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.
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.
We got right up close to this guy, and watched as he crouched and then dove for a fish.
Isn’t he gorgeous?
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. 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.
She loved it. She also loved playing in the sand, burying Nate’s feet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It finally dropped to the ground as she raked the mulch with great vim and vigor.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
And here’s our sunshiny Rebeka, sporting the new Longhorn headband her teacher made for her .
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.
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.
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!
But the results were pretty stinkin’ cute! And check out those beautiful ears!
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.
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.
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.
A week ago Rebeka was sitting pretty with her nerve block, proud of her bright pink cast. I write this post the morning of Rebeka’s first cast change after surgery. It was rough. Rebeka woke up from the procedure in a lot of pain, back arched, tears rolling. Clay and I were on point in recovery, along with our sweet nurse, as Rebeka received Norco, then morphine, and then Valium, all in an effort to stave off the hurt. All that medicine finally kicked in and she zonked out, still wincing in her sleep as what we can only guess were muscle spasms surged through foot. She was wheeled out of the large recovery room and into a smaller room to await discharge.
The adrenaline was still coursing through our veins, even while she slept. On the heels of a hard week, waking up to give medicine every two or three hours, keeping her foot elevated and iced, carrying her with great care wherever we needed to go, while keeping up with the other three kids, we are all running a little low on energy.
These charts help me keep her medicines straight.
But seeing her in pain, Clay and I kicked in again, focused on making things better, being her advocate, insisting to our nurse and anesthesiologist that this pain was worse than what we’d seen before and we really did think she could use more medicine. They were kind and believed us and obliged. It was such a relief to finally see her sleeping, but what would happen when she woke up? When we got our discharge papers, we eased her awake. We tenderly wheeled her out of the hospital, being extra careful at all the tiny bumps we had to roll over. Clay gingerly hoisted her into my car. All the while, she was still gradually waking up. I kissed Clay goodbye and he headed to work, both of us emotionally exhausted. As I started to drive, Rebeka says from the backseat, “Can I have some french fries?” I just about cried. As we talked, I realized she didn’t remember hardly any of it. She was okay, but I was still filled with all this protective, take-care-of-things energy.
So here we sit, on the couch. She eats her french fries. The pain is returning. She describes it as “spicy” and winces often. We’re trying movie distraction, and as soon as we can give her more meds she’ll get them. I am so grateful for medicine and the pain relief it offers.
Her doctor removed two pins today and manipulated her foot to achieve a better position after just one week of recovery from surgery, so it’s understandable that it would hurt. A lot. The nurse said the best way to handle the muscle spasms is to keep the foot really elevated and breathe through them, like contractions. They shouldn’t last more than 48 hours, but on this end 48 hours sounds like an awfully long time. At least at the end of contractions you get a cute little baby. What do we get at the end of 48 hours of muscle spasms? My hope is that we get back our “old” Rebeka. It’s hard to take these big steps backward, after seeing how well she was doing. It’s hard to believe she actually walked to the mailbox just two weeks ago. It was like being in parade that afternoon, as friend after friend slowed down their car to cheer. I could practically hear the Chariots of Fire theme music wafting through the air.
We saw glimpses of that old Rebeka just a few days ago, perched on the counter, helping Alayna cook. I walked in to find her flipping pancakes on the hot griddle, and chopping veggies with a sharp knife.
I would never have handed that child a sharp knife or let her get so close to the griddle, but Rebeka was doing just fine. She could handle the responsibility. Something tells me back home in Rwanda, she helped her mom cook. She wielded knives and lingered near open fires, and remained unscathed.
I am guilty of being overprotective. I am grateful for Alayna and her ability to give Rebeka some freedom. I am grateful for Katie in PT who knows Rebeka can do “just a little bit more.” I am grateful for those who push when I am too afraid to try. And maybe someday I will be grateful for this morning, this pain, these hard times.
If someone had asked me six months ago if I could handle pulling out nerve block catheters, caring for an inconsolable child in pain, carrying said child here to there and everywhere, and giving up freedoms I thought I had earned and deserved, I would have said “no way.” But nobody asked those questions. Nobody knew what to ask. They just gave. Like hot griddles and sharp knives. And here I am. Rubbing the feet of a girl I have come to love. I can do it, with the help of so many who have rallied around us, and a God who has us all covered. I just didn’t know I could.
When Rebeka first came to Austin, I was a nervous wreck for many reasons. Here was this little girl who I didn’t know, and I had no idea how to care for her. How much could she do on her own, and how much should we do for her? All we had seen were pictures.
