The Heart-shaped Hole

The Friday before Big L left, we hung out with my friend Danae and her family for the last time with Big L there. I’m so blessed to have Danae as my friend. She’s the best kind of cheerleader and gift giver and listener and advice giver and I could go on and on. But, I’m sorry, she’s mine and I won’t share her. Just kidding, maybe if you’re nice.

Danae pressed a box into my hand. “This is for you and [Big L]. To give to her at the airport.”

And I opened the lid to find two necklaces. A heart and a circle with a heart cut out.

Flashback to a few days prior, another friend and I had been discussing gifts for Big L after she returned. My friend suggested necklaces like this and sent me a few links, but they were all either too expensive or not something I’d be able to get in the time we had. Danae had no clue I had been looking at these necklaces and I think she must have ordered it long before.

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Big L loved this little gift, which I waited to give to her until just shortly before the goodbye.

They fit perfectly together.
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And, it’s fitting with how I’m feeling. I handed over a big chunk of my heart to that kid.

The Goodbye

I woke up the next morning, exhausted. I had stayed up a bit too late putting the finishing touches on Big L’s scrapbook. Tired, but worth it.

Again, we went over to my sister’s house. She had brunch for us. And then, everyone looked through Big L’s scrapbook, recalling all of the wonderful memories.
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And, far too soon, it was time to say goodbye to my sister and her family.
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Tears and hugs. My nephew, Owen, who is the same age as Big L said, “This is a solemn moment in our history. All good people must say goodbye.” Truth.
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Bags were packed. :(
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Last Exit in Pennsylvania. NO! Can’t we just stay in Pennsylvania?
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But, no, we had to go to the airport.

When we arrived, there were many other host families there already. Many of the kids seemed to be congregating and catching up on their summers. But, Big L stuck with me and my parents, beyond yelling a quick hello to some boys from her school. I was a bit clueless about how this whole thing worked, but once again, Big L showed her maturity by going up to the chaperone and requesting her passport, so we could wait in line to get her boarding pass. And, I had to smile when we were at the ticket counter, checking her in. The agent realized that she was not old enough to travel alone, as many of the kids weren’t. He had already checked many of the host kids in, but perhaps they were all old enough to travel alone. She’s not. So, he asked where the chaperone was. My mom went to grab the chaperone, and Big L whispered “she doesn’t speak English.” Uh oh. The chaperone was very confused, but Big L did a bit of translating for her and sorted things out. Clever girl, speaking more English than her chaperone, meanwhile telling us that she does not speak English. Yeah, sure.

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With my parents.
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They didn’t coordinate wearing KU colors to go with Big L’s KU shirt, but it’s quite fitting.

And, the goodbye.
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Wow. It doesn’t seem so long since they walked through security for our hello, and then, they were gone. :(

My mom kept saying, “she’s not the same girl we picked up at the airport.” No, no, she’s not. Remember her? That girl was brave, but this girl truly opened up and is so very loved. I just keep praying she remembers that.

The Last Full Day

I’m sharing about Big L’s last couple of days with us.

I got Big L up very early yesterday morning and Aaron took us to the airport. I hadn’t slept— I had stayed up, adding to her scrapbook and packing her bags.

A hug goodbye from Aaron, and there we were, waiting in the airport. To quote Big L, this was a “very very bad” day. We sat and listened to music together while we waited. We sung the English version of Hosanna in church a couple of weeks ago and she was really excited when I showed her that there was a Russian version as well. It’s become a favorite of hers.
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First flight down and we grabbed donuts. Because, a “very very bad day” calls for donuts, right?
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One more flight and my parents picked us up. We did a quick detour to Hamilton Park, which is just across the Hudson River from New York City. When we got out of the car, Big L yelled “Look!!!” and pointed to a woman doing sit-ups. Not too overwhelmed by the NY skyline, I guess. She pointed out every passing helicopter while we pointed out the well known buildings.
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Then, it was back to my parents’ house. She had a couple of gifts waiting there for her. First, a stuffed squirrel. She always says “squirrel!!!!” whenever she sees a squirrel. Such excitement over a common furry creature. So, my mom thought a stuffed one was only appropriate. And, she also got to open up a package from another host mom, some Ohio Buckeyes paraphernalia in her favorite color, red.
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We didn’t stay home long, because we had PLANS. We would have taken her to New York City, if we thought she’d enjoy that, but even more than NYC, we thought she’d like to see my sister’s kids and go to the pool with them. So, we did.
After a month apart, their greeting was a bit awkward. The older boys all shook her hand, but my niece and the youngest two boys gave her a hug. But, they quickly jumped back into playing together. Big L had brought them all cards. Even the littlest.
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(he was just getting over being sick, which is why he has a weird rash.)

