The Straka Family

(left to right) Kelci, Noelle, Chris, Andy, Bonnie, Aimee, Lily


Andy and Bonnie February 2009

-Beijing  (New Day Foster Home, Love Without Boundaries Heartbridge)

-Jiangxi province (Luke's home province for adoption)

-Guangzhou (American Consulate)

February 18, Red Couch Picture White Swan Hotel, Luke, Mommy, and Daddy Preparing To Return Home!

February 18, Red Couch Picture White Swan Hotel, Luke, Mommy, and Daddy Preparing To Return Home!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Update

We have now been home with Luke for a little over 7 weeks. We are starting to achieve a new family equilibrium and Luke is settling in, carving out his own niche. We celebrated Easter today as a family of eight, with Chris home from Duke for the weekend. Luke loved the trail of chocolate eggs that the bunny left, and marveled over the stash of goodies that awaited him in the basement! Our very clever Easter bunny even color-coded the eggs for each child, and once Luke realized that he was supposed to collect all the chocolates that were wrapped in green, he was off and running, chirping "GaWeen! GaWeen for Luke! Oh my goodness! GaWeen!". His unbridled enthusiasm is such a joy to see. His excitement over finding an old pair of plastic purple sunglasses in the car was so great that he almost couldn't even put them on for the sheer joy of holding them in his hands. His backpack is still his almost-constant companion. Only the contents change a bit from time to time. He loves to bake with me, explore outside almost anywhere and everywhere, to read, color, "twiggle" and play. He loves his clothes and has already declared a few favorites: his brown belt, his robot T-shirt, and his bathrobe. He is such a little man.

Luke had his cardiac catheterization 2 days ago, on Good Friday. Andy and I spent the day with him at UVA Hospital. Results showed that there is a significant narrowing of his Pulmonary Artery on one side, and that will need to be corrected surgically on May 15 when he has his open heart surgery. Thankfully, it seems that his Pulmonary Valve is OK, and so the surgery will focus on closing the shunt that was placed in China almost 2 years ago, correcting the VSD (hole between the 2 ventricles), and removing some overgrown heart tissue in the area of the VSD. We will be meeting with Luke's surgeon on Thursday and should know more about the specifics after that.

As Luke sat on my lap at one point during our Easter church service this morning I marveled at how this little guy has handled so many big changes with such a resilient and cheerful spirit. He seems so much a part of our family now; it is hard to imagine life without him. As I pondered the holiness and mystery and glory of the Resurrection, I couldn't help thinking about how adding Luke to our family has also been a holy and mysterious and glorious thing. As I held him in my arms after his cath, snuggling him hour after hour as he recovered from the anesthesia and the trauma of the procedure, I had time to think and to just be. To be a mom, holding and rocking her little one. And I realized how much I love this little guy. This tiny little guy, who was born in a foreign land and entered our family with a fully formed personality and a past that didn't include us. This little guy, connected to wires and IV's and monitors, who lay plastered against my chest, curled up in my lap, who has attached himself to us, trustingly, lovingly, courageously. This little person who calls me "mommy" and who blows me kisses and announces "Wo Ai Nee Mommy. I love you!" Holy. Mysterious. Glorious. Truly, I am blessed.

To God be the glory.


