Introducing Emmanuel Nicholas

September 3rd, 2012

Here’s our boy, who has kept me really really busy for the last 5.5 months.

I’m in love with him, of course.

He is calm and happy. He likes long walks in the woods because he can stare up at the trees for twenty minutes just taking in the light and wind and color.

He wasn’t always calm and happy–he was “colicky” for 4 months and we walked him back and forth for 14 hours a day until we figured out he had acid reflux. A little medicine every day turned him into an “easy” baby. Thank God.

Emmanuel’s birthmother, Phiona, is strong, smart, wry and wise and we visit with her all the time. A truly open adoption that feels natural.

Ian has had a little trouble adjusting. A lady at the grocery store asked him last month, “Are you a good big brother?” and Ian said, “No.”

“At least he’s honest,” I told her.

But he’s taking to liking him a lot since Emmanuel started laughing at him and watching him play.

More later.

Happy Christmastide! This is only the first day of Christmas, which lasts from Christmas Day until Epiphany. Most of you know that but might have never acted on the knowledge. This year, I’m going to have Christmas for twelve straight days. Why? First, because I “need a little Christmas,” to quote the famous song I just heard on the Glee Christmas CD. Things are not easy with Nick in Afghanistan, and I can use as much holiday cheer as I can scrounge up. Second, because I haven’t even put the lights or ornaments on my tiny tree.

It always makes me sad, gives me a physical pain in my chest, when I see Christmas trees out on curbs on December 26th. It seems too sudden, almost scandalous to me. Like throwing a guest out of your house because they’ve done all they can do for you. And they’re a little messy. I think a lot of people celebrate most of their Christmas before the actual day, so I know Christmas ending on the 26th seems reasonable. But I’d like to stay with this season for a while. From Christ’s birth to the visitation of the wise men. A string of days that carry us from one year to the next, from an old life to a new one.

My brother died just before Christmas nine years ago, on December 19th, 2001. We went from singing Salve Regina over the gaping hole of his grave to decorating a tree and weeping our way through Christmas day. Then I went back to school as if nothing had happened. I got there right after the new year to run the cappuccino bar while almost all the other students were still at home with their families. Faculty, staff, and graduate students came by every day, cheerfully ordered espresso or what-not, and greeted me with “I hope your Christmas was good!”

Then, I worked for a whole semester and made straight A’s and remember nothing about it except for weeping several times a week in the bathroom on the 3rd floor of the building where the English Department is. And I remember someone saying this to me: “At least it happened over the Christmas break. So you had some time to recover.”


Let me tell you a secret, if you’ve never lost someone. Recovery is impossible. Recovery is regaining something that was lost. Or resetting to a normal state, a previous state of wholeness or health or whatever it may be. You don’t recover from loss. You are changed, wrenched, crucified by loss. Always transformed. Sometimes resurrected. But you don’t recover.

And yet. Nine years later, I am seeing a hint of joy, the loveliness of snow, the deep and rich colors of the winter holy days, and for the first time in almost a decade, I am not crying at Christmas.

So I’m going to celebrate all of these days. Going to try to do things with Ian to count out like rosary beads, like precious stones, these first days of a silent, small, peace.

Ian at the mountain house. 14 months.

June 16, 2010

Dear N.,

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by how messy my handwriting is, and this is one of those times. I started to handwrite my letter three times, and messed up three times. So I’m typing! I’m sure it will be much easier for you to read.

A lot has happened in the past year, and your baby boy is almost one. We’re gearing up to celebrate his first birthday with a bbq and lots of friends and family. Many people are flying in from out of town—they love Ian Christopher so much that they can’t miss his big day!

Since we last wrote, Ian has learned how to do so many things—crawl, clap, wave, climb up and down couches and beds. Once in a while, he stands up on his own, but I think it will be a few more months before he walks because he goes SO FAST when he crawls. He says just a few words: bird, light, ball, Jesus, tree. I think he’s working on “car,” but can’t get the “c” sound so he calls them all birds. He also thinks fish are birds. He has a little mobile above his changing table that he’s loved since he was a tiny guy. I think I told you about it. When he looks at it, I tell him that fish are the birds of the sea, and birds are the fish of the sky.