Clay first met Rebeka while on a trip to Rwanda. He was there to help small business owners, and he took a side trip to Bugesera with a mission team, and met Rebeka there.
I laugh at what she must have thought as we brushed her teeth for her and tried to put on her shoes (she had to show us how they tied when we couldn’t do it.) One thing I remember her doing is opening up the back door and going outside without a backward glance, lurching amazingly fast on the tops of her feet. I was so afraid she’d fall down the stairs or into a flowerbed from our high back porch! There were all sorts of things that could hurt her, but she loved to be outside and she was pretty accustomed to fending for herself.
One day I found her sitting on a table on our back porch.
Rebeka loved the trampoline, running around the edges chasing, or being chased.
A lot of that freedom and independent spirit was squelched the day she got her first cast, August 29, 2012. No longer could she beg someone to chase her, or stand at the kitchen sink to clean dishes (because that’s pretty fun), or waltz out the door to go where she wanted to go. She had to wait on someone to carry her, or scoot on her bottom to get there. She couldn’t open a door from the floor. She was stuck.
Ever heard of a “plasma car”?
It’s this great little car that is propelled by turning the steering wheel back and forth, and it is Rebeka’s newest favorite thing. My parents had one at their house, and over the Christmas break we commandeered it and brought it home. The plasma car means FREEDOM!!! She’s now transporting herself to the kitchen table or the laundry room or wherever else she wants to go. She just props her legs up and she’s off. She’s learned to maneuver it quite well, picking up speed to get over little bumps or “park” it on the rug. She can get herself on it from the floor by herself, or drop down onto it from the dinner table. I hadn’t realized how often I was asking her “Where do you want to sit and what do you want to do?” while I took care of laundry or dinner or some other chore. Now, I just put her on the car and she can go look out the window or find Clay’s knees to tickle or take Benji and Molly on a ride.
Rebeka has actually lived with restricted freedom for a long time. I often forget just how handicapped she is, because she’s compensated so well. It’s when something little happens, like I’m holding her and I hand her a chip to eat, but she can’t lift it to her mouth because her arm is dangling and she has to have a table or a knee or something she can use to get her arm to her mouth, that I’m reminded.
And so I am thrilled to see her regain some of her freedoms, the ones she had come to count on. Not only does she have wheels, Rebeka was also given a short leg cast last week. With a brace on the left, and a short leg on the right, she can bend both knees. She can walk upright with her walker. We are getting just a taste of what it will look like when she walks on the bottoms of both feet un aided. All that walking is helping get her legs in shape as well, strengthening bone and muscle. We’ve come up with a game: how fast can she walk the circuit from living room to front door, through laundry room, and back around? We keep her time sheet up on the fridge. I’m telling you, this girl loves a challenge.
With another surgery looming just around the corner, there is still much to celebrate. We did just that the other day, when a friend heated up her hot tub to take advantage of the rare evening when Rebeka is cast free (always the evenings before her next cast change).
She loves to clown around, and she makes these funny faces that are always good for a laugh.
And of course Rebeka loves to celebrate with her toes. She took advantage of an evening at home with Alayna to adorn her toes with some bright, festive colors.
That plasma car has got me thinking about freedom. Sometimes we take freedoms from ourselves. When we diet, or get up early to read scripture or pray, or when we have kids. Other times we have freedom taken from us, maybe from injury or age. I think either way, in the absence of freedom we have the opportunity to grow stronger. This is certainly true for Rebeka, and it’s also been true for us. It is good to sometimes let go of what we think we control, and let something better rise to the surface. And then when something like a plasma car comes along, we can be exceedingly grateful for our newfound freedom. I know the Davis family is all very grateful for Rebeka’s new wheels. I have just a word of advice for those visiting the Davis house these days: watch your toes.
Life carries on in the Davis house, and though much of it focuses on Rebeka there have been some pretty big events for other members of our family. There was Alayna’s performance during halftime at the Cotton Bowl, when her school’s dance team, and many others, shared the field with the Kilgore Rangerettes.
And then there was my big agent news, and getting to lecture to our local Austin writer’s group.
And most recently Alayna completed the 3M half marathon in 1:50, fifteen minutes faster than she thought she could do.
Rebeka seems to seamlessly slide into all these events. Whether staying overnight with her sponsor family while we went out of town to watch Alayna dance, to celebrating my agent success in the library parking lot when I got the news on my phone (though she had no idea what we were celebrating), to getting woken up while it was still dark outside and then wheeled to the finish line where she waited, all bundled up in hat and gloves, to cheer when Alayna ran past.
