Many evenings at dinner, I ask our 5-year-old son and our 4-year-old girl/boy twins to name some of their blessings. Depending on their mood and what has happened in the past 10 minutes of their lives, I get varied, quite serious responses ranging from "our car is a blessing, because otherwise we could not drive" to "the rope swing that I made for my pink doggy is a blessing." My least favorite response: "I don’t have any blessings" (from a sullen 5-year-old, who at times seems to have already reached adolescence).
My favorite response is Julia’s: "My blessing is that I love you." I give her lots of positive reinforcement for that answer and her twin, Alex, jumps on board. Eventually Zachary decides that is his answer, too. The sentiment was there in any case, he just expressed it a shade differently.
On Thanksgiving Day and every day, we try to teach our kids to remember our blessings and to understand how fortunate we are.
The concept of a blessing is starting to get through. They understand that good things should be noted. I am pleased about this progress, because it is difficult to teach this idea to children who are healthy and strong, have a loving extended family, a house, good food and clean water, and whose greatest concern is that their siblings are harassing them. We are able to keep them sheltered, for a time, from seeing how bad life can be: poverty, devastation from a hurricane, physical challenges, hatred and war.
What they do not know is how differently their lives began.
On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, 2000, my husband and I brought 11-week-old Zachary home from Vietnam. We went to the mountains in northern Vietnam to find our adopted son. He had always been our son in our souls and our destiny; we just had to wait for him and find him. When we found out he was there, we went to get him.
Late that Thanksgiving evening, after most people had finished their celebratory dinners, we stepped onto the tarmac, having completed the final leg of our journey from across the world. I was aware of the quietude, and the contrast between that Thanksgiving Day and the happily chaotic ones spent with family and friends. This Thanksgiving was peaceful, it was profound and it was about our new family.
In Vietnam, the hours marking the American Thanksgiving day had long passed when we arrived home. In that ethereal never-never land where time went forward in one part of the world while we traveled backward in time to the other side of the world, we held our infant son tight, intent on getting our little family home.
Zachary had been born healthy and strong, but in poverty. His first family could not care for him, and entrusted us with parenting him. We were thrilled for this greatest of gifts. Zachary was our beloved. He was perfect. Now 5, and still beloved and perfect despite bouts of defiance, Zachary understands he is one of our greatest blessings, and he knows that his family is one of his greatest blessings. He does not know about poverty or the grave sacrifices his first mother made for him.
Saving Alex and Julia
Contrast the serene Thanksgiving in 2000 with the next one. Our boy/girl twins, Alex and Julia, grew in my body, and they came home from the hospital just a few days before Thanksgiving 2001.
I had been sick in the first trimester from a common cold virus to which most adults have already developed immunity; the virus can cause devastating birth defects. A torturous pregnancy with pitfall after pitfall followed. My high-risk doctors never expected the twins to survive to the minimum development at 24 weeks because of continuous placental bleeding. In the remote chance they developed sufficiently long in utero, they still could be deaf, at minimum, and possibly would never learn to feed themselves.
Instead, the twins were born strong at 34 weeks, Julia weighing in at 5 pounds, 10 ounces, and Alex at 6 pounds. They spent 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit and came home shortly before Thanksgiving. The doctors could find nothing out of the ordinary.
Alex and Julia were our beloveds, and they were perfect. Now 4 and still beloved and perfect despite periods of whininess and toy thievery, they understand that each is one of our greatest blessings, and that their family is one of their greatest blessings. They do not know about debilitating neurological defects or the grave sacrifices that the rest of their family made for them, and were prepared to further make, during the pregnancy and beyond.
Did I mention how much our family has to be grateful for? At dinner, after the kids tell me the good things in their lives, they ask what my blessings are.
I tell them that each of them is miraculous, and for that Daddy and I are truly grateful. I tell them that our first-born son, Jacob, who died from a blood clot one year before Zachary was born, is also one of our greatest blessings, because he is our beloved, our first perfect child, and always present in our family.
Our four children gave an invaluable gift to my husband and me: They taught us to never forget our blessings. We hope to return the gift to them.