“Clearly, this child is the smartest human ever.”
That is a fact that every blink of an eye and movement of a muscle confirms for 7-month-old Hadassah’s aunties and grandparents on her mom Stephanie’s side of the family.
After all, Hadassah is the first grandchild.
“It’s Ooh, ahh, send us a longer video!” Stephanie says. “My family is – how shall I put it – expressive. We spend a lot of time laughing.”
A terrible blow leads to a near miss
Things didn’t always seem so light. Before Hadassah’s arrival, Stephanie wasn’t sure her husband, Elijah, would even be able to hold the baby. While serving in the Army Airborne Infantry years earlier, he’d suffered a debilitating brain injury and endured endless, fruitless rounds of medical visits and therapies. Elijah’s headaches and his sensitivity to light and sound were still so severe that he almost missed out on Stephanie, who had been quietly in love with him for ages.
“Someone asked Elijah if he reciprocated my feelings, and he kinda said Well, she’s a little…loud,” Stephanie laughs. “He didn’t mean it in a mean way! He just literally could not handle the volume of my voice.”
Then something shifted, and the two found a way to really start staying in touch.
“On days when Elijah couldn’t manage getting out of the house, or our work shifts landed on opposite ends of the day, we spent hours at a time on Marco Polo,” she says.
Courtship and miracles
With a meaningful, comfortable way to connect that didn’t overload Elijah’s senses, the couple’s friendship blossomed into a courtship. Then a month before the wedding, Elijah suffered another brain injury at work. Stephanie still can’t believe he made it to the ceremony, but he did, in a wheelchair.
“They should make a movie out of his life. It has been crazy,” Stephanie says.
Stephanie got pregnant right away, thrilled but also concerned about Elijah’s already taxed nervous system. Newborns go hand in hand with sensory overload under the best circumstances. She didn’t know how he’d cope.
Until three months before her due date, almost out of nowhere, Stephanie and Elijah found a neurologist who recognized Elijah’s symptoms and knew what to try. He underwent 15 minutes of electric shock treatment to his legs. Then he stood. And walked. It was as if a switch had been turned on. The rest of his symptoms dissipated after a few months.
When baby Hadassah came, Elijah not only held her – he laughed with her.
Stephanie would go on to capture many father-daughter moments on Marco Polo, for their closest friends and family to see.
When the baby discovers she’s funny
These days, with an active and endlessly entertaining child to care for, Stephanie is the one finding it hard to leave the house. She doesn’t love talking on the phone because she’s juggling so much and feels as if she’s always trying to hurry the conversation along. Yet her well-being depends on meaningful back-and-forth with mom friends, church friends, and family back in Texas.
Marco Polo helps them connect with joyful immediacy, but on a timetable that works for everyone.
“With Marco Polo my family has gotten to see Hadassah’s first smiles, her first giggles, her first time eating solids. It’s like they’re here. They’re laughing, I’m laughing, Hadassah is laughing. Because of course, she’s learning that she’s funny.”
Taking time to breathe
Amidst these daily, sitcom-worthy baby antics, Marco Polo has helped Stephanie through hard conversations too. Those times when she needs to say to a friend, Hey – what’s really going on with you?
She thinks there’s something about Marco Polo that gives people on both sides of the camera a chance to breathe. Collect their thoughts. Maybe watch a Polo again before continuing the conversation.
“In our current social media culture, people feel okay about ghosting each other. Or maybe they don’t feel a need to respond because they’re only seeing words,” she says. “But when you see a face and a human being on the other side, you feel a sense of responsibility.
“That’s what Elijah and I experienced over Marco Polo, and why we still love using it. It’s not just about communicating. It’s about communicating well.”