Irijah Update

Yesterday, we again headed down to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for a post-op visit with Doctor Wright.  Irijah’s surgery was on March 9th and he has been casted ever since.  X-rays were taken and Dr. Wright pulled the four pins from Irijah’s hand, which was a traumatic experience for everyone involved.

Dr. Wright loves what she sees!

Irijah is now in a splint that he must wear at night, and he has a “Joe Cool,” splint to wear during the day–so named because of its purpose to train the thumb in a “thumbs up” position.  I guess kids today don’t know who Fonzie is, but I can’t say that “Joe Cool” makes me think thumbs up.  So, maybe I’ll suggest a new name to them…

Anyway, Irijah’s hand looks great!  I will post a pic as soon as it is fully cleaned up.  Nearly two months in a cast has made him look like a leper.  We have lots of dead skin to scrub off (also not a fun process) and nasty nails to trim.

But his hand looks like a hand.  And he likes putting it next to my hand or Jill’s hand and listening to us to rave.

He will have one more “minor” surgery on this hand (the right), so it is not yet the finished product cosmetically, but he can now begin the functional therapy of learning to use his new hand.  It’s all mind-blowing.

God is good.  Irijah is an amazing story and our family is just the rented vehicle that God is driving to use this little boy for His glory.  I can’t wait to watch the story unfold.

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WARNING–Before you scroll all the way to the bottom, know that there is a first-look post-op picture of Irijah’s hand.  It’s not pretty, there is healing and another surgery to be done still.  But it’s amazing.

Yesterday, I strapped Fulton onto my chest, grabbed Irijah’s and Giahnna’s hands and we walked into Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles to see Dr. Wright for the first time since she deconstructed and reconstructed Irijah’s right hand.

I was nervous.

Dr. Wright had a good report on the day of the surgery and we know she made more progress than she was able to on the left hand.  I had an idea of what it should look like now, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be what I pictured.  What if all this trauma was not worth it?  What if we made Irijah somehow MORE awkward?  What if his “new” hands aren’t any better?  What if this makes me a bad parent and Irijah hates me for the rest of his life for mutilating him?

We walked into the casting room, where we needed to take off the temporary cast and soak the inner wrappings to remove them.  This process does not include any enjoyment.  It does include screaming, crying, and I think some Chinese cursing.  Most of that, from Irijah.

But we had a few moments to see his hand, after it was unwrapped and before it was gooped up and recast.

I was blown out of my socks.

Irijah has a new hand.

Through tears, his and a couple of mine, we looked as I held my hand out next to his.

“Look, Irijah!  Your hand is like Daddy’s hand!”

“Ya.  Rijah li Da han.”  (Irijah like dad’s hand) he said, nodding.

I snapped a quick picture with my phone before his hand was re-wrapped and hard-cast.  We went about our business with Dr. Wright, scheduling the next appointment and collecting lollipops and hugs from all of our favorite nurses and staff, which is EVERYONE at CHLA.

We got to the car, buckled up and drove away, headed for Jill’s parents’ house.  I was happy, and excited to share the news, but I had not realized how emotional I was.

I began to think about the picture of his black and blue, frankensteinish hand in my mind.

I don’t cry often.  Seriously.  I teared up a bit when my first child was born.  I teared up a little when we discovered we were unexpectedly expecting number five.  I got a little Misty when Erstad caught the final out of the ’02 series.  Not very often.  But my eyes started to get blurry as we transitioned from the 101 South to the 10 East.

I began to think of what this means for Irijah.  I thought about how much identity and confidence is carried in somebody’s hands.

He can write his name.  He can shake someone’s hand with confidence.  He can button his pants.  he can tie his shoes.  He can clap.  He’s had no palms until now.  He can clap.  One day when he wants to hold a girl’s hand, that palm will sweat.  He will be able to wrap his separated fingers in those of someone special.  He’ll be able to properly hold a baseball bat, and one day teach his kids.  He can point a finger to heaven in celebration of victory, and he can ball his fists in defeat.  He can type.  He can pick his nose.  He can hold a glass with one hand.  He can brush his teeth.  He can carry a bag.  He can open a door.  He can take the hand of his bride.  He can confidently hold a newborn child.  He can catch.  He can throw.  He can run his fingers through his hair.  He can wear a ring.

He can know that God had a plan that goes much farther than being left in a cardboard box under a highway overpass.

For about a five-mile stretch of the 10 East, I bawled and laughed simultaneously.  I mean I really cried joyfully.  I have never cried joyfully.  Never.  Misty, teary, sure…  but never cried joyfully.

Then my joy turned from my son’s experience to my own.  I love Irijah, but have still felt a disconnect since the adoption…  like sometimes he is a stranger in my home.  I have wanted to have the connection with him that I have with my other kids.  He has it with me, but I had not completely felt it with him.

