Yesterday was the anniversary of the day we arrived home with our newest daughter.

I will never ever forget the emotion flooding through me as we de-planed and walked down the hall to the escalator.  I will never forget the light-headed feeling as I stepped onto the escalator; I tried to hold Julianne since escalators were a new thing for her and I was afraid she would fall, but I was so exhausted after 27 hours of travel, it was almost a relief when she demanded to stand on her own and hold on to the moving rail.

The crush of joy when we first began to see the faces of those we loved who had come to cheer us on during this final step into our new Forever.  Unforgettable.

View More: http://minttobe.pass.us/julianne
@lifeintolikeness… photography by Mint To Be

Oh… and when I remember those moments.  Julianne had never been the recipient of so much excitement in her young life!  Everyone smiling, everyone cheering, everyone so obviously thankful for HER.  It had to have been so overwhelming for her inexperienced senses.

Two years is a decent chunk of time, and she has changed so much since that day.

We all have changed.

Two years doesn’t mean things are easy now.  A friend just asked yesterday how things are now that we have been home for two years.  Truth?  It’s still hard many days.  The walls she had built to protect herself have slowly been through the gentlest of demolitions, but it takes time.  So much time.  So much intentionality.  And now that the walls aren’t there, we see more of the stuff she was hiding inside for years.  A baby who learned that the best way to handle hard things was to put on a brave face and pretend all was okay.  Now she shares her emotions, but it’s not her default.  Last week, I knew she was angry with me about something, but as per her norm, she tried to shut me out.

“Are you angry with me, Julianne?”

And in the smallest of voices, a murmured “yes”.

FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, the inclination to freeze in moments of tension was halted.

View More: http://minttobe.pass.us/julianne
@lifeintolikeness Photography by Mint to Be

Two years home.

We’re still making progress.  We have not “arrived”.  Looking back on our homecoming, I find myself wishing I could take myself out for a cup of coffee and whisper all of the things I know now.  I wish I could tell myself that there would be days when I would wonder what on earth we were doing; days when I would doubt myself, my parenting skills, my ability to be who she needed me to be.  I wish I could show two-years-ago me what daily life would be like, but that the stressors involved with parenting a child with a chronic condition would be balanced out by the joy that comes by seeing her twirl around the house in the fluffiest of tutu skirts.

Two years ago I fully believed that by the two year mark we would be settled, and living the life we had before, plus one.

Nope.

Not even close.

Our life now does not look anything like it did before.  And you know, I’m okay with that.

Our life?  It’s not charmed.  It’s not ordinary.  It’s not easy.

I dare say that EVEN WITH all of the challenges, this life we live is spectacular.

Happy Family Day, my crew!  And now, we march into Year Three.

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photography by Laura James Photography
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Today marks the day when we saw Julianne for the first time face-to-face.  We had loved her from afar for nine long months, and finally, we saw her.  I will never forget the feelings from that day.  The way my fingertips felt numb with anticipation and nerves.  The way when we rode the elevator to the floor where this meeting was to happen, we saw a curious Ayi pop her head out of a doorway, and when I asked if Julianne was in that room, our guide nodded yes.  The surreal knowledge that we were on another continent, in our daughter’s city was quickly eclipsed by the even more surreal knowledge that we were now in the same building, on the same floor, about to be IN THE SAME ROOM!

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Leaving the office building & seeing a hint of a smile. @lifeintolikeness

 

I couldn’t even think clearly enough to process the enormity of what was happening.

One Less in one way.

One More in so many more ways.

She’s a daughter, friend, student.

She’s a sister, granddaughter, niece.

She’s a dancer, snack-loving, ice-cream-bowl-licking little ball of fire.

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two years have changed you, my Little One; two year have changed all of us

These years have grown us, tested us, tried us, frustrated us, and brought great joy.  The journey really did begin on that day, and it’s not over yet.  Adoption isn’t a sign-the-paper-and-done kind of thing; we are walking this out every day, every moment, learning, falling down, and being picked up by our gracious Father.

Happy J-Day, my girl.  I’m so glad you’re ours.

I’ve got pet peeves.  Everyone does, right.  That ONE thing (or multiple things?) that get under your skin and irritates you more than anything else in the world.

