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Summer of the Weasel

A growth spurt, boat rides and river fun, touching butterflies, her first National Park, lots of bug bites, a visit from the cousins, checking off the milestones, a tough but rewarding phase, more doctor’s appointments, her newest nickname, and a two-month stretch that flew by faster than any before… what a summer it has been so far. As it came to be known: the Summer of the Weasel.

First things first, the latest nickname. How does one two-year-old kid end up with so many monikers? Sure, we’re nickname people at heart, but the journey itself has dictated each alias. In the early days, it was “Little Lotus” as she delicately bloomed into life. The playful “Jujube” tag became “The Bee” given her sweet, gentle disposition upon meeting in China. But then a funny thing happened over these Nashville dog days: our timid, weak, and joyful little soul morphed into a tenacious, mischievous, and spirited "weasel" that we would have never seen coming. Make no mistake – precious, tiny Julia has become bold, vocal, physical, sneaky, demanding-in-a-good-way, playful as can be, and as Merriam-Webster confirmed… small, but able to “prey” on things much larger. Like her parents. Who would have ever guessed that this wild girl’s favorite pastime would be a self-induced Wrestle Mania match on the couch with Dad? Her true personality couldn’t be anything further from what we expected, but we love every inch of it and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We like to think that this pure form has emerged because she’s finally comfortable with us. In looking back at photos and videos from her time in the orphanage, we can see signs of that spark-plug personality that was possibly just muted for a while due to fear and grief. The bond between us becomes stronger by the minute, as just two months ago we desperately wanted nothing more than simple eye contact, and now it’s a daily occurrence for The Weasel to get upset because you can’t pick her up fast enough as she cries with outstretched arms. This insistent, determined side of Julia has presented our first parenting challenges (that’s for sure), but even during meltdowns it’s not hard to provoke her patented open-mouth grin at the smallest, silliest gesture (my go-to smile source is the classic Diaper on the Head Man). She now cries often when we try to put her down for sleep (going from a snore to a weep the moment she touches the crib, like we understand many kids do), which is seemingly a sign of not wanting to leave our arms. Yes! We’ll take it. Every time. Sarah and I have definitely had many evening “did we handle that the right way?” post mortems in the last few weeks, as we’re firmly entrenched in a growing-pains “phase” of sorts. But man, this progress is remarkably rewarding to see and feel and we’ll take these new occasional lows in exchange for all the highs.

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Speaking of progress, let’s just cut to the chase with an update. Since the last post in June, our Weasel is now standing unassisted! It happened one day out of the blue at Pop’s house, and because she’s so proud when it happens… it occurs often, and frequently leads to some steps while holding our hands (or the crocodile walker). She’s days from walking on her own, we think. It just takes some confidence with this one. On the speaking front, we’re still not close to words, but she’s using a few pieces of sign language plus understanding more and more of our communication (things like being quick to point to her favorite “sunglasses” in any picture book when we ask, marching her feet on command, and even getting pre-emptively upset when we say “bye bye”). She has even begun to request that we sing to her, via a sweet little hum-grunt thing that’s her attempt at song. On the eating front, she’s also self-feeding certain foods, which was a huge victory! Merely days after Vanderbilt decided to intervene with feeding therapy, she took her first Cheerio clumsily from hand to mouth (and of course, followed it with a satisfied round-of-applause for herself, as seen in the video below). She still can’t eat solid foods very well (so Sarah continues to puree everything like a champ), and she is a ways from using a spoon herself… but these are big milestones we celebrate so often that we lose count of all the baby steps.

At her latest Vanderbilt checkup, her measurements skyrocketed, from being off the charts when we came home from China to now at 16th percentile height, 13th percentile weight, and no other health concerns to speak of. We finally completed her immunization shots, so now the only visible marks on her continue to be from those pesky Tennessee mosquitos that for some reason find the Bee so darn tasty. I don’t blame them. But the frustrating squeeters haven’t kept us from introducing Julia to the great outdoors this summer, between boat rides with Gram and Granddaddy, kiddie pool time in the backyard (thanks Gigi!), and her first trip to a National Park. Our annual gathering with the “Austin family” friend group took place over the 4th of July in the Great Smoky Mountains, so it was pretty special to bring Jujube into a natural setting that Sarah and I find so sacred.

Another special “first” happened during the July 4th holiday: the Bee finally met her only cousins, Bas and Hannah Bear, accompanied by her beloved Shu Shu and Tia Tab. Julia had previously fallen in love with her Uncle Shu Shu during her homecoming in April, and that infatuation continued the second time around (as evidenced in the photos and classic breakdancing video below). But it’s hard to describe the significance of her first interaction with the kids. Since the time we brought Julia home, she had only *watched* other kids play, slightly overwhelmed and definitely overexcited in their company. But if you ever questioned the unexplainable bond an adopted kid can have with family, the morning she came out of her nursery to meet Colin and Hannah the first time demonstrated that there is an intangible connection between cousins, regardless of the circumstance. As we prepared Cam, Tab, and kids for her potential hesitant reaction, Julia immediately squeezed into their circle of love at the coffee table, touched Colin’s arm, and grabbed Hannah’s hand as if to gesture “let’s play”. And like that, they were and are off to the races… the beginning of a great weekend together and a lifelong friendship ahead. Separated by 872 miles in theory, but BFFs in reality, close to each other’s heart forever.

Since the holiday weekend, the rest of July and August have been a blur. We’ve loved hanging out more and more with neighborhood friends as Julia becomes more at ease in groups, most recently adorning ourselves in matching red clothes to attend East Nashville’s annual Tomato Fest. Sarah has enjoyed the freedom of story time at the library and making some trips home to the Grandparents mid week. My professional life has become even more fulfilled via the addition of two Board of Advisors roles for companies making a difference in the world with nonprofits and social enterprises, some of which aid adoption. And speaking of, we’ve even had a preliminary “exploration” call with our adoption agency about which journey and which country could come next. Shhh! We’re enjoying the snot out of this rowdy Weasel, but we’re also as passionate as ever about continuing to build our family through adoption, knowing that our next adventure could take years longer than China did.

And with that, this blog post has hit page three in Word, a cue to wrap it up and a reminder for us not to go two months again before the next update. If we wait until October to post again, this little lady could be speaking six languages and doing cartwheels. Just you watch.

The almanac says that we have about 23 days left of summer. So we’ll get back to it and soak it up while it lasts. Her first summer at home. One for the ages. One we’ll remember forever. The Summer of the Weasel.

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"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”