Story Time

 

There is a Korean service medal sitting on our kitchen counter.

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For days we’ve left it there, keeping our distance, a little afraid to touch it. In awe of all it represents. Nate interviewed Huey, a veteran of the Korean War, for a school project. We first heard Huey speak at Clay’s grandfather’s funeral, and were mesmerized by the stories he told. During Nate’s interview, his story of surviving two years in a Korean POW camp was the kind of story that could change the way a fourteen-year-old boy thinks and lives. Huey said he hasn’t had a bad day since he was rescued in 1953. Wow. Not a single bad day. Nate sent him a thank you note, and a copy of the report he wrote. Huey replied with congratulations for Nate’s good grade, and his Korean Service Medal, signed “Your friend, Huey.” And so, somehow, we feel part of that story now. What a gift.

I seem to be immersed in story this week. I’m participating in a writing workshop led by the talented Sara Zarr this weekend, held at The Writing Barn. Twenty of us bravely submitted our stories, and are getting feedback on how to be better storytellers.

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The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, where people go to “Retreat, Create and Celebrate.”

And my ears are still ringing with the quiet, confident voice of a Rwandan young man named John Bosco. When he was eight years old his mother died and he had to quit school to try and earn money to help feed his family. He told one of those crazy, walked-uphill-in-the snow-both-ways kind of stories. He took ten long trips a day to his village’s water source, delivering fifteen gallons of water each trip, to families willing to pay for the service. In return he received enough money to buy a small handful of rice. Dark to dark days, and that was just the beginning. Years later, at age fifteen, he longed to go back to school, and miraculously a sponsor stepped forward through ANLM.

 In two years John taught himself English at a French-speaking public school, and studied so hard he won first place in the country on his exams. At age seventeen he entered seventh grade at New Life Christian Academy and continues to excel. He is hard-working, humble, and a big dreamer.

John Bosco on left, with John Africa, headmaster for New Life Christian Academy in Kayonza, Rwanda.

John Bosco on left, with John Africa, headmaster for New Life Christian Academy in Kayonza, Rwanda.

 Huey and John Bosco have reached the ends of their particular stories and are living out others. The piece I submitted for the workshop is still in the beginnings. And Rebeka, she’s about three quarters of the way through her walking story. I’ve been sharing her story here, but I want her to be able to tell her own story. I’ve begun talking to her in the vocabulary of story, as in “What’s your story?” She has a hard time pulling back the lens to see the scope all that’s happened in the past eight months. Where will she start? There is the big story of leaving her family, flying to America, where she spoke no English, to wear forty different casts and have painful surgeries to correct her twisted feet. We are still finding out the ending to that story, as she struggles to learn to walk again. Some days if we pull the lens back too far we can get discouraged, so we keep it tight and celebrate small victories.

We aren’t the only ones. Cars stop as she slowly makes her way down our street, and friends cheer. Our family is creating a new habit of taking walks together, the boys weaving up and down the curb on bikes or scooters, doubling back to encourage Rebeka as she slowly, slowly makes her way. Today, during a break at the writing workshop, I got a text from Clay with this picture.

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Underneath it read .3 in 34:40! No walker. Held my hand the whole time. And in the midst of all those wonderful stories I’d been reading, in the midst of all the stories I’d heard this past week, that was the best one yet. Three tenths of a mile may not seem like much, but we’ve watched her wince as she takes her steps. We’ve watched her legs tremble and sweat sheen her face at two tenths of a mile. Clay and I have stayed up late at night, worrying about worst case scenarios and steeling ourselves to be “the villains” of the story for the next two months as we bend her toes and ankles, enforce daily exercises, push her to walk farther, sometimes with no braces or making her let go of her walker. We are still smack dab in the middle of it all, and sometimes it’s just as hard for us to see the scope of this story as it is for Rebeka.