My personal list of pet peeves is embarrassingly long.  I cannot stand the sound of people chewing.  I am deeply agitated by political posts on social media.  People who race down a “turn only” lane so that they can cut everyone off at the front of the line in traffic really steams me. There is another pet peeve that made an appearance, and seems to be growing in strength… it’s the extreme dislike of having to repeat myself multiple times.

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Pet (noun)  A thing particularly cherished.

Peeve (noun)  A source of annoyance or irritation.

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Have I ever fully understood the term I throw around so carelessly?  I confess I never thought much about whether pet peeves were good or bad.  Really, I just accepted them as fact.  There are things that bother me, end of story. What I’ve discovered is that it’s not really all that cool to have pet peeves.  Yeah, it’s assumed that we all have them, and to some degree, there will probably always be those things that get under my skin and irritate me. When I make them into something valued, cherished… something I am proud to have, they’ve suddenly jumped from being a joke to being a problem.

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

“Mom, what are we having for dinner?”

“Mom, are which vegetables are we having with dinner?”

“Mom, what are you making?”

It’s a part of my life right now, and by the time we get to the third or fourth variation of the same question, my nerves begin to fray.  Usually, this ends in one of two ways.  Either I patiently explain I’ve already answered the question and refer them to a sibling who can help with the query, or I yell.

Mostly, I yell.

It’s not something I’m proud of.

But… it’s a pet peeve, right?  It’s going to bother me, NO MATTER WHAT, right?

No.

I say no.

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These irritations of mine don’t have to be cherished or valued parts of who I am.  I dislike the impatience that arises with the irritation I have cultivated by allowing this to be something that is okay in my life. 

The fruit of the Spirit is laid out pretty plainly for me in Galatians 5.

love

joy

peace

patience

kindness

goodness

faithfulness

gentleness

self-control

Every single time I choose the fruit of my pet peeve (frustration, impatience, harshness, anger), I am simultaneously choosing against the fruit of the Spirit.

 *gulp*

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It was a particularly harrowing trip to Costco with my four kiddos when the Lord chose to whisper this truth to me… deep to the inner most parts of me… clear as a bell. Conviction washed strong over me in that moment as well it should have.

Yeah, I repeat things umpteen times per day, and yeah, it’s probably always going to be something that tends to grate on my nerves, but it’s not going to be my “pet” anymore.  I’m not going to let it be something I’m okay with owning. I’m not agreeable to the poor fruit it grows when I let my pet peeves become something cherished and valued. They are not my pets, these things that annoy me.

I say the words out-loud because there is power in the spoken word…

“See you later, my pets. I regret the time I invested in your well-being, for you brought me nothing but the inability to see the gift standing in front of me; you are no longer welcome here.”

And now, to walk the truth revealed by my kind Father; always the hardest part, always the place where the deepest wells of grace are found.

*deep breath*

I’m grateful for the fire that refines.

In my house, I am the puller-of-teeth.  Something about it gives Hubs the eeby-jeebies and he just cannot handle it.  I, on the other hand, posses the necessary personality traits to get ‘er done… namely, the ability to keep on yanking when I know that sucker is ready to come out, and tune out the wails coming from the wide-eyed child I’m face-to-face with. I’d say it’s my spiritual gift, but that’s not anywhere in the Bible, so I guess it’s just a blessing I bestow upon my family.  You’re welcome, kids.

Hubs?  He’s afraid of hurting them.

Me?  Pain = money under the pillow, kid, so deal with it.

Obviously there needs to be at least one puller-of-teeth in every family, and I am proud to hold that title.  Also, I am the unclogger-of-toilets, but that’s a tale for a different day.

Teeth.

I cried a little when my firstborn lost her first tooth.  It was momentous.  I pulled it, but then she took over and started pulling her own teeth shortly thereafter.  What can I say? She is my mini-me.

I didn’t really fuss much when my boys lost their first teeth beyond bemoaning the loss of the sweet little grins I had associated with them for the first years of their lives.  Adult teeth just don’t look right on a child’s face for a while.  I can say that and you know it’s true.  The freshly-lost-tooth look is cute.  The partially-in-snaggle-tooth-craziness can be a little rough.  I’m right, aren’t I?