Until this moment.

I have seen and heard stories of triumph all the time; miraculous recoveries, and good fortune for people who stared at insurmountable obstacles or circumstances.  People who were redeemed, made new, given new life.  It happens all the time, all over the world, but I never cried for these people.

I cried in joy for Irijah…   because he is my son.  Mine.  I realized this and the tears came harder.  I had crossed that divide from “this is my adopted son” to “this is my son.”

And with his new hand (soon to be new hands, plural), this is my son, reborn.



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Post-Op report on Irijah’s second surgery

This is late in coming and I apologize.  A couple long days.

Irijah’s second surgery was a huge success!  Lacking an after picture to go with the before picture, I can’t do complete justice to what was accomplished, other than to say the surgeon basically relocated a finger.  She’s amazing.

Because there was less web separation to do on this hand, Dr. Wright was able to push forward and complete the “major” surgical needs on Irijah’s right hand (his dominate hand).  Complications did not allow that on the left hand. Only one “minor” surgery will be needed to complete the process on the right.  One major surgery and one minor for the left.

Dr. Wright was able to get into the hand and move the complete forefinger structure (from fingertip to wrist); bones, muscle, joints and all to their necessary location.  The large cleft that was where his unborn middle finger should have been is now closed, and his thumb and forefinger are completely separated.

Seriously, this woman is a miracle worker.  And when you consider the size of the hand she is working on.  Irijah weighed in at 28 pounds before surgery.  Do the math.  His hand, his bones, his veins…  tiny.  But Dr. Wright is the best.

I can’t wait for the reveal on this one.  The left hand was a bit anti-climactic, because, though major surgery was done, it was not the final product.  The right hand, in terms of function, will be the final product, with only some cosmetic work and bone shaving left to be done!

Irijah was and is a champ.  He loves to go see his doctor and fully understands what she is doing.  The day before surgery, we talked about seeing his doctor and he got excited.  He pointed to his hand and made a cutting motion where his fingers were webbed.  He knows.

He was in a great mood before surgery, laughing and flirting with the nurses.  After surgery he came out of anesthesia MUCH easier than last time.  He’s a pro now.  We’re so proud of him.  We go back a week from Tuesday for our post-op with Dr. Wright and to get a hard cast on.  She was excited about the results, which is like Shakespeare being excited about one of his plays.  You know it’s going to be good.

Once again, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles was amazing.  The staff remembered us, AND dropped some facts to prove it.  I used to think they just treated every patient and family like that, but they actually specifically remembered us and made us feel so welcome.  I don’t wish surgery on any child, but I wish CHLA on you if the need arises.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers, thoughts, texts, calls and well-wishes.  Irijah has a big family and he knows it.

He’s been in some pain today, but his prescribed pain meds are doing the trick.  We have to hold him back from his usual running and playing, which is difficult, but best for all involved.  He’ll be at it again soon enough!

Seriously cannot wait for the reveal on this one…  stay tuned.

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I’m a EuroAmerican raising an AsianAmerican kid. Now what?


I’m enjoying the story as much as the next sports fan.

But I’ve been reading stories and hearing reports on the difficulties that Asian Americans have to deal with in American culture, and they cause a sudden panic in my parenting confidence.  I feel a sudden lack of education in the area of what my son has ahead of him; the obstacles, the stereotypes, the prejudices…

And it makes me feel vulnerable.  And guilty.

Why was I not more aware of these things?  I grew up with a lot of Asian American friends.

Sure, I am aware that race is an issue in this country.  Whether you’re Asian, European, African, or a Kenny Rogers fan, people are going to judge you.  I KNOW I have been turned down for a job because I was NOT Hispanic.  Nobody is immune.

But I guess I just didn’t see the Asian American prejudices and stereotypes as prevalent as they are being reported in the story of Jeremy Lin breaking them.  And so I have to ask my Asian American friends from my childhood if we lived in a more accepting community or if I was just oblivious.  And if I was oblivious, was I an indirect accessory to the crime of stereotypical thought?  That scares me.  One, because I have great respect for my Asian American friends and wouldn’t want to do that.  Two, I could subconsciously impose the same stereotypes on my son.

Thinking back, I do remember a stereotype crime I committed in elementary school.  And I wonder how many others I committed without thinking about it.  It wasn’t a stereotype that caused me to not accept someone, but I do actually feel bad about it now.  We were on the playground at Maude Price Elementary.  It had to be first or second grade.  Michael Kwak and another boy were pushing each other around in an escalating angry exchange.  I remember saying to a fellow observer.  “Better watch out.  I bet Michael knows karate.”

It was an innocent statement.  It wasn’t one that a first grader could come up with on his or her own.  The culture around me must have put that in my head somehow.  But I do remember an uneasy feeling when I said it.  I couldn’t articulate it then, but I don’t like stereotyping.

