Just Ducky

7:44 AM


    It is nearly four years since I originally wrote this piece on my favorite little duck. This February marks the third anniversary of her mother's death. This dear little girl no longer has to brave the snows of Germany, but now lives happily down under in her native Australia. It is long since we had the opportunity of sitting on the swings together discussing koalas, and kookaburras, and sharks, but the memory of her beautiful mother and my little duck remain always with me. 

     It has dawned upon me that through an incredible act of neglect, I have not yet managed to describe to you a very important person in my life this past year, Miss Elkie Layla Fairclough. As some of you are aware, in November of this last year, I was in a somewhat desperate state. I found myself in Deutschland with a visa lasting only up until the 27th of November with no foreseeable job opportunities, and the possibility of a ten year eviction from Europe along with an impossible fine. About a week before "the day," I decided that I absolutely had to get out of the country. Frankly, I was crushed. I had always been quite vocal about the fact that God had directed me to Germany and that He was going to hold up His end of the deal and see me through. There I was, after pounding the pavement for three months, in an inescapable bind. As bad as it sounds, I knew that if I had to go back to the States, my faith would be irrevocably shaken.

The very day I decided to leave, I suddenly received a phone call from an British/Australian guy named Andy, saying that he had walked into a bed and breakfast in Wurzburg,in which a friend of a friend, that I had never met, worked. Through her, he had heard that an American was looking for a job. Then he told me his story. A week prior, he had managed to sweep his desperately ill wife, who was suffering from the final stages of leukemia, and his one-year-old daughter to Germany in a last ditch effort drug trial. The little girl's name was Elkie and if I was found a suitable caregiver, would I please consider helping them out?
                                                                  Elkie the Pope

     I can't describe the joy or the shock of that moment. Trying to remain cool, I promised to meet him at a local cafe for an interview and within a few days found myself nanny to a tiny, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and very serious little English girl. To begin with we were both suspicious. In the past six months of her short life, she had endured the presence of a long series of nannies, some good and some bad, the last of which was nothing short of "the horse whisperer" kid style. I had some pretty big shoes to try to fill. To be honest, I had never considered myself good with children. I had tried. I distinctly recall being surrounded by a dozen toddlers in a church nursery screaming their heads off and attempting to shove crayons up the noses of any unsuspecting bystander. I remember looking out from this remote prison, surrounded by little demons who would willingly chew off one's leg, and seeing a whole other world where adults lived and roamed free without fear or anxiety of being puked upon by someone you were in conversation with. This job looked to be the challenge of a lifetime. At first, it was just as I suspected: she wasn't too fond of me, and I was petrified I was going to break "it".
                                                                Snow in Germany!

     As the first snows submerged Wurzburg underneath a creamy white blanket and the normal population stayed inside as the sub zero temperatures plummeted, I found myself slipping and sliding along the city streets via ice and stroller every winter's day. Elkie's rather stern, English granny deemed it altogether suitable to subject the infant to some "fresh air" every day, regardless of precipitation or frostbite possibilities. Preparations for our arctic expeditions generally began like so:
Rachel: "Elkie, its time to go outside for a nice walk!" (said in a voice that could quite aptly be classified as the exotic lovechild of a purring cat and a Sesame Street Muppet). The child stares back at me with a spark of derision in her eye as if to say, "You stupid American, there ain't no way in heck you're taking me out into that arctic tundra,"followed by a quick turn and run with accompanying shrieks. Responding with a moan, I follow dolefully behind and after a good forty-five minutes and seven hundred layers of clothing later, we make our way into the great outdoors. Thus began every day for the following three months.
                                                                Wintry Wurzburg

     Elki was an interesting little girl from the beginning. She didn't laugh as much as the other children and there was something strangely sad and pained about her beautiful little face. I honestly believe she had a very firm grasp upon what was going on with her mother. We played almost silently in general as she wasn't yet up to talking. And yet, day by day, I found I was softening to this little girl. My mother had also been very sick quite often while I was growing up, and although it was never so drastic or life threatening as leukemia, I remember the feeling of not having a home, or of always being in the way at someone else's house, with someone else's mommy and daddy and toys. In our silence, we began to have an understanding, but I could tell I was still a long way from earning her trust.
                                                         Natalie and Elkie before diagnosis

     One day, her mom came home. Natalie is a beautiful woman, who has seemingly only grown stronger and lovelier by the enormous hardships she has endured this past year, but when she got out of the hospital she was devastatingly tired and weak and completely unable physically to take care of Elki. That day, as Natalie slept on the couch in the living room and Elkie took her customary nap, I suddenly heard a loud cry. Thinking perhaps Natalie had heard, I waited a second and then decided to investigate. There lay little Elks in the throws of a terrible nightmare, crying her eyes out. In a short moment of motherly instinct that had lay dormant up until this point, I whisked her into my arms and rocked her as she clung to me still sobbing. She had never let me hold her except to help her get dressed. As her sobs faltered, I began to put her back in her cradle, only to be startled by even more helpless crying. She simply would not let me go! So, I sat down again on the rocking chair and sang and rocked her slowly to sleep, and in that moment I let this baby girl into my life and, I believe, I into hers. It is a frightening thing to love someone you know isn't always going to be there, but I allowed myself to risk it, just this once, for Elkie's sake. 
     After that everything was different between us. We had an understanding. We began to enjoy playing together, even in the cold snows of Germany. We were both sunshine girls: I, from California and she, from the distant shores of Australia, and we learned to delight in the magnificence of a snowflake, the sheer joy of a snowball fight and the crispness of winter air. What before had been gloom was transformed into....well, magic.
                                       Spring across from one of Elkie's favorite play grounds

      She can say my name now. The snows are melted, the trees have re-clothed themselves in glorious greens and the grass is soft beneath our feet as we walk through the park. We make our way to the sand box now and lather on the sunscreen to protect our all too fair, European skin. But one of the things we both love the most are the swings.
     "Go on swings!", Elkie shouts hopefully as I follow close behind. "Rachel here", she says as she pats the big swing. "Elkie here," while patting the small one. It seems, she is not supposed to be pushed, but swung along with. She's just starting to get the concept of telling a story, and so, as we swing, she describes to me her favorite animals, namely ducks.
      "The ducks away now. There are mommy ducks, daddy ducks, and Rachel ducks", she tells me as she swings her legs haphazardly through the air. I feel my eyes fill with tears, as I realize the great honor of having been recognized as family. Her mother is much better now. The treatment seems to have worked. Very soon, they will be on board a plane to Australia and home, but somehow it's good to know, I'll always be a Rachel duck.

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