This year, oh how things have changed :). Every single day for WEEKS now I've heard the phrase "I so excited for my birthday!". She understood that there would be food and cake and gifts and most importantly PEOPLE who she loves there to participate in her big day. We kicked off the birthday weekend on Friday, when I brought treats to school for her class.
On Saturday we had Bella's party at a local beach pavilion. Almost 40 people, grown-ups and kids, came out. Most were from our church, with a few friends from our community and even a few from the hospital where she receives her care, in the mix. There was a lunch of hotdogs, chips, and fruit at Bella's request. After lunch we sang Happy Birthday and had cupcakes. There was also plenty of time for just hanging out. She was absolutely thrilled by the whole thing (even though she got very tired after about two hours).
Getting all set up.
Balloons - one of Bella's favorites!
Her sweet friend Ms. A, whose native language is Russian. Bella met her the first night she arrived in America, and they have a special connection.
Some of her little friends being crazy :)
On Saturday evening we opened her gifts at home. She kept asking what each one was before we opened it, as if I somehow magically knew :). I was overwhelmed with the thoughtfulness behind each gift. It was clear that they were bought or made with careful attention to who their recipient was. Now I do not want to give the impression that gifts are important to us - in fact, if you ask me what my kids want or need, my response is usually "Nothing!". Being surrounded by friends who are celebrating them is gift enough. But these presents touched my heart because as she sat surrounded by pretty bags and brightly-wrapped boxes, my girl felt special. For almost nine years she was not made to feel special. She was not celebrated. She was just kept alive, after being cast aside by people who were supposed to love her and by a society who hides children like her. And now - NOW, after all those years of neglect - to see people treat her like she IS special, well it's almost too much for words sometimes.
Could there be a better t-shirt for Bella? Love.
After the last gift was opened, Bou proclaimed "And now a birthday hug from Bear!" before she scooped him up and laid him down next to Bella.
As touching as the gifts were, it was the cards that were most meaningful to me. Some contained drawings or beautifully written messages of the heart from little children (I wish I could post a pic of those but they all have Bella's real name written on them, and of course I do not use my children's' real names on here). Here's a small sampling of cards.
Written inside were messages like:
"We are so glad that God has brought you into our lives. What a blessing you are."
"You are such a blessing to all those around you! God Bless you."
"Thank you, Bella, for who you are! It is such a joy to celebrate your birth. You truly brighten the world!"
"Today you will get gifts but YOU are a gift to everyone around you, with your joy! Thank you for embodying gratitude. You are wonderful."
"You are a precious blessing to us Bella. Thank you for your beautiful smiles and brave, happy spirit!"
"We love you!"
On Sunday the love continued with more cards and gifts brought to her at church, special daddy-daughter time at the tennis club (one of her favorite places), and a sweet gift from the lovely woman who caters the food there. She remembered that it was Bella's birthday and knew that she would probably come there with her dad, so she had a little doll and card waiting for her.
Remember what I said? Special. She is surrounded by people who see her worth now. The bus assistant, friends at school, church members, hospital workers, the caterer. Bella draws people in because she exudes joy. God has used her life to open eyes and hearts, and let me tell you it is a very humbling thing to watch.
I don't write all of this to paint some fairy-tale picture of older-child adoption. I don't want people to think that our lives - or her life - are perfect. They are not. As thrilled as she was about her birthday, on the way to her party I was once-again reminded that orphanage life is not something that she has buried deep in the recesses of her mind, but rather something that lives in the shallows of her consciousness, and surfaces frequently. We were riding along, and no one was talking (for once!) when she says something, seemingly out of the blue. "Mom, at Dietsky Dom I all by myself. No mother, no father, no sister, no two brothers." I responded with empathy and reassurance, as I always try to do. But I know by now that it wasn't out of the blue; it was triggered by the understanding of what her life is versus what her life was. On the one hand, so happy to be celebrated, but on the other hand, wondering why she wasn't celebrated all those other years. It is not the first time we have had this conversation, and I am sure it won't be the last.
It would be a mistake to think that Bella's life is easy. There are quiet struggles with her past. Moreover, she is completely dependent on us to meet her every physical need. I am without a doubt completely dependent on God to give me the strength to meet her every physical need (and He does, each day). She bears the physical and emotional scars of institutionalization and yet, miraculously, she chooses joy. So I choose joy. I choose to write about the joy, and share the joy. Maybe later I will share the hard stuff (because there is hard stuff), but not today. Today is all about the good stuff :). Happy Tenth Birthday, precious Bella. You inspire me! God loves you, I love you, your father loves you, your sister loves you, and your two brothers love you!