Then Michael dropped the boy with a swift side kick.

It was awesome and nobody pushed Michael again, but I probably cemented the stereotype in the minds of the people who heard my prediction.  I apologize, Mike.  Thirty-two years too late.

So I would love to hear from my Asian American friends from the good old 90240, and all of my current Asian American friends.  What is my son going to face and what should I do as a parent to prepare him and to overcome whatever it may be?

I want to fully understand the story of Jeremy Lin and the obstacles he has overcome and/or still faces, so that I might be able to share that with Irijah when he meets the same obstacles.

Don’t worry, Irijah.  We’ll get this right.


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We bombed Valley Baptist in the name of science…

It’s science project season, and I have my first kid at that age.  What a blast!  Layton loves military aviation history and wanted to some sort of project related to that.  We came up with bombs!  (we are guys after all…  go big or go home)  Layton wondered about bombers dropping their bombs and what effect height and speed would have on the bombs’ path.  Would one have a greater effect than the other?  The far distant question would be how do bombardiers know when to drop their bombs.

and by the way, my grandpa–Layton’s great grandpa flew the B-24 bomber and trained bombardiers in that very art…  dropping the bomb.  Nobody can really say how many bombs were dropped over Europe and the Pacific by guys who my grandpa flew around in training.

So we determined to find a good bomb run, in this case the north parking lot at Valley Baptist Church.  It had it coming.  We loaded up the van with water balloons, set up a course and went to work.

Now, the parking lot had plenty of room for us to get up to the first data point of 20 mph.  It was tight at 30 mph.   I backed up to the end curb and burned rubber (literally) to be able to hit our mark at the exact mph and still have time to stop before hitting the cinder block fence at the other (travelling south to north in the northernmost lot, for Valley members trying to picture it).

I was determined to squeeze a zero to forty to zero run into this lot, AND to hit 40 mph at exactly the predetermined point, for accuracy in our measuring.

We tried once, and I hit 38 at the drop zone.  No good.

Keep in mind, my son is unbuckled and hanging out the window, unless you are a police officer or Grandma reading this, in which case keep in mind we were actually on our couch watching Mythbusters.

I backed the car up to the southern curb, buckled my belt and told Layton to hold on tight.  The tires screamed and we shot down the parking lot, with the drop zone fast approaching.

I felt like Marty McFly, or Doolittle’s Raiders, the latter being the more appropriate, I guess.  What I drive is closer to a bomber than a DeLorean.

The needle hit forty just as we crossed the drop point.  Layton dropped the balloon and we cheered.  He pat me on the back and said, “This is one of the best days of my life.”  He had a blast.

These are pics from the slower speeds.  Our photographer (Jill) couldn’t keep up with the 40 mph runs.

Success.  Then it was time to measure. We measured both the distance from the drop point to impact, and the ground covered by the explosion. It was some very interesting data, which I expected.  It was fun to see the wheels working in Layton’s head as he watched the numbers change, including the explosion coverage actually getting SMALLER with increased height.  Physics are interesting.  Or so I am told.  I dropped Mr. Bradbury’s Physics class.

Dad gets it right some days…

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Recipe for last night’s not-from-a-box mac ‘n’ cheese

It’s not an exact science.  Adjust any ingredient up or down as you see fit.

1 lb medium pasta shells
2 cups milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
3-4 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 6oz pkg of croutons
1 5oz package of crumbled feta cheese

Boil, drain and rinse your pasta while yelling at your kids to stop fighting, and wondering how long until your wife gets home.  Whisk together the milk and flour over medium heat and tell the same kid for the fifth time what you are making for dinner.  Add salt to the milk and flour mix, and ignore the sixth time the question is asked.  Slowly stir in the cheese.  Do not answer the phone, do not answer the door and do not get distracted by the three-year old with hair clippers in his hand, chasing his sister.  The clippers aren’t plugged in.  It should be OK.  You want the cheese to melt into the mixture and not burn.  Keep stirring on medium heat, higher heat if you can avoid the distractions.  You can add extra cheese to meet your needs.  The cheesier it is, the harder it is for the kids to talk while they are eating.  Pour your shells into a 9×13 casserole dish and pour the hot, not burned cheese sauce over the shells.  Don’t spill the hot cheese sauce on the two-year old riding the dog through the kitchen.  Mix the sauce into the shells.  Crush your croutons in a gallon-sized ziplock with a meat tenderizer, remembering the sharpie all over the wall and releasing the feelings you have about the sharpie all over the wall.  Sprinkle the croutons over the shells and cheese sauce.  Answer your seven-year old daughter, who is watching you make the Mac ‘n’ Cheese, with, “Tacos.  I’m making tacos.  Don’t they look good?” Sprinkle your crumbled feta, gorgonzola, blue or any other fancy-pants cheese that reminds you this is not Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese over your satisfyingly destroyed croutons.  Place the dish, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for twenty minutes, send the kids outside to look for your missing sandal that you know is right where it should be in your closet, lock the door, sit down with a drink and enjoy twenty minutes of peace before the kids break through the door like a stampeding, taco-craving herd of buffalo at the sound of the oven timer going off.

