I’ve tried to write this letter so many times but I could never find the right words to tell you everything I want to say. You are leaving for the United States tomorrow where you will live with your mom and your brothers. You’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. Many times we have looked at the books your mom sent with pictures of your family and your house. You especially love the pictures of your brothers eating pancakes, riding bikes, and jumping into the “pool” which I think is actually a lake, but you don’t yet know what a lake is. You are also looking forward to going to the playground with them. I bet by now you’ve done all those things together.
I met you two years ago (almost exactly) when I moved to Haiti. I fell in love with you almost instantly. You were pretty sick when I first arrived so we spent a lot of time sitting under the mango tree, in the pharmacy, or in my house. You just wanted to cuddle all the time, which was perfect because I love to cuddle! You would hardly eat anything except bowls and bowls of goldfish crackers. You were my church buddy and would always sit so quietly during the services even though Haitian church is really long. You loved getting dressed in your “bel” clothes and packing a bag of goldfish to eat as a snack. I was worried that when you got better you wouldn’t need me anymore, but God had tied our hearts together and even though you had energy to run and play with your friends, you always came back to me.
When you were little, your skin was very dry. I always thanked God for making you that way because every morning I got to take you into the pharmacy to lotion you up. Fifi often tried to help by putting on your morning lotion, but I never told her that on those days you just got lotion twice. You learned how to spell your name during that time because we wrote your name on the bottle of lotion and you had to spell out the letters before we started. When you got really good at your letters, we wrote the names of all your friends on the bottle and you would spell out those too. You also learned your body parts because we announced them together as each part got its lotion. Once you knew them really well in Kreyol, we switched to English and you learned that too.
We took lots of trips to the doctor together and I enjoyed every one. You would talk nonstop in the car, naming every plant, animal, and vehicle you saw. We would practice words in Kreyol and then in English. Sometimes I would have you say things just because they sounded silly. It was so cute when you would see a woman walking on the side of the road and say, “Look, a lady!” Wherever we went, everyone loved you. You charmed them with your smile and impressed them with how smart you were. I bet you’re still really smart.
I sometimes wonder what you will grow up to be. I don’t know which one came first, but there are two reasons that all the nannies here called you Dr. Manno. When Wilson’s brother Emilio got in a moto accident, he came to the pharmacy for me to help him. Pretty soon you came and poked your head in like you always seemed to do. You weren’t scared when you saw blood so you got a little closer. Your eyes got so big as you nodded when I asked if you wanted to help. We put gloves on you that were way too big and just flopped around on your hands. You were the gauze holder and would hand a piece to me whenever I needed it. When we were all done, you told Emilio that he was very good for not crying and made me give him a sucker. Every day for a couple weeks Emilio would have to come and get his bandages changed and you always came running in if you knew he was there so you could help hold the gauze. Every time you made me give him a sucker and every time he thanked Dr. Manno before he left.
You were also my helper passing out medicine to the kids. I can’t even begin to count how many times you did this with me. I let you pick which order to do the rooms and you always remembered who needed medicine and who didn’t. The nannies would say hello to Dr. Manno and if they didn’t notice you right away or forgot to say that, you would whisper to me that they forgot. That was my cue to make some sort of announcement like “here is Dr. Manno with the medicine”. I think Joshua was your favorite. He had cerebral palsy and lived in the Jiraf room with some other kids who couldn’t sit up or walk by themselves. You were never scared because he was different than you. When we first started I would always tell him “Joshua, here is your friend Manno”. Pretty soon you would announce as soon as you saw him “Joshua, here is your friend Manno”. Then you would make me put you up into his crib where you would make him smile and laugh. Several times, you would make me close the crib as you lay down next to Joshua or lay your head on his tummy and told me you were sleeping in the Jiraf room and I could finish giving medicine by myself. Of course, it never lasted more than a few minutes so you would give him a kiss and say goodnight as you climbed back down. Pretty soon, a lot of the other big kids would come into the Jiraf room while we were there and they would start asking to go up into the cribs to give kisses and say goodnight too. You were always a leader like that. The other kids liked you and wanted to do what you were doing. Most of the time, you were leading them to do good things J
It’s fun to remember things we did together and I can think of hundreds more but I’m pretty sure I’m just writing about that because the other stuff is too hard to think about right now. Whenever you read this letter, there are two things I want you to know.
The first is this: God chose the absolute perfect family for you. Your mom, Daniel, Andrew, and you are all just right for each other. God picked Ruthanne to be your mom even before you were born. He knew Daniel and Andrew would be your brothers, too, and that you’d all be the best of friends. I got to spend some time with your mom when she came here to bring you home and I can see that God makes the best decisions. You know that you’re going to Chicago, and I don’t think you have any idea what that actually means, but I know you’re going to love it there and I know that your life will be a masterpiece.
The second is this: before you went home to live with the family that God picked just for you, there was someone in Haiti who deeply and completely loved every single part of you. I can’t even tell you how much I love you because every time I think I couldn’t possibly love you any more, I do. I love everything about you from your little round ears to your big round tummy. I love your hugs. I love how you always deny wetting the bed during our sleepovers even when you do. I love when you whisper everything you’re thinking until the last moment before you fall asleep. I love how excited you are to see me and how you call me “Sheila mwen (my Sheila)”. I love how you always say please and thank you. I love that you still want me to hold you, even though you’re getting bigger, and even when my arms are tired. I love all the yummy noises you make when you are eating. I love when you fall asleep in my lap. I love how smart you are. I love that you’re a good friend. I love watching you run with your one paddle-arm. I love when you are acting silly and when you dance. I love when you sing along to all the hymns with the nannies. I love that you try to make me feel better when I am sad. You are brave, kind, funny, smart, confident, curious, caring, sweet, and I love you so much that my heart hurts just to think about not seeing you every day. I don’t know if you’ll remember me when you’re 6 or 10 or 20 or 50, but I could never ever forget you, Manno. Every sad or difficult day was made about 10 times brighter just because you were in it. You are so special to me and even though I think you feel the same way, I’d love you just the same if you didn’t. I pray that God keeps holding you in his strong and gentle hands and that one day, whether here or in Heaven, I get to see your smile again.
Mwen renmen ou pou tout tan,
Sheila (DenOuden) Chery