Sometimes the things our children don’t say are the most important.
We went on a walk yesterday.
Cheeky is much smaller than my other kids. Shorter legs, weaker body, sweet, sunny personality that gives her no need to move fast, those things make walking a little challenging for my youngest. She tries, though. Oh, how she tries. Walk. Fall behind the group. Run to catch up. Walk. Fall behind. Run. Walk. Repeat for six or seven miles and you’ll get how Cheeky’s hikes go.
Anyway, we went on a walk, and she was wearing shoes that were a little big because she couldn’t find her sneakers and had to borrow a pair of her sister’s old shoes. I didn’t think much about the big-ish shoes. Cheeky was smiling, after all. Happy. So enthusiastic about the blue sky and the orange hat her brother let her wear and the walk and just…well, just being alive.
Her cheeks were red from heat, but she didn’t complain about the bright sun. She just walked and skipped and sang, and I thought all was well.
Until we walked up a steep hill.
I made sure Cheeky was in front of me, because she isn’t always very good at balancing. That’s when I noticed the back of her foot. Blood was oozing from a broken blister that looked red and raw and very painful.
“Cheeky,” I said. “Does your foot hurt?”
“Yes. It hurts a lot,” she replied.
And she just kept on going, climbing up that steep hill like she didn’t have a two-inch blister on the back of her foot.
We cut the walk short so we could go buy bandaids. As we walked through the first aide aisle, Cheeky spotted Dora bandaids. “Look, Mommy,” she said. “Dora!”
That was it. No begging me to buy them. Not even a polite request.
She wanted them. I knew she wanted them, but she wouldn’t ask. Not even when Sassy picked up a package of neon bandaids and asked me to buy those. Even then, Cheeky was silent about the Dora Bandaids.
I put them in my cart, of course. Cheeky had the blister. She got to choose. That’s how it usually works in our house. I think Cheeky has noticed that, and I think she noticed that she got what she wanted rather than Sassy getting what she wanted.
And think that mattered to Cheeky.
But she didn’t say that. She just watched those Dora Bandaids go into the cart and onto the conveyor belt. She watched them be put into a bag, and she watched that bag as it traveled from cart to car and from car home. Then, she asked if she could put a bandaid on her blister, and she gave me a huge hug and thanked me.
But, I think, for something more.
Maybe for buying her what she didn’t ask for. Or maybe for letting her have her way. Or maybe for putting her wants above the wants of my other daughter.
She does not always tell me when she is hurt. Especially if we are doing something like taking a long walk. She won’t tell me if she is overheated (an issue because she really doesn’t regulate her body temperature very well). When we eat dinner, she consumes what is put on her plate without complaining that she doesn’t like it.
Those are little things, but one day, there will be bigger things on her mind. I think that maybe there already are. It is obvious to me that she watches to see what the other kids are getting, and she is anxious about getting her share. It isn’t that she is greedy or even that she wants a lot but simply that she wants to know that I am treating her the same as I do the others.
If I give someone a slice of fresh baked bread, Cheeky hovers in the kitchen doorway, waiting to be asked to join in. If I buy The Professor a book, Cheeky stares at that book as if I’ve given him the moon. She is the same with chores. If the older kids have been asked to do a job for me, she waits by my elbow, hoping and praying that I will ask for her help, too.
As I watch her watch me, I can’t help but think how strange it must be for her. She has been brought into a family related by blood, and she is the only member who is not related that way. Cheeky knows that. She has seen baby photos of her siblings, stared hard at their red newborn faces. She has seen pictures of me holding each of my other kids when they were tiny infants. She has pointed at photos of me playing with the other children when they were toddlers. She has flipped through photo albums of Christmas and Easter and birthday and every-day photos.
And she is not in any but the most recent ones.
Cheeky loves to talk, but there is a lot she doesn’t say.
She doesn’t say that she worries that I might not love her as much as I do her siblings, but I feel it. I feel it in the way she hugs me. The way she kisses my cheek as if she must stake her claim, lay herself fully upon my heart so that I won’t turn her away. She doesn’t say that she still feels like an outsider, a newcomer, a child who was pulled in but who might not be able to stay, but I see it in her eyes when she watches me have one-on-one time with another one of my kids. I see it again, in a different way, when I spend alone time with her. I feel it in the way she holds on tight as I grasp her hand and lead her on a walk around our field…just me and Cheeky. I see it in her glowing face when I say, “Come on, Cheeky, let’s knead the bread dough together. That will be our job today.”
There is no doubt of what I see reflected in her face when she is watching me. She longs, with a desperation I cannot fathom, to belong.
It is a desperation that I hear in all the things she doesn’t say.
Oh, Cheeky, if only you knew how deep my love is for you. If only you knew how truly and wonderfully you belong.
That is what I want to say to my little girl, but to a child who has lost everything and has been forced to rebuild her family, to rebuild her entire world, words are only a small part of what she needs.
So, I do what I have been doing for a little over a year. I tell her the story of how she came to be. Of Birth Mom and China Mom and Me. Of the empty place at the McCoy table, the empty seat in the McCoy van, the empty place in my heart that was waiting to be filled.
Waiting for her.
And then I treat her as I must…..as if she has always been mine, always been here, always been part of this family.
And all the while my soul keeps listening and my heart keeps breaking for all the things my darling girl cannot say.