Thursday, January 24, 2013

Instead of Presents

Last summer, Katherine and I made an agreement about her birthday.  We had just sold off her untouched birthday gifts from last winter at a garage sale.  We often sell most of her gifts from friends.  And that's a waste.  So we decided that this year at her friend party she would collect donations for a good cause.  We made a list of organizations that always need help (the food bank, animal shelter, orphanages in other countries) and assured her that she would have plenty of time to choose the perfect place. 

Over Christmas break, Katherine announced that she had decided what she wanted to do for her "birthday money".  She wanted to help a baby have cleft palate surgery.  I was surprised at her choice.  And touched.  This was certainly a good cause!  Then I remembered how Katherine first learned about cleft palate.  We were in China and she was 5 years old.

Kate had met several cleft-affected children through China Camp and other adoptive families, but I don't think she was really aware of them.  Those children had all had surgeries to correct their lips and palates and she didn't really even notice anything different about them.  But our trip to China to adopt Rachel would open all of our eyes to the realities of children with cleft palate. 

We traveled with two other families who were adopting cleft affected toddlers.  We had explained to Katherine what that meant and she had seen pictures of the kids, both of whom had had lip repair surgery.  When she finally met them, Katherine made over them, as we all did - Deacon and Chloe were cute!  We were staying at the White Swan, a huge hotel that was full of families adopting children.  Most of the families, like us, were adopting special needs kids and many of those kids had cleft lips and palates.  A few of these children had had surgeries to repair their clefts, but most had not.  We saw 5 and 6 year olds with severe, unrepaired clefts.  Some of their poor, mangled little faces were really difficult to even look at, as terrible as that sounds.  Katherine sat in the breakfast room the first morning, quietly looking at the other families eating, and asked quesiton after question. 

One afternoon we had escaped our cramped room and were exploring the hotel's indoor waterfall and fish pond.  Katherine paused to watch a family nearby.  The mother was crouched on the floor, clapping her hands and encouraging their toddler daughter to walk to her while the father caught it all on video.  The little girl was dolled up in a new pink sundress and when she turned, I saw that she was one of the children with a very severe cleft.  Katherine turned to me, her eyes shining, and said "Look at that little girl, Mom.  Isn't she cute?"  And I realized that Kate had looked right through that little girl's disfigured face.  All she saw was someone's beautiful, beloved child.  The trip to China had been rough on Katherine, full of many, many difficult emotions and experiences.  But at that moment, I felt such a huge surge of love for her.  I had never been so proud.  My girl, my 5 year old, knew how to look at someone's spirit, not her face.

So now, for her 9th birthday, Katherine wants to help a child like those she saw in China.  We researched different organizations that work with cleft affected kids and Kate chose Love Without Boundaries [a fabulous organization that we have supported before], because she could choose a specific child to help.  Last weekend, she spent a long time scrolling through the website, looking at pictures of cleft babies and reading their information.  She finally decided on a baby boy called "David", with wide serious eyes.  We printed off his picture and decorated a box for donations.  I watched her at work and felt that same fierce mix of love and pride.  My Katherine, she is a champion for the underdog.  She has such a good heart...

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I love birthdays!

the ladybug cake

The Ladybug Sisters

Sisters

Sisters
Jie Jie and Mei Mei

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
Peeking through the windows

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
Katherine and her toothless smile

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
The little one leads the way