And so I come here. I post pictures. I go back and read from August and September. I read your comments, and I am encouraged. And like that service medal, there are tokens of her story everywhere. Artwork taped to windows. The remnants of a plaster cast that we use as a bookend. And most recently, a hand drawn map to Kate’s house, ten markers on the mile-long path. Our hope is that by the end of June, the whole route will be highlighted, marking her success. There is suspense in this story. There are tears, and triumph, conflict and climax. For now, stay tuned, to be continued . . .

A map to Kate's house, almost exactly one mile.

A map to Kate’s house, almost exactly one mile.

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It’s a Date

When Rebeka first came here, we had a lot of goals for her. We wanted her hair to get long enough to put a bow in with no headband. Check.

No headband!

No headband!

We wanted her to learn English. Check. We wanted her to eat a vegetable. No check. Of course we wanted her surgeries to be successful, and for her to learn to walk on the bottoms of her feet. At PT yesterday, she walked 640 feet with her walker, her longest distance yet. She can stand without her walker for a long time, and she’s practicing standing on bare feet, still clinging to the walker or our hands because this is a hard one.

Our biggest goal is to send her home able to walk on her feet without her walker. And yes, included in that goal is the phrase, “send her home.” We’ve always known that was part of the deal. People ask me all the time how hard it will be to say goodbye. Hard. But so far I’ve been able to stave off the reality of saying goodbye. We’re busy learning to read and walk and do math. We’re busy running to PT appointments twice a week, getting fitted for the brace for her right foot, busy achieving goals and making new ones.

Every morning we get out our calendar, put a sticker on the day, sing our “days of the week” and “months of the year” song, and look ahead to what’s coming up. We looked forward to Halloween, then Christmas, then Easter. We knew when school and PT and surgeries would happen, but until recently, there was no departure date circled. It was just out there somewhere. We knew it was coming, but it seemed like a long time away.

It wasn’t until I wrote her departure date on her calendar that it began to feel real.

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June 24th she’ll be traveling home with an American family that’s moving to Rwanda for a few years. They have three young kids, and we’ve got play dates and dinner dates on the calendar so Rebeka will know them well before she leaves. They are kind and sweet and absolutely capable of caring well for Rebeka. She will be in good hands. And she is traveling home to her family, her mom and dad and sisters and a brother, who all miss her and can’t wait to see her.

That’s what I say. And then I think, when she’s gone I’ll have lots more time to write, workout, and volunteer at school. I can spend more time with my kids. Clay and I will take some trips. Our family won’t have to whisper in the morning because Rebeka is still sleeping. No more wheelchair tearing up the back of my car, and a lot less Uno. And then . . . and then  . . . that’s how my heart stays far from that June 24th date. It’s all okay because .  . . because . . . And honestly, life has been harder, yes. But life has been sweeter and richer, too, and my heart knows it. I have been stretched. I have learned new things about myself. Some of them aren’t pretty, but some of them are pleasant surprises. I can do what I never thought I could. And I can say goodbye to this girl we all love. Yes, there will be a big old hole in our family pictures, once Rebeka leaves.

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Easter morning, and look, no wheelchair and no walker.

But we will choose joy on that day, even if our hearts are heavy. She has worked so hard, been through so much, and she will walk. Our goal is for her to be able to walk two miles by then. That’s how far it is to walk to her school in Bugesera, and interestingly enough, that’s how far it is to walk to her friend Kate’s house here. It’s going to be hard, and she has a lot of work to do. That 640 feet we’re so proud of is less than a quarter of a mile, and she did it all with a walker. We’re determined, her physical therapist and doctors are determined, and she’s determined that she can do it with enough hard work. We’re convinced it will take more than that, and we’d love prayers for her, prayers that she’ll walk those two miles.

It’s a date, Rebeka Uwitonze. June 24th  all of us will do one of the hardest things we’ve had to do in the eleven months that you’ve been with us. We’ll say goodbye. But until then, we’ve got some work to do, so let’s get busy.

