Gift wrapped

Why do I take so many pictures of Flynn? Usually, for no reason except that she is so ridiculously...astoundingly....
Uhm, you know, I think they need to invent a new superlative to describe the Flynn. "Cute" just doesn't cut it anymore.

I have another, more private motivation for my bazillions of photos as well. This may be a futile endeavor (I know how I cringe at the sight of my own baby pictures), but I would like her to someday understand how absolutely beyond compare she was just exactly as she was born - perfect in every way.

I don't honestly know if other people see what I see when I look at her. I remember when I first started researching cleft palate, looking at the before and after pictures on the Operation Smile site, LWB, and others. I remember cringing a little, thinking how fortunate those kids were to be selected for the surgery missions, thinking how sad it was that they had to go so long without the surgery. And it is difficult for them, of course. It's naive not to think so. In some cultures, a cleft is even worse than a stigma - in some cultures it's considered a type of curse. So some of these kids were certainly ostracized in their society. In addition to that, if they grow to school age with the cleft, they have trouble communicating, making themselves understood. I know that. I still know that.
But here's the thing - what I see when I look at Flynn QiuQiu is not a child with a "birth defect". I see perfection. Absolute, joyful, gorgeous perfection.

As a rational person, I realize that I'm programmed to see my child as the most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on. It's human nature. Whether by blood or by choice, I am programmed to protect this little creature with my life. I have to be willing to throw myself in front of a bus for her, take a bullet for her, give up my food for her if need be. She is my charge, my raison d'etre, mine to protect above all else, so that she will have a chance to grow, healthy and strong, to adulthood.
So I know that there is the possibility that not everyone sees my child the way I see her. I know that intellectually. But I don't know it in my heart. In my heart what I know is that she is the most beautiful, perfect creature that ever walked the earth. Flawless. Exactly as she was created.

I want her to know, when she's older and looking back on her early life, that I saw her that way. I know that, at the moment, she sees herself as lovely. I love her natural lack of self-consciousness, the way she lights up when she sees her image in the mirror or on film. I think she's lucky to feel that way now. But I know that as she grows, and comes to understand the societal concepts of beauty and "normality", that she will most likely become self-conscious about her cleft. That pains me deeply. I also know that each and every one of us see ourselves as flawed. Even the most beautiful of us (OK, well, maybe not the Paris Hiltons of the world...who knows what they see) cringe at what we see as our imperfections. Those of us born with no definable "defects" still see things to criticize and to be ashamed of in ourselves, at least from adolescence on. And that's as it should be - we certainly don't need a nation of arrogant, infallible human beings.
I want Flynn to be humble. I want her to be self-critical when need be. I want her to strive for something greater in her spirit and her heart, and in what she gives back to society. But I don't want her ever to think of herself as less than perfect the way she was made. I don't want her to ever feel shame in the way she was born. So I want her to see, through my eyes, the unparalleled, innocent, joyful, affectionate beauty that she has now.

When we take her for that first surgery, in just a couple of weeks, I know that I'm going to cry for the loss of the face I have known and loved since the first time I saw her referral picture. I realize that her spirit, her joy and her personality will not be taken away with that surgery. These things are inside her, and they will always be. But she will look different, and that's a thought that I can't support right now. I'll get used to it, and so will she - although it may shock her the first time she looks in the mirror again. She will forget the pain, and she will benefit from the miracles of modern surgery, from the internal workings of her mouth - the freedom to learn to talk, to eat solid food. She is now understanding plenty of words in English, and she will be glad of the ability to learn to express herself in words. Later, she will be glad of the cosmetic changes. But at the moment I need the time to grieve for this face - the first face, the one I first grew to love so wildly and deeply and unconditionally.

Those people who are not used to the sight of open clefts may find it difficult to see in perspective the face of a child who, at the age of a year, has not yet had any surgery. As I said, there was a time that it looked painful to me. By the time we got her referral pictures, I had done a great deal of research, seen a great many pictures and films and slide shows, so I was already quite accustomed to it. I don't know whether it's my ease with the medical condition, or simply her undeniable beauty and spirit - but what I see when I look at her...it's hard to explain.
The American Indians and the Persians (and quite possibly other cultures that I don't know about...and please don't put this on Wikipedia, because my expertise is profoundly limited) had a tradition of crafting a flaw into their legendary and artfully woven rugs. I only know the superficial history, but I believe the Indians wove in a flaw so that any evil spirits that might become trapped in the rug would have a means of escape. The Persians, as I understand it, felt that only God was capable of creating a perfect thing, and that man should not presume to be able to create anything as perfect. They wove in a flaw so as not to pretend to the same creative perfection as God. I think that is how I see our daughter...she has the inherent flaw that makes her a masterpiece. Or, conversely, she is perfection by the nature of her creation.

Another traditional phrase that comes to mind when I look at these pictures is, "It takes a village..."

I love that, in every picture, she is surrounded by and clad in the things that have been given to her by a virtual village of well-wishers.

She came into our lives welcomed by so many, with gifts hand-made, or handed-down, or chosen with love and care.

Nearly everything that she is wearing, playing with or lying on in any of these pictures was a loving contribution from someone who was eager to welcome her into our family.

While I love the Chinese tradition of the 1oo good wishes quilt, I did not make a quilt for her. I'm just not that talented, or wealthy in free time. But the various and lovely fabrics that were sent to me I made into a number of hand-sewn stuffed animals that now reside in her crib and around her room. Beyond that, she has blankets, clothing, toys, even bottles that were given or handed down from caring friends and relatives.

