Happy Birthday, Mary!

This girl came with a smile that melted our hearts, especially when almost none of the other children started out with smiles.

That was the first time we met Mary, when I picked her up and brought her to the park where Nathan was waiting with Alex and Anber.

And, as I said the other day in Anber’s birthday post, we knew this girl was special when even Anber liked her right away!

We had two challenges to deal with right away: first, a little girl who couldn’t hear at all and had almost no language (English or sign), and second, a Mama who had to learn how to braid black hair.

Both were tackled easily, and she immediately responded to her efforts.  The foster mom before us had already done the work of getting her hearing aids, and I knew how to deal with those, and I asked a friend from church to come teach me about hair.  It was so helpful, and even though I had to start simple, we got this girl what she needed.


Besides access to language and good care of her hair and skin, the other basic need Mary had was for food.  She had not had much experience with regular meals, much less healthy ones, and it took her a very long time to adjust (and not hoard her food).


The other big thing for Mary was that she had not been exposed to much at all, outside of the environment from which she had come, and so it did not take much stimulation to complete intrigue her.  What a fun season this was, to show her the world!


As language came, and her understanding of our family culture, she even wanted to play piano.  This made me nervous because we weren’t sure how much she could really hear, and we didn’t want to push it on her, but she was determined and stubborn and wanted to try.  And so she did.


When we found out she would be staying with us long-term, though the plan was always for her to return to her family, we went ahead and made a special room for her with the colors she picked out:


And I started getting braver with her hair!


But we didn’t see her really light up until a few months after she had joined our family, and we took her to the Deaf children’s holiday party at TSHA.  She loved it!  It finally clicked in her little head that sign language meant something, and she started asking for words, and our little trash hoarder who had been homeless figured out how “crafting” could turn her trash into treasures.  This was a day that changed everything for Mary!


The only thing that could make that better?  Gingerbread houses, you guys?  Christmas was MADE for Mary, and she exploded with excitement in all things bright and shiny with yummy foods and crafts and extra treats!


She responded so much to music that Nathan began taking her with him to symphony, so she could experience more sounds:


And one funny day, Mary finally heard music – and started to dance.


That’s when she changed from a sullen, withdrawn, “cognitively delayed” girl into a bright and active little girl as smart as anything!  She blossomed with every bit of language she picked up, and with every new exposure, and with every positive interaction we created.


We even saw attachment start to grow, ever so slowly, and it was a beautiful thing to see.

And also hilarious, because Alex and Mary are two of the funniest kids I have ever met in my life.


But there was one thing that was not clicking for her:  she came to us about nine months before Anber and Alex’s adoption were finalized, and she was not impressed to still “just be a foster kid”.  She wanted to be adopted so badly!  She asked us almost every day, and it was difficult to keep explaining the difference to her, and that she wasn’t anywhere near termination.  But this princess was one tough cookie, and she just kept pushing forward.


And I started getting really good at braids!


And it was sweet Mary, with the big heart, who was so excited about new brothers when Kirk and Barrett came – and she could keep up with them!


Mary came to us when she was just barely six, and by the time she was seven, we were asked to consider keeping her as it was no longer looking like she was going to be able to go home.

We said yes.


Who could resist a princess that dresses up and brings flowers to the table, even when all she wants is pork-n-beans?


This was the last Saturday play date we had with the boys before they officially moved in for adoptive placement.  They were the only ones we hadn’t fostered first, and none of us was completely sure how that was going to go.  And Mary was mad that they “cut in line” for adoption, no matter how many times we reassured her that it didn’t change us being able to keep her!

This was also the day Kyrie was born.

None of us knew then what the next year would entail, or how hard it would be, or how close we would grow together as we endured as a family.

But I was getting really good at braids, and now could bead, too!


And we knew by then, too, that Mary was smart as a whip and super advanced, not cognitively delayed at all!


She was also super nurturing:


And brave as the boys:


And always made the other children feel special by eagerly asking, “Do you want to sit by me?!”


She was also a super creative girl, with an imagination like nothing else!


And then it was time for her first cochlear implant.


Nathan gave her a blessing:


And she didn’t even act scared!


And while we waited for her to heal, we worked on making memories enough to become a family.


Finally, it was activation day – the day she would get the outside part of her processor, and get to use her cochlear implant for the first time.


Baby Kyrie was there, and her awful snorting-breathing sound was one of the first things Mary got to hear.

But she could hear, and now wanted to learn violin also!


Not only did Mary become a part of our family, but she became an important part of our family.  While Anber may have been our first baby girl, Mary has the distinction of being our oldest girl – with all the rights (and bossiness) and privileges that come with that position.   Know what, though?  She is a really, really good sister.


She has a temper, though, and there was that one day in first grade when she got irritated about having to wait on new braids… and so she cut off all her braids so she could get new ones… except then her hair was too short!  I cried!   She cried!  Talk about mother-daughter bonding!

But we survived.  And slowly, her hair grew back in the midst of many more adventures.



And then, just when we almost had hair again, it was time to shave one side because she had done so well with the first implant they were ready to do the second one.


Not only that, but Kyrie was in crisis at palate repair, so we literally took Mary from the hospital for her surgery all the way to Cincinnati for Kyrie’s surgery.   She was such a trooper!   We had doctor’s orders to help her sleep all the way there, and not unwrap her head until we had arrived.   That’s some serious family love, right there, managing all that at once.


The way home from that trip was as good for her as it was difficult going up, though, because that’s when we found out – finally – officially, Mary was getting adopted.

She was so excited!  And it was such a special day!

And those are all the pictures we could not share before that day.


Mary is our precious daughter, so bright and funny and clever and crafty.  She loves caring for her siblings, wants to be a teacher, and is very excited to be the boss of our family.  We love her!


Happy birthday, Mary!  We are so glad you are part of our family!  We love you!

(And can’t believe you are NINE!)



About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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