The preteens. Still wrestling.
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After the pool, we headed to my sister’s house for dinner and to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. His birthday is actually the next day, but they wanted to celebrate with Big L there.

My sister is awesome at the hospitality stuff. She has a big chalkboard in her dining room where she writes important things. For this day, she put Big L’s name on it. I took a picture, but of course, I am not sharing Big L’s real name on here. :)

My sister is also awesome at the cooking part.

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And making cheesecakes. It was delicious!
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Happy Birthday, Bram!

We spent Big L’s last evening with us eating cheesecake and prancersizing and watching my niece pretend to be a horse. Totally ridiculous, but just the sort of thing you do with family.

Then, we headed back to my parent’s house to pack. Which also turned out to be pretty silly, with vacuum sealed bags and Big L trying on almost every piece of clothing she had, and exclaiming “YUCK!” at a few items.

And then, I tucked her in one last time…

Gone

She’s gone. Currently on an airplane that just landed in Amsterdam. :(

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We already miss her, Lena in particular. 

I’m ready for bed, but I’ll share more about her last couple of days with us soon. 

Silly String Fights and Winter Coats

I had a bit of a panic today, realizing that I had never gotten a winter coat for Big L. It was on my priority list weeks ago, but I had let it slip my mind. And here we were, with just 2 days to go and no coat. Ugh.

I mentioned that it was stressing me out while chatting with my friend Amanda and that I was ready to buy whatever I could find on Amazon. She picked up the phone and starting calling local stores, asking if they had winter coats in stock yet. She told me which stores to try and then posted about our need on her Facebook.

Not too much later, before I even had a change to hit up any stores, she texted me a picture of a coat from a friend of hers. Red. Big L’s favorite color. “When can my friend stop by?”

Wow. God is incredible.

So, Amanda and her friend stopped by in this evening. Aaron was about to get home any minute and I had a bit of a surprise planned for him. Silly string attack. ‘Cause, why not? I felt a little bit awkward about my poor planning, once again. I had it set up so Aaron would see a box with a big sign on it, alerting him to the silly string and the fact that he was now under attack, as soon as he got out of his truck. Not much I could delay there for the element of surprise.

Welcome to our crazy. But, instead of being annoyed that I have nothing together and can’t even seem to plan a visit without the threat of silly string, Amanda and her friend Katie picked up cans and joined us. Because they’re awesome, they just laughed with us and reassured me that any place with silly string is a place they want to be.

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Amanda asked me if she could bring her dog. Um, yes, please. We’re a house full of dog lovers over here. Amanda just recently adopted Margo. Big points for canine adoption and big points for a great name.
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This was our first time meeting Margo. And, Katie. They’re both welcome back to our crazy any time.

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So, the silly string was just the comic relief in the stress of the coat drama. But, Katie showed up with two coats for Big L to try on. And, the first one fit. Bingo. Both coats were red, Big’s L favorite color. I asked Katie if it was her favorite color, too. “No, I just buy red coats!” And she told me that she was just ready to donate them to Salvation Army. How perfect? I’m feeling very thankful for our dear friend Amanda and our new friend Katie and Margo too, because hello, cute dog.

Tonight was also the night that Big L said goodbye to Reed, Lena and Gus, her “siblings” for the past 9.5 weeks. How do you even? But, the goodbyes were okay. Reed was awfully clingy with her earlier in the day, but by bedtime, he just gave her a hug. Lena, too. And Gus didn’t take a nap today, so um, he was ready for bed.

The goodbyes are beginning. Tomorrow morning, she will say goodbye to Aaron and just over 36 hours, she will say goodbye to me. In two days, I will be back home without her and how strange that will be.

6 people, 1 tent {super long post}

We went camping this weekend. Just one overnight, but it was something that we wanted to do with Big L. Just a classic summer thing and always fun.

The driver. He who puts up with sing alongs and many requests for goldfish.
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Some of the scenery. Ah, the midwest.
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Setting up our tent. Everyone helped. Except Gus. Little slacker.
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As we set up the tent, Big L surveyed the area and then turned to me and said, “thank you for all of this.”, gesturing at the huge lake in front of us. :)

Once the tent was setup, we hit the beach. Well, Aaron went for a hike and I took the kids to the beach.
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Aaron came back and lots of rocks were skipped.
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Reed is beginning to learn how to skip rocks, but Aaron is still the master of it.

