My youngest turned seven recently, the same age her closest brother was when she joined our family in 2008. She is no longer the chubby faced baby with gigantic orbs taking in the world. Those early years I was struck by her solemn study of the people whether familiar or stranger. She seemed to be taking pictures in her mind; capturing each detail from head to toe. I remember thinking this child is an observer of the world. But for what purpose? What does she see or think, I wondered? Oh to be able to get inside and see out of those eyes too so I could share her view.
|Observing the world and getting used to a chillier winter|
Over the years, I have gotten a glimpse of the world through her eyes in beautiful and unexpected ways. And it revealed more about her heart than I could have imagined.
My little girl unwrapped many of her most wonderful qualities in beautiful ways. One includes some interesting role reversal as she is frequently worried about me. “I don’t want anything to happened to you, mama,” she will scold if I am not watching out carefully for cars as I cross the street or taking my medicine every night. She is a “little mommy” and has the amazing gift of being completely certain she can help; whether it be a teenage brother who has a vexing challenge or her dad or me with our adult challenges or as we learned, for a little friend or even strangers half a world away.
When we were living in Luxembourg, she started school as a four year old. In Europe, school begins a year earlier. She had a little boy in her class adopted from Korea. He was rambunctious and she thoroughly enjoyed his company being quite high energy herself. His father had been battling cancer for some time and about half way through the school year he died. His mother was a beautiful women in all respects. She soldiered on gracefully raising her two sons alone. We offered condolences and help but both seemed wholly inadequate in the face of such a huge and unimaginable loss. And soon life went on for us.
Later in the year, this mother sought me out. She said, “I want you to thank Leyla for helping my son.” I said, “I would be happy to do so but I don’t understand. What did she do?” She explained that her son was understandably having a hard time with his father’s death. As a result, he was acting out in school. She explained. “Leyla continually reaches out to him even though he is pushing people away. Many of the other kids just get upset. She both supports him and lovingly gets him back on track.” My eyes welled. She had not said a word. But she had observed and identified a way to make a real difference for this little boy and his mother.
|Saying a prayer for a friend in beautiful Greece|
That summer, we were on a walk in Greece where my husband grew up. Leyla saw a little blue and white small chapel by the side of the path which is a common sight. She asked what it was and I explained, "People say a prayer or light a candle here for someone who has died". She then asked me, “Can we say a prayer for my friend’s dad because he misses him a lot." I said of course, my eyes again filling. I was humbled by her beautiful gesture that seemed to be as natural as breathing to her.
I also a glimpse of her vantage point of the world as she became aware of opportunity inequities. When she learned kids in Ethiopia often don’t get the chance to learn to read or go to school, her reaction was swift and fierce, “That’s just not fair!”
|Good spot to read a book -- OHBD 2011|
So each year since she was 4, she has spoken at our Open Hearts Big Dreams Event benefiting Ethiopia Reads in Seattle. (At 3 she just took the opportunity to find a quiet place to read.) The first year she spoke, her sweet voice quavered as I held her on my hip. She had asked me what to say. And she delivered the few words we worked on together with deep seriousness and sincerity.
|OHBD 2012 my turn before Leyla's|
The next year she wanted to talk more specifically about the unfairness she saw and asked me to help her think through how to do that. We worked out what she would say. I again held her petite little body as she courageously spoke her words of truth to a large audience of supporters; those big eyes moving slowing reading the sea of faces in front of her.
|"It's not fair that all kids don't get the chance to go to school" OHBD 2013|
Last year, I asked her if she again wanted my help. I was taken aback when she firmly told me, “No, I know what I want to say. I just need you to be my coach to practice and I need you to hold my hand so I don’t get scared.” She was growing up before my eyes.
When we spoke together this last December (captured in this video), her tinker bell voice moved the audience with its clarity.
Afterward she told me, “I felt like I might cry when I was talking and I felt like you might too, why is that?” I explained to her that for me, and likely for her too, speaking about something I care deeply about triggers emotions and sometimes even tears (although they can stay inside). And I (and she) need to be brave to put a vulnerable piece of ourselves out into the world and it can feel scary. She nodded seriously at my words.
As her birthday approached, she was so excited to be seven, a milestone she wouldn’t own until the actual day. She wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast, a special day with the family, a Tiana birthday cake and party with her friends. But she also wanted to help kids in her birth-country so she asked her friends to make donations to Ethiopia Reads instead of more gifts for herself.
|Birthday girl modeling some of her gifts|
Happy Seventh Birthday, my little Leyla Marie Fasika Angelidis. Looking at the world through your eyes has shown me what a BIG heart you have! You remind me everyday, "the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."
And you already are . .. as a kindergartner!