Top Ten

July 9, 2021

Today, Elena turns ten. TEN! Double-digits. A Decade. X. Half way to twenty.

My Mom heart, as you can imagine, is a swirl of feeling. Reminiscing, wondering where ten years has gone, thinking about the future, all of it has my brain on overdrive. But, this day isn’t about me. It’s about celebrating my girl and relishing in all that she is. With such a momentous (and numerically significant) occasion as this, what better way to document it than a Top Ten List? So here it is folks, my Top Ten favorite things (though there’s about a hundred more) about Elena.

1. Her Laugh

Her usual giggle is great, a bit of a snorting laugh.  But every now and then she gives us one where I’m not sure she can breathe or she may throw up her lunch.  It’s silent and scrunches her face and makes her shoulders shake.  This one doesn’t come around very often, but when it does, I assure you….it’s contagious.

2. The Curls Around Her Face

Over the last few years, in the midst of the Indiana summer humidity, she gets the most perfect ringlets of her sandy brown hair that frame her beautiful face.  While the rest of her silky hair is stick straight, these curls around her face are unruly and wild and perfect.

3. Her Blue Eyes.

Some days they’re a deep ocean blue and others a misty, blue gray, flecked with light, like the sun peeking it’s way through thick storm clouds.  They’re big and round, lined by thick, dark lashes, framed perfectly with a sprinkling of light brown freckles, like she blinked them into existence. Every now and then she will find you, looking you in your own eyes and it’s spiritual.  It’s a rare connection that makes your heart squeeze and burst with feelings of pure love and goodness.

4. Watching Her Listen to Her Favorite Music

Whether it’s “Somebody to Love”, “Blank Space”, or pretty much any Frozen or Moana tune, she can spot the first few notes of any of those songs and perk up immediately.  That smirk of recognition creeps across her face and she gets in the zone, legs kicking, singing along, squealing with delight.  As the song starts to come to an end, she’ll slow down and listen, really listen because the ending is always the best part.  She waits for it, then will smile her biggest grin and give a squeal of approval.  It’s like watching joy happen in real time.

5. Seeing Her in Water

Whether she’s floating with her neck ring or upright and walking in water therapy, this is her happy place.  Those long, skinny legs kick and kick and step and step, faster than Michael Phelps in his 100 gold medal races.  She prefers the ocean for its constant motion, the rise and fall of infinite waves, but can take off practically running in a pool.  You splash her?  No problem, it makes her giggle with delight.

6. Listening to Her “Talk”

I mean, the ‘I love you’ last summer truly topped everything.  She still says it, but not as clearly as she did that ridiculous gift of a day.  But, having a “conversation” with her is always sweet and funny and, even though it’s lost in translation between us, it’s meaningful.  Communication overall is still difficult and unreliable, but possible.  Anything is possible and we remain incredibly hopeful that these “conversations” will one day be translated between us. 

7. Watching Her “At Work”

When I calculate all the hours spent every week in therapy since Elena was six months old, it adds up to thousands upon thousands.  We have asked so much of her, often times with incredible difficulty, and rarely has she ever refused.  She works so hard at school and at therapy, almost always with a smile on her face, pushing herself, constantly overcoming, fighting against the instincts of her own body to continue to achieve.  Nearly everything is difficult for her, yet she never complains.  Every millimeter of progress, every achievement no matter how small is the most precious of victories.

8. Waking Her Up

Post-injury Elena has not been the best sleeper over the past ten years.  Whether it was her reflux, muscle spasms, discomfort, position or whatever else, we’ve spent many, many hours either putting her to bed or putting her back to bed.  However challenging those moments have been, in true Elena form, waking her up of a morning is almost always a treasure.  Sneaking in and gently waking her, you’re usually greeted with the sleepiest, sweetest close-mouthed grin.  Eyes still closed, only reacting to your voice, her smile is so sweet it makes your heart ache.  Most mornings I sing her a little wake up song while she grins and stretches, never grumpy or complaining.  The verse from Psalm 30:5, “…weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning,” often comes to mind, making the frustration of the night before wash away. She’s our own Sleeping Beauty.

9. Her Ears

With Elena’s vision impairment, her hearing has become a remarkable sense for her.  She can hear the faintest of sounds, startle to the slightest creak, turn to a distant cell phone chime or grin to the subtle whooshing of an airplane far overhead.  This, as you can imagine, can be a blessing and a curse.  It has cursed us on nights trying to put her to bed, tip toeing out of the room only to make her jolt awake with a cracking joint or squeak of a floor board.  When it’s not sabotaging sleep, it serves to remind us what a gift our ears are.  Watching her enjoy sounds has become a source of joy for me, taking a moment out of my busy days to just listen with her.  Birds, toilets, airplanes, the wind, burps, yawns, toots, sneezes, cheers, music, water, the sounds of the world around us, Elena hears and takes pleasure from it.  It reminds me that these simple treasures surround us everywhere, every day, if you only take a moment to pause and breathe in the beauty around us. 

10. Her Life, All 3,650 Days of it

From her birth, the months pre-injury, her injury and its aftermath, Elena has taught me more about life in 10 years than I could’ve hoped to learn in a lifetime.  Each day she reminds me to live, to live with gratitude and understanding of how thin the veil is between this life and heaven, how everything you’ve ever known can evaporate in a moment, how fleeting and fragile every waking moment of our lives truly is and urges me to live life for what it is, temporary.  Despite all the tragedy, injustice and heart break in our lives and in this world, she lives not with complaint and self-pity but joy and love. Therefore I must daily choose the same, to shove the fear aside and stride forward in faith and courage and appreciation for whatever this life of mine, this life of ours will be despite our circumstances. It’s both the most terrifying and terrific lesson I’ve ever learned. In the immediate aftermath of her injury, my knee-jerk reaction was to fall to my knees in gratitude because she lived. Since then, her face, her smile, her presence is the most beautiful daily reminder that this life holds so much goodness everywhere, you just have to look, and as she taught me, to listen.  From Elena’s curly ringlets to her curled-under toes, she is God’s good and perfect gift to me.

My darling, darling girl.  Ten years of loving you has made me who I am and who I will forever be.  My little light, I live to watch you shine.  Happy Birthday, Elena Catherine!

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This is Elena. Our Light. You can see all the goodness and joy that shines from those deep blue eyes. She loves sneezes, yawns, industrial toilet flushes, automatic paper towel dispensers and The Star Spangled Banner. Music is her everything, specifically Moana, Frozen (really all Disney), Queen & Taylor Swift. Nothing makes her squeal quite like swimming, fast boat rides and her two brothers in trouble. In addition to her megawatt smile, Elena reminds us to cherish the smallest of victories, to live in the present, and to daily dwell in a posture of gratitude for every breath and every blessing.  

More About Our Story

I’m Emmalee, an ordinary gal born and raised in the Heartland. Wife to Chad, and Mom to Elena, Calvin & Turner, I spend most my days ridin’ dirty (literally so much trash) in my minivan carting kids to and fro. When I’m not being a Momager, I excel at self-care, cooking gourmet meals my kids won’t eat and deep-diving all the feelings. Most days, my attitude is gratitude, just taking life one step at a time.

Emmalee & Elena

Meet The Gals