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No Autographs, Please

DSC_0044We had an appointment yesterday to take Rebeka’s old cast off, and put a new one on. We were told it could be on for two to four weeks. Rebeka was kind of bummed because she envisioned herself being able to walk by Easter, so she could do an Easter egg hunt on her own two feet. I tried to cheer her up as I put her in the car to go to our appointment, telling her, “The cast you get today will probably be your last one.” We were all a little nervous about taking her cast off. We all remembered how bad it hurt last time.

When we went in, the doctor said if Rebeka wasn’t too sensitive when we took her cast off, he wouldn’t put another cast on. What? Really? My heart started beating double time. There were already some tears on Rebeka’s cheeks before the technician ever touched the foot, she was scared. But when Clay and I heard “no cast” we were pumped. We just had to get Rebeka through the hard part. The technician was ever so gentle. He stopped ever now and then from unwrapping to let her rest and regain composure.

And when it was all off, and we saw that beautiful foot, she reached down and touched it through her tears. And then she touched it some more. This was HUGE as she wouldn’t even set her heel down when we took the cast off her left foot. The nurse brought in some wipies and Rebeka cleaned her foot well, exploring all the new scars and wiping off dead skin. She even got between her toes. It was a deal, no more casts! (And no more autographs, sorry guys! Rebeka’s graffiti leg is done.)

And so, presenting Rebeka’s two new flat feet:

DSC_0041She is eager to begin trying to walk with her walker. She has a boot she’ll wear for the next three weeks on her right foot, while we wait for the swelling to go down. Then she’ll get an AFO (brace) like the one she wears on her left foot. The doctor said we should let Rebeka be barefoot more often, feeling the world on her toes, and becoming less sensitive. We are so thrilled, so blessed, and so ready for that Easter egg hunt!

 

 

 

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Tall Tales

For our last day we decided to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific. We saw all sorts of crazy stuff: eels, a shark with a saw for a nose, jellyfish, and giant lobsters. Rebeka has now joined the ranks of those who have touched the back of a stingray, watched sharks being fed, and laughed at sea otters playing and penguins diving. She even had a couple Lorikeets perch on her as she offered them nectar.

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We ask her how she’ll ever explain sharks or highways or rollers coasters to her sisters. She just shrugs. When running water and electricity are novel, the rest is just crazy. I imagine her, spinning these tall American tales around the fire back home. And the funny thing is, some of the things we’ve seen when we go to Rwanda seem like tall tales back here. Fifty kids in a first grade classroom and they’re all rapt with attention, eager to learn. Bundles of sticks larger than the woman carrying them, balanced on her head. A six-year-old girl with her infant sibling strapped to her back, tasked with caring for him while her parents work.

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Oh I wish I could be there, to see the looks on their faces, when she tells them about riding around in a plastic clam to see the Little Mermaid.

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Or how she took pictures with superheroes.

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Or gazed at water that goes on as far as the eye can see.

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This great big world is full of true tall tales, no matter what side of the ocean you live on. And I guess that makes it . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . .  a small world after all.

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It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all, it’s a small, small world . . .

 

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Costume Changes

The moment we wheeled Rebeka through the Disney gates, the Disney staff called her “princess.” “Have a great day, princess,” or “step this way princess.” Our second day at Disney started out with a trip to the “Royal Faire” where Rebeka was decked out in a super fluffy, glittery Cinderella dress so she could look the part. After changing, she settled onto the floor with dozens of others princesses to watch a Tangled play.

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We hunted down almost all the Disney princesses throughout the course of the day to get their signatures and some pictures. Of course, Cinderella was a favorite.

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We rode the carousel again. The boys have been real troopers, riding the Little Mermaid ride twice and gamely enduring the more tame rides, though they’ve had a chance to sneak off for the thrill rides as well. By the end of the day, all of us were dusted with Rebeka’s princess glitter. Her dress left a trail of sparkles wherever she went. She looked like a beautiful night sky, her dark skin and all that glitter like twinkly stars. But, when it was all said and done, Rebeka is still our silly, goofy Rebeka.

