breed discontent or despair if you’re still waiting for your child to come home. But to me, they remind me that this whole adoption journey is real, with a very real child on the other end of all this waiting.

200,000+ is the estimated number of orphans in Honduras

100 children for every “nanny” in the government-run orphanage

10 children were adopted from Honduras in 2010

I’ve heard the statistics, but right now they’re just numbers banging around in my head, like details from the Bastrop fires. They could be pretty depressing. The yellow dress and board books are my “angel head” and “bunny,” tokens of hope and survival despite the numbers. We’re still waiting for things to settle in Honduras after the shake up in IHNFA, still waiting to be assigned the number we thought we’d get two weeks ago, still hopeful that things are moving forward.

 

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Haikubes

I’m a big fan of haikus. Maybe because they’re short. Maybe because when you have to write short, you take shortcuts to meaning in interesting ways. Maybe because when I was pregnant I got a big kick out of Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy, who made me laugh and cry with just 17 syllables. Still one of the best new mom gifts ever.

Why the haiku talk? I have come across a new love: haikubes. Okay, a totally dorky writerly thing, but they are FUN. You roll all these cubes with random words on them, and then you make a haiku.

Three lines. Five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. Then to make things really exciting, you roll the two cubes with red lettering on them and they give you a theme to write on.

The other night I had to fight Clay off my cubes. I was working on a good one, but had to leave the kitchen. I came back later to find this.

Okay, so he cheated and the second line has 8 syllables. Did that keep me from being weepy? No, my friends. For those who can’t read it from the picture, it says:

Wild heart watching waste

Desperate love through many places

My baby girl home.

Just a day after posting my last blog entry, we heard that Honduras had fired the two top dogs in INFHA, the government organization that handles international adoption in the country. We know this means delays. Reorganization. A certain amount of chaos. It could mean lots of things. Our hope and prayer is that it means things will eventually get better. That it will get easier to take a child out of an orphanage and give them a home.

For now, we wait. We wait for our number, still. We wait for our baby girl. What does Clay want? I want? All of us want? “My baby girl home.” Five syllables says it all. I couldn’t resist adding my commentary on Clay’s haiku:

 

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Big Girl, Comin’ Your Way . . .

No, I’m not talking about Alayna, though she is our “big girl,” taking on her sophomore year with gusto. She’s running cross country, a new sport for her. For a girl who isn’t fond of waking up before 5AM, she’s had a great attitude and a good season so far.

This past Saturday they had their second meet, and I was intrigued by a girl I saw. She was from another school and running in the JV race, Alayna’s race, and she was dead last. Way last. She was a big girl, tugging at her shorts every few strides to keep them from riding up. She was so far behind the others, at least half a lap, and yet she kept plugging away.

A mother standing behind me called someone on her cell phone, presumably someone further down the course, and said, “There’s a big girl comin’ your way . . .”. Really. I couldn’t believe how catty and insensitive this woman was, but I also couldn’t understand why this girl was running. She was an easy target for snide remarks. She was definitely going to come in last, and she must have known that before she ever stepped on the track. Before she ever put on her uniform and stood behind her slender teammates for a picture.

First place, last place, somewhere in the middle. Racers are generally obsessed by numbers. How did they place? Did they beat their PR? By how many seconds? Would this girl look at the numbers? My hope for her is that her “story in the street” includes an encourager. Somebody who told her that this race was not about everyone around her. It was about finishing. About proving she could do it. About setting a personal record, and trying to beat it next time.

As she rounded the first of two laps, the next heat of boy runners clapped and cheered, and then began lining up on the line for their race. They’d have to wait for her to finish, though. Even more eyes trained on her large figure, laboring around the course.

She reminded me about how we’ve been thinking about numbers a lot lately in our family. More specifically, about our number. Our place in line. We got word that our dossier was approved last week. This week, we’ll get our official number, which will give us an idea of where we are “in line” to receive a child. In a way, I guess it’s our daughter’s number, too. How long will she have to wait to have a family?

