She’s Got Wheels

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, but he joined a mission trip to go visit Bugesera, and met Rebeka there.

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.

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.

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”?

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.

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.  

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Same Song, Second Verse

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.

photo 1 And then there was my big agent news, and getting to lecture to our local Austin writer’s group.

Meredith lecture

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.

DSC_0976 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.

photo 3 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.

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These Crocs Were Made For Walkin’ . . .

This is what surprise looks like.


And joy looks like this.


And this is love.


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.

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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 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.


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Remind Me Why I’m Doing This?

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.

photo 2

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.

photo 1

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.

photo 3

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)

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Tidings of Comfort and Joy

We’ve done a lot since our last blog post, including two cast changes, Thanksgiving, and a quick trip to San Antonio. Rebeka was a little drowsy on “preparation day,” so while we pressed crust into pie pans and stirred up the sweet potatoes she drowsed in the middle of the kitchen island, taking up residence like the princess she is (but claims she isn’t). We had her all set with a pillow and a big towel to keep warm.

We’ve got four generations of pie-makers here!

The next morning she was more alert and ready to put together the spices for the apple pie. Alayna proudly chopped a whole lot of sweet potatoes, and I am happy to say she can now assemble a sweet potato casserole all on her own!

The last few weeks I’ve been feeling a little funky, even with the excitement of Thanksgiving and putting up the Christmas decorations. I think part of it has been the fact that Rebeka has been in more pain. The recovery room and seeing her hurting is no fun. And because of the pain we’ve been getting up during the night for meds and going out less. More cooped up in the house with movies or Uno for distraction. Blech. That’s how I felt last night. Today would be another procedure. The possibility of staying overnight at Dell, depending on how the nerve block and cutting of the tendon went. This morning, Rebeka was all smiles, even though she knew she was going in for another OR visit, complete with yucky-tasting medicine and waking up in recovery with pain. When I woke her up this morning she grabbed Georgie by the hand as she sat up in bed. She was ready. If she could be that chipper, surely I could follow suit, but my funk was hard to shake.

As we waited in a small room for her doctor to finish with his previous procedure, Rebeka wheeled herself out of the room, teasing us that she was not coming back. Dell has a whole fleet of ride-on toys in the hall, so Clay set her on one and pushed her for a few circuits around the halls. Big grin. Giggles. And almost immediate mastery of her car’s small turning radius and the ability to avoid obstacles. Then it was time for the “yucky medicine,” otherwise known as Verced. She almost gags it tastes so nasty, but we’ve discovered it’s good to be drowsy before they wheel her back. It isn’t nearly as scary that way. A few swishes from the sink in the bathroom to wash out the taste, and she was good to go. While she went back to the OR, Clay and I snagged our usual spot in the waiting area and I went to get our coffees and breakfast tacos. Only they were out of breakfast tacos. Grrr. I knew there were parents out there with kids much sicker than Rebeka, and problems much bigger than ours, and I should snap out of it, but funks don’t listen to reason. They just settle in.

When we got the call that Rebeka’s procedure was done, we gathered up and headed back to hear from her doctor and then find her in recovery. The first thing I noticed as we walked into the large recovery room, lined with beds on each side just like in the Madeline books, was her SHOE. That’s right, a shoe.

It’s funny sometimes the things that kick a funk away. The glimpse of that black shoe on her left leg cast, Velcro stretched across to hold it on, lifted my spirits and sent them humming at full throttle. Progress! This was all really working. There’s a light at the end of our tunnel. Her vitals looked great, too. Her blood pressure the last couple weeks as she’s come out of anesthesia has started at 140 over 100-ish, so this week’s good numbers, coupled with a relaxed face and the ability to focus on the movie in her lap, made the recovery room a breeze. The nerve block her doctor gave in her right leg, before he cut the tendon, had something to do with it, too.

We may have already decked our halls, and I may have shown Rebeka Santa at the mall and let her ride the little train, but Santa and trains and decorated trees don’t make a holiday. A heart filled with comfort and joy and the promise of things to come does. I never would have guessed that a little black Velcro shoe held the key to lifting me out of a funk and catapulting me into December with a smile on my face and peace in my heart.

