the first visit


So, we have our first correct guess! Congratulations to Heather M, who was able to decipher all of the clues and figure out the correct name. She’s the only person to submit a response so far, although, based on the text messages I’m getting from Tony & Melissa while I write this, they are currently working on it – I’ll update below if they send in a correct answer while I’m typing. :)

I’m already thinking of clues for the middle name – while I originally wrote up those clues as a joke, it’s actually rather fun to come up with a puzzle like that. For those of you who aren’t into puzzling, stay patient, and we’ll do the big reveal in a few days.


After meeting at the hotel, we decided to go for an afternoon ferry trip out to Bainbridge island. It fit all of the major criteria – plenty of room for the boys to run around, places to sit if pregnant feet got tired (although Aria was amazingly resilient throughout the trip), and space for everyone to talk.That particular ferry trip also has a bit of a special place in Betsy’s and my relationship. During our first few months of me “courting” Betsy, before she agreed to date me, I took her on that particular ferry trip. When we got to the other side, we sneaked around the back of the terminal building, found a place to climb over the fence, and walked along the moon lit beach together. We stopped on an old dock, and ate brown-bag dinners of bologna sandwiches, apples and cracker jacks. On the way back, we stood outside together in the wind under a starry sky and watched the lights of the city slowly draw nearer. I think that was one of the pivotal moments in her agreeing to date me at last, and as such, that ferry route is a special one to us.

I was still nervous around the boys on the ferry, but I decided that I wasn’t going to force it or to try to be someone I wasn’t. From my experience, kids are really perceptive about when someone is being fake or trying to pander to them, so I wanted to just be myself, and let them see that I wasn’t scary. It’d make for a better narrative if I could say there was a single moment when they opened up and we became instant best friends, but that really wasn’t the case – like all relationships, it just slowly opened up over time (in this case, an hour or two), starting with the willingness to make eye contact, then being willing to pose for a picture near me, a few words exchanged, and by the time we had crossed the water and made it to the other side, we were interacting pretty comfortably.

What really sealed the deal was the sword fight, though. We walked to a park near the ferry terminal (a legal park – no climbing over fences this time!) where there was a big replica ship for kids to run around on. Skyler picked up a stick, declared it a sword, and made himself the captain of the ship. I was down by the ship anyway, trying to keep an eye on the boys while Betsy talked with the rest of the family. With all due humility, I’m a pretty fine stick-swordsman myself, and the battle was on. Most of my moves were playing defense, trying to keep Skyler from poking my eyes out, but I got in a couple of good jabs that told him that I was a competent foe. We played for nearly a half-hour before I made the painful discovery of how much difference there is between the energy levels of a 6 year old and of a 28 year old, and I had to slowly extricate myself from a battle that probably could have gone on for another few days, if Skyler had his way. By the end, though, we were good friends and ended up spending a lot of time hanging out in the coming days. Carter took a little more time to warm up, but it just took persistence, and by the end of the trip, he was holding my hand at crosswalks and we were buddies too.

After the big swordfight, Betsy, Aria, Ethan and I set off together to explore the city alone for a little while. Winslow is not the most exciting town in the world, but it kept us entertained, and the local bookstore (which was surprisingly big!) gave us a chance to talk about books and favorite authors. Betsy’s the queen of YA books, so she knew all of the titles and authors, but I was able to hold my own with a few titles and series in common (and I gained a few recommendations to check out too – I just need to find room between all of my parenting books and the ridiculously dense (and wonderful) 1000+ page Pynchon novel that I’m working through. I should have time to read new things somewhere around 2010…).

After some hot chocolate / lattes (ferry trips and lattes – how Seattle!), we made the trip back home, and drove to our house for dinner. I had forgotten an ingredient during an earlier shopping trip, so Ethan and I walked down to Safeway together. I’m really glad we had the chance to do that – our time with Ethan was far too short, and I’m happy that I had some uninterrupted time to talk one-on-one with him for a bit. When we got back, Skyler was busy watching The Goonies, Carter was fast asleep on our bed, and the house was abuzz with happy talk and warm people.