I can't help but think that in some way she can feel the cumulative power of all that love and support.

Maybe that is what has bolstered her, swaddled her, wrapped her in trust and comfort, and given her the freedom to be such a joyful, easy, trusting and confident little girl.

M. and I will never be able to thank you all for the love, the good will, and the treasures with which you have showered the arrival of our daughter. It warms our hearts and, I am quite certain, hers. You have only to look at her face to know it's true.


Vivian M said...

True beauty goes beyond the cosmetic changes or the "flaws" humankind thinks as imperfections. True beauty comes from within. And there is something in Flynn's eyes, her smile, and I am sure her personality that makes her truly beautiful. She will learn this from you, and hopefully you can instill in her the self confidence and self esteem she will need in her tween years, to rise above peer pressure or society's expectations of what she "should" look, dress or act like.
You are definately her Mama, and somehow destiny made it possible for the right child and the right couple to come together to form the right family for each other. It's always amazing how that happens!

Mamacita said...

Its not just you, Biased Mama. She just radiates beauty. Her eyes are so wonderful and her wide cleft grin is so expressive. You hit the baby jackpot right there!


In Mexico, a friend of ours calls our daughter "Lina Bonita Preciosa Maravillosa Princessa Belleza Corazon." Maybe you should go with something like that?

Tish said...

touching words. and you are right, she was created in perfection. it is sad that our society has such a narrow, unnattainable, flawed perception of beauty. flynn is beautiful through and through.

J said...

A point of view from some young & objective eyes:

I didn't say anything to B about her having a cleft lip before we came over last week, and he didn't say a word to me about it during or after our visit. He just plain accepted her as she is.

Snowflowers Mum said...

it's funny how perfect they are even when they have what society deems a defect. I missed 'lumpy' when it was removed...I missed it because it was part of my daughter...it was the reason she was placed with us...so to see it go was kind of bettersweet.
When a closr family member saw a photo of lumpy they remarked that it was 'gross'...how can any part of my daughter be gross??? I was stunned! So alien to me that someone could say that about any part of my child.
So I understand, I do...because our children are perfect to us just the way they are...

Yoli said...

Maia, she is a beautiful child. She also has an aura about her of sweetness. Her eyes draw you in completely. Nothing will take away what is QQ.

lisa said...

I read the other post first, and was about to post a comment about how beautiful she is-and then I read this. She is absolutely lovely, no qualifications. ~lmc

Maia said...

Ah, such a wonderful post. Thank you! I met FF after she had her surgery, so this version of her face is the one I first fell for, but I remember when we took her in to meet her surgeon here, and she said, "So, I bet you want to know whether or not I can get rid of those scars!" And I was like, "Wha- huh, now?"

I mean, I know that there are probably a lot of people who come in to her overly concerned about the scars, or the asymmetry, or whatever, on their children's faces, and of course I understand the desire to want to help your kid "fit in" and avoid being teased... but I just think that the attitude of the parents, and the parents' ability to communicate to their kids just how beautiful they really are, means so much more. No one is "perfect" in the sense that American society generally likes to think of perfection - but our daughters? They are perfect in a much more visceral, real, sense of the word. And I am glad that Flynn has parents who recognize that beauty.

I have two huge boxes of clothes I'm getting ready to send you guys. I keep finding more things that FF has grown out of!

Qiuqiu's parents said...

Maia, our surgeon was all about the "cosmetics" when we went in, talked like we were not going to be happy unless one would "never know" there had been anything "wrong" with her face. And then she handed my 11-month-old daughter a copy of people magazine (sadly, I'm not joking). I almost choked. But I kept my mouth shut because she has the best reputation in town for this type of surgery, and has done dozens of cleft missions, so she's got the best resume. Of COURSE I want her to do the best job possible on Flynn, duh,...but not for my sake, and not because she could be any more beautiful "with help". She is beautiful now. Period.

kris said...

It is so strange that what you write here is exactly what I have thought looking at her. I'm not her mother, but part of me has felt a little, almost, scared? about her upcoming surgery and I couldn't put my finger on why- and now I understand. I think I'll grieve a little of exactly what you talk about here- that first face, her perfect face- the face we have all come to love- though I know, just as you do, that it is her spirit that makes it so beautiful. You are in no way biased Maia. She is absolutely beautiful.

I got so choked up reading this. I am certain, because of the kind of parents you and Mike are, she will be humble of spirit- and I trust that she will celebrate these pictures in the same way you have taken them! I think our self image is fostered by the love we are surrounded by, and she has SUCH solid footing on that.

Her smile may change a little on the outside, but it will still be radiating the same way- through those eyes, through her whole face, that just lights up like the rising sun...

Julie said...

What an amazing post. And she is truly beautiful.

Troy and Amy said...

What a beautiful post. Well said. Flynn is absolutely gorgeous!

We just got home from China with our son, Ty. He has a cleft palate and repaired cleft lip. He is the cutest and funniest little guy...and perfect in our eyes. I think many times people focus on the "defect" and not the internal beauty of the child. We don't even think about Ty's cleft issues.

Cavatica said...

She has beauty from within and on the outside and it shines.

I get this, though. We get a lot of questions about Bing-Bing's eye and I wonder when they will become old for her?