Enjoy.  It all starts again tomorrow.

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Gotcha Day + 6 Months

Six months ago today, Jill and I sat half a world away in a stuffy, humid hotel conference room in Guangxi, waiting to meet the three-year old boy we had loved for five years.

We were excited beyond description, and just as nervous.  For nearly five years, this little boy was represented only by paperwork, too many dollar signs, and sometimes-fading dreams.  He was about to walk through that open door.  We loved him already, but let’s be honest.  This was like an arranged marriage.  We would never ask the question out loud, but what if this little boy, who was not the little girl we planned for, turned out to be the Tazmanian Devil’s evil twin??  If he was an angel or if he was a demon, would get off the plane at home with a smile.  We had to.  But privately, we were afraid, even after all the years of preparing.

We got a mischievous angel.

moments after Jiang Yi An walked through the door

Within minutes, Jiang Yi An (soon to be Irijah) and I were playing and laughing on the floor with the toy monster trucks we brought for him.  There were five other couples in the room, all receiving their children at the same time.  Their kids were crying, kicking and screaming.  Within a couple of hours, Jiang Yi An, or “An An,” as he was nicknamed by his foster family, was calling me “Baba,”  Chinese for Daddy.

Our fears were eased.

Until the next day when he threw a screaming fit that would scare the ghosts out of Sherwood Forest.

And such has been our life in the last six months.  We have daily reminders of the blessings that have come from God’s hand in this entire process.  And we have daily reminders that Irijah is a refugee.  He is smiling and laughing on the outside, but often afraid on the inside.  Literally everything is new, from wearing underwear to meeting Santa Claus.  It’s a strange new world.

Jill and I have the opportunity to escape now and then, from the trials of post international adoption to the “normal” chaos of the world we knew before.  We are, after all, a busy family of seven.  Irijah doesn’t have that escape, and I find myself needing that reminder often.

He is alone in his experience.  There is no three-year old support group, at least not one that he could communicate his emotions with.  He acts out often.  He learned to work the system early, when we were still in honeymoon phase and going easy on him.  That has consequences for all of us now.

It’s a learning process for everyone, even for us “experienced” parents.  But we wouldn’t change a thing.  He has changed our lives, while at the same time not changing our lives.  Like my brother told Jill at our wedding, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you fit in.”

Irijah fits in.

Since he has been here, he has learned English, catching up to

[sorry, I just had to send him to his room for pushing Giahnna to the ground]

where was I…  He has learned English, almost catching up to his two-year old sister, which is amazing in six months, and no simple feat since Giahnna knows more than the average two-year old.

He has been introduced to new foods, new experiences, and more relatives than he can count.  And he loves them all.

Irijah has learned how to dress himself.  He has learned his responsibilities in the house, and how to ignore them like the rest of us.  We had to do a review course in potty training, and let me tell you…  if you thought circumcised little boys had trouble hitting the toilet, count your blessings.  He has learned to cheer for the Steelers, the Angels and UCLA.  He was overjoyed when the Angels signed Pujols.  Well, probably just overjoyed that dad was overjoyed.   We did newly nicknamed “Irijah Dance” together.  No videos to come.  I would be kicked off the dance floor.  But HE is quite the little hopper, and “The Irijah Dance” is great cardio.

Very soon, his world will change again.  He won’t be the rookie anymore.  He kisses Jill’s belly and talks about his baby brother.  He could never articulate it, but I think his position in the family is cemented in his mind because of the new little guy coming in.  He has seniority.

He has been through one surgery and has three more to go.  He LOVES his surgeon and his occupational therapists.  He wants to play soccer like his older brother, whom he idolizes.  He loves meal time and hates nap time.  He is as normal as little boys come.

In a couple of weeks, he will experience Christmas for the first time.  He’s learned about Jesus at church, and can say his name.  We’ll do our best to help him see through the lights, wrapping paper, food and chaos to the real reason for the season.

A few months later, he will have a unique opportunity.  He will be one of the rare people who might be able to remember their first birthday party.  He will turn four, having gone through a lifetime of ups and downs.

Nearly two hundred people helped to bring this little boy home, and make him our son.  He is truly that.  But he is also truly yours.  It is my prayer that everyone who helped bring our family together will be blessed to follow along with his life.  I sincerely believe that his first four years will not be the most amazing when it is all said and done.  He has a purpose.  Something special.  I am excited to have my front row seat.

Irijah JiangYiAn Morrison today (literally today.  I took the picture ten minutes ago)


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