I am grateful for this easy-going attitude, because we have another big event coming up. Rebeka’s next surgery date is January 29th. Nobody is looking forward to surgery, but we’re all looking forward to getting past it. We’re looking forward to her right leg being in the same place her left leg is. Where it doesn’t hurt to touch (at least not very much). When she can practice walking on it with her walker, and wear a sock on it, and no more casts. Part of me wants to adopt the attitude that this is just the same old, same old, no big deal. Same song, second verse. We know how this whole surgery deal works. One night in the hospital, go home and get up in the middle of the night for meds for about a month. Cast changes in the OR three times. We can do it. We did it before.
But there are many opportunities for things to be different this time, reasons to worry if I let myself. Anything from two nights in the hospital to the possibility of a skin graft (praying this isn’t needed). But I know worrying about them now does no good for anybody. I need to learn how to live in the moment a little better, and I know just who to teach me. The girl who begs for a boat ride, even when it’s cold outside, because that’s what you do when you’re at the lake.
And the girl who finds my phone sitting around and takes a selfie with a fake moustache, because that’s what you do when you find an unattended phone.
Rebeka is all about seizing the day, whatever that day may bring. And so we will seize all the days leading up to her surgery date, and when that date comes, we’ll seize that one, too. Maybe a different song, with an unfamiliar verse. Because that’s what you do when you’re with Rebeka.
You know how fun it is to come across that perfect gift? When Rebeka saw the totally impractical but impressive four foot stuffed Curious George by the tree Christmas morning, we got the kind of reaction all gift-givers hope for. We got it again for the t-shirt, the book . . . it didn’t matter. All gifts were things of wonder and she was full of gratitude and “fank you’s” and big smiles.
Surprise. Joy. Love. Add shoes.
That’s right, we bought Rebeka her first pair of shoes! We had another fairly traumatic cast removal at home Tuesday night (New Year’s Day) but it went much better than last time. This time she knew what to expect, and her feet had two more weeks to heal. Her foot was still really fragile, though. She wouldn’t even set her heel on the ground and putting on a sock was a painful ordeal. Wednesday morning at Dell our new friend Bud made a cast and then took it off to use as a mold for a new brace. We’re making lots of friends at Dell, from cast techs to doctors and nurses and orthotics guys like Bud-who looks a little like Santa.
Touching her foot, putting on the cast and cutting it off, was painful and scary and Rebeka’s tears soaked the paper on the examination table and she squeezed my hands hard, hard, hard and pressed her head into my chest while Clay wiped her face and we all gritted our teeth and bore down. But, we’re beginning to realize this is part pain, but also part fear and anxiety. I think she’s also realizing this, and it’s getting a little easier on both sides. We got to pick the pattern we wanted for her brace, a pretty light purple with butterflies. And we were told, almost as an after thought, “Oh yeah, you’ll need a shoe.” I gasped. You mean we get to go shoe shopping?? We left the clinic with no cast on Rebeka’s left leg, the first time that’s happened since September. Not only that, we had a walker in my trunk, but we had to wait until we got the brace before we’d be able to try it out.
After all those tears, you’d think it would be time to come home and take a nap. Maybe watch a movie. But first on Rebeka’s list of things to do was to take a spin in the go-kart Benji got for Christmas.
Turns out I have no pictures of Rebeka on the kart, only video!
It’s a nifty little thing with gas and brake on the small steering wheel so she can drive it all by herself. That go-kart means freedom to Rebeka now, just as surely as those crocs and walker mean mobility in the future. She was my pace car when I went for a three mile run, driving it up and down our street while I ran beside her. She made a few accommodations for the sore heel, putting both legs on the left side of the wheel so she could keep her foot propped up, and she was off, with a promise that she wouldn’t “drift” or spin out this time. Surely this girl, who hurls herself into a 180 and then shrieks with laughter, wouldn’t take long to be brave enough to set that heel on the ground and get going.
Thursday (yesterday) she was fitted with her new purple butterfly brace, made just for her. As we waited in the waiting room, she noticed that the left toe was dropping. She was very concerned, and all of a sudden this girl who treated her foot like a china doll was pulling at her toe, and pushing the bottom of her foot down to make that toe be straight. Aha. So it didn’t hurt all that bad, and she still has that stubborn, strong drive to walk. The drive that hurtled her to America in the first place. I love her spirit.
Fitting for the brace hurt, a little. A few tears, and then this look came over her face of, “Wait a second, that didn’t really hurt too much.” We stocked up on a large supply of knee socks and got a new pair of shoes (the first pair didn’t fit). Her new ones are adorned with some very cool “jibbets.” Rebeka likes the iridescent mermaid best, my personal favorie is the 3D flower.
