They Are Gonna Love You

Okay, so you all know that The Signing Time Family is growing… right? No… literally, our families are expanding with more children. (This is not about another DVD or board book)

Yes, my sister Emilie just had her third child, a baby girl, six weeks ago… still nameless… I know. Get over it. She almost has a name. But, I already blogged about that.

This… this… I haven’t ever blogged about.

You see… well, now I have an announcement to make…

Some of you may want to sit down for this one.

No. I mean it.

Sit down.

I have a third child as well… and it’s a girl!

But, before you start mailing pink baby outfits and headbands with big flowers on them… keep reading.

Oh Heavens… where to start? Ummm, ok, so you know how on my CD “Shine” there’s that song “Nobody Would Know”? and in the liner notes it talks about how that was the very first song that I ever wrote and that I wrote it when I was 17 years-old? And some of you had written to me wondering how it could be that I wrote a song like that BEFORE having Leah and Lucy. Some of you listened to a certain line in that song and thought… “Wait a minute!!! Could it be?” But then you know that I share a lot. I share the good, the bad, and the awkward and you convinced yourself that something THAT big, would’ve been shared by now.

So, here’s the thing. The truth is… I don’t share everything. Especially when it might impact someone else’s privacy, their life, and their choices. I don’t share it, even if it’s indescribably intertwined with my life, my experiences, and even if it has totally shaped who I am and why I care about the things I care about. Vague enough for you? Well, cut me some slack. This isn’t easy.

The day after Mother’s Day, I sat down to my desk after getting Lucy out the door and on the school bus. I opened my computer, opened Facebook and collapsed on my keyboard in helpless and happy sobs as I saw the message that I had waited more than eighteen years to receive.

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Facebook Private Message

    Laura S. May 9 at 4:53pm
    Happy Mother’s Day 🙂 You’re always in my prayers and in my heart.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aaron walked in and seeing my state asked, “Ray? What happened?”
“LOOK!!!” I could barely speak, the message may have been short but it was enough to level me emotionally and immediately, “IT’S… IT’S TODAY!” Aaron looked at my screen and started crying too. We hugged each other and sobbed and laughed and sobbed some more in happy disbelief.

Aaron had waited 15 years for this moment. I had told him on our very first date about the baby girl I had placed for adoption. He hadn’t even blinked when I told him. It wasn’t something he fought to deal with or accept. He just told me about his very close friends who had gone through the same thing and he told me how much respect he had for anyone who could give their child to someone else. Through the years Aaron has held me as I cried on my baby’s birthday, on Mother’s Day and the countless other times I found myself mourning the loss of my very first baby girl. I had only held her in my arms for three days, but my heart has never let her go.

I messaged her back as quickly as I could type.

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    Rachel de Azevedo-Coleman May 10 at 8:41am
    You just made the last 18 years of my life!
    I don’t think you can possibly fathom how much I adore you. How much I have missed you.
    How much I love you!
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I could hardly function that day as I waited for her response. I had a news interview about running the Salt Lake Half-Marathon and honestly I didn’t even shower before the news crew arrived. I was glued to my computer screen waiting to see what words she might grace me with next. Words I had waited almost 2 decades to read.

The previous day, Mother’s Day, I had started crying as we drove from the luncheon with my mom, to dinner with Aaron’s mom. We were in the car around 5:00pm. “What is she waiting for?” Tears streamed down my cheeks. “I mean… it’s not like I really thought she was going to show up on my front porch the day she turned 18, but I guess I didn’t realize how that date… how that was the date I was living for… I don’t know. I always imagined that I would be at her high school graduation… What is she waiting for?”

I can’t tell you how many times, since 1992, I had calculated how old I would be in 2010. Especially in the beginning, when I’d wake in the middle of the night hearing the echo of my baby’s cries in my head, I just needed a goal. I thought if I could hold on until then… it would be okay. February 2010 was my “finish line.” But, her 18th birthday had already come and gone. Leah, Lucy, Aaron and I had celebrated by going out to dinner and we had cupcakes. We’ve celebrated her birthday every year.

“Mommy,” four-year-old Leah signed to me enthusiastically, “I’m your first baby. Lucy is your second baby. I’m the oldest!”

      “Nope. Remember?” I pointed to the smiling baby pictured in the gold, sun-shaped frame on the mantel. “She’s my first baby. You are my second baby and Lucy is my third baby.”

