4th of july.

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David’s parents hosted our family 4th of July pot-luck celebration this year. We had some very tasty food and drinks and topped the evening off with fireworks. Steve and Linda’s backyard is a wonderland of fun, even in 98-degree heat, and Steve’s addition of a 30-foot tether-ball game was a big hit, no pun intended. A great time was had by all!

 

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easter 2016.

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Happy Easter! He is Risen!

This was our very last “first holiday” together as a family of six! And that made it extra special. We had a wonderful weekend with our church and family. My parents came over last week to do their tradition egg-dying with the kids. The boys loved it so much that Noah burst into loud tears when we told him it was time to clean up. Also by that point his hands were completely dyed blue.

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Our Easter Saturday tradition (since Sunday is a work day for David), is homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, followed by a scavenger hunt for the kids’ gift. I scored big at the Tot Trade consignment sale and found a huge Playmobil fort for Gabe and Judah to share. Ams got a play teacher’s kit, and Noah his first light saber!

Later that afternoon we had a church-wide Easter egg hunt and cook-out at Steve and Linda’s, which was a big success despite an almost-steady drizzle.

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And yesterday we celebrated with our two church services, and Easter dinner later on at Shari’s mom’s (Mimi’s) house. One thing we love about our little Columbia community is doing holidays together as one big family: David’s folks, my folks, and our sister-in-law Shari’s! The kids get a passel of grandparents among them. I feel so blessed by all the help and support we have.

And now . . . Spring Break!

Happy Easter!

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making room.

After a year and a half of working hard on our house and yard, we agreed to take 2015 off of major projects. And we did! Well, 2016 couldn’t even begin before David was back to work. Our tree guy and his crew drove a trailer into our yard at 8:30 New Year’s Eve morning, so we celebrated Noah’s third birthday to the tune of saws and crashes and lots of cigarette smoke. The boys were captivated.

Then David and I may or may not have fled left town overnight for a wedding, while his parents stayed with our kids and oversaw the rest of the tree process. Thanks, Steve and Linda!!

If you remember, we’d already removed eight pine trees back in 2014, but before you label us the neighborhood tree killers, please hear me out. Of the three we took out this time around, one was dead and was dangerously close to the play house, one was basically a huge weed, and one (nice big oak, sigh) was smack in the middle of our driveway. We removed the oak to make way for — wait for it — our master bedroom addition!

That’s right, friends! If all goes as planned I will be getting my second bathroom this year! And a new bedroom! And a walk-in closet! Okay, that’s enough exclamation points. But you understand my excitement, right?

We had plans drawn up for a 400 square-foot addition, which will turn our house from a three bedroom/one bathroom into a four bedroom/two bathroom. We’ll grow from 1,500 square feet to 1,900. Judah and Amie will get their own bedrooms! Hooray! We also plan to do some landscaping in the backyard, so it looks like I’ll have some good motivation this year to be outside more.

I know it’s going to be a lot of work and upheaval, between decision-making and noise and a little DIY and a period of time having a hole in our house, but I just think about extra space and a second bathroom and I feel like we can get through anything. I warned our sweet next-door neighbor about the coming craziness and she said, “You can do anything you want to your house as long as you don’t move!” We love our neighbors and hope they still love us after the commotion.

Thank you, Steve and David, for spending your New Year’s Day moving logs to the backyard for firewood. The kids love exploring the wood piles and getting covered in wood-shavings and sap, and Judah and Amie announced, “We’re survivors of the wild!” We ended out New Year’s Face-timing our Pennsylvania family, eating one last chocolate pecan pie, and setting off some fireworks. Perfect. Bring on the house project!

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great wolf lodge.

This is our fourth year going to the Great Wolf Lodge. The first Christmas we came back from India, we were looking for some new family traditions, and decided to give it a try. We had so much fun that we went back the next year, and the next! We specifically love going in December because it’s fun to go swimming when it’s cold outside, and because the Great Wolf Lodge is over-the-top about Christmas. The whole place is decked out and there’s a special evening story time with a wintery surprise at the end.