Dinner that night was acorn squash quesadillas and tomatillo salsa. I had never made the recipe before, so I was really hoping that it turned out well – making good food for the special people in my life is one of my favorite things in the world, and making bad food for special people makes me sad. It ended up exceeding my expectations – one of top meals I’ve made this year, flavor-wise, and combined with the great company and atmosphere, one of the top meals I’ve ever made. (I also really like my cooking being appreciated, and Gale was over the moon with love for the them, so that made me extra happy.)

The night ended somewhat early, as the boys had to get to sleep, and everyone was still pretty tired for the super-long day on Friday. They left, we cleaned up a little bit, and we got in bed, glowing with what a great day we had just had.


(I guess I still have Tony & Melissa stumped – but I imagine they are getting close. Hope you guys are having fun with it!)Edit: My parents are also trying their best to guess – I had just missed their emails earlier. My dad actually compiled a list of all possible Biblical names that fit the prime number criteria, but unfortunately, he picked the wrong one from the list. I suspect that he’ll be the next person to get it right.

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People are starting to ask already about what Eelfang’s real name is going to be. Gale (Aria’s mom) was especially anxious to know – she wanted to be able to refer to him by name, and wasn’t particularly excited to refer to the precious bundle of joy by a purposefully hideous name. We did get her to use the acronym “EF” in a couple of emails, though, so that’s a little victory. I kind of wanted to name him something like “Edward Louis Fang Voelker”, so that his initials would be “E.L. Fang”, but Betsy vetoed that one.

Naomi emailed me this afternoon to say that she already had a guess on the name based on the first hint that we’ve been giving everyone. I responded that I wanted to hear her guess, and I ended up giving her 4 more clues. It only seems fair to share that information with everyone else, so, here are the clues towards his name:

  1. The name appears in the Bible.
  2. If you assigned a number to every letter of the alphabet, starting with A=1, B=2, etc, the first two letters would be prime numbers, and all remaining letters are non-prime.
  3. He will share a name with the actor who played our favorite character in a TV show that Betsy and I like (hint: think really obscure shows that got cancelled after only a few episodes).
  4. There is a particular sect of Gnostism which uses part of the name in their name.
  5. If you were to change each letter of the name into the letter of the alphabet following it (A=B, B=C, etc.), and rearranged the letters, you would come up with an obscene word in Polish.

Okay, I know it’s almost too easy after those great clues, but if you have a guess, let us know! Send us an email, and if you do happen to get it right, we’ll mention your name here in the blog and everyone will be awed by your brain.

We’ll give you a bit of time to wonder about it, but then some time in the upcoming days, we’ll announce it. At least, we’ll announce it to everyone but my sister and brother-in-law, who kept the names of their children secret until birth. We’ll tell everyone but Kari and Kyle, and we trust you guys to keep the secret from them as well. :)


So, back to the story of the first weekend…We had left the plans for Saturday morning fairly vague the night before. Part of it was just because everyone was exhausted and in no mood to plan, but part of it was nerves on my part.
I was really excited with how everything had gone, and was overwhelmed with how much everything was exceeding my wildest expectations. I was instantly smitten with the whole crew, and wanted to make sure everything went great for them. But I couldn’t be sure yet how we had come across – were they weirded out by my rambling mumbly speeches in the meeting? Were they disgusted by dirty hippy dreadlocks on my wife? Were we just somehow just different from what they expected? I didn’t want to make plans yet – if they didn’t like us, it would make them feel awkward and/or sad about making “fake plans” with us when they knew they were going to be cancelling them the next morning. I liked them too much to make them feel bad about not liking us, so I just freaked out a little bit in my own head and waited for our counselor’s call in the morning to confirm that we all was still good and that I was worrying excessively for no good reason.
We were expecting the call to come around 10am – but 10am came and went, and there was no call. Then 10:15 passed, then 10:30, then 10:45… all I could picture was that our counselor was on a really long phone call with Aria’s family, helping them plan a trip back to California that afternoon and counseling them through the pain and horror of having had to meet us the night before. Finally, the phone rang around 11:00, and it was Ethan. He had just finished an appointment he had in the morning, and we made plans to drive down to their hotel and spend the day together. A huge weight fell off my shoulders, and I got to celebrate making it past that first “evaluation” hurdle.

