My oldest daughter Isabelle was born just a handful of days before Christmas. As I sat by the tree that holiday morning in a rocking chair with her in my arms, wrapped in a red cotton blanket, the confluence of postpartum hormones and wonder of a first baby left me in a puddle of tears. I sat and rocked and cried, wondering all the while what was happening to me. It wasn’t sadness or happiness, exactly. It was just the emotion of taking it all in. I felt cracked wide open.
Cracked open. That’s a little bit how I’ve been since returning from Oaxaca with Rosie (if you missed my post about our journey, you can find that here). The lump in my throat that showed up the moment we walked into the play yard at Casa Hogar Hijos de La Luna hasn’t left me. And like the feeling I got with my newborn baby, it’s not happiness or sadness, it’s both and neither and every feeling in between.
Trying to process a place that cares for 50 children every day in a home that would be considered modest for a family of four in America, it’s unimaginable. And to comprehend 50 mothers in circumstances desperate enough that they can’t take care of their own children, that’s unimaginable, too. But it’s the kids themselves who overwhelmed me most. Beautiful, tender, sparkling faces from tiny Alejandra, age eight months, who was dropped off by her mother the second day we arrived, to Jorge, age 13, brown-skinned and bright-eyed, who has spent the better part of his life there and loves all over the little ones as if they were all his own brothers and sisters.
Within seconds of the first day we arrived at Casa Hogar the toddlers and preschoolers were upon us, holding our hands, asking to be pushed on swings, wanting to play. The older kids took longer to warm up, helped along when we pulled out art supplies Rosie had packed in her suitcase. The Casa Hogar kids were just as enamored by rainbow loom bracelets as our own children. When we showed up the second day, the older ones ran up to show off their handiwork. Proud.
We spent long days there, doing everything from holding babies to playing patty cake, combing hair, folding laundry, and serving meals. The food is nourishing and generous. The older ones help the little ones with a maturity and efficiency that boggled my mind. The children are bathed every day. Participating in the organized chaos of cycling dozens of children through military-style baths was a sight to behold. I had the privilege of washing five of the youngest, all at once, their strong bodies and squeals of delight, almost too much to take in. I was drenched by the end.
At the close of each day, Rosie and I were filthy and exhausted. The combination of physical and emotional energy along with the mental work of speaking only Spanish was wearing. And each day I thought countless times, “I don’t know how these people do it.” I was humbled.
I was also humbled watching Rosie, who needed little in the way of language to connect with the kids. On day two, she and I rigged up a sling for her so she could carry around Alejandra, who she felt certain needed the comfort of a warm body. Rosie sat with the kids her own age doing crafts and fumbling through in Spanish while teaching them simple words in English. I’m not sure proud is quite the way I felt. It’s more, the immense satisfaction of watching your child be so very natural at something that makes absolute perfect sense.
While we were there, we used some of the money Rosie raised to replace a broken (and badly needed) toilet. And seeing the sad shape of their bookshelves, we spent some of the money at a local books store to restock the shelves with books for every age. Sitting with the kids as they red “Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse” in Spanish, a book I read to my own children, was a highlight of the trip for me.
By the end of our time at Casa Hogar, I was keenly aware of how much more I’d gotten from the kids than they from me. I was happy to make a connection in some small way with all of the kids, save for one, an 11-year-old-girl named Daisy who had kept her distance beyond asking me braid her hair. But then, it was time for us to leave. When I said goodbye to Daisy, she reached out and pulled me into a hug that was long and deep followed by a generous kiss on the cheek. “Un beso,” she said.
A small stack of letters awaited us when we got home. One was a card and a generous check for Casa Hogar from one of Rosie’s oldest friends and her family. Having just witnessed how much that money will mean, I was moved. The tears flowed.
Cracked open again.