I worry that nobody is cheering for her, or that she’s seen as unimportant by those around her. I worry that she labors, passed up by those with loving homes, good nutrition, arms that hold and rock. My hope and prayer is that there is someone cheering so she can hear. Someone whispering in her ear that there’s a finish line, with a loving family waiting to welcome her home. Run, baby, run . . . we’re waiting for you, and the finish line is in sight.

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Benji’s Cheese Toast

A lot of people have been asking about the adoption lately. The thing is, not a whole heck of a lot is going to happen between now and when we get a picture of the child that is referred to us, at least nothing we see. We did get notice that our dossier has been translated and is now in the hands of IHNFA (government organization). We’ve been told that after it gets approved, which can take 1-2 months, we’ll be put on the waiting list to get a child.

You might start hearing the phrase “we’ve been told” an awful lot in the coming months. Because that’s how it works. You are told what to expect, but you’re also told to expect things to change. For reasons beyond our control, their control, who knows whose control. Even after getting this far, there is much that is mysterious about the entire process. It certainly doesn’t look the way I originally expected.

Which leads me to Benji’s cheese toast.

Benji looks at this world in a different way, and he approaches a sandwich in a very different way. Some of you may look at this picture and see a sandwich eaten from the middle, with crust and a bit of cheese remaining. Some of you, if you look even closer, might see a bunny rabbit. You know how you can find picture in the clouds if you stare long enough? Well, Benji pointed out you can see a bunny in his toast. He ate his hole in the shape of a bunny. Though I’m not sure that was his intent, it was his whimsical result.

A few months ago, when someone asked about the girl we were adopting from Honduras, I could give them a nicely mapped out plan. She would most likely be under a year old. We could specify on our application age 6 months to 2 years, and we were told we’d wait about 2-3 months from referral to the final visit to bring our baby home. That meant we could potentially get a referral for a girl who is 6 months old, and she’d be 9 months old when we brought her home. But I read the following sentence on a blog today, written by a woman who just adopted a girl from Honduras: “The youngest children are about two when the adoption is finalized.” But what about the little baby I’ve been imagining? Possibly buying cute little outfits for? Three words: Benji’s cheese toast.

I would have said we’d probably be matched in the Spring of 2012, according to the times we’ve been given. If all went according to the Meredith Davis schedule, we might rent an apartment in Honduras so we wouldn’t have to leave our baby behind for 3 months in foster care between the first and second visit. That same blog revealed that it took 4 months between this woman’s first and second visit, and on her second visit she stayed 4 weeks before bringing her daughter home. What happened to my tidy Davis Honduran Vacation/Bring Home a Baby Plan? Three words: Benji’s cheese toast.

So things may not look the way I thought they would. We set out to adopt, just like Benji set out to eat a piece of cheese toast. He started eating from the middle, an unlikely place to start. We started our adoption last spring, when our kids were ages 15, 12 and 9. An unlikely place to start. When he was done, Benji’s cheese toast did not look like you’d expect a consumed piece of cheese toast to look. When we’re done with this adoption, it may not look the way I thought. But Benji ended up with something pretty cool. Picture-worthy, whimsical, surprising. I have no doubt our daughter will be the same.

She’s probably been born by now. Will I be twisting her dark hair into pig tails come spring 2012? I hope so, but there’s only one thing I can say with all certainty. Something “we’ve been told” that I cannot, will not doubt. We’re to pursue a little girl in Honduras that doesn’t have a family. I’ll keep staring ahead, waiting for the picture to emerge, trusting the one who called us here.

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Running Colander Man

As we were driving home from church the other day, Clay said, “Look, there’s a man running with a colander.” I turned to look out my window, and sure enough, there was a man wearing black running shorts and a sweaty t-shirt running hard down the street with a colander tucked up under his arm.

Is there a new colander diet I am unaware of? Was he in a hurry to make spaghetti? He was definitely another story in the street, though we didn’t take the time to stop and ask him what mission he was on.