He loves watching the cars and trees pass by while we’re driving, and whenever he hears a bird he starts bobbing up and down and saying “Bid! Bid!” He claps a lot–every time he accomplishes something (like crawling off the bed) or at the end of songs in the car or in church. We got him a pretend cell phone that makes him really happy. And he recently started liking books. Before, he would crawl off before we got through the first page. But now, we read Ten Tiny Tadpoles and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and God Found Us You every day. He grins from ear to ear when we start reading. I think he likes the routine.

Mostly, I want you to know he is very healthy and happy. He’s growing well and has started to love table food-especially steak, chicken, bacon, blueberries, and applesauce. He is a carnivore! You might see in some of the pictures he has a little rash around his mouth. He has excema, and we’re trying to figure out if its because he’s allergic to something.

Every night, we talk about you & we call you “Mama N.” and Ian Christopher smiles big because he knows your name and face. We only have one picture of you—taken the day after he was born, I think. You must have been exhausted and sad, but you’re beautiful. I look at that picture all the time. When my sisters first saw it, they all talked about how beautiful you are and how they wish I could meet you. I do hope we get to meet one day. We can fly down just about any time you’d like. Whenever you’re ready—but don’t feel any pressure. The decision is totally yours. I don’t know how hard things are for you, and I’ll never pretend I do. But please know we think about you all the time.

With love,


First Year

July 30th, 2010

the shelves in Ian's playroom I made for him from scrap wood & a paper collection

*written on June 18th, 2010*

Ian’s first birthday. Impossible. Time always feels contracted or expanded to me. Everyone experiences this. So where do we get the idea of what to measure the feeling of time against? If a year flies by, or creeps by–how do we know what a measured, year-like year would feel like?

The first week of his life, we didn’t even know about Ian. He was in a NICU–tiny, sweet, bewildered by loss. The following two weeks were like a time warp, while Nick worked and I spent as much time as possible in the hospital. Eighteen hours in a room with no natural light, listening to the alarms and crying of hungry babies. Trying to balance my visceral desire to tuck my baby under my shirt and leave with the professional desires of the NICU nurses to medicate and monitor him.

Up to his fourth month felt like one long, sleepless night underpinned by sweet joy. During the day, we carried him in our arms or in a stretchy red wrap. At night, he slept cradled in our arms or laying on his daddy’s chest.

Months four to six were filled with the mundane wonders of the infant learning about what is outside-self: mama, daddy, doggy, light. He curled up under our arms at night, like a little bird under its mama’s wings.

Month’s six through ten: moving out from us. Crawling backward, then forward. Crawling into other rooms, across the yard, across the park. He laughs a lot. Points at whatever he wishes to touch. Waves and claps. Looks over his shoulder once in a while to make sure we’re still there.

Months eleven through twelve. Everyone says his hair is too long but I know I’ll cry if we get it cut short and he starts to look more like a boy than a baby. His desires far outstrip his capacity to fulfill them. His first temper tantrum as a child of the 21st century: beating a little Fischer Price computer and screaming unintelligibly when the screen breaks.

He loves birds and I wonder how babies learn that so many different looking creatures and representations of birds come under the category of “bird.” The cardinal in a snow globe in the livingroom. A tiny glass bird-shaped vase in the kitchen window. An abstract dove on a cross we gave to him. Birdsong outside.

He raises his arm to the alter at church and says “Jesus.” He shades his face and points upward to the birch in our yard. “Tree.” Points to cars passing in the street: “Bird.”

In the morning, he smacks our shoulders to wake us up, and bends his face down to be kissed, alternating five times between mama and daddy.

At night, he pushes his forehead against his daddy’s forehead until it hurts. Rocks back and forth in a crawling position and cries if he’s too tired. Crawls frantically in circles around the bed. Then wedges himself under my right arm, and curls up like a kitten to sleep.

Happy Birthday, Little Bird.