Saturday, February 4, 2017

Maternity Leave, America style.

Although it's hard to believe, D'Assise and I have been back in Rwanda for two weeks now after a wonderful six weeks is the U.S. (I am extremely lucky to work for a fantastic organization that offers paid maternity leave even for adoptions). Even though it was the longest time I'd been back in the U.S. in five years, it went by in the blink of an eye. But man, those six weeks were pure magic, from beginning to end.

I had time to actually create new memories and relax rather than just having a week of quick one- on-ones catching up on a year's (or several years') worth of news and gossip. D'Assise and I got to the chance to unpack our suitcases, and spend quality time with my family, and reconnect with old friends.

As I sit here overlooking Lake Kivu in Western Rwanda, looking back on the trip, the word that I'm constantly reminded of is gratitude. We felt so welcomed and loved by family members, friends near and far, and even complete strangers. I wished I could bottle the feeling up to save it for the tough days.
D'Assise assigned all of my family members nicknames during the trip (sometimes more than one). He dubbed his Uncle Paul "Uncle Monkey" and "Uncle Strawberry."
Before we even arrived, a few friends and relatives donated warm clothes to D'Assise to wear (since the temperature rarely dips below 55 degrees here, both of us have only light jackets, and no hats or gloves to speak of). On the train connecting the international and domestic terminals at Chicago O'Hare airport, some people wedged between us on the crowded trip overheard me talking to D'Assise about we were going to do in America and proclaimed "We're so happy you're here! We hope you have a great time!", and my aunt, uncle, and two cousins dropped everything to come and meet us when I called them to tell them our flight was delayed in Chicago. A neighbor gave us a little tent for D'Assise's room for when he arrived (which he promptly called "his house" and wanted to spend all of his time snuggled in). One of our former neighbors who is an orthopedic surgeon came over on his off hours to examine D'Assise's legs. He and his wife helped get us an appointment the same week with the pediatric orthopedic surgeon who operated on D'Assise's Achilles tendons. Today, D'Assise is walking better than he ever has, despite the advice of several doctors in East Africa who told us that nothing could be done and that he'd never walk normally his entire life. 

Goodbye casts! Goodbye wheelchair! Hello new legs!

One of our family friends who is a police officer stopped by with gifts, a police badge sticker, and he let D'Assise sit in his police car and turn on the lights (the thrill of the trip! D'Assise couldn't stop talking about the REAL police officer and how he got to ride in his REAL car). When I went with D'Assise to get his hair cut and had to explain to the barber to talk a bit slower to D'Assise so he could understand because it's his first time in America and he's still learning English, the entire barbershop erupted with high-fives and "Welcome to America!" Other customers at the barbershop were buying him snacks left and right and a local pastor asked to carry him to our car. When we went to go see a Creighton basketball game and were waiting for my Mom to pick us up (D'Assise was in casts and a wheelchair most of the trip), the mother of one of the players saw us and asked if we wanted to go see all the players outside the locker room. D'Assise got to meet all of the players and the coach, and they signed a poster and his leg casts.

The Bluejays!
D'Assise at the barbershop
Even on our plane trip back to Rwanda after tearful goodbyes with my family, the pilot on our Omaha to Chicago flight let D'Assise pretend to fly the plane, helped me schlep my carry-on luggage to our seats in the very back of the plane, and carried D'Assise to the wheelchair waiting outside the plane for us after we arrived. The entire trip felt like the end scene from "It's a Wonderful Life", when George Bailey returns to his previous life, feeling grateful for the gift of being alive.

Most of all, I feel overwhelmingly grateful to my parents and siblings. Having a child in a wheelchair is no easy task (and I have a newfound serious respect and admiration for parents who have children with permanent disabilities), but my family was so supportive through it all. They helped me lug his wheelchair through snow and ice, they babysat for D'Assise so I could slip out to a yoga class or to a concert with my siblings, and patiently played hours upon hours of Candyland (which is definitely in running for most boring children's game of all time) and Old Maid.

GrandDad on his thousandth game of Candyland

My mother would get off a long shift at the hospital to come home and watch D'Assise, even though she probably needed the extra sleep a lot more than I did. When my insurance company unexpectedly refused to cover D'Assise's surgery or the leg braces he needed afterwards, my parents comforted me through the shock (let's just say there were a lot of tears involved), helped me make an action plan of what to do, and offered to help me to cover the costs.

It wasn't the maternity leave I had planned (in typical Claire fashion, I had carefully crafted a to-do list about a mile long and had mapped out a roadtrip across the East coast and Midwest to visit friends), but it was perhaps the maternity leave that we both needed. I ended up losing my to-do list three separate times (which I took as a divine sign that I needed to chill on being productive for once in my life), and having D'Assise in a wheelchair meant that we hung around Omaha playing Go Fish with grandma most of the time, except for an amazing weekend in Chicago with friends. It was a maternity leave that focused a lot less on the "doing" and lot more on the "being."

So many games of Go Fish. 

 I couldn't have wished for anything more.