We recently made a trip to the Honduran Consulate in Houston to get the last piece of paperwork we’d need to complete our dossier. We went on my 40th birthday, getting up early to beat the traffic. Driving to Houston and back may not sound like a wonderful way to crest that formidable 40-hill, but it wasn’t so bad. Every time we embark on a trip, even a short one, I get a whisper of the feeling I had when we left on our big trip around the world. Anything can happen, and we’re going to experience something new and different if we just keep our eyes open. Who knows when we may see a man running with a colander?

On the way, we stopped for gas and I saw this sign.

At least if you don’t win the lottery, you can get a hot dog! This was just the sort of sign that should appear in a story. Our story, on the road to Houston. It is the sort of detail that makes life interesting and real. We laughed, and I made Clay circle around twice so I could get a good picture of it. He worried we’d make the owner of the gas station suspicious with all our circling, which reminded me of the Israelites circling around Jericho seven times. Stories beget stories, and they’re sometimes connected in the strangest ways.

We had decided to dress nicely for our trip to the consulate, assuming an adoptive couple should look respectable. I brought a sweater, thinking we’d be spending time in a downtown building, cold and sterile. We were nowhere near downtown when we passed this sign.

We were surprised when we finally arrived.

 

Look closer . . . see the Honduran Consulate sign?

 

It wasn’t anything like I expected. We were a little unsure and circled the “Biz Center”, trying to figure out where to enter. My stomach clenched a little. I don’t know why entering a cold and sterile government building would be any easier than entering this old building. Maybe it would have clenched either way. Were we in the right place? This was our last piece of paperwork, and what if something went wrong? What if we had forgotten something important? My nerves settled when we swung open the glass door and saw a little Honduran girl, maybe two years old, in a pretty little sundress at the base of the stairs. She was like a little brown-eyed angel, and we followed her up the steps and through the door of the Honduran Consulate.

A long line stretched from glass windows, and the room was full of Hondurans. We were the only white couple in there, and I’m sure they wondered about our stories just as much as we wondered about theirs. We stuck out like a man running with a colander under his arm. Most seemed to be there for residency matters, updating visas or getting paperwork. Paintings of Honduras were framed on the wall, and every conversation in the small room was in Spanish. Again, I felt like we were on the trip, surrounded by people I couldn’t understand and accepting it as a sort of background to my own thoughts. Clay and I made it to a window, where we spoke to several helpful people who weren’t quite sure what we needed. We eventually figured it all out, and an important-looking man in a spiffy suit took our paperwork to the back to work on our letter.

Clay and I sat in plastic chairs and waited for almost two hours. It was not cold and sterile. It was warm and filled with the chatter of families and children, smiling and laughing and patiently waiting their turns. There were lots of young kids running around, a few with suckers in their mouths. A universal way to keep a child busy. The children came closer to us as they waited, not really paying us much attention and sometimes leaning into us as they wrestled with each other or stumbled around. I felt a small connection to Honduras and its people. Just a taste of what the country must be like.

I watched the little girls playing around the room, and tried to comprehend that a child like this would be ours. We’re having another baby. Back home, I go to the grocery store, pick up dry cleaning, and shuttle the kids around town. All the while, I feel like the man with the colander under his arm. Like people should be looking at me, pointing and wondering where I’m going and what I’m doing. Because what we’re doing feels a little strange and unusual. And when we’re running around town with a Honduran daughter, we might look just a little conspicuous. I hope someone will stop and ask, so I can tell them a little bit of our story. And I hope they’ll stick around so I can ask them about their story. Because we all have stories to tell.

We’re at the next step in our journey. Unless Honduras tells us otherwise, all our paperwork is done, and we’re in a holding pattern. Our dossier will be translated, then approved by the government, and then we’ll get our number. If we’re lucky, next spring we’ll be meeting our daughter. Traveling to Honduras. So many stories still to tell.

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Teddy

When I was little, I always wanted a gargantuan stuffed animal, so when I saw that Costco had giant bears for $30 each, I was tempted. For the boys, of course.

