Dear Elvie, Never Stop Using the Gifts You’ve Been Given

This morning Elvie will undergo her second major surgery of her short life, and subsequently begin her fifth hospital stay. This surgery is a good thing, a way to get Elvie closer to doing all the things she wants to do, like climbing to the top of every play structure on every playground and joining her big sister in ballet class. But it will also be a hard thing, and an uncomfortable thing, and a dreadfully unpleasant thing. Elvie has endured this before, so I know she can do it. She has endured much more, in fact, and I believe firmly that she was given two gifts that have helped her and will continue to help her along the way. What follows is my letter to Elvie on this hard day, reminding her of her gifts.

Dear Elvie,

Today we have woken you much earlier than usual and failed to offer you a morning bottle. You probably knew at that moment that today was different from other days, and not to your liking. I am sorry about that. I am sorry about what is to come today, when I carry you into the operating room and whisper to you as a mask is placed over your nose and mouth and you breathe yourself to sleep. I am sorry for the discomfort that you will feel when you wake up and for many days after that. But I am glad for you, too, that this will allow you to go more places and do more things, and get into more and more bits of trouble. Don’t be afraid, Elvie, because Ababi and Zinashi and I will be there with you and for you. Don’t be afraid, because you were given two beautiful gifts in your heart when you were born, and these gifts will help you not just through this next surgery, but throughout your life.


The first gift you were given is determination. You want what you want, and you will do whatever it takes to get it. We believe that it is your determination that carried you through illness and malnourishment until we could come for you, and it is determination that has allowed you to do more already than we dreamed would be possible at this point. It was as if you came into this world ready to do the work that it would take to get what you want, and that is a marvelous gift. You will do many amazing things because of your determination. And today, and in the days to come, your determination will help you heal and begin to use your second gift again.

The second gift you were given is happiness. I still remember the first time you smiled at me, as I changed your diaper in the middle of the night, wearing a headlamp so I wouldn’t wake anyone else by turning on a bigger light. I must have looked quite silly. I understand why you smiled. But now that we know how much you were struggling physically then, that smile seems like a miracle. I think that the truth is that the smile bubbled right up from inside you, where your happiness lives. You are the happiest little person I have ever met. You get upset at us, and you get sad sometimes, but you always bounce right back to happiness. I know that at first, you will be too out of it from anesthesia and uncomfortable from the surgery to be able to smile, but that smile will come bubbling to the surface again. You will smile, and you will start to laugh, and you will wave hello and good-bye to everyone who comes to your bedside. I will remember, and I want you to remember, that even when you can’t yet smile, that happiness is inside you, just waiting. It will help the hard days be easier, and just like your determination, it will help you heal.

Elvie, I am so pleased and proud to be your mama. You are a gift to me, to your Ababi and Zinashi, and to everyone you meet. Your determination and happiness are an inspiration to all of us, and we are so lucky to know you. If I could spare you from having this surgery, I would, but I know that you have it within you to be fine, to be wonderful even. I am trusting in your gifts to carry you through this time.

Love and hugs and smooches,


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