Dr. Rah Rah…

I’ve written before about how much I love the opportunity to follow my patients throughout their childhoods. Getting a yearly snapshot into their lives and hearing the updates from them fills my parenting arsenal with tips and things to prepare for. The common struggles and successes between parent and child forms a comraderie that connects us all, for better or worse.

Occasionally though, there are patients that have a story that grabs your heart strings in such a way that you become a cheerleader for their success. Last week I had one of those patients arrive for her yearly exam. I’ve seen this girl since she was seven, she is now twelve. I will never forget the first time I examined her eyes. She had just been adopted and looked so little sitting in my big examination chair. Her eyes were both watering, one would barely stay open when any light came near it. That same eye didn’t stay straight and wandered away freely from the other. It also had an obvious scar across the cornea. She didn’t speak English but also avoided using the interpreter that her family had brought with her to help with the communication barrier caused by our mis-matched languages. I remember trying to put myself in her position…my heart ached at the fear she must have been feeling. Although she was now living with an amazing family who had waited years for her and prayed for her arrival fervently, she had left the only home she ever knew when she left her orphanage. The conditions there were reportedly awful, the medical care she had received for her eyes was abominable…and yet…that was home to her. Now she sat in my chair, blinking, tearing up, and watching everyone around her all-the-while trying to process her new reality. I think of my older two girls and try to imagine them having to make a similar move and the thought gets interrupted by my head shaking as my brain overrides it–it’s just too hard to imagine.

In terms of adoptive families, this girl hit the proverbial jackpot. Other kids fill their home, opportunities are presented to explore whatever makes them tick, be it music or sports. This little girl was going to be loved by giant hearts and hugged by many…frequently. They were realistic about the limitations her eyes may have but were determined to make sure they had explored all avenues. In the last five years we’ve been through specialists, glasses, contact lenses, eye drops and patching regimens together. One eye does not see well and probably won’t ever see well. The other eye wasn’t all that great either but at least she could go to school and, using larger print books, function.

I always hoped we could get her “good” eye to at least 20/40. To be able to drive in this state without any restrictions on your license it is required that the driver be able to see at least 20/40 in one eye. You might think that the fact that she was now in a new country, with an amazing family and endless opportunity would be enough…but I wanted this kid to be able to drive. I remember the freedom that gave me at 16…the independence and self worth that came from getting myself from point A to point B without having to ask for a ride. And for her parents, who have invested so much time and money and heart into her care…I wanted this for them too. Year after year though, the magic 20/40 eluded me.

As we started on her prescription this year I started thinking about the fact that her teen years were approaching. She’s adorable and has a smile that can melt you. I remember that age though…you never feel adorable enough and it seems that everyone else has it all figured out. We don’t realize until we’re much older that no one does. As the lenses were flipping and the letters were being read lower and lower on the chart I tried to imagine where she would be if she hadn’t been adopted. If she hadn’t, in some twist of fate or serendipity, been placed with this family who wanted so much for her. And, on the flip side, where would they be without her? Certainly both would lacking without the other.

It hit me as we hit the 20/50 line that she was going quite quickly. Any of my optometrist friends can tell you that the WAY someone reads the letters tells you if they are going to read the next line on the chart or the next five lines. It’s all in their tone, pace and certainty. I flipped the letters down to the 20/40 line and literally held my breath. We’ve never been this close. I swear as she started ticking her way across that line I could feel her dad thinking the same thing behind me…come on, come on.

And then the waterworks started. Not her’s, not her dad’s…mine. Because when she finished that line it hit me as a mother. We want so much for our kids today…happiness, health, safety, smiles and laughter. Even more, though, if we allow ourselves to imagine it, we want a FUTURE for them. A future without ANY restrictions. To me, this vision leap just opened another avenue for this girl’s future that had been closed before. It’s still four years until she’ll be able to drive alone but now she CAN. It’s another opportunity that wouldn’t have been available to her in the orphanage had she not been adopted.

It’s a strange twist that we all face as parents. We want these children so much. Pray for them, love them, hate that the years pass so quickly but also know that ultimately, we want them to have the opportunities to go through this adult life as well. Personally, I love that someday this patient will get to “fly the nest” driving herself.

Parental Guidance suggested (but needed less and less)

I took my nine year old to the Hunger Games movie.  At the nine o’clock showing.  On a school night.  GASP!  I know, I know…feel free to relentlessly judge me, I deserve it.  The fact is, Avery is a reader.  No, not just a good reader…she’s the type of reader that can read War and Peace over a commercial break.   She inhales books.  If she ever has to be grounded this will sum up the best possible punishment for her…

But…when she asked to read The Hunger Games I was very hesitant.  It’s pretty gruesome.  Not to be a spoiler but we’re talking futuristic bloodshed involving children and all I could imagine was a nine-year-old asleep in my bed for the next 5 years because she was terrified from this “young adult” book.  She begged, and begged and finally I agreed to read it WITH her.  We’d sit down and read a chapter at a time, out-loud together.  Honestly…I have to admit…I loved it.  Since Edy was born I’ve been trying to figure out a way to spend some quality one-on-one time with her older sisters.  Anything involving books is hitting a home run with Avery in every possible way.  She gets to devour another book and I get to do it with her, win-win.  She never even flinched at the book…we finished it and immediately started the next one in the series.

So when the movie came out I was so excited to see it with her, just the two of us.  As we walked into the theater she reached up and grabbed my hand to hold.  I immediately looked down because her hand felt so different.  It didn’t have the same baby pudginess I remember from before.  That little soft squishiness that I used to feel on the back of her hand was gone…replaced by thin skin over pre-teen bones.  When did that happen?

I didn’t know this maturing had occurred because I can’t remember the last time I held her hand.  With three kids there is a triage situation when it comes to physical attention.  A single human being has only two hands, one lap, two ears…you get the picture.  You dole out the physical affection in the order in which it is needed or most aggressively demanded.  Obviously, Edy is an attention hoarder at this point in her life.  Laney has always been a really high-touch kid and she is skilled at quickly grabbing my empty side.  Which leaves what for Avery?  Nada.  So when she saw her chance, she took it.  Held my hand all the way into the theater and then locked arms with me when we sat in our chairs.  The luxury of one-on-one time.

As we sat down and started gorging ourselves on cotton candy and popcorn  intellectually discussing the movie, I also noticed that I was having a nice time talking to her.  Not in the cute way that I enjoyed when she was younger…this was different.  It was more of a conversation than a child-like give and take.  It struck me that she had started forming her own opinions and that they were separate from mine.  She has reasoning skills, likes and dislikes and she was voicing them.  She.is growing.up.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I just stared at her profile as she watched the previews and realized that my first born is almost in double digits age-wise.  I experienced an odd combination of emotions that included joy, pride and melancholy.  She went to the bathroom alone, she talked to her friend that we saw there without having to be prompted by me to “say hello…”  She truly is becoming her own person…a person closer to adulthood than infancy.

Halfway through the movie though, she laid her head on my shoulder, yawned, looked up at me and said, “Mama, I’m tired.  Wake me up if I fall asleep, I really don’t want to miss anything.”  Just like that, she seemed so little again.  She’s not quite completely grown…yet.

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