We had our nephew in town, and I thought it would be the perfect party favor to send him home with. My sister would be thrilled (heh, heh, heh . . .) I couldn’t resist. In the store, my nephew carried his on his shoulders, while the boys stuffed theirs into a shopping cart. You should have seen the looks we got. Huge smiles, looks of longing, little kids pointing, and this one girl who gave her boyfriend a meaningful look and said, I’ve always wanted a giant bear.” I wanted to tell everyone, “Just do it. Buy the bear. It’s thirty bucks of fluffy love- you can’t beat that!”

 

Three boys and their bears

We buckled all three of those bad boys into my back seat.

Now we’re home and the bears have joined the family. We lounge on them. They lie alongside the boy’s beds and sit with us on the couch when we watch a movie. Those giant bears make no logical sense. I can’t tell you why they make me so happy. I loved my sister’s reaction when we pulled that giant bear out of the car to send home with her. “You did NOT do this, this is a joke, you’re joking . . .” All for the bargain price of $30.

Growing a tomato plant may not have made a whole lot of sense either, when I could buy them from the grocery store. I had to water it every day, worry about bugs and birds, and haul it out to the lake for the summer where I killed a patch of grass in the protected courtyard just to keep it safe from the deer. Despite the illogical, my tomato plant has given me great joy. The tomatoes have been hearty and plentiful. We’ve had tomato and mozzarella salads, tomato sauce, and plain old tomatoes with salt sprinkled on them.

Our adoption may not seem to make a whole heck of a lot of sense. We’ve spent hours and hours filling out paperwork, often redundant. We’ve worried and rushed and mailed, and dreamed. At the end of 3 and a half months, we’ve almost got our paperwork complete. Still no little girl in sight. We have one more letter we’re waiting on, something we have to go to Houston to get. Then we’ll bundle it all up and mail it to Honduras to be translated. Then approved. And then we’ll be on the list. Looks like next spring before we see our little girl. Totally illogical, and yet a total thrill, to imagine what life will be like. For now, I’ll lounge on the bear and dream about the day when we get her picture, travel to Honduras, and hold our baby girl.

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Why I Love Legos

I don’t know if I even need words for this post, since you can’t help but love legos when you see what Benji and his friend made the other day.

Lego Creations

They are vehicles for their ugly dolls.

But since I am a writer, I have to add words. What I love about legos is that they can be used different ways. Sure, you can build the picture on the box the legos came in, carefully separating all your pieces and following the directions. You can put it together and put it up on a high shelf and guard it closely whenever small children are near.

Or, you can make what’s on the front of the box first, then gradually pilfer one creation to make another. You use your imagination, restricted only by the pieces available to you. In our case, that’s a large tub full of assorted pieces from dozens of different lego kits. The boys make do with what they find. They alter their creations piece-by-piece, as they discover new ways to go about achieving their vision.

Ugly Doll Transporter

On this particular day, Benji’s brother left for camp for two weeks. There was potential for boredom, whining, and general unhappiness, but instead, he made these awesome creations with his friend.

This same day, I woke up filled with a sense of anxiety. Nate was gone, there was much to do to get ready for an upcoming trip, and I hadn’t worked on my story in weeks. But I made time to meet writing friends for coffee, and ended up talking with them for two hours about things I care about deeply. It wasn’t the piece I thought I needed, but it fit exactly where I put it.

That night I tried a new recipe for dinner, and had the time to cook without rushing around the kitchen. Things simmered, and our house filled with good smells. I could have been “getting things done.” If I was looking at a list of instructions for how to build a perfect model for achieving my goals, spending time cooking dinner would not have been one of my pieces. After eating, Clay, Alayna, Benji and I went out on the boat. The sun set while Alayna surfed behind the boat, a black silhouette. Bats skimmed the surface of the lake. Clay made us laugh as he surfed and turned a 360, first successfully, and then not so successfully.