Julianne lost her first tooth on January 11th.  I’ve known it was getting wiggly for a while, but didn’t mess with it much.  Truth be told, I was thrilled to see it wiggle since her dental x-rays indicated that she might have her adult teeth come in behind the baby teeth which would require a pulling by a more professional puller than I.  I checked on it periodically, and one day it reached critical mass.

Critical mass for Miss J looks different from the others.  The others?  They kept those bad boys hanging on my a string as long as they could (GROSS).  Her?  She was so overwhelmed by the feeling of the loose tooth I knew it needed to be gone.  Sensory input is a funny thing, and when a child doesn’t have much sensory input as a baby/toddler, things in the brain get a little out of sorts.  She both craves input, and also is easily over-stimulated by too much input.  It’s a fine line we walk, and this tooth was not helping things out.

So, that evening, after wound care time was over, she was fussing about the tooth.  I asked her if she wanted me to pull it out, and she said yes!  Woohoo!  I grabbed a square of sterile 4 X 4 gauze (the benefits of living with a fully stocked wound care closet), and went to work.  It wasn’t *quite* ready.  It took a little effort.  I know it must have been uncomfortable.  But she just sat there.  The same way she sits when a dead, dystrophic nail needs to be removed and she asks me to pull it off for her.  I pull, I check with her to monitor pain levels, and she tells me to keep going.  She’s the bravest.  Pulling teeth is pretty much like pulling fingernails.  Wonder if she’s going to start requesting a cash deposit when she loses a nail, too.  Hmmm…  I’d totally work that angle if I were her.

A few minutes later, my little nugget lost her first tooth, and to say she was excited would be quite the understatement.  Quite.  She was beyond out-of-her-mind thrilled and this video clip proves it. 

She was experiencing a first.  JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER KIDS.

She was getting to partake in the mysteries of the tooth fairy and the sweet pile of cash left in her handy little tooth-shaped pillow.

She felt different, more connected, more FAMILY in that moment, and truth be told, I felt all of those things, too.  More like her mama for having pulled that first little tooth out.  More connected to her via this experience, more FAMILY as we celebrated this occasion in her life.

Her personality is such that everyone in the room knows exactly what she is thinking.   The longer she is home the less of a filter she has.  She used to wear a mask to hide her emotions, but as time passed, she slowly let it fall away.  Now she’s an open book, and on this night, the book was reading like the best story ever.  A daughter, a mama, and a tiny little tooth tucked into a pocket waiting for magic to happen. Grins and giggles and that gasp when she realized the tooth was out.  Such perfection.

So thankful to be the one to experience this *first* with her.

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tooth-free & loving it!

 

 

 

 

how was your holiday?

“How was your holiday?!?”

People keep asking me this question.  So, here is the answer:  It was… okay.

There were good bits, there were great bits, there were funny bits.

There were tears shed, books read, cookies eaten.

There was crafting, and gifting, and a little bit of yelling at each other.

There was outside time and inside time, crazy flip-flopping weather, and the start of cedar allergy season.

There were doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments and prescriptions filled.

There was movie-night-at-home, and movie-at-the-theater, and popcorn with both.

There was joy.  There was stress.

There nights the kids stayed up late and nights we sent them to bed early.

There was grieving, and consoling, and a reminder that the holidays aren’t easy for some folks.

It was good, and crazy.  Sometimes good + crazy.  Sometimes just crazy.

It was life.

Our life.

So, if you ask, I’ll probably just say, “Okay.  It was okay.” There was so much more to it, but that about sums it up.

Happy New Year!

undone yet again

There are some nights when all I can do is sit outside your room and listen to the keening sounds of grief. The years of neglect show strong as you push away our attempts to console. I’m not even completely sure I understand what is going on inside your mind, but I know you are grieving hard right now, pulling from a deep well filled with years of loss. 

One more try; I slip into your room and lay down beside you, your back facing me as you shake with the force of the tears falling from your eyes. 

“Why you in here, Mama?”

“Because I’m sad that your sad, and I love you.”

Tears sting hot behind my eyelids as finally a crack appears and you roll yourself toward me and grab my neck tight, your head burrowed under my chin. 

“It’s gonna be okay. We will get through this.”