(I don’t think either of us actually received a call from our counselor that morning. She’s great and one of the nicest people we’ve ever met – but not always so great at returning calls or emails when she’s supposed to. To her credit, though, she was actually on vacation the weekend of the meetings, and she was coming in to talk to us during her off-time. We wouldn’t change counselors in a million years, despite the occassional communications lapses.)

When I had heard that Aria’s brothers were coming up (Carter, age 3, and Skyler, age 6), I wanted to make sure I made a good impression with them. Not only are they important because they are part of the extended family, but also because they were young and a chance for me to show off my fatherly chops. We hadn’t had a chance to talk to them much at the first meeting, so I wanted to make sure I made a connection with them on Saturday.

As soon as we showed up at the hotel, Carter started screaming and ran into the other room, locking the door behind him. When asked why he did that, his response was “I HATE HIM!!” (“him” being me). So much for making a good connection with them. When he did muster up the courage to be in the same room as me, and actually did look at me, I tried to smile and made a bit of a funny face. My default funny face is to pop my eyes really wide, and he immediately started crying and hiding from me more. (I later overheard someone mention something about Carter being afraid of my scary eyes – oops.) And Skyler was only incrementally more friendly, being willing to stay in the same room as me, but not make much eye contact or say anything to me.

So, I survived the first battle of “will they still like us in the morning?”, but now I had a new challenge: how could I convince the boys that I wasn’t a terrible ogre who was going to eat their bones? The afternoon of that Saturday will be tomorrow’s post…

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Warm, slimy carrots are not particularly tasty. The meeting was scheduled for 6:30, and we didn’t have time for dinner beforehand. We had been clever enough in the morning to think about bringing snacks to tide us over, but not clever enough to remove the bag of baby carrots from the backseat before Betsy worked inside all day. Both of us were a little too nervous to eat a full lunch, so consequently, by the time the meeting was done, the only thing we had eaten for the past several hours were warm, slimy carrots, and we were quite hungry.

Gail took the boys back to the hotel, and we got to go out to dinner with Aria and Ethan alone. We picked a Thai restaurant in the neighborhood (Thai food being the unofficial cuisine of Seattle), and we all ate together. Usually, I tend to get somewhat shy when going out to dinner with people I don’t know very well, but this time… well, I was shy AND nervous AND overwhelmed. Conversation went pretty smoothly, though – Ethan is a natural social butterfly, and kept the conversation moving along smoothly, and I think Betsy and I covered for each other’s gaps in conversation fairly well. By the end of the meal, I was feeling a lot more comfortable – it still would take a while to feel completely at ease, but things were feeling more and more natural all the time.

We drove Ethan and Aria back to their hotel, and ended up getting rather lost on the way back. Now, I’m not one to point fingers, but I’ll just say that our wrong turns were COMPLETELY BETSY’S FAULT. Trying to navigate our way to an unfamiliar destination through roads we didn’t recognize on a dark and rainy night was a bit of a fiasco, but we managed it eventually. On top of being lost, Betsy and I were both punch-drunk from a week full of tension and craziness, and we were jabbering excitedly and meaninglessly, and Aria and Ethan were operating on minimal sleep from an overnight drive on Thursday night/Friday morning (if memory serves, Ethan had been awake since 9am on Thursday, so he was on his 36th hour away from bed while we were driving). I rather enjoyed the drive, as it was crazy and loose in that way that half-asleep people tend to be, but I suspect that A & E were ready to get to sleep and were less excited to drive through all those scenic Sea-Tac strip malls.

