Clara’s First Convention – What Our Girl Learned at NRLC 2012!
By Joleigh Little, Teens for Life Director, Wisconsin Right to Life
When I started thinking seriously about adopting, the two biggest hurdles (at least in my mind) were the fact that I was single and that international adoption is ridiculously expensive. How could I justify intentionally raising a child without a dad and the entire wealth of love a dad’s side to the family would bring? And how in the world would I afford an adoption that could cost nearly what I make in a year?
Leave it to the right-to-life movement to single-handedly–or more accurately many-handedly–put both of those fears to rest. I quickly realized that while I may not have a dad for Clara, I did (in “marrying” my job as a right-to life advocate) provide her with several sets of grandparents and countless aunts, uncles and cousins. The amount of love provided by this family is more than most children will ever have.
It is the kind and caliber of love that most orphans only dream of finding. Problem solved.
In addition to this, members of our extended NRLC and WRTL families prayed, contributed financially and helped in so many ways to bring our girl home. Second challenge met.
This year’s NRLC convention was unlike any other I have experienced in 20 + years. It was my first as a mom and it was an unparalleled joy to witness it through the eyes of my daughter.
It had been with great joy that I bundled my newly minted American into her Sit n’ Stroll and packed her off to our nation’s capitol at the end of June to meet “the other side” of her family, all of whom were conveniently gathered for the National Right to Life Convention 2012.
Ask anyone who attends this convention more than once – it’s as much a family reunion as it is the premiere event of the right-to-life calendar. In a typical year I spend as much time hugging people I love as I do learning new information. But I’ve been at this for 20+ years… how, I wondered, would this little person so recently transplanted from across the ocean handle all of the hustle, bustle, noise and attention?
The answer is pretty simple: like she was born for it. Because, as it is clear to me now, she was.
I’m pretty sure that the educational impact of the convention was completely lost on my daughter. She was far more interested in Melissa Ohden’s cell phone than she was the fact that pro-life rock star, Congressman Chris Smith, was at the front of the big room talking about forced abortion in China.
She didn’t read a single workshop title in the beautiful and wonderfully written convention book or realize that she was among the most brilliant minds in the pro-life movement. But she felt the love. Of that I am certain.
She met her Nana Jacki for the first time. In addition to organizing our convention each year, Jacki Ragan works tirelessly as NRLC’s State Organizational Development Director. During the years I worked at NRLC she became my second mom… to such an extent that I have actually slipped and called her “mom” during moments of intense conversation. (My other mom doesn’t mind, she loves her, too.)
Jacki also was my number one adoption cheerleader and helped fund raise an insane amount to help turn one little orphaned girl into the light of many lives. “Nana” is one of the first things I taught Clara to say while we were still sitting in our hotel room in Bulgaria waiting to come home. It’s a word she will use often and come to love as the 12th of Jacki’s grandchildren.
Uncle Derrick Jones named her “NRLC 2012 Princess” and made sure she had the name tag to prove it. If I’m not mistaken he also issued her a press badge which allowed her to take video during sessions if she so desired, and he kindly chiseled out a little corner of his press room (oh, yeah, he’s also NRLC’s Media Director) so Clara would have somewhere to call home during the week.
She quickly took over the entire suite, Derrick’s iPhone and his French fries, but he just handed them all over with a giant grin and called her his Clara Bear. In addition to all of this he allowed Clara free reign with his more than capable and delightful assistant, Jessica Rodgers, whom Clara calls “JESSIE!!” (always with that much excitement.)
Sweet little Olivia Ohden who has prayed for Clara during the long year it took to get her home, finally got to meet her new friend and quickly taught her the important concept of “I will be back” during a little role playing while we waited for our checks to arrive after dinner. So that first night before the convention started, when I snuggled into the bed next to her as she fell asleep, then got up to get something, my tiny sweet pea finally voiced the concern that had been nagging at her since her arrival home. “Be back?” she asked me in a timid little voice.
I crawled back into bed with her, snuggled her close and told her “Mama will ALWAYS be back because Mama loves you. Mama will always come back to her Clara.” (Funny, since then we have had zero trauma at bedtime because she knows how to ask me if she’ll see me again. And every night since then, in answer to her question, I answer “I will be back. I will see you in the morning!” And she smiles and goes right to sleep.)
Aunt Lori Kehoe (our very capable senior Congressional liaison and the executive director of NYSRTL) and cousin Rowan Kehoe who have also prayed day in and day out for Clara to come home (Rowan kept track on a calendar) finally got to meet our girl. Rowan proclaimed her even more beautiful than she was in pictures, introduced her to washable tattoos and sparkling gems, and Aunt Lori literally bowed at her feet and kissed her hand. (Which, Clara assumed, is how everyone SHOULD have been greeting her all along and she determined that she loves Aunt Lori very, very much.)