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Will her grieving ever end? Will the well of pain that over spills into the present continue to well up as painfully as it does now when weeks, months, years continue to pass? Will it look the same or shift into something different as she changes from girl to young woman?  I don’t have the answers to these questions, and try as I might to make the transitions associated with the holidays smoother for her, the jumble of life this time of year has left us undone once again.  

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For today, for this moment, I am here for you, my girl, and in all of the moments that will follow, and I am grateful for the chance to be the one your tear-stained face turns to when everything inside of you is breaking into pieces. The inside of me is wrecked, too, sweet girl. I am destroyed by the depth of grief held inside your too-young body. 

We will walk through this, and you never need wonder if I will be there when you turn to look for me. I’ll be there… I’m with you and I’m for you. Promise.

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One day, when you’re much older and reading these words I’ve written, I want you to know that words are not enough to tell you how proud I am of you. You have blazed your way into our family and fought hard for what you have always known was your birthright-  FAMILY.  You are the strongest of fighters, and though these moments may feel like your weakest, I tell you I see you at your strongest when you are able to share your grief with me. You are so very loved, my girl. I hope you always know that and believe the truth of it. 

Last year?  Last year we skipped her preschool Christmas program because last year?  It would have been too much.  Just. Too. Much.  She would not have been able to process the amount of sensory input flooding her system.  She would have freaked out to be completely off of the “normal” schedule associated with a day a preschool.  She would have cried to know that not every gift her eyes saw was for her.

And so, we skipped it.  It was the right thing to do.

This year?  My oh my.  What a difference a year makes.

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This girl?  She stole the show.  She stole the show wearing a dress her big sister wore years ago and I am just undone.

I mean, the other kids were all great, too.  But this year?  This year was all about the bright light blazing forth from this child.

She sang the songs.  Okay, maybe not all of the right words, but still.  She sang the songs… in a language she has known for less than two years.

She did the motions.  She moved and grooved, all with a smile on her face.

She sat still when it was time to sit still.  Her focus?  It’s becoming sharper every day.

She went to the class party afterwards.  She exchanged books, she ate snacks, and watched other people open gifts.

These things may not seem like a big deal to you.  But they are.  They are a huge deal.

Grateful for her and for the ability to see change happen right in front of my eyes.

And so, we start our Christmas break, which I’m sure will be all things merry and bright with a sprinkling of crazy added into the mix.

 

 

 

 

You, dear daughter, are mine.

***

You were born in my heart almost exactly nine months before I held you in my arms.  You are mine.

Though I know your dark eyes and black hair look nothing like my green eyes and blonde hair, you are mine.

Your arms grip my neck just as tightly as your brothers and sisters when they give me a hug.  You are mine.

I know you are adopted.  I cannot un-know that fact.  You didn’t join our family in the way your three siblings did, but it doesn’t matter.  You are mine.

You struggled with what family really meant once you had one, and the walking through the struggle with you cemented you to me.   You are mine.

Seeing the panic on your face when something triggered fear inside you broke my heart and in the healing, you became even more mine than before.

***

Completing family history forms at a new doctor’s office always fills my heart with a sadness that comes from a deep place; you weren’t always mine.

I check the boxes I know to check.  I write “unknown” over vast portions of the form because you weren’t always mine.

I hear results and discover that there is so much pain in the unknown.  I WISH I knew, but I don’t.  You, after all, weren’t always mine.

There are nights when you wake up crying and I don’t know what the cause of your heartache is.  I don’t know the things you have seen.  I don’t know if the voices you heard when you cried at night spoke in gentle tones, harsh tones, or if they spoke to you at all. You weren’t always mine.

There are days when you tell me you miss the land of your birth.  You cry because you miss the friend you had Before.  I cry because I don’t know if he will ever find a forever yes in a family of his own.  You weren’t always mine.

The things you experienced… oh… I wish how much you knew I would have walked them with you if only I had been there.  You remind me how lonely you were, how you wished for a mama to be there.  It’s like your heart knew what was missing all along.  You knew what belonging felt like in the deepest part of you because you had once been someone else’s.

***

Someone with dark eyes and black hair halfway across the world knew you before I did. Someone felt you squirm and kick inside of her belly before I knew you.  She experienced the breathlessness of your limbs stretching against her ribs; she knew the exquisite pain of the moment you were born.

