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Abby: A Story about Compassion
Truly, it is in giving that we receive, and quite often we are surprised with gifts that come in little packages.
I went to a wake last night. It was to accompany my eleven year old daughter to see her biological mother for the last time. Her name is Abby.
She was met by her sister, the real one, after alighting from the car. I saw tears forming in her big, round eyes as she looked at her, so I looked away. I followed them watching her back as she was whisked to the long, dark alley where her mother’s coffin laid. People were seated in both sides of the path, I gathered those were neighbors. I heard the women whispering her name as we passed, commenting how beautiful she is while the men courteously paved the way so we can pass.
Her frail body leaned at the coffin as she lowered her head and covered her face. The hushed tones was suddenly drowned by silence, all eyes were on her as she cried silently. All these eleven years I have never seen her cry like this. Her shoulders were shaking but there was no sound. I wanted to run to her as I usually do when I see her cry but not this time. Then all her biological siblings gathered around her and slowly touched her shoulders. She turned around and hugged them.
She was barely three weeks old when I first laid eyes on her. She has the most beautiful round eyes with very black large pupils. It squinted in the noon sun while she let out a small yawn. The white baby blanket that covered her was a hand-me-down like her yellow overalls. She was fair-skinned with the pinkest lips. Little had I known that this tiny girl would turn my world upside down in a beautiful kind of way.
Her mom was a cousin who asked me to take care of her while she looks for work. I was unemployed then with children of my own but at that time there was a small voice that prompted me to say “yes”. It was as if I skipped a heartbeat and the next beat was a series of thump-thump-thump. So, I took her home without telling or consulting anyone about my decision. Her only clothes were the one she has on and the baby blanket, and one small feeding bottle with milk.
I set her up in the hammock where we lay for afternoon naps. She was quiet and did not cry at all. She just slept the whole afternoon lulled by the slow swaying and the gentle, warm breeze until evening came.
She was still asleep when I laid her on the bed. I thought, “Oh no, she haven’t fed yet”, so I attempted to feed her. She hungrily sucked the milk in her only bottle and finished it. Then reality struck me when she started to cry because she was wet. I rummaged through the other kid’s clothes to look for white cotton shirts, I cut off the sleeves for her temporary diapers. I called my sisters to ask for used baby clothes and cloth diapers. I ignored their questions about who it was for instructing them to hurry and to bring what they can.
I was waiting for my partner to come home so he can look after her while I buy milk at the nearest 24/7 supermarket. He came home late and was surprised to find a baby sleeping on our bed. He looked at me and did not speak so I told him. I was talking so fast I do not know if I made any sense at all. He did not ask any more questions and just told me he will be the one to go out and buy. He came back with milk, a new set of feeding bottles and a pack of small sized diapers. From that day onwards, everyday was an affirmation of love for her and for us.
For days, weeks and months people, neighbors and relatives alike questioned about the new addition to the family. Those who came from afar thought I gave birth to her. We did not see the need to explain the whys, wheres or hows except to the closest circles and only when they ask. We were discreet in telling the story, thinking of the repercussions it might bring when she grows up. Oh yes, there were those who asked only to gossip, to whom we just gave a polite smile. We put into good use the word “discernment”.
I will not pretend that it was not a struggle to make both ends meet, both financially and in time management, having to also take care of school age children of my own. My youngest was just six-years old then so she was taking it like “Okay, a new baby, how cute” and adapted to being an older sister. Suddenly the whole world revolved around her. Everything was calculated, exacted, implemented with her as primary consideration. If there was any question with regards to family occasions or endeavors it was always “How about her?” My partner and I was set to see to it that she is never left alone, never hungry, never in need of anything. It was instinctual from everybody that she is not ordinary and has to be taken cared of. All the while I was thinking, everything is just temporary, when her real mom has gotten a job we can all go back to our normal lives. Little did I know then that the little baby girl with the round big eyes would soon become a daughter, borne not from my tummy but from my heart.