She finally got to meet her Gammy (Mary) Schindler and talk to her Auntie Suzanne (Schindler) on the phone. Uncle Bobby Schindler said hello a couple of times and she plans to follow up with him when she makes her debut at WRTL’s teen leadership camp next week. He’s flying in just to visit her, or so she assumes. (He’s actually going to educate the campers while he’s there, too.)
She was doted on and adored by members of WRTL’s crackerjack camp team, several of whom are actually borrowed from our friends at North Dakota RTL. These kids are so involved in our lives that they were actually mentioned in my home study as people who would provide healthy role models for our girl. (Ahem… take note kids… Healthy. Role. Models.) Eileen, Kacie, Amanda, Rachel, Havi and Seth all welcomed our girl with open arms – literally.
Christy Harding, maven of the CD dubbing operation at NRLC conventions, presented Clara with the beautiful blanket she crocheted for her. Christy became a mama this last year, too, also via the magical gift of adoption, so she cried as much as I did when she finally met our girl. Two women who started the 2011 convention as strangers have quickly become sisters of the heart as they have prayed for each other on this emotionally charged journey over the last year.
Perhaps most significant to this mama, and also quite interesting to Clara, was the first meeting of my small Bulgarian-American and another beautiful little girl who shares the same country of birth. Katie Musser (daughter of Suzanna Musser) is about Clara’s size and was blessed with an extra chromosome. As a result she was terribly mistreated for the first nine years of her life as she languished on the upper floor of a very bad orphanage only several hours away from Clara’s (much better) orphanage.
When Katie arrived home in the United States she weighed less than 11 pounds at nine years of age. Eight months later Katie weighs 27 lbs – almost exactly what Clara weighs at barely three. It was neglect and apathy that caused Katie’s starvation. It is love, a family, prayer and the absolute certainty that every life is precious that has brought health to Katie’s body, heart and soul.
To watch this little girl who had to be fed by an NG tube and wanted nothing to do with food happily munch down egg salad, meatballs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was truly one of the high points of my life. I found myself just staring at her in awe and fighting back tears. Katerina Hope Musser is truly a miracle – one that her mama, Susanna, kindly shared with all of us at NRLC 2012. My friend Melissa Ohden mentioned Susanna’s workshop in her story earlier this week, so I will just say that if you missed it you should read it here and if you would like to hear more of Katie’s amazing story and read about her little sister, Verity, who inspired her parents to adopt, visit their blog at www.theblessingofverity.com. You won’t be sorry. I do recommend a box of tissues and a large glass of water before you sit down to read.
While my daughter was very happy to meet all of the amazing people who make up the Movement side of her family, one person who held her attention the longest was Sadie Haupt. Like Katie Musser, Sadie is also chromosomally enhanced. Sadie and Clara connected instantly. Sadie reached out, Clara reached out and they just held hands and stared at each other. Anyone who has met the tiny tempest that is my child knows that sitting still isn’t part of her repertoire, and neither is staring quietly. But that is just what both of them did.
And every time they saw each other after that, their first few minutes were spent in some sort of silent communion that I can’t explain but that made me weep. As I told Sadie’s mom, Eileen, I have learned that my daughter is an excellent judge of character.
What did Clara learn from it all?
She learned that she is loved immeasurably and by a whole lot of people. She learned that family truly is defined more by the heart than by DNA. She learned that phones are a LOT of fun and that if you smile sweetly enough while saying “phone” and holding out your tiny hand, about 80% of people at a National Right to Life Convention will smile back and hand theirs over without question. She reinforced her innate understanding that people with extra chromosomes rock the world in which we live.
She learned that people don’t care how many fingers and toes you have – they just plain think you’re awesome because you’re you. She learned that if you trip and fall there will be no shortage of loving hands there to help you back up on your feet. She met a mama (one she knows as “Gammy”) who fought with everything she had to save her daughter’s life only to lose her and she met another mama who fought with everything she had to redeem a daughter she had never met from a place best described as hell on earth.
She learned that her own mama will always “be back” so long as there is a breath in her body. She learned that getting on a big airplane can be fun and doesn’t always mean a radical life change. She learned that after fun trips to meet new people we still come home to our house.
And although she doesn’t realize the full impact of it all yet, she learned that she is a tiny part of a huge and amazing family that exists purely and simply to help others live. Clara is the greatest gift God has given me and after watching her make her way through her first NRLC convention, I’d have to say that one of the best gifts I could ever have given her is this wonderful group of people who will help to love, nurture, encourage and uplift her as she finds her way in life.
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