I don’t know the circumstances that led to your birth mama needing to let others raise you, but my heart shatters when I think about it.  Though I am hesitant to assign emotions to an event I cannot possibly hope to fathom, I know that there was pain in the loss.

Her loss.

Your loss.

A family torn apart by circumstances bigger than I can understand.

You are mine.  You are also hers.  You have lived the grace of being loved by not just one, but two mamas who love you more than you know.

 

***

There are eyes that burn like fire when they see the injustices of this world.

Families broken, abandonment, loss.

They burn with a purpose, to find hope.  To renew.  To restore.

If I could have any wish granted, I would wish for your birth mama to know you have found the family they hoped you would find.  We aren’t perfect, but we know the Perfect One, and He is doing a good thing here… a new thing… a restoration of the deepest parts of us we didn’t even know needed restoring.

I sometimes question the method to the madness, because we are surely living in the middle of a hurricane in these days.  The WHY word falls from my lips with abandon; I do not hesitate to ask the questions that scream inside of me.

HE restores.  HE fulfills.  HE renews.

He gave me you because he knew I needed you.  He saw my broken self and your lonely heart and brought our broken pieces together and created something new; something beautiful.

He heals.  For this, I am grateful.

***

This is the month we talk about adoption.  Those of us who have lived the chaos of adoption plead with others on behalf of the ones who have no voice.  Rise up!  Answer the call!  Don’t close your eyes against the brightness of need that exists!

I’m tempted at times, dear daughter, to grow weary.  There are SO many children without a family to call their own.  I’m tempted at times to throw my hands up in frustration when I hear the ugliness of souls who believe adoption is only for the elect, and those elect happen to live in this country.   Truth is?  EVERY child deserves a family, no matter where they were born. Truth is, it’s the hardest yes you might ever say, but these precious ones are worth it.

***

What would I do without you, my girl?  The yes that led us to you, led us to a gift.

There is no way to communicate the ways in which you have changed me, dear daughter.  Because of you, I have been systematically stripped of being selfishness, judgmental, and self-sufficiency, and though there are more layers to go, I am not the person I was before you walked through those office doors one cold January day.

And to think, we could have missed this… we could have missed YOU.

I shudder at the thought.

***

Dear Daughter,

I love you.

Love, Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raise your hand if you tend to overthink things.

Now, raise both hands, jump up and down, throw your head back and yell, “Yes, this is me!”, if you’re an adoptive mama and you tend to overthink things.

Overthinking is a habit that can be dangerous in the best of situations. Overthinking when you’re processing through post-adoptive life is a whole new world of upside-down-sanity-sucking risky business, am I right?

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It’s difficult to explain the workings of an adoptive mama’s brain, but I’ll give it my best shot…

To read the rest of this post, click here

If I could watch the world from the sidelines, I would.

I don’t like being the center of attention, at least not for long periods of time.  It’s taken a decent number of years to be able to say “thank you” when complimented… hidden, unseen, invisible is what I have preferred to be.

And then suddenly, in the time it took to hastily scribble my name on a piece of paper, I was visible, because Julianne is visible.

Having a daughter born in China with a visible medical need has wrenched me from my comfortable perch looking in, and has plopped me into a fish bowl.  People SEE us.  They look at us.  They are curious about us.   She is an extension of me, and when she is seen, I am too.  Even when I’m not physically with her, I sense people seeing her, questioning her appearance, wondering “what happened”.  It can be (has been) a panic inducing thought process.

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Julianne has Epidermolysis bullosa.  The last week of October heralds in the week in which we work even more feverishly toward public awareness.

“I DON’T WANT TO BE SEEN!” is the cry of my heart, and yet because she has no choice in the matter of her own visibility, I stand with her.

*Deep breath*

I remember that we are brave, we are strong, and we can do hard things.

That short phrase is what I remind her of  when she struggles with having EB.  There are days where tears fall like a flood and the cry of her heart is to not have this struggle any more.  I can’t blame her; the pain I feel watching her is nothing compared to the pain she feels.  And so I look right into her dark eyes and make her repeat it after me…

“I am brave.  I am strong.  I can do hard things.”