Because Charlotte is just an hour and a half away, we’re able to go for one night. We start swimming at 1:00 pm on the day of check-in, and have access to the water park for the rest of the following day, even after check-out. We bring our own breakfast and pool-side snacks, and eat dinner out. It’s the perfect amount of time.

This year we brought the whole family! It was the first McWilliams family trip this year, and so fun to make new memories together. It was also glorious to have seven adults for the six children. We loved introducing Gabe and Noah to the GWL experience. They were thrilled with everything, and were quite content to play for hours in the kiddie pool. I had one of those delightful revelations as a mother, where for 24 hours, all of my kids were happy, and there were plenty of arms to hold them. Also, I’ll happily admit that I love all the slides as much as anybody, especially screaming my head off on the Howling Tornado.

A wonderful time was had by all!

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december 2015.

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Fall has lingered in South Carolina this year, coming late to us because of all the rain, so as I look outside this afternoon I still see colored leaves drifting lazily to the ground. The windows are open to the fresh 70-degree air, even as the lights twinkle on our Christmas tree across the room.

What a lovely December.

Last Christmas season, in the midst of baking and Advent hymns and whispered secrets about gifts, I carried an ache deep in my chest. We were waiting, waiting for Baby Gentino, and each day I begged myself not to live on pins and needles, straining my ears for a phone call from our social worker, but I did it anyway. We’d been a Waiting Family for a mere six weeks, which is really no time at all. Yet I wasn’t sure I could go on waiting months — possibly years? — longer.

I cried a lot. I trusted God, but I longed for the part of our family who was missing. I wondered, “How can I miss someone I don’t even know?” And also, “What if I got all of this wrong? What if God really doesn’t have a child waiting for us at the end of this journey?”

On December 12th, 2014, I wrote in my journal a prayer for a boy, and for not one child, but two. For siblings. I remember how hard it was to write those words because the request felt too big and too specific, like I was asking for more than I really had a right to. I prayed every single day for our child to come by Christmas.

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I tried so hard to be thankful, to daily recite all the gifts God had already given me, and sometimes I managed it. I tried to live in the moment. But that’s hard when you’re in a waiting season, isn’t it? I wish I would’ve known that gratitude and heartache can coexist together peaceably. I didn’t need to strive so much against the heartache.

Still, I’m glad I fought to give thanks. It’s not the natural human disposition, and it is always a battle worth fighting. It’s one I still must fight.

Mostly, I think about myself last Christmas with compassion.

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I pray that God gives me many more Decembers on this green earth, but this one is special. There will never be another like it. The gratitude just flows out of me like the tears that spring, unbidden to my eyes. I know that I don’t deserve any of this.

I think of how close David and I came, time and again, to giving up on our dream of adopting a child. There were so many obstacles. We’d already been blessed with two lovely children. We were happy. Was it sheer madness to mess with a good thing?

I thank God from the bottom of my heart for planting deep in us that steely drive to keep searching, to get to our other children.

If last December echoed the longing of those who strained forward, waiting for the light of their Messiah, then this December is full of comfort and joy. Our Light has come. And our family is together.

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I see Christmas through Gabriel and Noah’s eyes, for whom all of this is new and magical. Noah stops and exclaims over every Christmas tree and strand of twinkly lights and yard art blow-up reindeer, as though it’s the best thing he’s ever seen. We leave Grandpa and Mum-Mum’s house in the inky darkness, and every single time he shouts, “Wow! Grandpa made a star!” He plays with our nativity scene (whose characters are already missing a few more body parts this year), and sings to himself, “…world without end, amen, amen.”

Gabe runs up and throws his arms wide and says, “Mommy, I love you this much!” He bounds around the house and giggles and plays imaginary stories with his toys. He’s still busy and inquisitive, but is less the frantic ball of energy that he was before, needing to know the exact plan every moment, trying to control everything around him. He’s blossoming into an innocent, goofy little boy. He battles us less and smiles more. He’s settling into himself.