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Oh My Gosh!

Along her journey to learning English Rebeka has picked up some great phrases. “Oh my gosh” is one of them. “Goodness gracious” is another. And the other day in an Uno game, when I played two draw two cards in a row and then laid a draw four on top of that, she said, “thanks for nothing.” That’s a Clay-ism.

She is speaking more and more these days. “Meredith take me outside upstairs,” and “I don’t have yellow shirt” and “May I have water please?” After a little more than three months here, I think this is pretty darn amazing. One of the ways I know she’s feeling pain from a cast change is that she goes silent. Now that she has English words, this is a sure sign that it’s time for more Advil and some ice.

She handled last week’s cast change well, after the initial freak-out in recovery. Talk about oh my gosh. “Oh my gosh there is no nerve block on my left leg this time and it hurts, hurt, HURTS!!” Our sweet nurse administered pain-killers, including morphine. After drugs and some “Georgie” (Curious George) that played on the laptop in her lap, she calmed down, and we went home that same day. Note to self: always bring headphones. They did a great job of blocking out other kid’s “oh my gosh” moments as they woke up all around us. The recovery room had four or five other kids waking up from their surgeries. Their reactions ranged from sweet, loopy smiles to screaming and vomiting. Oh my gosh. Thank goodness for curtains and headphones.

We experience “oh my gosh” moments all the time with Rebeka. Like the day I left Rebeka and Kate to face paint while I ran a quick errand. Clay was right outside, and Kate could run out and get him if they needed him. They looked perfectly innocent.

Then I came home, and “oh my gosh.”

When Rebeka first came here, she did very little imaginative play. She liked to dress the dolls and bears we drug out of the attic, but no role-playing. She didn’t make them talk to each other or pretend to feed the baby. It was as if she didn’t know how, and that made the fiction writer in me so very sad. This past week, we plopped ourselves in the “middle room” where most of the dolls and stuffed animals live, and lo and behold, they all had a tea party. She gave sailor bear little sips and made sure purple-tail-horse had some bites of cake.

One morning we looked on our back deck to see hundreds and hundreds of feathers. A hawk likes to chase pigeons into our window. They slam hard, scare the “oh my gosh” out of us, then drop to the ground where they are a tasty hawk snack. This time we weren’t around for the slam, but we witnessed the aftermath of the snack. That hawk wasn’t very tidy.

Rebeka led us in a rousing chorus of “oh my gosh!”

Then there were the fireworks we saw on Saturday night, being shot off the bluff across from our lake house. Probably some sort of F1 fanfare. And then the “oh my gosh” at Christmas decorations going up all around the house. A personal favorite: the Santa who swings his hips to Jingle Bell Rock. Or the discovery of forgotten remote control cars from a Christmas past. The batteries still work, and with their light up tires and ability to flip themselves over and keep on rolling, they are definitely an “oh my gosh.”

But maybe my favorite oh my gosh happened this morning, and it came from my own lips. Rebeka is not one for public displays of affection. Kisses and hugs must be stolen. But this morning, when Alayna picked her up from the breakfast table to go upstairs and get ready for church, Rebeka flung her arms around Alayna’s neck. A real, honest to goodness, unsolicited hug.

Oh my gosh. That’s all I can say, blink, blink. Oh. My. Gosh.

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The Old Ball and Chain

I hope everyone saw my Facebook reports on Rebeka’s successful surgery and hospital stay. We ended up only staying one night in the hospital and left Wednesday afternoon with our five bags and Rebeka’s new ball and chain.

This complicated conglomeration of tubing and equipment was Rebeka’s nerve block, and we were very grateful for it. It administered a constant drip of pain-killer to deaden her left leg, and it lasted through Thursday afternoon. Yes, it was cumbersome. It leaked and we had to figure out a way to stop changing clothes every few hours. And it was a little “unnerving” (ha, ha) to think about removing the catheter when the medicine ran out. But without that little nerve block, Rebeka would have been in a heap of pain and so we were grateful.