Sunday, March 15, 2009


We’re home!                           
We arrived home with Luke late at night on February 19 after traveling for over 30 hours.  It sure did feel good to sleep in our own beds again!  Luke was immediately pampered and loved by his 4 older sisters.  He mostly took all of the big changes in stride, but did NOT like our 2 dogs (cockapoos Ginger and Mowgli).  This was one of the hardest things during our first few weeks home, as our doggies are very much part of our family, and they were confused and sad about being shut away from us whenever Luke was around.  Over time, thankfully, Luke started to accept the doggies; first Ginger, who is older and more gentle, and more recently, Mowgli.  So we’re (mostly) one big happy family again.  Whew.
I call Luke “my little man” as he sometimes reminds me of a miniature version of a little man, shuffling around purposefully, heading somewhere that is terribly important to him, at least at that moment, backpack typically on his back and filled with his treasures of the day….he loves books (which is good because we are all readers and have books everywhere!), chocolate (another Straka passion) and being outdoors (except when it is too cold and he starts shivering).  He loves to count and still measures big and small objects by labeling them “mama and baby”, much to his great delight.  And if there are 3 different sized objects, then “daddy” joins the group.  This family cluster is very meaningful to him.
At other times I am so struck by how physically tiny Luke is.  He will be 4 on May 1st, but fits best in size 18-24 months clothes.  When he is sad or scared his little pitiful cry sounds like a tiny baby, and when I scoop him up into my arms to hold and rock him I feel as if I am holding a newborn rather than a little boy.  He is funny and spunky and adventurous much of the time, but little things can trigger times of anxiety and panic and then he is just a tiny little guy who needs to be held and reassured. 
We brought Luke to the cardiologist when we were first home and after an Echocardiogram, EKG, physical exam and review of Chinese medical records it was determined that Luke’s Tetralogy of Fallot was “in good balance” and his shunt repair was still viable, meaning that he didn’t need emergent surgery but could wait a few months until he had been able to attach and bond a little more with our family.  There are still a few unknowns about his situation, and so he will have a cardiac catheterization by Dr. Scott Lim at the University of Virginia Medical Center on April 10 (Good Friday) to give us more information before his surgery. 
We will meet with Luke’s surgeon, Dr. Ben Peeler, also at UVA, on Thursday April 16 to go over the results of the Cath and also the specifics of his surgery and information about his post-operative course.  Luke’s open heart surgery will be Friday, May 15, most likely first thing in the morning.  Please join us in praying for a successful surgery, for healing for Luke’s little heart, and for strength for us, his family, as we walk through this time ahead. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Luke and the Lions

We never fail to be amazed by the sometimes strange and wondrous process our adopted children have gone through to develop a healthy mother/child and father/child bond.  The change can happen in only a few days.  But often, it takes weeks, months, or even years.  

Luke apparently has his own ideas of how to begin forming an attachment with his "Mama" (Mommy) and "Baba" (Daddy).  His favorite bedtime reading has been Mama, Where Are You?, a picture book written by Diane Muldrow and illustrated by Rick Peterson.  At first, he loved to go through the pages with Bonnie repeating "!" as he gleefully pointed to the pictures of the animal mothers and cubs.  Of late, he has begun changing this routine to alternate his exclamations. "!!" he says as he moves from picture to picture.

But by far Luke's favorite way to begin conceptualizing his idea of Mommy and Daddy are the ubiquitous Chinese stone lions standing guard in front of thousands of buildings here.  These statues are always displayed in pairs, with the father lion to the right, his paw on top of a ball representing the world, and the mother lion on the left, her paw playfully atop an upside down cub.  

Whenever Luke spies these statues, he begins running back and forth between the two figures,  crying out "Baba!" at the male lion, then "!" in front of the female lion. He never fails to elicit smiles from everyone in the vicinity.  

What could be more universal than this?  

A little boy trying to come to terms with what a family means to him.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Becoming Luke's Mama

We arrived in Guangzhou yesterday and are staying once again in the beautiful and elegant White Swan Hotel.  Luke loved the plane ride from Nanchang to Guangzhou; he loved the big seats with the tray table that went up and down (and up and down…), he loved zooming along the ground and taking off up in the air, and he especially loved the peanut snack and his very own bottle of water. 

By the time we had checked into the hotel we were really hungry, and so we headed off to Lucy’s for some good ‘ole American food (well, kind of).  So now we know that Luke loves pizza, French fries and ketchup, and spaghetti.  He will do fine in America.  He hasn’t met a drink yet that he doesn’t gulp down, including milk.  Forget the dumplings; give him a dinner roll or banana bread.  Oh, and did I mention the chocolate pound cake at the buffet breakfast? What could be better than entering the Straka family with a pre-existing love of chocolate?!!!!  I’m seeing his May 1 birthday cake:  chocolate with chocolate icing, chocolate chips and chocolate sprinkles…the “Straka birthday special”…

Luke continues to enjoy running to each and every elevator, pushing the “up” or “down” buttons, and then the appropriate floor.  He announces loudly to anyone or no one, it doesn’t matter, “ONE!”  or “TWO” depending one where we are going.  With great authority and enthusiasm, I might add.