The only thing that could have made the day better is if Nate was with us. If I had done some writing. If we’d moved forward on the adoption . . . but I worked with what I had. I sunk my hands deep into a tub full of displaced pieces, a tub full of potential, and made something of my day. Too often I waste my days feeling anxious, fretting over what my day “should have” looked like, when I could have made Ugly Doll transporters.

Check out my cool blue shades!

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Almost

This is what “almost” looks like.

Maybe in a day or so, I’ll be eating our first tomato. I didn’t post a picture of my first tomato while it was still on the plant. I didn’t even really mean to pick it. I was just admiring it, turning it on the vine so I could see it better, and it popped off in my hand. I displayed it proudly on an upside down plastic glass in the middle of our island, with my “Tomato” book front and center beside it. It was still a little hard, so I decided to let it ripen up for a few days.

It had a black spot on the bottom, but I didn’t worry. I figured I could easily cut it out. I dreamed of how I might eat that first tomato. Sprinkled with salt? It wasn’t big enough to make a sauce, and I didn’t have any basil or mozzarella to make it the way my friend does. So, salt it would be. But then, a few days later, I cut into it.

Fail. I was pretty proud of myself for not getting more upset. Maybe it’s because I have twenty other tomatoes on the vine, and I figure they won’t all look this way on the inside. I was willing to wait a little longer. I figured all good gardeners have a few fails in their past. It was just a notch on my belt.

I’ve gotten several rejection letters from agents the past few weeks. They gave me the same feeling as when I cut into my first tomato. But several of them were generous enough to offer some advice. I think I started my story in the wrong place, so I’m going to edit before I send any more out. There are still many tomatoes on the vine. Many great agents.

Almost. We got our home study back from our caseworker, which means we’re one step closer to our baby. Someday soon we’ll getting our invitation to be fingerprinted. We’ll be tidying up our dossier and putting this process in Honduran hands.

Almost. I can be depressed by those rejections from agents, or I can move forward with each one. Taking the advice that feels right and continuing the search, with a better manuscript each time.

Almost. Any day now I’ll break out the salt and slice through a red, ripe tomato.

Almost.

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Planking

You’ve heard about planking, right? The “big” internet craze? Okay, so maybe it isn’t all that big, but you’d be surprised how many pictures you come across of people planking. Clay became aware of it a couple weeks ago, and the Davises just had to try:

Meredith and Benji Plank

 

Alayna Planks

Benji and Nate Plank

Clay Planks

The “official” definition I found when I googled is the act of lying facedown for a photograph. More specifically: to put your body face down to the ground (or table, or object, or anything) with your arms to the side. Ours aren’t all that exciting compared to the man planking between two camels, or the two women planking in Vegas on either side of Elvis, but I still got the smallest of thrills. Why?

We did something together as a family. Some of my favorite moments have been spent with my entire family, whether around a dinner table or on a plane to Morocco. Even better, we laughed together. Oh, I love to laugh. It happens when I hear my voice echo back to me if my phone gets funky. Or when I see bodies all stretched in wavy mirrors. We took this picture at a “Hall of Mirrors” in Lucerne, Switzerland.

That day I laughed ‘till tears ran down my cheeks and I had to cross my legs so I wouldn’t pee. But another reason I liked planking is because we put ourselves in an unusual position and saw our world from a different perspective. Our living room looked different lying horizontal on a barstool. And it felt a little weird, but cool, to put my body in a place it had never been before.

There’s a point to this post on planking. We’re doing this adoption as a family, everyone is on “board” and can’t wait to meet their new daughter/sister. It is the topic of frequent dinner conversations as we talk about going to Honduras and try to come up with names. And the whole naming thing has led to lots of laughter, and I’m sure that’s just the beginning. Bringing a baby into our home means diaper explosions, carrots on the face, and those funny phrases she’ll come up with when she starts to talk. There is a lot of laughter in our future.

And we’re definitely putting ourselves in a place we’ve never been before. Lots of places. In particular this week, Clay and me drove to Fort Worth to meet two of the people who live in Honduras, and lots of the people we’ve been corresponding with via email and phone. We really liked everyone, and got lots of questions answered. There are still plenty of questions out there. There is uncertainty, and a healthy bit of fear, but I think it really isn’t an adventure without a little uncertainty and fear.