I pulled out the tube Friday morning. The doctor had promised it would be “no big deal” and “it wouldn’t hurt” but I was skeptical. Rebeka wanted to watch when the time came. Oh dear. I gave it a little tug. She didn’t make a sound, but she watched intently. Another little tug and sure enough, that little booger slid right out. No tears. Just an intense curiosity, and a bandaid to catch the little bit of medicine still leaking out.

There are a lot of things I never thought I’d do in my life. Pulling out a catheter is one of them. And caring for a ten-year-old Rwandan girl for nine months or so while she had surgeries on her club feet is another. Yet here I am, and thank the Lord, I am not alone. I am so very thankful for my family, and for all the people who prayed, brought meals, balloons, flowers, visited, and cheered every few hours as I sent out reports from the hospital. It takes a village to heal this child, our family could not do it on our own.

There are friends who have crates of paint and stacks of canvases and invite Rebeka over to paint pictures. There are friends who spend their day at the hospital, or send little angel statues back to recovery.

Rebeka learned how to paint a horse, starting with three ovals. She’s been sketching horses ever since. This is her first painting. The flowers were specially chosen by a five-year-old who just knew Rebeka would love them. And the angel is from a friend who’s probably thought more about Heaven this year than ever before-she knows there are angels watching over us all.

Friends who cook and friends who hug and give kisses and friends who teach and friends who take Rebeka for walks or little adventures and friends who bring balloons and flowers and friends who just come and sit and paint nails together.

There is evidence of many of you on my facebook posts, or plastered like friendly graffiti on Rebeka’s cast.

We’re in two short leg casts for this week, a lot easier to maneuver!

And it is all these friends coming together that make the caring for Rebeka a blessing. The work is shared, the hard parts are spread out amongst us all like butter on warm toast, and it never really feels like a ball and chain. This forty-three pounder that rests on our hip. Not a burden but a blessing. Like that ball and chain that had the potential to be cumbersome, but offered the blessing of pain relief, the coming of Rebeka has meant a little more hassle getting around, but the blessings of perspective and the ability to let go of the hold we think we have on our days. It is freeing.

This next month will be a little more challenging than the previous three. Rebeka will go under anesthesia every Tuesday so her doctor can continue to manipulate her left foot. This will be a painful process due to the surgery, hence the need for anesthesia and visits to the O.R. Her doctor will also continue moving her right foot. We anticipate a long leg cast in the next few weeks, and possibly a small “mini-surgery” before the big surgery, sometime in January. Whatever lies in the future, we can handle it.

With Georgie by her side, she can talk on the world.

For now, we take things one day at a time. It’s a good strategy. For pulling out catheters, waiting to hear from an agent, or facing another surgery.  We won’t worry. When I think of a perfect picture of non-worry, there’s one dog that comes to mind. May there be a nap in a sunny spot in your future . . .

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A Thousand Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this post is filled with thousands of them. There have been many moments this past week, some big and some small, some expected and some not, but I thought instead of writing about it, I’d just show you.

It was freezing the day she rode Roxy. A friend gave Rebeka a hat and some mittens, and another gave her some warm boot liners she could pull over her cast. She sat tall in the saddle and seemed perfectly at ease. Thank you Gayle for warm things, and Bridget, Abby and Emily for sharing Roxy with us.


When Rebeka first got here, she was really afraid of the dogs, and they were kind of afraid of her. Because she doesn’t have a lot of upper arm control, she sometimes whacked them when she really just meant to pet them. But they’re both figuring things out, and coming upon the three of them, stretched out in front of the fire, made me smile.


Everyone hunkers down in their own spot to work. I sense that Rebeka loves when our family is all together, even if nobody is paying particular attention to her. She just finds something to do, this time it was a rubbery skeleton that she made dance


I left Rebeka with Clay and the boys and when I came back, they had come up with this great game to help Rebeka with addition. You slide five beans, where they land are the points you get, and Rebeka added everyone’s score each time.


Alayna got these when she took Rebeka out on a small shopping excursion. Shopping for Rebeka has brought her great joy, and we’re all happy for the cool nights so we can wear our warm pajama pants.


She loves to make us laugh, whether it’s making a silly face over my shoulder to whoever is behind me as I carry her, or hiding under Alayna’s bed at night, waiting to scare somebody.