“Oh! I forgot!” Which sounded like “Oh I-per-dot.”
Leah and Lucy grew up seeing the baby on the mantel smiling down on them.

“Mom, I hate this!” Twelve-year-old Leah threw herself down on my bed in tears. “I hate that I have a big sister, but I don’t have a big sister! I really need one right now! I don’t understand how you were ‘too young’ to keep her, but only four years later you were suddenly old enough to have and keep me!”

When I was seventeen I really did believe that nobody would know or really understand how much I hurt and how much I suffered. I guess I was too young to imagine that my future children would inherit the pain and that they would share my loss.

After Mother’s Day dinner with Aaron’s family, we came home, put the girls to bed and watched a movie. My phone had died at some point that day. I went to bed with no idea that while I was crying in the car, my oldest daughter had already reached out to me.

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    Laura S. May 10 at 2:11pm
    I think it’s been 18 years too long. I should have made contact sooner. I love and miss you and my little sisters. 🙂
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Each message started a new wave of tears. “She said ‘my little sisters'” Aaron cried, “she didn’t call them her half-sisters.”

In the world of adoption, I think we all just want to be wanted.

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    Rachel de Azevedo-Coleman May 10 at 5:21pm
    We are ready when you are. I haven’t told Leah and Lucy yet because they would both be sitting in the car waiting to drive down to meet you.
    Lucy has said if she ever got a wish from “Make A Wish” she would only wish to meet you.
    I have a million things I want to tell you and there are a million things I want to know. I want to hear all of your stories. I want to hear you sing. I want to see you perform. I’m nervous and thrilled and I don’t want to mess anything up. I’m afraid of disappointing you. I’m afraid of overwhelming you. AND I’m supposed to be a grown up here!
    Mostly I’m afraid I’ll wake up just like all the other times I’ve been this close… I’ll wake up and find it’s just another dream.
    ~R
    PS- you are just so beautiful!
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My heart is healed.

The happiest day of my life”

So, are you going to tell your Signing Time fans?”

      “Of course I am… I’m just trying to figure out how. I mean… people’s heads are gonna spin!”
          “Yeah, I bet you probably don’t want them to know that you had a baby when you were 17.”
      “WHAT? That is not it at all. Laura, look at me. I am not embarrassed or ashamed. You are not a secret! I don’t care what anyone thinks! I’ve been waiting for you for… for your whole life! I am so happy I want to shout it from the rooftops! I love you! We love you! And you know what?
      They are gonna love you too!”

Here’s to 18 Years of Laughter

Strong Enough for Nina

Last December I received an email with the subject, “I was her legs today. You had a part of it.” Ellen was writing to me from the Ukraine where she was in the process of adopting a little girl. Her email shared how my “Strong Enough” post had arrived in her inbox with perfect timing, timing that changed her family and changed their world. I was so touched, I asked her to please join me here as my first Guest Blogger. Here is their story:

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STRONG ENOUGH FOR NINA

After our youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome, we embarked in the most life altering journey of our lives. She had enriched our lives in meaningful and powerful ways. For this reason, I had spent almost two years looking at the faces of children on Reece’s Rainbow, an International Adoption Ministry for children with Down syndrome. I had fallen in love with many of them, praying that they would find forever families and wondering if any of them were meant to be ours. My husband Andy and I knew that adoption was in our future, but unlike me, he had not felt inclined to inquire about any of the children, so I waited. Occasionally, I would visit Reece’s Rainbow “Other Angels” page. These are the children with other special needs.

It was a late night in July, as I scrolled down the faces, I heard him say while he looked over my shoulder,

“Wait! Scroll back up a little”

I did.

“Right there” he said pointing to a beautiful smiling face, “That little girl looks just like a Stumbo.”

I stared intently at her face.

“Look at her eyes” he added, “She looks just like my sister.”

I got up to find our baby book. A small scrapbook I had made with our baby pictures before our oldest daughter was born. I returned to find him still studying the little face. I opened it up to the first picture and held it up next to the computer screen.

“Honey” I said, “She doesn’t look like your sister, she looks just like you.”

We stared at the photographs, blown away by the strong resemblance.

“You should ask what country she is from and if they have any more information on her.”

“Are you serious?” I asked excited.

“We have been talking about having another child, maybe our next child will come to us through adoption.”

“Does it say what her diagnosis is?” I asked

“Yes” he responded, “Cerebral Palsy”

Cerebral Palsy. The words were heavy, they fell on my heart and threatened to crush it. Cerebral Palsy? I could do Down syndrome, but Cerebral Palsy?

