Happy 17th Birthday, Sarah! An Open Letter to My Niece

March 3, 2014

Dear Sarah,

Happy 17th birthday! It seems like just yesterday – and also like forever – that you came into our lives. But really, you have been with us now for six-and-and-a half years: from the time you were 10-and-a-half.

Your mom and dad, my brother David and sister-in-law Marilyn, were so excited when they told us about you. “Sarah loves people.” They told us. “She’s so warm and friendly and she’s looking to be loved. She wants a family and a place to call ‘home.’ We can’t wait for you to meet her.”

Sarah with David and Marilyn on one of their early visits with each other, prior to their becoming a family.
Sarah with David and Marilyn on one of their early visits with each other, prior to becoming a family.

You moved in with them on December 21st, 2007. Everyone was so excited! You are their only child. They had been “Big brother/Big sister” to others, but never had a child of their own. You chose them to be your parents and they chose you to be their daughter. All of us could not have been more thrilled when you became part of our large family!

Most of us don’t have to make this choice in life. We are born into our families of origin, our families of birth. We grow up with our birth siblings, parents and grandparents. But your life circumstances did not turn out that way. Your story is yours alone to tell. But your life led you to us, and for that we all feel so eternally blessed.

In many ways, your kind of story is one that has been part of our Jewish tradition for thousands of years. We have many tales in our Jewish history where people longed for children of their own, but were not able to have them. Our bible shows how people prayed to God asking for children to come into their lives. Some were blessed to eventually give birth to children of their own. Some found a way to use surrogate mothers to bear children for them. And of course, adoption has always been part of our Jewish culture. When a parent adopted a child, they would bounce the baby on their knees and name that child. Those two acts together would embody the ritual of adoption. Bouncing a baby on one’s knee symbolically represented the physical care and nurturing that parents would now bestow upon the child entrusted to them. The act of naming symbolized the idea of “ownership” or acquisition. When I bestow a name upon someone, that person is now a part of me, it belongs with me, that person is now “my family.”

Children represent continuity for the future. You will carry on our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations after we are no longer alive. You will inherit a legacy of family keepsakes and traditions and imbue them with your own meaning and your own values. And you will keep our memories alive, long after we our gone. Our children, our tradition teaches us, are our guarantors.

Sarah, I’m writing to you on your birthday, because I want you to remember all those things. And above all, I want to remind you that you ARE a special person and have many gifts to offer. You are so very loving, gentle, kind and caring. You have an uncanny ability to relate to young children. Your love of animals knows no bounds – whether it’s caring for your beloved Greyhound, Sweet, or your pet chickens, or a wounded bird. Your heart has the capacity for tremendous empathy and love.

And in turn, you are loved by so many others. Your mom and dad love you to the moon and back. And we, your extended family – your aunts, uncles and cousins, also love you and care about you and want to see you happy, healthy and successful.

My mother, aka, "Bubbie," David, Sarah and Marilyn, the day Sarah's adoption became official.
My mother, aka, “Bubbie,” David, Sarah and Marilyn, the day Sarah’s adoption became official.

Bubbie (my mother), was there to celebrate with you when your adoption became official on April 2, 2008. She was SO thrilled to have you join our family and to sign the “Zeved Ha-Bat” (“Gift of a Daughter”) adoption covenant that your mom created to commemorate that moment:

"Zeved Bat - Gift of a Daughter" Certificate, Creating a Covenant between Sarah and David and Marilyn.
“Zeved Bat – Gift of a Daughter” Certificate, Creating a Covenant between Sarah and David and Marilyn.

In this covenant, your parents promise to take you as their daughter, to love you every day and to keep you forever.

You promise to take David and Marilyn as your parents, to love them every day and to keep them forever.

The three of you promise to celebrate the flow of the seasons and the passages of life with your family, your friends and one another, as well as to care for one another always.

I remind you of these words, Sarah, because sometimes, we take family for granted. Sometimes, it is easy to forget to show love to the ones who love us the most.

Loving a child unconditionally means accepting who they are as a person, helping them to overcome any obstacles in their life and guiding them toward a life of love, success and fulfillment. Sometimes, loving a child means setting boundaries and saying “no.” Loving a child means helping them to achieve appropriate educational goals so that they can take care of themselves later on in life. Loving a child means understanding their pain, their frustration as well as their joys and hopes and aspirations. Loving a child means laughing with them, celebrating with them, crying with them and putting band-aids on their boo-boos (or sitting with them in hospital ER’s at all times of day and night).

Loving your parents means accepting that your parents want what is best for you, even if you don’t always recognize what that is. Loving your parents means recognizing that they are people too, with feelings and emotions. And sometimes, it means remembering that “it isn’t always about you.” Loving your parents means that the covenant you signed at the time of your adoption is a three-way partnership: the three of you need to work at your relationship each and every day to show each other how much you love each other – even when you are upset. Loving your parents means learning how to be patient and learning how to breathe. Just like they are trying to be patient and learning how to breathe too.

Sarah, you might be your parents’ only child, but your dad has three brothers, two sisters and you have seven Sobel cousins. Your mom has one brother and one sister – and you have more cousins on that side as well. Your extended family is even larger. You have also reconnected with some of your birth family. The circle of people who love you and care about you is large.

When you are happy, we are all happy. When you are sad, we’re all sad. When you’re in pain, we’re in pain.

The journey of your life Sarah, will be filled with many twists and turns, as you know only so well. There will be smooth sailing at times, as well as rocky patches. Sometimes you’ll encounter bumps and curves that you don’t expect. But through it all, you have each other – your mom and dad, and your loving extended family. We are your guideposts along the way. We will help you steer your course. And through it all, we will always be here for you, loving you with open arms and full hearts.

Sarah, as you celebrate your 17th birthday, we wish for you wisdom and strength and the maturity to make healthy decisions. We wish you laughter and joy, success and fulfillment. Most of all, we wish you a lifetime of love, health and contentment. May you and your parents continue to be blessed by the richness and beauty of your loving relationship with each other!

I am so glad that you are part of our family!

Happy birthday, gorgeous! I love you lots!

Auntie Sharon

Sarah today - my beautiful 17-year old niece! Happy Birthday!
Sarah today – my beautiful 17-year old niece! Happy Birthday!