She is supposed to wear her brace all the time at first, except when bathing, to make sure that her foot maintains its good position. Surprise, joy, love. All those things swelled up in me when I saw Rebeka do this:
And then there will be shoes. Maybe even a pair of cowboy boots before she goes home. It’s shaping up to be a very happy new year.
We have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the holidays through Rebeka’s wide eyes. There are so many “trappings” to an American Christmas, and we figured if she’s only going to do it once, we’d go all the way. She was invited to go caroling with some fifth grade girls. We loaded up on a trailer, sat on hay bales, and sang our guts out as we rode through the neighborhood, spreading holiday cheer.
Last weekend we went to the Nutcracker, complete with the super fancy sparkly purple dress we bought for the special occasion. We even got backstage passes, such a treat.
We got to sit in Clara’s sleigh!
We decorated a gingerbread house, and Rebeka perfected the art of icing icicles.
She and Alayna made this paper chain one night while Alayna was babysitting. They take a ring off each day, counting down to Christmas.
Then there were the Christmas cards she helped me sort, the letters she folded, and the stamps she stuck.
Are you tired yet? Not done. There were cousins to meet, presents to buy, Christmas lights to admire, trees to decorate, songs to sing . . . and all of these things are wonderful. They are fun and exciting, but as they accumulate they can become exhausting. We all know that “most wonderful time of the year” feeling can’t be maintained from the day after Thanksgiving to December 25th. Maybe it’s realized in the midst of stress, as we try to make everything match whatever picture we have in our heads of the perfect Christmas.
This year especially, I have been reminded how impossible the picture perfect Christmas is. There was the horrible school shooting in Connecticut. And we have friends who are going through the season with a great big hole in their family, each ornament or tradition a reminder of who is missing forever. We get word our thirty-four year old friend, a mother with three small children, had a stroke and as I type this she fights for her life. A friend’s father goes strangely and unexplainably catatonic. They are snowballing this year, these bits of bad news marking the “most wonderful time of the year” with the reality that this world is, indeed, broken. It’s real. It isn’t some picture on a card.
A new tradition our family has taken up this year is the weekly unveiling of Rebeka’s foot. I’ve written about it in previous blog posts. This week was especially exciting. We’d been building up to Tuesday evening ever since the week before, when Rebeka’s doctor said we could take BOTH casts off, give her legs and feet a good bath, and finally see for ourselves how that beautiful foot looks after it’s healed a bit from her surgery. We talked about it like it was Christmas morning, so excited, counting down the days. We took pictures of the casts before we took them off, awesome works of graffiti art.
And then the time came, and we started unwrapping the casts, and Rebeka started to cry. It hurt. A lot. First just a tear trickling down the cheek, a clenched jaw, but soon full-blown wails as Alayna rubbed her back and the boys held her hand and watched wide-eyed, and I fretted, and Clay bravely and very gently continued to unwrap her tender foot. “We can wait,” we told her, hoping she’d agree. We didn’t want to keep hurting her. Let a cast tech do it Wednesday morning. Let her doctor. But she wanted to keep going. We took lots of breaks, we blinked back tears as she cried, and finally we got that thing off.
She was very careful with her left leg once it was bare. We could hardly brush it with our fingers without her jumping. She was able to let it float in the tub, but wouldn’t let her heel touch the bottom. We all knew the next morning was coming, including Rebeka. She’d get a new cast on, and it was going to hurt. We waited forever to see the doctor, and he did what he had to do. She wailed. Screamed. This hurt was beyond her or me or Clay, and all we could do was hold her. I was trembling when it was all over, and so was she.
When something hurts Rebeka, she says it’s ouchie. A mosquito bite can be ouchie, and taking off the cast, and putting one on again, was very ouchie. With limited vocabulary, this is the word she’s chosen to describe pain. This season is “ouchie” for so many. And this season is comfort and joy and tradition for so many. This season can be both. But this season is also about gifts, the giving and the receiving.
There is a sweet friend who has loved on Rebeka ever since she got here. This woman lost her eight-year-old daughter last spring, and she’s told me that being with Rebeka has been part of the healing process. She spends time with Rebeka, and she gives her things. Things that belonged to her daughter. A book, an adorable stuffed pig, a winter hat and mittens, and a tiny little snow globe ornament. There is joy in the giving, and healing. I don’t mean to trivialize pain and loss and suffering, but there is always a gift. A new day, the sun rises, we breathe in, we breathe out, each breath a gift. And on a morning, amidst the pain and suffering that every woman endures during childbirth, a baby was born. A gift. Joy and pain, and a promise that someday we’ll experience perfection. Until then, there will be scars, but we have reason to smile.