We decided to give ourselves some time to think and pray. We researched Cerebral Palsy and invited our close friends and family to help us sort through our thoughts and feelings. The fact that we wanted to adopt another child with special needs, did not mean that the time was now. I was scared about her disability and my ability to parent her. Could we do it? Could I do it?

As it is in many European countries, children with special needs are transferred from orphanages to institutions by the age of four. Once children arrive in these institutions, many die within the first year. We knew that time was of the essence, and if we were going to be serious about this, we needed to make a commitment to her soon.

It was during this time of “reflection,” that Rachel Coleman wrote her post, “Strong Enough to Be Her Mom.” It was a story about Lucy. Lucy, her beautiful daughter with Cerebral Palsy, her inspiration to be “strong enough.” Was she “strong enough to show her a word beyond sidewalks and ramps?” Would she be Lucy’s yes in a world of no’s?

Rachel didn’t know that the message she had shared in her story, was about to change the life of a little girl half way across the world. She didn’t know that she was asking me, “Ellen, will you be strong enough to be Nina’s mother? Will you show her a world beyond the walls of an orphanage? Will you be her yes?”

Tears started to trickle down my cheeks, they soon became a steady stream, and eventually the flood gates opened up and I was sobbing. I remembered what Andy had said earlier in the day, “She might have Cerebral Palsy but she still deserves a mommy and a daddy that will love her and believe in her potential.”

Talking about Rachel Coleman or Signing Time is common in our house. Our daughter walks around the house holding Rachel’s picture (sometimes she even needs to look at her while sitting at the dinner table) and constantly asks for a video or the music. We know all the songs, and almost all the signs. So when I told my husband I had just read Rachel’s last blog post and began to cry as soon as I said her name, he was sure I had had enough “singing time, and dancing time, and laughing time, and playing time.” But through tears I told him about Lucy and Rachel “I will be Nina’s yes, I will be strong enough for her” I said.

Four months later I held a sweet little girl with Cerebral Palsy in my arms. My daughter Nina.

For almost 4 years she had lived in one room. A room where she slept, ate, and played. Her life consisted of four walls. Even within the walls she had limitations due to her mobility. And while other children might have been taken outside to play once in a while, she stayed behind.

The first day that I was allowed to see her room my heart broke to a million pieces. It broke for the orphans, it broke for those children with special needs nearing their 4th birthday, and it especially broke for Nina.

I asked if I could take her outside to play, I could see other children on the orphanage grounds through the window. They said I couldn’t take her out because she couldn’t walk. I said I would carry her. They said it would be too hard, she couldn’t be carried like a “normal” child. I said I didn’t care. They said I didn’t understand. I said she was my daughter. They rolled their eyes, got her dressed, and put her in a wobbly, metal stroller.

After only a few minutes, I took Nina out of the stroller, it was impossible to maneuver on the uneven ground. I decided she could point and tell me where she wanted to go. As we walked around she would look at me and smile. The reality of her life continuing to sink in my heart. Her world was so limited not only because of being an orphan, but because of her CP. Her world limited to a room. Nobody was there to open her world. Nobody was there to be her “yes.”

I thought about Rachel and Lucy. When Rachel does not feel like running she still runs because she can and because Lucy needs her to be strong enough.

Nina had never had someone stand before a road, willing to explore, to walk, to be her legs. Nobody ever had, and in this place, nobody ever would. Would I be her “yes”? And when necessary, would I be her legs? Emotion welled up inside me, it needed to come out, to be released. So what did I do? I took off running. With Nina sitting awkwardly on my hip, we ran as fast as I could and for as long as I could. We ran, and we ran, and we ran.

Joy, there was pure joy in my daughter’s face! Because in that moment she had legs and in that moment she could run! It was pure bliss!

A worker shook her head at us. She wore a disapproving frown. But on that day disapproval was tossed away, and a child felt the cold wind on her face and ran! Ran with her mama!

That moment birthed determination in me. I will be her yes. I will be strong enough. And when necessary, I will also be her legs.

There are many children with special needs in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. Reece’s Rainbow seeks to find families for these children. So just like Rachel challenged me, I will challenge you. Will you be a “yes” for one of these children?
Will you be strong enough?

Ellen and Nina

Ellen and Nina

You can visit Ellen’s Blog here: www.elliestumbo.blogspot.com