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 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.