David asks me, “Is he changing, or are we?” Maybe we’re all changing.

I waited and I wondered and I prayed, but I couldn’t have dreamed these boys up. They are so beautiful it hurts.

Judah and Amelie can’t wait to introduce their brothers to every tradition. “Gabe, you get to put the star on the Christmas tree!” “Wait ’til you see the gingerbread cookies you’re going to decorate at Mrs. Gayle’s house!” “You’re going to love the Great Wolf Lodge!!!”

Their enthusiasm spreads through the whole house like the gust of toasty-warmth as we finally switch the heat on, and Gabe and Noah are still such little boys that they teach every one of us to slow down and soak in each moment. There’s no rush. They don’t care about counting down the days until opening presents; they just want to inspect every single ornament on the tree.

This year I watch and listen and try to notice everything. I file these moments away in my heart, the best Christmas gifts I could possibly receive.

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And while I’m changing too, bit by bit, December shows me that in many ways I’m still the same person under all the layers of this past year. The waiting. The adopting. The adjusting. The too-big emotions.

Yesterday I slowly ate my lunch under the oak trees on our last day of Classical Conversations, and instead of spending the hour jumping up to check on kids and averting crises and comforting one who struggled, week after week, to enter in and make friends, I chatted with other moms and watched my (four!) children playing happily with each other and with their school mates.

I wake up a little less exhausted at the day spread out in front of me, and I don’t live, white-knuckled, for the few hours of alone time on Friday afternoons.

I’ve sworn off adoption reading and problem-solving for awhile, and just want to be with my kids and with myself, the way we are right now.

As I look ahead to 2016, I want to spend time with my nephews, who I’ve missed these last eight months because I’ve been so wholly absorbed in the little people in my house, and I want to become more involved in our church again. Those are good signs, aren’t they, that I may just be moving past survival mode? That perhaps I have more to give than just what it takes to get through today?

Is it possible that I could be emerging from the tunnel?

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Rather than spend time exploring that question, I pour another cup of decaf into my Christmas-red Fiestaware mug, and turn the James Taylor Holiday station on Pandora. In a few minutes I will preheat the oven and mix up a batch of Chocolate Snickerdoodle cookies with Gabriel.

On the outside our December is busy, filled with people and food and memories, but inside my heart is at rest.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

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gentino thanksgiving.

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Hi friends! How was your Thanksgiving?

Ours was lovely and relaxing. Unfortunately, Amie’s illness spread one by one to the other kids (and now to David and me), but with our court hearing over on Tuesday, nothing could dampen our spirits!

David’s brother, Joe, wife, Lindsay, and son, Lucas, drove down from Pittsburgh to spend Thanksgiving with us, and stayed with Steve and Linda. It was wonderful to live just around the corner, and make as many trips between houses as we needed for supplies.

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Joe and Lindsay were super gracious about being exposed to germs all week, and the kids all had a great time playing together. I mean, how can you possibly go wrong with a dirt pile, chickens, and a 24-7 bonfire?

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Linda made a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, and my contributions were four chocolate pecan pies; two dairy-free and two dairy-full. This holiday season I want to work on perfecting a flaky pie crust (which means more pies are forthcoming!).

We made a trip to the zoo Friday morning, followed by a BBQ lunch at Southern Belly. You’re always guaranteed to eat well at a Gentino gathering.

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Football was watched, games of Settlers of Cataan were played, wood was chopped, and many fireside chats were had. David and I both remarked how relaxing the weekend felt–even though we didn’t leave home, having out-of-town family visit caused us to take a break from normal life and just focus on being together.

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Steve’s sister, Pat, sent us a Reuben sandwich kit from Zingerman’s deli–such a great idea, and the sandwiches were delicious!

Bring on the Christmas season!

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