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In addition to seeing the ocean and going to Disneyland, we had another item to scratch off Rebeka’s bucket list: snow. We drove over two hours out of L.A. to Big Bear Lake, and headed straight to a tubing hill we’d read about. It was super warm, mid-60’s, but there was still snow on the ground and we couldn’t wait for her to experience this new thrill. Unfortunately, after just one slide down the hill, the staff apologetically told us that anyone wearing a cast who has had surgery can’t tube. I guess we should have known that. It would have been really bad if Rebeka went flying off her tube and hurt herself. Rebeka had fun on her inaugural slide, but she honestly didn’t seem too disappointed, and Clay was a little relieved. He said the hill was dicey, and he could easily see how an accident could happen.

Undaunted, we traveled a little further down the road and hung out at the base of a ski area.

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We did another costume change, but this time instead of a princess dress she was donning waterproof riding pants (thank you Daehlers!), and a plastic bag for her cast. Eventually she also put on mittens, a hat, and a heavy coat she brought from Bugesera. She arrived in Austin last August with three coats and a couple of heavy sweatshirts, and she was finally getting to use some of them! She was eager to try a snow angel:

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And of course we had to make a snowman.

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Our family usually goes skiing/boarding at Spring Break, so being around snow seemed right. As we watched people coasting down the hill, we all got a little itchy, wishing we could take just one run down. Alas, the day was getting late and it wasn’t worth the hassle and cost for just a couple of runs. So, we hopped back in the car and headed back to L.A. This has been a weird trip in a lot of ways. It’s strange not having Alayna with us (she’s on her junior trip in Europe). Our car trip has a totally different dynamic. Little “super-dee-duper-dee-doo’s” resonate from the backseat. The wheelchair rattles and clangs around in the back. But the mountains are beautiful, and the family picture is still very sweet.

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We look forward to trading stories with Alayna once we’re all back home again. Thinking of her reminds me of the many costume changes she made as she decided which clothes she would take and how they would all fit in the one carry-on-size suitcase she could bring. She must have tried on dozens of outfits and combinations to find just the right ones.

We have just one more day in California, and I think we’re done with “costume changes.” No Cinderella dress or snow pants required for the aquarium or the bird sanctuary. Then maybe we’ll go in search of the Hollywood sign, or Sunset Blvd., or revisit the beach . . . so many choices, so little time.

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Day Two: Super-dee-duper-tee

Rebeka has a new refrain. She wakes up saying, “super-dee-duper-tee” and she goes to sleep saying it just one more time, “super-dee-duper-tee.” We think she’s excited.

Our first day at Disney was a blast. We decided to splurge and get a VIP guide who can get us to the end of every fast pass line at any time, cutting out wait times waaaay down. This way we can do both parks in two days, and see everything we want to see. We found out just minutes after meeting our guide that she has been to Rwanda. TWICE! It was a match made in heaven, we love Courtney.

Rebeka’s desire? A princess dress. The only souvenir she asked for? A bubble “gun” that blows bubbles when you pull the trigger. Her favorite ride? The carousel. She was game to try almost every ride, even Space Mountain, but she’s not a fan of super-dee-duper fast, or scary. She loved the parade,and our “VIP” status meant we got a primo viewing spot. The princesses took special note of her, it seemed, blowing her kisses and waving. She was all smiles.Here are some of our fave pictures.

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This was by far her favorite, we rode it twice.

This was by far her favorite, we rode it twice.

This was a super tame ride, but it started by riding our little boat through the jaws of a whale's open mouth-Rebeka DID NOT want to go in that mouth!

This was a super tame ride, but it started by riding our little boat through the jaws of a whale’s open mouth-Rebeka DID NOT want to go in that mouth!

Once we were in the whale's mouth, she was still a little scared.

Once we were in the whale’s mouth, she was still a little scared.

This was our first princess signature. Merida from Brave took lots of time making Rebeka feel special.

This was our first princess signature. Merida from Brave took lots of time making Rebeka feel special.

The parade was awesome!

The parade was awesome!