It’s easy to assume that because she has a condition that makes her fragile that she would want to be treated as fragile, and that’s a tricky thing to deal with because it’s absolutely not true.  Yes, there are days when she needs extra hugs and kisses; days when sitting on the couch and reading her favorite books while she runs her fingers up and down my scar-free arm are necessary.

She also revels in doing the impossible.  She jumps on the trampoline while I hold my breath, knowing that perhaps we will have to take care of more wounds afterwards, but that it’s worth it.

She screams with joy as she pedals her bicycle around the cul-de-sac while I hold my breath, knowing that one slight bump will send her falling off and the results will be far more than a skinned knee, but that it will have been worth it.

She swings higher than she should on the swings all the while yelling at me to “WATCH THIS!!!”.  And yes, I hold my breath and hope that her fantastic dismount is graceful knowing that even if she falls, it will have been worth it.

She doesn’t hold back.  And so we don’t hold her back.

There are times when we speak words of caution to her, times when we make an executive decision to keep her safe in a situation we know will hurt her.  For the most part, though, she soaks in the life experiences with a smile the size of China on her face.

She is visible.  So very visible.  The joy she exudes would be enough to make her the focus of attention, but the attention lingers like a butterfly on a flower because of the appearance of her skin.

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There are times when interactions with others is so positive and leaves my spirits buoyed.  I know that the person we talk to really gets it:  they see her on the outside, but they also see her on the inside.

There are times when my heart races because though I know the responses aren’t meant to make her an object of pity, that is exactly what they do.  Though I know the words that are often spoken are not meant to make my chest tighten in defense of my daughter, they do. Feeling sorry for her is not an option for us, and so it’s cannot be an option for you.  She may have to deal with much more difficult things in life compared to many, but we want you to know that

she is fragile on the outside, but on the inside?  She is stronger than most.

The message I would send about how to interact with her is this:

It’s okay to notice her differences.

Please don’t ignore your children if they are asking questions about her.  Little ones often have the most open-hearted inquiries, and it’s honestly a pleasure to talk to them on their level about what’s going on with her.  We see the hushed whispers, the “look” given by mothers desperately seeking to stop their child from asking what’s wrong with her. It’s a far better thing to let her talk about it out loud versus knowing people are talking about her.

Please don’t dwell on the differences.

I know it’s a fine line to walk.  There are, after all, so many factors that make her not the same as a typical child her age.  When it comes to how EB affects her, we opt to treat her much the same as a typical child her age.  Yes, she is bandaged up and protected, but that’s it.  Physically, she can do almost anything any other child can do.

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Why do I even mention this?  Because, for us, it’s a slippery slope.  One person treating her like she is less than capable is just one person.  When it happens repeatedly, she begins to think she really can’t do certain things.  Having spent her youngest years in an institution, she is quick to read people and see what they want from her.  She can change her personality to suit the person she is interacting with; she knows if what they want is a victim persona, or a warrior persona… so tell her how strong she is!  Tell her how brave she is.  Tell her she can do hard things.

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She is so very visible, and though it goes against everything in my introverted personality, I choose to be visible with her.  To let her walk this alone is not even a question.  Not even on the most difficult of days when I wonder how on earth this Big Picture we are living will ever come together properly does my heart of hearts want her to be alone in this.

I’d be lying, though, if I told you I relish these days; they are some of the hardest I’ve lived.  For some reason, the longer we are home, the harder it is to come to grips with the fact that it will always be a battle to communicate in which ways she is the same, and which ways she is not the same.  Trust me.  My brain is just as overloaded as yours is when trying to sort all of this out.  Maybe even more so.

For those who have lived this… I need not say more.

For those who haven’t… you are the reason I speak.

I know so many of you want to know the right thing to say; you want to teach your children the way to love people with visible differences in a way that shows them respect and honor.  My daughter needs the people in her world to tell her that visible is good.  She needs them to gently hold her hand and walk with her when she feels compressed by the whispers of voices not brave enough to speak to her face to face.  

Be those people.

I want her to be proud of being so visible, and even though I am dragged kicking and screaming along for the ride some days, I am thankful she has made me more visible, too.

***

EB Awareness Week falls on the last week of October every year.  To learn more about EB, visit www.debra.org