My four year old nephew made Thanksgiving placemats for everyone this year. Before the meal began, he proudly walked around the table and handed each of us a marker so that we could write down what we are thankful for. I stared down at my mat, wondering how I would even begin to describe in a few words all that I am thankful for this year. Many of the people I want to thank I don't even know by name, and probably never will. And yet, because of them, our lives have been forever blessed by a beautiful three year old girl. I ended up writing on my mat a playful list that included cats, family, cheese, and stinky butts (which always gets a good laugh from my nephews). But I left knowing that there was so much more I needed to get down in writing. Hence, here is my story of thanks for our daughter.
There are many details about your first few days of life in Soweto that we will never know. I think of that as a sacred time that was meant to be shared by you and your first family. We are forever thankful for them. Not only did they bring you into this world, but they also loved you enough to know that they couldn't give you what you needed.
Sweet girl, you were so tiny when you arrived at the hospital. We are so thankful for the nurses and doctors that held you and cared for you when you were at your weakest. You were just 4.5 pounds that first day you arrived. Your body temperature was low, so they treated you for hypothermia and sepsis. Your initial reports noted that you may be blind. "Though she be but little, she is fierce!" said Shakespeare. And fierce you were. Under the care of those doctors and nurses your little body started to heal.
Around this same time, a very special social worker named Anna came into your life. She took you under her wing, and when you were strong enough to leave the hospital she arranged for you to go to Ethembeni Children's Home. You weighed 7 pounds when you entered Ethembeni. We are so thankful for the caregivers and volunteers who poured love into you during your time there. By four months you had made it onto the World Health Organization's growth charts, with your weight in the 10th percentile. By nine months you were at the 25th percentile, and at fifteen months you were at the 50th percentile! During this time you also visited an ophthalmologist who confirmed that your vision was perfectly fine.
Just before your second birthday, your social worker helped move you into a long-term foster home run by St. Peter's Child Care. Although this transition was surely difficult for you at such a young age, we are so grateful that you were moved into a family setting. You lived with your first foster mother for a little over a year, and have been with your second foster mother and four foster siblings since last June. I'm forever grateful for these two women for mothering you before I could.
Last week we received a few video clips from our program director, who was able to visit you last month. He brought you teddy bears and a photo book of us. In the videos we saw, it was clear that you were overwhelmed by all of the attention. You silently clung to those teddy bears and looked everywhere except at the camera. Then they asked if you could count. You bravely nodded yes. They pressed on and asked if you could, "Count for Mama!" I watched as you covered your eyes, started to cry, and turned to bury your head in your foster mother's side.
My heart broke for you while watching that video. Every instinct in my body wanted to reach out and comfort you. You're too young to understand any of this - to make sense of why someone was asking you to count for a "mama" that you've never met. None of this is fair for you, and my heart aches for this scary transition that you're about to go through. But as difficult as this all is, I'm also grateful. I'm grateful that when you were upset, you were able to seek comfort in your foster mother. I know your strong attachment to her now has helped to prepare your heart to eventually love and trust us, too. And I'm grateful that we have been chosen to walk this next part of the journey with you - that someday you'll know what it means to be part of our family forever.
The upcoming months are sure to be some of the messiest and hardest months of all of our lives. But I know they will also be filled with so much beauty. I told your daddy that I can't wait to hear you giggle for the first time. To see your walls start to crumble, and to see the spark light up again behind your eyes.
I'm also so grateful for all of the people here whose arms are open and ready to welcome you home. Everyone keeps asking about you. My students have brought in books and toys that they want to share with you, and your grandma has been busy knitting little sweaters for you. Your auntie lovingly filled your bookshelf with all of her favorite titles, and braved the cold weather this morning to help me install your car seat. And when we went around the table this year at Thanksgiving sharing what we wrote on our placemats, your cousin George nearly brought me to tears with his mention of you. (I can share the photo below because his spelling was a bit off!) You are so loved, sweet girl, by so many people.
This Thanksgiving and forever more, my greatest gift of thanks will always be for you.