I was watching Grace eat Thanksgiving dinner this year; so different from the little person we brought home around this time a year ago. This time last year, she ate and ate everything on her plate, much to our delight and sorrow. She turned nothing down, and ate every last bite, sometimes with two and three helpings until we had to cut her off for fear that she would make herself sick. This year was quite different. She said yes to turkey and mashed potatoes, but would have nothing to do with the sweet potato casserole that she had engulfed the year before. Green beans were not happening and she has words now to add between bites. She spent a good amount of time “shushing” the table so that she could recount an incident on a slide where she and her older brother lost control and hit the side of the tunnel. Recounted exactly with a very-well-done fake cry demonstrating her response to the hit. Blaming him with a twinkle in her eye. Grinning and on to more mashed potatoes. And pumpkin pie. My girl still loves pumpkin pie and is happy to steal from anyone willing to offer up their portion.
Her face is different this year – a lip and palate repaired. But just like seasons come and go and holidays return, I know that we are in a long process of healing. One that will cycle and have points of wellness and recovery. You see, I forget that I have a special-needs daughter. I often forget. Until I see food get stuck in one of her two fistulas behind her front teeth and she cries out and grimaces at what would obviously be painful as food lodges into her nasal cavity. It is then that I’m reminded that she is in process and when that starts to grieve me for her sake, I am astounded at her adaptability; how she can grab her water and swallow in such a way that the food is cleared. How her very swallow mechanism isn’t quite “right” yet and that it is almost a three-step process but she makes it look easy. How no matter how I have pleaded with her NOT to eat tortilla chips, she is going to anyway because she loves them, despite their sharp corners and ability to get stuck. Just like any good daughter, she will not only have them, but a basketful.
How occasionally chocolate pudding or hummus makes an exit out of her nose from those pesky fistulas and how it reminds me of that first Thanksgiving when half of a yeast roll went rolling out of her cleft and onto her plate. How we cheered. How I still do in my heart as I watch her this year.
We adopted Grace with eyes wide open. We knew the “best-case” scenario and prepared for the worst. She would likely have two to fourteen surgeries in her childhood and youth. We think that her complicated bi-lateral cleft lip and palate will land her somewhere in the middle of that range. It is not always a quick fix but a process. I get told often by well-meaning strangers that “Oh, that’s so great! It can be cured and fixed.” I understand and feel their relief for me but the truer statement is that it can get closer to normal. And that it will take some time. I could get really stressed about what lies ahead, or I can (and do) enjoy each milestone and get an extra helping of mercy and grace for each new procedure. Another season to marvel at and another season to record how much her Savior loves her. So here’s to a little girl who decided on her own it was time to use the potty this week. Hello Kitty undies and all. Here’s to sleeping in a “big girl bed” in the room with her sister for four nights now in a row as of today! A little sweet head on a big huge pillow covered in hearts and snowflakes.
Here’s to talking with her sister until 10:30pm with her newfound freedom! Here’s to a remarkable first year, gaining words and opinions, drinking from a straw and blowing bubbles. And here’s to another (or as many as you want) piece of pumpkin pie.