We went to the same pumpkin patch we’ve gone to every year since the kids were little. I have pics of Alayna when she was two months old, dressed as a pumpkin, propped up in the Tarrytown United Methodist pumpkin patch.


Rebeka went traditional, Alayna went silly, Nate went cool (ever heard of “gangnum style”?) and Benji used the contours of his pumpkin to add character. I think his looks like an old man.


Things got a little silly. This is the face Alayna’s pumpkin is imitating, she did a pretty good job!


Pippi, Minnie Mouse, and two boys in morph suits.

And one more thing, but I won’t include the video here since I know it might embarrass Rebeka. I’ll just tell you about it. We were cleaning up the dinner dishes, and playing some loud music (Bill Withers, dub step, a little of everything) and Rebeka is just hanging out on the wood floor watching us shake our booties and wash dishes, and all of a sudden she says, “I’m dancing!” We look over and she’s laying on her side, bending her body forward and back which is making her spin a little bit.

Of course everybody had to try the new Rebeka dance. Again, I won’t post it here. Let’s just say our wood floor was very clean after we were done. And my heart was very full. It was a good week, and I am grateful as we get closer and closer to surgery and a new phase of mobility and pain, to be storing up for the times ahead like a squirrel with his acorns. I am grateful for my phone and how easy it is to snap a quick pic. If a picture is worth a thousand words, my phone holds quite a tome.

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The other day I had just the boys in the car and I saw some birds and I said, “Oh look, birds, fly, fly, fly birdies fly, birds fly,” and I hear Benji’s voice from the backseat saying, “Mom, I’m worried about you.” I guess that’s how I talk when Rebeka’s in the car, always feeding English into her ear.

In my defense, there’s so much to notice and point out in this great big world, so much to learn. There’s the glass-walled elevator at Barton Creek mall, the massive trash truck with giant mechanical arms that pick up trash cans, and the remote control fireplace (we have gas logs and a remote that turns them on). These are the obvious things I would expect a girl from a rural village in Rwanda to marvel at. And then, there are socks.

I guess I’ve always sort of taken socks for granted, but Rebeka loves them. I think partly because she never wore them back home. They wouldn’t have worked with the rigged-up sandals she wore.

Ever since the cast went on, these shoes have been stored under the bench near our cubbies, slowly getting buried. As cool as they are, I hope she never has to wear them again . . .

When she found a pair of socks we had bought her before she arrived, tucked in a drawer, you’d have thought she’d found treasure. She couldn’t wait to try them on (at the time she still had an uncasted leg). Now, she insists on putting them on the moment she gets out of her real-deal bath Tuesday night and keeping them on until she sees the doctor Wednesday morning and gets her next set of casts.

I think partly she likes how they feel, partly she likes how they look, and partly she likes how they hide her twisted feet. Whatever the reason, she’s in good company. Alayna has always been a big “sock” person. They rarely match, and they seem to multiply in the drawer.

So socks didn’t occur to me as something worthy of pointing out or noticing because they were, well, socks. But the horse thing, that didn’t occur to me because I’ve never really been much or a horse person. Guess what?

A friend of mine owns a couple of ponies and she offered to take us out and let us meet them. When I asked Rebeka if she was interested, she was all wide eyes and “yes, yes” and eyebrows up with the chin tilt, a typical way to say “yes” in Rwanda. My friend brought a saddle over and we slung it over the arm of the couch, and then over Clay. Rebeka loved it. My friend loaned us some plastic horses, a little tack kit, and with each little horsie thing, Rebeka’s enthusiasm has grown.

I love walking through my days with eyes wide open, looking for things to point out, whether “birdies” or “trash truck” or “horse!” It’s a delight to figure out what makes this particular girl tick. She’s a horse girl. She’s a sock girl. She’s a daisy-headband-wearing girl who surfs longboards down the driveway.

Check out the leg grafiti!

As a writer, I know these are the kinds of quirky details that make characters seem fully alive and real. In families, they are fodder for private jokes, and stories that are told year after year. They are the stuff of family folklore. The longer Rebeka is with us, the more we add to our little cache of discovered quirks. They are treasure, just as surely as socks, things we’ll pull out, dust off, and “remember when” for years to come.


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