But at some point yesterday evening, a bit weary from our travels and from trying to negotiate life in a different culture, living out of a suitcase, packing and unpacking, and attempting to get to know a fully formed little boy with his own personality and life experiences that haven’t included me until 1 week ago, I started to feel a bit pitiful.  I commented to Andy that while I loved Luke’s merry and outgoing personality, it seemed that he would be just as happy going off into the sunset with our guide, or any other friendly adult for that matter, as staying with us.  While my intellect knew that bonding and attachment take time and don’t happen in a significant way after only knowing someone a week, my heart was yearning for a sign that Luke recognized me as someone more than anyone else, someone special, his mommy. 

I think this is the hardest part of adoption for me: trying to be patient as the attachment and bonding process works itself out over time with consistent parental love and affection and the relentless pursuit of a child’s heart.  But I always long for instant attachment!  I  yearn for my child to want to be held as much as I want to hold him or her.  I want my child to trust me, while knowing that there are layers of loss that need to be tunneled through and shed before deep trust can exist.  I know these things, and yet such knowledge doesn’t erase my heart’s desire to love and be loved in return.  It is this waiting to be loved reciprocally that is especially hard for me at the beginning of an adoption journey with a new child.  I can wait for that love to develop, I will wait; but it is hard. 

My most fervent prayer recently has been for Luke to feel our love, to know that we are his forever Mommy and Daddy and not just 2 people passing through his life, and for him to be able to love us back.  Not just in his endearing, charming, sweet, Luke kind of way.  But in a special I know you’re my parents and you’re totally for me and will be with me forever kind of way.  I know, that’s a lot to ask of a newly adopted 3 year old.  But God is a big God and nothing is impossible for Him.  In the midst of chaos and change and uncertainty, God is steadfast; His love is everlasting, deep, unfathomable.  I know these things.  And so I ask for my own little miracle. 

After Valentine’s Day dinner with 2 other families in our travel group we arrived back at our room where the highlight is always the before-bed bath.  Luke LOVES the bathtub!  He loves playing in the water, loves scrubbing his face, loves the soapsuds, the washcloth, the freedom of floating in the big tub with his little body, and most of all the nightly bath capsule that magically turns into a farm animal.  Last night he chose a green one, and was ecstatic to see it turn into a duck.  “Quack quack” he chirped, breaking occasionally into a mixed Chinese-English rendition of “Twinkle twinkle little star”.  Merry as could be.   Life is good.  Really good.

Until a bit of a slip in the tub from some overexuberant “swimming”, and Luke must have hit his lip or bitten his tongue…something to do with his mouth, because out of this little guy came the most pitiful wails as he put his hands over his mouth and just sobbed.  We scooped him up out of the tub, checked for disaster (no blood, teeth seemed intact upon quick inspection in mid-wail), and then I cradled him in my arms, his tiny little body engulfed by a giant bath towel.  I rocked him and held him and loved him while his wails turned into shuddering sobs and then forced little bleats….I held him close, and he melted into my arms.  His “real” cries turned into “fake” ones (those of you with the same kind of mommy ears know what I’m talking about) and it occurred to me that Luke liked this embrace, this rocking, this being held within the cocoon of the towel…he was letting my love and comfort sink in, and wasn’t this what I had begged God for?  For Luke to feel my Mommy-love and to sense, to know, that this was different than anyone else’s love?