Rebeka is doing great. Intermittent Advil now, no getting up in the middle of the night because of leg pain. We stand her up and encourage her to put weight on her left foot. That leg is all about rehabilitation, all done with surgeries! On to the right leg, which is in a long leg cast and will be manipulated weekly until late January/early February when we’re ready for another round of surgery. So we get a little holiday respite, hooray!
Last weekend a good friend came to show Rebeka and I how to knit. Some sweet friends had already shown Rebeka the basics, and she seemed to grasp the concept just fine when her knitting tutors were by her side, but she never asked to knit much after they left. I wanted to encourage her. This could be a trade she could take home with her. There are no knitters in Bugesera, not that I know of. It could be a way for her to make a living someday, or make money for her family now, or a gift to her community. So why didn’t she ever pick up those knitting needles? I think she wanted a little company.
I am not a crafty person. Words are my medium, not needles, thread, glue, scissors, paper or paint. And yet ever since I watched the knitters in Noble Hall while attending residencies in Vermont at VCFA, I’ve wanted to learn. Just think of the multi-tasking possibilities! Now I had another reason to learn. I could help Rebeka. We could knit side by side in solidarity. So my friend came. We took before and after pictures. This is how we felt when we were learning.
But this is how we felt after a couple hours of careful attention from our faithful instructor and friend, who picked up our dropped stitches and showed us again, and again, and again how to get started and keep going.
There is a part of me that loves this new skill, and there is a part of me that hates it. The part of me that loves rules, do this and this and this and then it will all turn out just fine, loves knitting. But the problem is, I like to do things fast, I’m not very careful. I drop stitches. And I don’t really understand what’s happening, I’m just following rules. I don’t understand how the stitches are being made, so this is what happens.
I’m sorry Leslie!!!
I’d like to say that we’d found something where Rebeka and I are on equal footing, but Rebeka is actually better than me. She is careful. She is slow. This is mostly because of her hands, with middle fingers that stay in her palms and arms that don’t lift of their own accord, she must figure it out, and it takes a while. At the Texas Book Festival I listened to a panel where Gary Schmidt, author of the new and fantastic book What Came From the Stars, said that he writes on a manual typewriter to slow himself down. No computer. Oh my.
Slowing down is good, I know I need it, and Rebeka slows me down big time. No longer do I race out of the car, down the aisles at the grocery store, and blaze past the Buddy Buck machine to my car to tear out of that parking lot and into another. Rebeka and I know the stores with the good carts (Target and HEB=comfy seat for Rebeka that accommodate two casts, Costco=hoist into the basket and sit amongst the frozen foods). I make myself wait for her to twist the top off that toothpaste tube every morning and night because she deserves at least a little bit of control in this world where she controls so little. She “helps” with dinner and laundry and leaf-raking.
And it takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer. Sometimes things just don’t happen at all. But it’s what I needed. There are afternoons, waiting rooms, or quiet evenings when I sit down next to Rebeka and we pick up our needles, side by side, and knit a row or two. I don’t have my computer in my lap, I’m not checking off my list. I lament the stitch that slides off my shiny blue needle and Rebeka patiently sets her knitting down to take a look at what happened. Most likely I was going too fast.
Rebeka intuitively understands how the stitches are being made, and sometimes she can fix my mistake. And it isn’t really about learning a trade anymore, a way to make money someday back home. It’s about a quiet, slow moment in time when a little girl slowed me down for a while. It’s about learning how to make something from nothing, and taking the time to do it. It’s about stepping out of my comfort zone of working with words and trying something new.
There are many things we’ve been able to give Rebeka. A home, hugs, books, English, medicine, knitting tutors, education . . . but I think she gives us more. Long after Rebeka goes home again, I will treasure this raggedy old washcloth I’m knitting. I will look at the holes and the lumps and the messed up edges and I will remember patient fingers who find a way and I will remember why.
Picture by Merissa De Falcis (see at Merissa De Falcis Photography on Facebook)
I love stories, and that’s what this blog is all about. My stories. Other people’s stories. Writing stories for children. This blog’s title, Stories in the Street, is a spin off of Faces in the Street, my blog about our family’s nine and half month trip around the world. We chose a G. K. Chesterton quote to represent our goal for that trip: “Do not look at the faces in the illustrated papers. Look at the faces in the street.” To us, it meant that we were going to step out into the world and really experience it. We are surrounded by so many faces and stories in the street, whether those streets are in Morocco or Austin, Texas. As Mary Oliver says, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Thank you, Ms. Oliver. I will.