Annabell, my firstborn, will turn ten this year.
How a decade has passed since her birth, I cannot comprehend. When she hugs me, I can kiss the top of her head without bending over.
That cannot be true. Not about this little peanut who left the hospital at 5 ½ pounds.
I poured myself into her those first two years. Once I muscled through sleep deprivation, being a mom was bliss. I was a stay-at-homer, she was my only child. I didn’t fully appreciate the preciousness of that fleeting arrangement until Liam came along two years later, nor did I understand the relative ease of managing two littles until Avivah joined our brood through adoption in 2011.
Keeping three children alive is hard work. Gone are the days of sprawling on the floor beside my toddler, playing Weebles and silly-singing the morning away. Gone are quiet afternoons when my singular care was not to wake the napping baby.
Most days it’s about survival. Food, clothes, transportation, hygiene, education. It’s just hard to find time for nurture. I love my kids, but sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten how to show them.
Maybe that’s why God gave me Annabell.
Sometimes it’s good when the apple falls far from the tree.
It’s easy to attribute a child’s bad behavior to bad parenting, and almost as easy to assume a delightful child is the product of delightful parents. I’m here to tell you that’s not true.
Sometimes I think Annabell has more compassion and grace in her little finger than I have in my entire being. That’s not good parenting, it’s a gift from God.
I don’t write about my children often, and when I do it’s usually about adoption. At the risk of sounding like a doting mother (which I am), I want to tell you what my firstborn daughter has taught me lately about love.
1. Love takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
Every Friday Annabell’s third-grade class goes to the library. She’s allowed three books. Of her own volition (and despite the lack of appreciation from her siblings), she picks one for herself, one for Liam, and one for Avivah. Every week.
A couple months ago Liam left his book in the black hole back of the car, where it mysteriously got wet, lost, and subsequently mildewed. I sent a note of explanation to the librarian, along with money to replace it. The woman reportedly told Annabell, “It’s still your responsibility. It was your book, so it’s your fault.”
When Avivah misplaced her gifted library book the following week, Annabell was in tears. “The librarian is gonna be so mad at me, Mommy!” Disappointing anyone has always been her deepest fear, a hereditary burden I fear she inherited from me.
Surely this would be the end of the library book sharing, I thought. But no. Annabell weathered the storm of librarian disapproval, taking the blame without thought of defending herself. When the missing book was found and her borrowing rights resumed, she continued her generous policy: one for herself, one for Liam, one for Avivah.
I don’t think it ever occurred to her to be angry.
Love is patient and kind. It is not easily angered.
2. Love shows itself when it’s least deserved.
Last fall, a few weeks into her first year at traditional school (I’d homeschooled Annabell to that point), she climbed into the car without her usual sunny smile. When I asked what was wrong, she said nothing. This continued for a few days, until finally she broke down and said a girl in class had been saying mean things to her.
Somehow this classmate had sensed my little girl’s deepest insecurities and was pressing those buttons every time the teacher’s back was turned.
I was livid, but tried not to show it. We talked about forgiveness, appropriate responses, keeping our distance. Nothing helped. The girl was relentless. Finally, I informed the teacher.
The response was swift and comprehensive. I was impressed. Annabell, however, was more grieved than ever.
“Mommy, I don’t want her to get in trouble. I know she doesn’t really not like me, because why would she not like me?” (pause to appreciate precious, innocent self-assuredness) “I think she’s mean because she’s sad, and if she gets in trouble she’s going to be even sadder.”
Indeed, on the playground the next week, the girl did get sadder. Some older kids bullied her until she sat in tears, alone. Annabell saw her crying and sat with her, doing her best to offer comfort.
The next week, she invited the girl to her birthday party.
I don’t think it ever occurred to her to hold a grudge.
Love bears all things and endures all things. It keeps no record of wrongs.
3. Love humbly delights in being given as well as received.
We sponsor two girls in Rwanda, one of whom, Diane, is an orphan. This summer Tim and I are planning to go love on these girls, and Annabell wants to go with us. She’s working hard to raise money for her plane tickets.
In January I received a letter from Diane, whom we only began sponsoring in December. She called me “my mum” and exulted in the thought that we love her. I had sent her a family photo, and in her letter she referred to “my sister Annabell’s” beautiful smile.
I read the letter to Annabell at bedtime. When I finished and looked up, my little girl’s cheeks were wet, but she was smiling. “She wants me to be her sister,” she whispered, awestruck. She was half heartbroken at the thought of a child so desperate for love, and half elated at the opportunity to love her.
I don’t think it ever occurred to her not to care.
Love is humble and compassionate. It honors others above itself.
Patient, gracious, compassionate.
When I grow up, I want to be more like my little girl.