 

 

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California-Day One

I thought it would be fun to share some pictures of our Spring Break trip to California with Rebeka. Day one was mostly travel, with a very early morning wake-up call and lots of time on the plane. When Rebeka traveled to America, her first time on a plane, she never got a window seat. We made sure that was remedied.

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She was so excited, making silly faces when we took off and she felt it in her belly.

She was so excited, making silly faces when we took off and she felt it in her belly.

We went straight to Hunington Beach after landing in L.A. where we saw amazing kites, a very cool pelican, a couple of dolphins, and some “swell” surfers.

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We got right up close to this guy, and watched as he crouched and then dove for a fish.

We got right up close to this guy, and watched as he crouched and then dove for a fish.

Isn't he gorgeous?

Isn’t he gorgeous?

This is Rebeka's first time to stand at a seashore and see the ocean. When we asked her what she thought, she said, "It's good." We're working on more descriptive adjectives.

This is Rebeka’s first time to be at the seashore and see the ocean. When we asked her what she thought, she said, “It’s good.” We’re working on more descriptive adjectives.

We walked on a long pier out to a cute little diner for a 2:30PM lunch, then went to the beach.

Another "foot in the street" for those familiar with our first blog.

Another “foot in the street” for those familiar with our first blog. It’s no longer innocent of honest to goodness beach sand.

Clay insisted that we would ALL put our toes in the water. Rebeka said, very seriously, that she would NOT put her toes in the water. Clay had other plans for her. And, of course, after screaming came giggling.

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She loved it. She also loved playing in the sand, burying Nate’s feet.

Did we mention she's flexible?

Did we mention she’s flexible?

I loved watching them all. It was fun to watch Benji run like a puppy. Shirt-less is his natural state, he loves the water and he isn’t afraid of a little cold.

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Ultimately he ended up face down in the ocean, but he didn’t care. Nothing a little sunshine and a towel wouldn’t fix. Day One, ocean, check. Today we’ll do our first Disney Day, so stay tuned for more pictures. I think what we’re all most excited about is seeing Rebeka’s face when we walk through those gates. She told us she thought when we landed in L.A., we would walk out into Disney. The L.A. airport was a big disappointment! No matter how we try and explain what Disney is really like, or show her pictures, they just can’t live up to the real deal. I don’t know . . . I think the ocean runs a close second to Cinderella.

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Mulch

A local Boy Scout troop delivered bags and bags of mulch the other day, stacking them neatly next to the garage. When Rebeka asked what mulch was, we tried to explain it was kind of like crushed up trees, kind of like dirt, and we spread it in the flowerbeds. She was intrigued when I told her it was kind of like when we picked up leaves, but instead of picking it up, we would spread it out. Rebeka had great fun picking up leaves earlier this year.

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The next couple days, every time we drove into the garage, she would ask about the mulch. “When will we do it?” This afternoon, the anticipation got too great for her. She explained how she would beg Clay, “Pleeeease can we spread the mulch?” Beg she did, punctuating it with one of her signature, high-pitched squeals. Benji was disgusted by this mulch enthusiasm. None of our kids are mulch enthusiasts. In fact, Nate gave a soapbox speech at a competition last year all about how much he hates the stuff. Rebeka was able to work her charm, and Clay dutifully hoisted a few bags of mulch into the backyard flowerbeds and they spread it together.

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We decided Rebeka should go without her brace while spreading mulch so it wouldn’t get dirty, and we protected her cast by tying a bag on. This naked left foot was something new for Rebeka. She wears her brace all the time, day and night, only taking it off to bathe her foot. She was worried about putting her bare foot in the grass, afraid it would “tickle.” She kept it propped up on the other leg for quite a while, so even her heel wouldn’t touch.

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It finally dropped to the ground as she raked the mulch with great vim and vigor.

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When we went back inside, I looked at that pretty little naked foot. I usually don’t pay much attention to it, I’m too busy scrubbing it and socking it and bracing it and shuffling Rebeka on to bigger and better things, like breakfast. We tried sliding it into her croc without the brace and realized how tiny it is without all that extra plastic.

