Somewhere on one of the many hard drives that now live in our safe at home, there is a picture that captures who I have been for the past 11 years, one month and 15 days. It was taken in México when we had already had custody of LM for over a week. A pattern had emerged to our mornings. We were staying at the home of a gracious friend of friends. At about 4:30 or 5:00 Little Bit would wake up and we’d tiptoe into the kitchen to prepare a quesadilla for her, trying not to disturb our kind hostess. We’d sit on the kitchen floor, learning to be a family. Most mornings we had to shuttle around government offices, slowly putting together all the pieces necessary to bring her home. So by, 7:30 or 8:00, I’d give her a bath and dress her. Soon after, she’d fall asleep, almost like an infant, going down for her morning lap. At 10, the cab that was driving us around would come pick us up to run our errands.
On this particular morning LM was wearing a yellow dress with a flower print; she crawled on my lap, something she was so hesitant to do, and promptly fell asleep. In the picture you can see her amazingly long lashes resting on her cheeks. Our daughter was exquisitely beautiful. You can also see the joy in my face. For that little while, in the midst of all the commotion and chaos of Mexico City, there was a safe, warm, quiet place for a child who had known very little of any of those basic rights of an infant. And it was my body providing that space—this was as close as I would ever get to understanding what it means to be “heavy with child.” I had become a mom.
Later in the fall of that year and into the next, and especially as the episodes of rage became more consuming, her sleep disorders sort-of exploded on us and we found ourselves having to buy a king sized bed so she could sleep with us—the only way we got a decent night’s rest. Night after night, I’d wake up to find her on top of me, holding on like her life depended on it. I was also quite wicked, at that point still a lay person who came to church as the priest’s wife who sat dutifully on the front row, pulpit side. I conditioned the girl to fall asleep at the beginning of Liturgy of the Word and sleep until it was time for the Peace—I used classical conditioning techniques and they worked like a charm. I even relished how she drooled on me—again, a glimpse, a hint, of the normalcy we all want for our lives. All new moms have that drooled on look, don’t they?
Last night, Maria came out of her room where she had been engrossed in yet another Nintendo Super Mario game. I was sitting on the sofa reading while Sherod watched TV. Before I knew it, she had straddled me and put her head on my shoulder like the old days, a flashback, a gift and a burden. As sweetly nostalgic as the moment started out to be, I realized very quickly that the size and weight of her felt suffocating; there is not enough of me to give her the safety, quiet and warmth she needs. In another one of those moments of time both bending back on itself and racing forward in an instant, I could understand through my body what we are in the midst of. The time comes when we must, we simply must let go, no matter the pain, the cost, the harshness of this labor of love.
It came not a moment too soon. Day before yesterday, we got word that all the bureaucratic steps that needed to be taken are complete and Tallahassee has approved our daughter’s placement. Yesterday at noon, I talked to the director of BARC Housing and finalized plans for the light of our life to move into BARC on June 4th, the day before the 1st anniversary of my mother’s death. So we know now. Even my body knows, even hers too. It is almost time.
I know that brave quiet child soul. She is beautiful and like you a wonderful child of God. I feel the heaviness of your unlimited endless love for her. Letting go is harsh but that is why God gave us his grace and soul, the thoughts will linger there coupled with the sweet smells, whispers and sighs. She will always be yours. I am here for you, call or write. God is great and good and will take care.
She was not to have all that most newborns arrive with, and the place she arrived was not a place that could care for her as she deserved. If I ever write my version of life with LM, the first sentence will be, “Her toenails grow straight up.” That’s right, straight up, even to this day. Not out, but up because she grew out of the corrective shoes on more than one occasion before she found us, and those her tender feet were forced into them anyway. The nail beds were permanently damaged by the contortion and her toenails grow up, not out. She came to us with so many abuses, and it has been beyond us to fix them all, no matter how hard we tried. But some have been repaired and her unbelievable beauty has survived and thrived in the space we and so many others have been able to share with her.