The closer we got to the hotel, the more police cars and sirens we started seeing. I had originally thought Sea-Tac would be a great area to stay in – since we’re in West Seattle (read: Southwest Seattle), it’s about equal distance from downtown or from Sea-Tac to our house, and traffic and parking seemed like it would be better down there. But as we were driving, all I could think about was the Robyn Hitchcock song: “Viva Seattle-Tacoma, Viva viva Sea-tac! They’ve got the best computers, coffee and smack!” Had we accidentally sent this amazingly awesome and important family into the heart of Seattle’s international drug trade? Fortunately, the blocks around their hotel were quiet, and I think it was mostly bad luck that I saw so many police on that drive. Still, if I had to do it over again, I might have tried to find a different part of town for them to stay in. Fortunately, it was only for two nights.
When we left the meeting with our counselor, we were told that she would call each family the next morning to talk about how things went, to get a sense of comfort level, and, if needed, to help facilitate and counsel through a “break-up” if one of the families wasn’t feeling good about the first meeting. Everything had felt great to me that evening, and Betsy and I couldn’t have asked for a better meeting or a nicer group of people. But did I say something wrong, and didn’t notice? Did we not live up to expectations? The idea of that call looming over our heads in the morning made me sleep a little uneasy still…

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The night before we were supposed to meet for the first time, Betsy had a dream about meeting with Aria, Ethan and Gail.  In the morning, she couldn’t remember what Dream-Aria looked like, but she remembered Ethan and Gail, and for some reason, that knowledge was enough to make her feel somewhat more relaxed about meeting them that evening.

I didn’t have that luck – sleeping far too fitfully to get any good dreaming time in.  When I awoke, I was anxious and worried about the meeting, and I carried that with me through the rest of the day.  It’s a very unusual feeling to know that you are about to go on the biggest blind date of your entire life, and that the person you are meeting has seen your pictures, read your biography, knows what you eat for breakfast, has evaluated your entire life, and that you know nothing apart from a name and age.  It’s somewhat reassuring to know that you came out ahead in that life-evaluation, but that doesn’t make it any less weird.

As we were driving to the appointment, Betsy and I talked about the worst-case scenario – we go to meeting, our nerves overtake us, we throw up all over them and they storm out of the room in disgust.  If that was to happen, we’d just get back in the pool, and life would go on.  That was somewhat reassuring, but there was something else I was even more worried about.

For me, the worst case scenario was that they would love us, and that I wouldn’t be particularly fond of them.  What would I do in that situation?  Would I have the courage to say, “Sorry, I don’t think this is the right fit”?  Would I be stuck forming a new extended family unit with people who I was irritated to be around?  I knew that I was going to do everything in my power to be patient, to love them for who they are, and to treat them with an attitude of respect and openness – but let’s face it: I’m human, and often very much so.  I kept envisioning the worst case scenarios – what if she was rude and had a bad temper?  What if they were vain and self-absorbed?  What if we walked in the room to meet a woman with 12 teeth, ketchup stains across her shirt, hollering about “y’alls gonna learn ma young’un some books, ain’tcha?  He’d be the first in the family what knows his words.”  I was going to put in the effort to make it work no matter what – I just didn’t know how much effort that was going to take, and for a commitment of this length (the rest of our lives, hopefully), that’s a pretty scary feeling.

We walked up to the office door with no small amount of trepidation, and peeked in the window before opening it slightly.  A woman looked over when the door creaked open, and shouted, “they’re here!”  The rest of the family came out to the lobby, and looking around at all of the smiling faces, it felt right instantly.  Gail was instantly friendly and overjoyed to see us, Ethan had a big grin on his face, Aria was warm and happy, and the meeting felt like going over to a close friend’s house.  Once again, everything was falling into place exactly as it should be.

The meeting itself was very loosely structured – we each went around the circle, and talked a bit about ourselves, and showed pictures if we had them.  When it came to my turn, I was at a loss for words – I had no idea where to start, what they already knew, what they wanted to know, or how to make my tongue and mouth move in such a way as to form consonants and vowels.  I started and stopped a half-dozen times before mumbling my way through a bunch of sentences that made a rough sort of sense if you didn’t think about them too long.  If you’ve ever witnessed me giving a toast at a wedding reception, that’s pretty much what it was like.   I had brought a laptop full of pictures, but by the time we got to picture #8 out of the 96 that I had brought, our counselor wisely cut me off and advised me to talk a little bit more in person.

Okay, there’s still more I want to talk about that evening (dinner, drive home, etc), but in the interest of doing daily short posts, I’m ending here for the night.  To be continued…