There are many words I could use to describe Rebeka. She’s tough. She’s silly, so she fits right in with our family.

Alayna styled bows out of hair, those without enough hair had to make do with ribbons . . .

Alayna styled bows out of hair, those without enough hair had to make do with ribbons . . .

She’s mature beyond her years, but at the same time she seems young. She’s ten years old but still gets excited about wearing princess dresses to Disneyland next week. A good word to describe Rebeka would be innocent. And for some reason that’s the word that came to mind when I looked at her little foot. It looked innocent. In it’s current flat-footed state, it hasn’t touched prickly grass or run down the red dirt roads of Rwanda. It hasn’t felt a hot sidewalk or a gritty, sandy beach. And while I can’t wait to see her foot become “seasoned” with grass and sand and sidewalks, I get that it’s hard. I get that it’s been treated with tender care for months and months now, and exposing it to the great big world is going to take some getting used to.

On March 18th her doctor will remove the cast on Rebeka’s right leg and we’ll get our first peek at that other innocent little foot. And while her doctor has seen hundreds of these corrected club feet, we will look at it like Rebeka looked at those bags of mulch, with great excitement. Maybe we’ll even squeal a little. Then it will be casted back up again, for 2-4 more weeks. There is lots of work in our future, lots of mulch to spread, lots of steps to take. Each day is a new day, and we don’t know exactly what to expect. We know how hard it was last time, but we don’t know what this next time will be like. We’re innocent, and so we can be a little excited. I like life that way. Innocent expectation, accompanied by a certain someone’s high-pitched squeal.

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Live, Learn and Leave

About five years ago our family was in the middle of a nine and a half month, travel-around-the-world trip. While traveling, we rarely stayed in one place more than three or four days. During our limited time in a new city, we’d learn the transit system, where to find the best chocolate éclairs, and the ideal sock-hanging scenario in our hotel bathroom.

We did a lot of laundry in sinks and bathtubs.

We did a lot of laundry in sinks and bathtubs.

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Clay’s dad came up with the perfect phrase to describe what generally happened: live, learn and leave. What he meant by that was that we’d live a few days in a new place, and by the time we learned what we needed to know, we’d leave.

Today we took Rebeka to Dell for a cast change in the operating room. While we weren’t sure exactly what to expect this time, painful memories from our last visit still lingered, there are certain things we’ve learned. We’ve learned that giving Rebeka some “sleepy medicine” before she gets wheeled back makes the rest of the anesthesia process a snap. She’s learned how to swish and spit and wipe her tongue with a paper towel to get said “sleepy medicine” taste out of her mouth. We’ve learned to bring “Georgie” and “Baby” for company. We’ve learned to be sure and pack her pink headphones for the recovery room wake-up, as movies are an excellent distraction.

But nothing prepared us for what her doctor had to say once he came out of the operating room. He said, “we’re done.” As in, we’re done with operating room cast changes. Never again. We were giddy, and so was he. We thought we had at least one, maybe two more OR visits in our future. We went back to find Rebeka still sleeping in the recovery room, and when she awoke, wonder of wonders, she was fine. Just a “little bit” of pain. A tiny swallow of medicine and we were on our way out the door. After months of operating room cast changes we’d finally found the perfect combination of anesthesia/pain blocks/medication . . . and then it was time to leave. Were we a little sad?

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Well . . . we aren’t sad about no more painful cast changes, but we will miss all the sweet nurses and doctors and anesthesiologists we’ve come to love and admire. There were many, many people who came to know Rebeka by name, from the person who checked us in at the front desk to the nurse who checked us out when it was all over, and everyone in between. Still, we are excited. As we gathered up our stuff to leave, Clay decided to give his hands one more squirt of antibacterial foam. Containers are located on every doorframe. I hear Rebeka say, “Gah!” and look over to see her finely misted with foam, her hair, her face, and her wheelchair. Clay insists it was an accident. And so we left laughing, just as we arrived back in November, on Rebeka’s first OR cast change, laughing. On that morning we were all feeling a little nervous and scared. When Clay unexpectedly grabbed Rebeka’s tiny baby doll and sat on her, we were surprised and a little horrified but definitely laughing.

