Monday, November 8, 2010

Claire through and through



There are a lot of girls in our family. I have eight nieces -- but there is only one Claire. She will be five in January, is incredibly bright, fiercely determined, and precious to all who know her. I'm ever amazed at the simple and profound observations she makes about the world around her. She's an extraordinary girl... and not just because of her adorable ways... She is set apart from the others because she is unable to walk without the aid of leg braces, cannot bend either of her arms at the elbow, and wears glasses that are held on by a strap around her precious head every moment that she is awake.

I never really stopped to consider what it would be like to stand out in such a way. To be so uniquely made such that it caused others to stop and stare. That is until Saturday when we all went to the Mall of America together. I didn't realize how much I'd taken for granted the affirming glances, complements, and smiles in the direction of my own lovely daughters I steadily received until I walked hand in hand with Claire. The isolation was palpable. People looked to me, then to her, then back to me and back to her. Their eyes stayed on her and stared... without a smile. In their defense I'm sure they had no idea what their faces betrayed as they tried to understand just what the matter was. She doesn't look like everyone else. Just what were those things wrapped around each of her legs from thigh to foot? And perhaps further confusing was the fact that me (a lily white mama) was clearly in charge of this very Chinese little one with a body that was unlike any they'd perhaps seen before. We didn't fit in.

You see, Claire, in her winsome way, had asked me if I would hold her hand just a few moments before. I was delighted to do so... my own girls laughing and playing with their other cousins and auntie. So it was me and Claire - hand in hand. When we decided to go on a ride together I got the tiniest taste of what parents of those with extra needs go through each and every day. Beyond the looks of confusion and even distaste...it's no small thing to get a 35 pound child whose legs do not bend into a bench seat to enjoy a ride. She needs a little lift - but that's it. Otherwise she is smart as a crack, sweet as a peach, and lovely as a dolly. She's just different in ways that are visible at first glance. The rest of us have the luxury of covering up, masking, hiding our brokenness so that others don't see it all over us in a quick glance across the mall.

The coolest part is this: Claire seems blessedly unaware of the differences between her and everyone else. Of course she intellectually gets that she's not able-bodied as others around her are but she carries it all with grace. As if it's the same for all of us since compensating in one way or another is a way of life for we mere mortals. Yet for most of us it's about choosing the most flattering jeans and top - while for her it's learning to move through life with limbs that betray her. Yet she doesn't seem to have a shred of bitterness in her spirit about it. It's just a fact like shoe size or height - it's just how it is for her. Anything but ordinary is this lovely girl.

Claire came into our family in an atypical way - but it wasn't unnatural to any of us. She was left outside a building in China just a few days after she was born. In a culture where imperfections are intolerable it's likely that her family just couldn't accept her the way that she was or simply didn't have resources available to help her along. She spent the first few years of her life living in an orphanage where she soon became the darling of the caretakers there. But her future did not look bright. She was visibly broken and was thus not at the top of any of the lists for suitable adoption candidates. Until her sweet picture came across the computer screen of my most generous sister and brother-in-law. They new immediately that she had a forever home and it was in their family. They traveled to China to bring her home when she was nearly three years old. After a number of surgeries (10 for those counting), and innumerable hugs and kisses, she is thriving here in the US in this family where it seems she was always meant to be. To us she isn't the orphan from China or the child who can't walk - she is Claire. Our niece... our love.

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