Once it started to get dark, we headed back for dinner. Then, Aaron and Gus headed to bed. However, the older kids had the option to stay up with me for a bit.

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[I think someone suggested that I take a photo like this last time. Well, challenge accepted and it WAS a challenge. Perhaps we'll try again next time.]

Stargazing was prime. The moon wouldn’t come out until the wee hours of the morning. Just a few clouds in the sky. So, we looked at the stars and talked. Unprompted, the kids told me what they were afraid of. We talked about everything we love about Big L. And we just chatted.

Reed went to bed first, the dark being one of his fears, followed quickly by Lena who was just tired. Big L stayed up with me for awhile, but once I was done with star trails near the tent, I sent her to bed, too. She was a bit nervous out in the dark, too, and I can’t blame her.

So, I got some time alone out there. Laying out under the stars, just me and my camera is probably my favorite thing to do. Nothing makes me feel closer to God and gives me a stronger desire to pray.

The Milky Way ripped open the sky. There was a thunderstorm to the far north. Too far to be of any concern, but still close enough that we could watch the lightning. And, I even saw two shooting stars. It was a beautiful, divine light show. It’s a dream of mine to see auroras, but last night, this was enough.
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I also took some star trails, but it’s taking my computer awhile to process those, so I won’t be able to share those tonight.

I know most people actually like that sleep stuff, but it’s a bit disappointing to go to bed when you’re enjoying such a lovely light show. But, I made myself, knowing you can only sleep in so late when camping. Pretty much until a child announces they have to pee or the tent becomes too unbearably hot to sleep any longer.

We packed up early and took the kids swimming some more. We were going to do some geocaches, but decided it was a bit too far to walk in the ridiculous August heat. So, we went to a different beach. That turned out to be rather muddy/silty.

Camping/swimming with kids = stuff everywhere.
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I stepped on a rock and this black stuff oozed out. X-files movie black oil, anyone?
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And something prettier, for those of you who like pretty things. We also saw these.
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After we finished up swimming and had lunch, we had to head home. I think Big L was rather sad to go back to our house, knowing it was our last day together as a family. But, it was a really great way to spend our last weekend together. I know these are more memories that we’ll all cherish as we say goodbye.

Dreading the Goodbye

We’re down to the final countdown. And, again, the most popular question is, “how are you doing, really?”

Well, this week has been jam packed and in a lot of ways, I think that has helped me.  Too busy to spend much time thinking about it, which does help a lot.

But, Big L has made it pretty clear that she’s not ready to go. “My friend said I want to go to [home country]. I do not.”

Reed and Lena are also beginning to get bummed about her departure.

(This next part is copied straight from my personal FB where I originally posted it, so sorry, Facebook friends.)

Reed: “I don’t want [Big L] to go back! …let’s send Cache [one of our dogs] instead!”
Me: “Okay, sounds great! We’ll just put him in some of[Big L]‘s clothes and put him on the plane. No one will know.”

[Reed and Big L running around, discussing what Cache will wear and how they'll have to train him to act.]

Ten minutes later… Reed and Big L approach me with fake frowns.
Reed: “We have a problem… Cache is a boy.”
Me: “I think it’ll be okay. It took you two awhile to notice, so I’m sure it’ll take everyone else awhile, too.”
Reed: “Well, he has boy… teeth.”

Ah yes, those boy teeth are a giveaway.

Lena announced to me today very matter-of-factly that she will b leaving with Big L.
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[leaping into her arms after school]

Gus hasn’t absorbed this information yet, and I doubt that he will until she’s gone. Then, I’m sure he’ll ask where she is continuously. He often tells us that people are up to rather interesting things. Like this morning, he asked me where Aaron was. “Working,” I told him. “NO! Papa sleeping.” Okay, Aaron, get back to work.
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Very hot, dirty kids.

Big L actually departs the US on Wednesday, but the kids have to say goodbye to her Monday night. Aaron will say goodbye to her Tuesday morning when he drops us off the airport and I’ll hang onto her as long as I can at the airport on Wednesday.

Please pray for her as she gets ready to be uprooted from our home and our family where we’ve seen her grow and come up out her shell a ton. Most of all, please pray that she carries with her the love that she has felt here.