I held Luke and rocked him for a long while.  And then we moved on to the after-bath ritual of “creaming up”  (can’t have dry skin in a dermatologist’s family!), brushing teeth and PJ’s.  I planned to run downstairs in search of a Dove bar or 2 for Andy’s and my Valentine’s night celebration, but as I headed out of the room, Luke panicked and burst into tears, holding his arms up to me and crying out my name: “Mama!  Mama!  Mama!”  This has never happened before as Luke has seemed equally as happy with Andy as with me.  He is happy when we are both with him; he is happy with just one of us if the other is off somewhere; it’s been really nice in a lot of ways.  No clinging.  No anxiety.  And yet no signs of special attachment either.  Can’t have it both ways.

But now there is a little boy at the door of the hotel room calling out desperately for his mama, and I think that God has answered my prayer.  I forsake my quest for chocolate (not something I forsake lightly, but this is big, bigger than chocolate).  This is the first time Luke has cried for me.  I feel needed, wanted, special.  This is my little boy and I am his Mommy.   I scoop him up in my arms, and as he buries his head in my chest his sobs abate.  I can comfort him.  This is huge.

I cuddle Luke in the dark on the couch; I wrap him in a blanket, I hold him until he falls asleep.  I am part of the miracle of attachment.  I am Luke’s Mama.  Thank you God.   

Friday, February 13, 2009

Please Send Spaceship Now

We love our intrepid Luke.  And we love the Chinese.  We really do.  But there comes a time on every adoption trip when the rush of emotions, the adrenaline for the journey, and the exotic curiosity of the surroundings have worn off and we find ourselves simply longing for home.  It doesn’t help that here in the Middle Kingdom they have their own way of doing things, often beyond the comprehension of we mere Westerners. 

To our surprise, it has grown quite hot here in Nanchang.  Eighty degrees Fahrenheit the past couple of days.   Our guide Jenny informs us this is quite unusual for this time of year.  A stiff wind has also begun to blow, which, instead of clearing all the pollution from the air, only serves to stir it all up into a cough-inducing, eye-stinging soup of grit.

Maybe the unexpected change in the weather helps explain why the relative peace and quite of our hotel room was shattered yesterday morning by a man with a mallet outside our window banging loudly on the metal superstructure of some gargantuan piece of ventilation equipment two stories below. 


Okay, something in the mechanism must be stuck, we thought.  The guy was there to fix it. 

Except that he kept right on banging and banging and banging.  Soon, he was joined by a friend, and the two of them proceeded to serenade us in stereo with their clamor.  The philosophy seemed to be what you can’t solve with precision and accuracy, proceed to conquer with raw brute force…. whether or not it seems to be working…. over and over and over again.       

With brief breaks for lunch and maybe a Tsing Tao (beer) or two, the cacophony continued throughout much of the day.   By mid-afternoon, our bangers had added a rhythm section and actually seemed to be developing, in their own way, an elegant sort of cadence. 

Could it be that we’d completely misunderstood?  Maybe these guys actually had some kind of New Year’s Ming Dynasty ceremonial drum thing going on.   Or it could just be Morse code for Five Star Jin Feng Hotel My Green Home.

In any event, we were able to escape the noise, at least for a little while, with a pleasant and informative tour of the beautiful Tengwang Pavilion and a performance of traditional Chinese music and dance that stopped us all, including even Luke, in our tracks.  Finally, at five PM, the mysterious banging mercifully ceased.  

 After nine days of Chinese food (as good as it mostly has been) we finally broke down and sojourned to Pizza Hut for dinner.  “American style” pizza (cheese and pepperoni) and Chilean white wine served in a glass mug.  What a treat!  I am always stunned at how enthusiastically the Chinese have embraced Pizza Hut and KFC.  As our guide in Beijing informed us, there are now more KFC restaurants in China than in any other country on earth, including the US.  Luke loved Pizza Hut too.  He especially liked the side dish of waffle fries and ketchup.  (We’re already corrupting the poor kid with fast food.)

With our American fix fulfilled, we contentedly retired to our hotel for the evening where the bangers had apparently all gone home. 

Hold the anchovies and pass the earplugs.