I also did a psychological review which is required of both Clay and I for the adoption. I’ve never sat in a chair in a psychologist’s office, and it’s been a long time since I took a bubble test. The MMPI had more than 500 true or false statements, which ranged anywhere from “I enjoy fixing door latches” to “I’ve thought about killing myself.” That same afternoon we had our home study. Our caseworker was a really nice woman who asked us some easy and hard questions. We were pleased to find out we’ll be seeing her over the years for child evaluations once we adopt our girl. She was full of ideas and advice that made a lot of sense.

Because this is all new to us, this adopting business, and we can use all the ideas and advice we can get. But we’re in it together as a family. I didn’t find out until later that day of our home study that Alayna had missed a fun day with her friends, who all got together to swim and watch a movie. She hadn’t even asked if she could go, because she knew where she needed to be. Where she wanted to be.

So I have a new definition for planking, the Davis definition: doing something together, experiencing much laughter, as we put ourselves in places we’ve never been before. Come on, admit it, you want to try. I can’t wait to see the pictures . . .

 

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Tomatoes and an Elf Shoe

Oh, how we’re going to learn patience in the adoption process. I think that’s why I rejoice so much over the gargantuan size of my tomato plant.

My Huge Tomato Plant

It’s already enormous, after less than two months. Taller than me. My gut gets all aflutter when I see it. My peppers, on the other hand, have not been nearly as hardy. They haven’t grown much, and despite promising little bud-like things, I have only one pepper. It looks a little like an elf shoe.

Elf Shoe Pepper (Jalapeno)

So far, the adoption process has been like growing a pepper. We’ve got our homestudy date on the calendar, a little elf shoe, but there is still so, so much that needs to happen before we’re nuzzling a soft little noggin’ into that part of the neck that seems made to fit a baby’s head. I know at the homestudy we’ll be asked why we want to adopt. We’ll be asked again at the psychological exam, just another stepping stone to getting the dossier complete. For those not familiar with the terminology (we weren’t until recently) you have to have a homestudy to have a complete dossier, and you have to have a complete dossier to be matched with a child in Honduras. The dossier is the official pack of paperwork that we’ll send. Back to that question: Why do we want to adopt? Why do I want to adopt? Why are we willing to go through all this paperwork and waiting?

It’s not because my kids want a baby, though they do. Not because Clay wants a baby, though he does, too. I’ve heard some parents say their family just didn’t seem complete, they knew they were supposed to have another child. But that’s not really the right answer for me, either. The reason I want to adopt a baby is because the best thing I’ve done with my life is raise children. Better than writing books, running, reading, traveling around the world, and yes, even better than growing a tomato plant taller than me. Diapers, giant plastic toys, and lack of sleep are a small price to pay for laughter around a dinner table, reading a book to a child in bed at night, or spying on one of my kids lost in a world all their own. Sharing my home with a child opens my eyes to a world I would never have seen without them.

Our family is not incomplete right now. But it can become deeper and richer. Clay and I have the health, energy, and resources to raise another child. Most of all, we both feel called to it. The elusive “call,” that you can’t put your finger on, but you know. You feel. And as soon as you act on the call, you get confirmation. So-and-so has a friend in Honduras who works with orphanages. We were told this not one, not two, not three, but four times. Four separate, different contacts in Honduras, once we decided that’s where we wanted to adopt. And that’s just the beginning of the open doors.

Today I saw pictures of a family we know who is picking up their little boy in Rwanda. I felt like I was looking at someone else’s giant tomato plant, and all I had was a little elf shoe of an adoption process going. But I have to trust that eventually the call that planted this seed will continue to grow and grow until we’re picking up our baby. Something taller than ourselves is at work, overseeing the growth of the Davis family, and with his help, we will bear some beautiful fruit.

It's Growing . . .

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