One of my guilty pleasures includes salivating over other people’s homes. I follow every designer (and people like me who just genuinely love decorating and creating a home) imaginable. I could never quite peg down my own personal style, but I just know that if I see it and I love it, that’s my style. If I’m unsure about something I see in a store, my rule is to give it 24 hours, imagine it in our (rather small) space, find a place for it, and then go back. On occasion, the item is gone, and I have to accept it was never mine.
There are a lot of philosophies in design and decor, but the one I struggle with the most is the idea that you have to commit to one scheme (in color and general style). To me, homes tell a story. I have a lot of pieces that are just that: a story. Like, over the summer my girlfriend and I were at a small design boutique in Birmingham, and I found this navy elephant, trunk proudly pointed upward as if it were about to sing out. I had to get it. Because at that point in Novella’s life, she constantly did these elephant impressions and this figurine symbolized a time in our life that I knew I wanted to freeze forever. (I also made up a little song about her elephant impressions, but it’s too silly and sacred to share outside of our humble home.)
And so, every year I scroll through Instagram and I see all these trees and flirt with the idea of a perfect matching tree. I’m completely in love with the buffalo check trend and Scandavian and gold and silver and (the Holy Grail of all designer tree right now:) the perfect flocked tree.
Yet, every year I go back to just-my-regular-ole tree. I hardly ever buy ornaments (other decor is a different story). Because, the thing is, our Christmas tree represents the tiny bit of our own history we’ve been able to preserve. Every single thing I pull out of those boxes has its own little story. We have childhood relics mixed with 16 years (is that for real?!) of marriage. And just like life goes, some of these are perpetually happy memories, while some sting a little.
We are one month from Christmas, and a more ambitious version of myself aspires to write a story about a month’s worth of ornaments in an attempt to preserve our history even further. But, I also don’t want to be another blogger that makes empty promises (you know the type! Also, I am that type.)
Maybe I’ll make that goal, maybe I won’t. But I feel a definite tug to talk about this ornament. I can’t say for sure why. Maybe someone needs to hear this story. Maybe it was the latest episode of This Is Us that made me so weak remembering this story. Maybe it’s because things are coming even more full circle as Novella asks probing questions that we don’t always know how to answer.
This ornament is five years old, its message short-lived, yet this is the only time I’ve wrestled with maybe not hanging it up. But, it’s our story. Our tree tells a story, and I’ve never thrown a single ornament away.
I often forget that not everyone who reads this has known me as long as I’ve known myself. So, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint even where to begin with this story. Here goes it:
The biggest part of my life story thus far is that we were hopelessly infertile for the first thirteen years of our marriage. That’s a great big story on its own. We went through the ringer in testing and ultimately were left with the option of IVF or nothing at the end of 2011. We pursued that through May 2012, but a large ruptured ovarian cyst left us at a crossroad. I felt very strongly that my reproductive health was in jeopardy on its own and just couldn’t stomach the idea of adding hormones/ injections/ retrievals/ transfers into the mix. At the time, I was completely devoted to my physical health (I hope to get back to that point again soon) and it all felt counterintuitive and unnatural.
The night before Mother’s Day 2012, we decided to adopt from Russia.
That was the best Mother’s Day I could remember at that point. I was going to be a mom. I drove myself to Green Hills in Nashville and indulged in all the champagne and cupcakes they were offering to moms out solo-shopping. I opened my heart to what were ordinary treasures to regular moms: bedding at Pottery Barn Kids, sales at Gap Baby, puppets in a specialty store. We were finally on our way, and it felt oh-so-good to dream with a heart wide open.
The months that passed felt magical and special. I remember being in a state of absolute bliss. I felt like my heart could just explode sometimes. We went to classes and more classes and they told us lots of cautionary tales of foreign adoption but we felt strongly that we could overcome any obstacle because honestly, who really can predict the nature of parenthood beforehand?
We’d completed all of the necessary classes and designated my Christmas break as the time to start soliciting letters of recommendation. I remember the list of people we generated, and we were using the big guns in our life. We were still deciding on a fundraiser or three, but all of those details would be ironed out on Christmas break. I just had to make it to Christmas break. I was getting overwhelmed (we also decided to move across the state during this time) but…just make it to Christmas break.
I left school that first day of Christmas break. I was en route to our (required, ha!) staff Christmas party, donned in a festive red sweater and excited beyond belief to have this time. I remember the plans I had that afternoon clearly: I was going to grab some ornaments at Target for decorations around the house (remember, I don’t really buy them for our tree!) and then type some emails for requests regarding our adoption. I stopped to pump gas and that’s when everything changed.
I called B as I usually do when I leave work. I was standing at the pump, mindlessly clearing trash out of my car and telling him of my plans for the afternoon when he stopped me mid-sentence: “I wanted to not tell you this, but there’s a chance they are cutting off American adoptions in Russia. I didn’t think it would pass, but I think it might.”
I remember so clearly walking into that mandatory party and just sitting. So numb. It was the windiest day I can ever remember. That party was on the river and the cold chill begged to pierce my face, but I just walked on through it, feeling nothing but the chill that already resided in my bones.
I didn’t go to Target after that. I drove to Walgreens and rented that movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green from the Redbox. I remember crying the whole way through, and then dropping to my knees when it was over and begging to the Lord Please let me be a mom. And then: If this is not Your will, please don’t let me suffer wondering. Tell me.
I said it, but I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want anything to be true. But with one deep breath, I got onto my computer and checked the news, and there it was: Russia banned U.S. Adoptions. It was five days before Christmas. Such a stark contrast between the day before.
This was so much more to us than a headline. In our minds, we already had a daughter. We were going to name her Kerigan. Everyone in our life knew this to be true. It was devastating. Everything else is enough to fill a novel and rightfully should.
It’s actually hard to believe that was only five years ago. It feels like a lifetime ago, considering God did grant all of my wishes that night. We have our little Novella, and I pinch myself every day, but enough to leave a bruise during this magical season.
This was the first year I truly considered not adorning the tree, our tangible history, with this ornament. I can’t say for sure why. It’s hard to relive this story, sure. But it’s harder to explain it in simplistic terms.
This morning I awoke to find that very same ornament on the floor. At first, I thought it to be a sign of removal.
But then, I spent the whole day with Novella doing all the stuff of dreams of yore. From start to finish, the day was like the movie I always imagined in my mind when I dared myself to imagine any part of motherhood at all: we cuddled in bed this morning, then she asked if we could go see the Christmas tree. We watched a Christmas movie, and she said: “This is so great! This is really great!” She managed to paint a whole cup of yogurt on her face, prompting her to take a bath. In the bath, she painted (with bath paints, a total lifesaver) a triangular blob and said, “Look mommy! It’s our family! That’s Daddy, that’s you, that’s me, and that’s Bruce!” He’s been gone 5 months but she still readily recognizes him as a member of our family. We got dressed for her pictures and when I presented her with a dollar necklace to wear she said, “Oh, I’m so ‘cited for today!” We went to the mall and got her pictures made, and she was a little superstar. She got a little play cookie set with money she’s been saving from her grandparents and great-grandparents and said, “I can’t wait to make cookies for you and Daddy!” We drove past Aldi and she said, “There’s Aldi! We need to call Griffin and tell him!” because we talked about Aldi yesterday and Griffin doesn’t believe in Aldi, apparently. We got home and played and made up a new game called Circle Ball.
Even with everything we’ve endured, it’s easy to take all of this for granted.
I don’t think the ornament on the floor was meant to say, “Throw this away and forget.” I think it was meant to say: “Keep this and don’t you ever forget.”
I’m a mom. Brandon’s a dad. That’s really something.