When Namine was little, she had to have a trach. It was what allowed her to survive, before she was big enough to withstand the jaw distraction and cleft palate repair surgeries. Even then, it took some time before she was able to be rid of the trach. During that time, we – all three of us: Jessica, Namine, and myself – were changed in ways we couldn’t know.

I have always been of the firm belief that we are far more than the mere sum of our experiences and memories. I believe that we are changed, that we become different people because of them. And no matter what the experience, we can become better people, if we allow ourselves.

Caring for a trached child is not easy. Putting aside for a moment all the stares you get (even at church, if you can believe that) and having to carry around that equipment (for Namine had a ventilator as well), just the care itself was beyond stressful. “Constant vigilance!” would be an apt phrase; sleep was rarely ever truly restful, because we always had to be aware of Namine. At any moment she could need to be suctioned. Not suctioning her could mean suffocation, and too much suctioning could mean oxygen deprivation or damage to her airway. Only a crazy person could call that a good time.

Well then, call me crazy. It was stressful, but we were – and are – closer to Namine for it. Because Namine couldn’t talk, we started doing sign language with her. Now that she can talk (and rather well, if I may be so biased), we’ve pretty much stopped, but one thing remains with us even now. Namine could never do the sign for “I love you” – it was too complex for her limited fine motor skill. She imitated the best she could, even though her best at the time was simply crossing her pointer and middle finger. It was enough, though, for us to know that she was telling us that she loved us. For some things, you don’t need words.

Namine is fully capable of doing the “right” sign for I love you. And of course she’s fully capable of speaking the words now, and she does. At bedtime she says “good night,” she wishes us “sweet dreams” and “sleep tight,” but she always, always insists on giving what she calls Love Yous. That means doing what we’ve done since before she could speak: crossing her fingers, and pressing them up against our own crossed fingers. That has always been our daughter’s kiss, when the most sound she could make was an almost-silent “mmah,” the imitation of a blown kiss. It’s more than just words, more than just a motion with her hand. It has the weight of years, the strength of a love that has withstood fear and come out stronger.