We’ve lived. We’ve learned. And now we leave. We’ll be back at Dell, but not the OR. We’ll be back for a brace for Rebeka’s right leg, back for PT, but we’re definitely on the downhill slide. We have several more months before it’s time for Rebeka to return home, we’re thinking June or July. It’s hard to think about the leaving part, so for now, we’ll just enjoy the living and the learning.

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Here Comes the Sun . . .

Things are so much better since I wrote my last post. We aren’t waking up in the middle of the night to give Rebeka medicine, no more leaky Ziploc ice packs, and she’s back on the plasma car after a short hiatus. I thought these two pictures represented her journey from cloudy skies back to our sunshiny Rebeka. This first one was taken just last week on Nate’s birthday, February 5th. She’s trying here, but she was still all propped up, sleeping on the couch at night and heavily medicated. Even a clown nose and a party blower can’t hide the fact that she’s not feeling so great.

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And here’s our sunshiny Rebeka, sporting the new Longhorn headband her teacher made for her .

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Have I mentioned how much we love Mrs. Karen? Sure, she teaches Rebeka reading and writing, addition and subtraction, but she also hauls her sewing machine to our house so they can make a Valentine garland together.

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They sewed these little hearts and then strung them together to make the garland Rebeka is wearing around her neck.

They sewed these little hearts and then strung them together to make the garland Rebeka is wearing around her neck.

There were some cloudy school days in the very beginning, when Karen first started coming and Rebeka was still so shy and we were all figuring each other out, what she knew and what she didn’t. Karen discovered if she walked across the room and said, “Good morning!” and then said, “I can’t hear you,” when Rebeka whispered “good morning,” she could eventually coax a smile and a hearty “good morning!”  Karen brought sunshine to our school days, singing goofy songs and encouraging each small step Rebeka made. I watch them now, doing school on the red rug, listening in as Rebeka sounds out a Bob book, and I smile. Lots of sunshine there.

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Rebeka is a pro at bouncing back. Last weekend we decided to give that girl a day of beauty. Sweet Natalie arranged for Elizabeth to do her hair, and then go get her ears pierced. Now, doing Rebeka’s hair is not always a pleasant affair. It hurts!

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But the results were pretty stinkin’ cute! And check out those beautiful ears!

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When I asked if it hurt, she said, “A little bit. It’s okay.” The girl is bouncy. Like all girls, she can also be a bit finicky. She decided the curly whirls had to go, but she’s taking extra-good care of those earrings and can’t wait to show her sisters back home. My dad is in Rwanda right now, and he was able to pay a visit to Rebeka’s family.

This is Rebeka's mom, her oldest sister, and two of her younger sisters with my dad.

This is Rebeka’s mom, her oldest sister, and two of her younger sisters with my dad.

You may not be able to see it in this picture because it’s so small, but Rebeka noticed her big sister Esperanza’s earrings first thing! While he was there my dad delivered a special photo album we put together. Mrs. Karen spearheaded the project, helping Rebeka come up with the things she wanted to say and then helping her carefully hand write it. Rebeka spent a long time on the album, and I think all that hard work was worth it when we saw this pretty smile.

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The woman on the left is the translator, Rebeka’s mother has the scarf on her head, and that’s my dad showing her the album.

We’ve decided to take Rebeka to Disneyland for Spring Break, and I’m not sure who’s more excited, Rebeka or the rest of us. What I do know is that there are many sunshiny days ahead. And maybe it’s those gray days that make the sunshine all the warmer. There will be some more gray days. She’s got two or three more cast changes that will require anesthesia, waking up wincing and arched back and back to nighttime medicine. Hopefully she’ll recover faster. And by March 11th, those cloudy days will be well behind us as we don our Mickey ears and head to California.

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