At first her mother would show up weekly then it trickled to once a month, before she was one-year old, I can actually count in my fingers the time that she had visited her. The last time was when I confronted her about the inconsistency of the visits, to which she humbly pleaded in tears if the baby could just stay with us, as she will most probably die if she stays with her. She has seven of her own already. Foolish and impulsive as it may sound but at that time, I simply said 'yes'. From that time on, the next visit would be on her third birthday. I could not take the heart to judge or condemn her mother, she just did what she thought was best for Abby.
Growing up, we did not deny her the Christmas visits from her biological mother and her other siblings but we did not push her into the idea. We just let time take its course about this sensitive subject. From one year to seven years old, the word “adopted” or “adoption” was never brought up in our house and if ever it was, it was never in front of her. When my partner and I talked about it, we discussed that we had to lay a strong foundation of security for her first. We would subtly hint it when she was about eight years old, gauging how she would take it. If we see that she is not yet ready, we do not pursue the subject ending it with a verbal affirmation of how much we love her. We will wait until she is ready and then we will sit down with her, this discussion never came to be necessary.
As she grew with the occasional yearly visits from her mother and other siblings, she started to welcome them too in her world. She would go and kiss her hand, as customary, and chit-chat with them, slowly opening to them. She will exchange stories but she will not go with them anywhere even if they insist. Sometimes I or her father would sit with them. At first she would frequently look at us as if asking if it’s okay. We would join in their conversation and tell them funny stories and her eyes will light up. We made her feel that she has the best of both worlds and that she doesn’t have to choose.
When I got employed, she was always with him because he had a freer schedule. She was not left to a nanny or to a sitter or any other relative not even to the other kids it was either me or him who took care of her. When we had misunderstandings that led to temporary separations, the struggle was not about us but who keeps her. Looking back, that somehow kept the family together. There was no room for her to feel unloved or unwanted which was our goal. All the members of the house participated in our set-up willingly so we never had to insist or give a long explanation about accepting or loving her. Up to now, I am still amazed on how things had worked out while many had said that we could not to do it.
We did our best to give her everything that she needed. Although she was different, she was not treated differently. She does the house chores, was reprimanded or deprived of unnecessary extravagance but given rewards and certain privileges when deserved or when they are earned, and she went to the same school as all the others. She was special but not "entitled" (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201102/parenting-how-not-raise-spoiled-brats). With this foundation, we saw her grow up happy, a team player, an active participant in school and neighborhood activities, warm and accommodating to everybody, respectful and compassionate towards others. She's a good sport always noting that everybody did their best when their team loses. She's not offended by any bully when she was teased about being adopted, in fact those bullies became her friends. The neighbors who knew her story would show genuine concern when she meets minor accidents while playing. She's a breath of fresh air, a sunlight to our often gloomy lives.
To my heart, she is a miracle. She was given to us to teach us about unconditional love. If I have doubts about my abilities, I would look at the ball that is neatly parked in our porch and think how she had achieved to be the only girl playing in the midget basketball league. When the family is in a depressed mode, she would say that everything is going to be alright tomorrow. When any of us is sick, she would cover us with blankets while we sleep, putting a cold pack on our foreheads and bringing us our medicines. When the big kids are not around till late, she would ask about them with genuine concern and get excited when they got home. When she sees me worried, she would kiss and hug me. She would wake up her father when he falls asleep waiting for her and cuddle next to him. She is sweet like that and yet not any of the other children feels any jealousy or insecurity from her.
If there is any selfishness, pride, hatred or anger in any of us, she permeated it with her light. She is a constant reminder that we can go beyond ourselves to help anyone. It taught us compassion, kindness, patience, fortitude and inner strength. It made us believe in the good things about life and other people.
It was not really surprising that I would love her so much as she is really a blood relative, I can only look up to God’s working on her known-father’s love for her as she is not related to him in any way. I always marvel at their bond that I get teary-eyed every time I tell the story of how he would make her sleep, they would sing together every night.
She is our song.