A couple weeks ago, well before her birthday, Cora piped up in the backseat of the car. “Mom,” she said, “Mia won’t be coming to my party, will she?” No, I replied, we’ll be in Israel so she won’t be able to come. “And Nana and Papaw won’t be able to to come either?” No, baby, I’m sorry they won’t. We then went on to talk about all the new friends that would be able to come, but I could tell her little mind was still churning, thinking about the friends and family back home that she misses. When she was younger and we would be traveling for Orlando’s basketball season it was easy. She didn’t know her left from her right, much less understand what it meant to miss someone. This was one of those instances where I put on a brave mama face, but my heart was breaking. I told her everything would be great, and I wondered internally if I was doing my baby a major disservice.
One of the trickiest things about living abroad is the disconnection you feel from loved ones. It’s not like living in a different state, where you can mail packages and drive over for a visit. In some ways it’s like taking a step back in time, where you’re isolated to just your community. Of course we have FaceTime and the internet to connect us, but that has less impact for a five-year-old. So late one night, while I was lying awake worrying about typical mom worries, I had an idea. I could reach out to all Cora’s dearest friends and family, and ask them for a favor. It would be a little complicated, and it felt funny asking for help, but I decided Cora was worth it. I sent messages like a blitzkrieg, with a simple question, “Could you please send Cora a letter so she knows she is thought of on this birthday far from home?”
You may have figured out from the photo above, that the answer across the board was a resounding, “Yes!” We gave out the address to Orlando’s basketball arena, which we were told was the safest bet to make sure the mail got to us, and we prayed our letter writers would be able to figure out international shipping costs. Then we waited. Cora’s birthday came and went, and we hadn’t received a single letter. I felt like I was overdue with a baby again with all the texts asking, “Is our card there yet?!” My worst fear was mounting: the postal service was too unreliable and all those messages of love were lost in transit.
But the next week, on a random Tuesday, the basketball arena’s mailbox was stuffed. Overflowing with color, stickers, and handwritten sentiments. Cora came home from school with an entire stack of warm wishes waiting for her. And I will never, ever forget the look on her face. She opened each letter with care, remembering each face, knowing that they had thought of her weeks ago and made the effort to make her feel loved. She keeps them in a stack in her room now, and occasionally I’ll catch her going through them just for fun. Talking about making your heart burst.
We got notes from my family, Orlando’s family, and friends far and wide. Orlando’s Dad even made the effort to call her old school and arrange for her former classmates to write notes to her. The Valdez family had a New Year’s Eve party and made it into a card-making fiasco with all the cousins furiously coloring. And every single one made Cora’s day. Every single one made her realize how many people care about her.
So yes, there are times when this life is not easy for a parent. There are times when I can tell it is tough on Cora. But this was a reminder that we are never alone. We are never past the warm embrace of family and friends. And it may have made Cora’s birthday sweeter, but it will be a memory I cling to for however long this journey lasts for us. Because in the dead of night, when I’m awake with my mama worries, I’ll always know that if I ask for help, the call will be answered.
Thank you, to everyone who made the effort for Cora. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. We love you all and we can’t wait to see you again.