Monday, February 4, 2013

The Ooo La La Girl

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Alina is a teacup-sized girl. She's 4 years old & weighs 18 pounds. She probably won't grow too much larger than she is. She has fetal alcohol syndrome & dwarfism. She's a sprite, a scamp, an elf. She's been here her whole life & kind of runs the place, in that her cognitive & language abilities enable her to talk & sing, not fluently, but selectively, bi-lingually. She a mimic & has acute observational powers. She speaks Romanian from the staff & English from the volunteers. She speaks snatches of sentences & songs in a tiny, Thumbelina voice. She likes to say "Ooo la la!"

She can be charming when she wants...winsome & funny & affectionate. She can also be a brat. For a long time, she bit everyone.  She's now graduated to pinching. She knows perfectly well it's wrong, but she can't seem to resist. She loves to dress up & has an uninhibited flair for fashion.
The things she does do & the things she could do are quite disparate. She does not feed herself. She still drinks from a bottle. She still wears diapers & is not toilet trained at all. The reason she is still infantile in her habits is due to institutional living. Dan, the Romanian leader of the volunteers, says that, if she were adopted into a family, she would be a completely different child within 2 weeks. She would do most things a normal 4 year old does. She will always have delays of speech & cognition, but not to a non-functional degree.

It's amazing that a change of circumstance & 2 little weeks are what stand between Alina remaining a baby into adulthood & Alina becoming a contributing member of society...albeit a very, very small one.
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Delia Can Turn The Pages of a Book With Her Little Flipper

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Squeaks Goes To The Library

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Delia, In Her Sunday Bonnet, Gazes at Her Reflection

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A Friend From Down the Hall, Who Does Have Parents, Sneaks In To Play With Luciana

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There Isn't Always Enough To Eat at the Orphanage

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A Fellow Can Get Bored With Nothing To Do

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This is Marius, Master of Destruction. Origin unknown. He is four years old & has been institutionalized since birth. Officially, his diagnosis is a bad heart. However, he has many behavioral & developmental problems. He used to make eye contact, but not any more. He exhibits autistic behaviors -- visually fixing on an object for long periods, rocking, no speech, not much purposeful activity. He still drinks bottles like a baby. He has non-stop frenetic energy; nothing is safe in his path. He will step on other children, grab things from them, & throw anything & everything he can. Objects in his hands are heat-seeking missiles, flying across the room, often hitting others. Because of this, he has many time-outs in his crib, during which he shrieks & cries & kicks & gives a full operatic performance of a temper tantrum. If there's anything in his crib during these tantrums, that object is flung out, including the shoes & socks he's wearing.There's a lot of ducking going on because of the Master of Destruction & his pitching arm.

His most notable talent, however, has to do with food. He will grab any food he finds anywhere & cram it in his mouth, whether it is an ancient bit of cracker in a corner or another child's bowl of food or bottle. He will snatch food right out of the mouths of babies. All leftovers go to Marius, & then there are no leftovers. It's unclear whether he behaves this way because he's underfed, or because of some compulsion.

It's unclear whether his behaviors are due to undiagnosed retardation or the culmination of lifetime institutionalization. He does show indications of possible socialization...sometimes he grabs a spoon & tries to feed himself...sometimes he will sit on an adult's lap & permit being read to briefly...& he thinks a lot of things are funny. Marius, Stealer of Food, Master of Destruction, has a wonderful laugh that drifts all the way down the hall & into the rooms of other sick children.

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Romanians Are Serious About Their Meat

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Narcissa of Barlad

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Delia has high self-esteem. Now two, still with no arms or legs, she is happy to spend long periods of time staring at herself in the mirror. She showers love upon herself...leaning forward again & again to kiss her reflection & laugh at her lovely self.  She thinks she's hilarious. She says her name now, when she feels like it, with much prompting. This too satisfies her greatly, as do the choruses of "Bravo, bravo" that accompany her accomplishments . And she can sit up by herself now, on her square little torso-fanny, though she must be watched, for a small thing like a sneeze can pitch her over sideways or backwards, with no arms to soften a fall. Her two little flippers, one at a shoulder & one at what would be a foot, have matured in terms of sophisticated activity. If she's lying in her crib & you place a toy with lights & music near her bottom, she intentionally hits it with her flipper-foot, causing the lights & tinny music to play. She uses her arm-flipper as a touching device & can spin a plastic ring around & around on her favorite jumpy seat.
All the children here drink from bottles, even the 4 & 7 year olds. They get 2-3 bottles /day of milk-like formula, plus an orange pureed soup-like gruel for lunch. It is made of carrots & potatoes & chicken, ground up & thinned with water...thin enough to go through the nipple of a baby bottle. No one likes it. They all refuse it. Yet that is lunch. A few kids also get spoon fed mashes...bread & applesauce...rice with unidentifiable things.  When the volunteers come, they bring yogurt, a great favorite with all.

Delia's pretty much outgrown bottles. She cries & whips her head backwards & refuses them. Bottles are more convenient for the staff here, though. They have very few hands to spoon feed & do not teach the older kids to feed themselves, or toilet-train them, for that matter.

This girl loves being naked. When given the chance, at diaper changing time, to loll around naked for a little while, she rocks & rolls & wiggles & shakes & laughs like crazy. She thinks she's beautiful & perfect.
Delia has been on a waiting list for over a year to see a Romanian doctor in another city about the possibility of prosthetics. There is not much faith here that this will come to pass. Volunteers fall in love with her & say how she should get a humanitarian medical exception that would allow her to go to the United States for care, but there is no organized effort for this.

When she's bigger & not so cute anymore, where will she go? Most likely where the rest of Romania's abandoned children go when they grow up -- to an adult institution, which westerners never see.

But in the meantime, Little Miss Narcissa of Barlad has her joys & delights, & thinks very highly of herself.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Too Hard To Look

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos A personal failing: I can't go near a hydrocephalic child. I can, & have, held & stroked & kissed & sung to dying babies, but a moon-child with what used to be called water on the brain...I dodge those babies.  There are two here, a girl & this boy, named Andre, about a year old.

Andre possesses nothing of what we consider human life. His huge, misshapen head is filled with fluid & so heavy he cannot move. To be moved is excruciatingly painful. The rest of his body is shrunken. He can't see. He does not respond to voice or touch, except as negative stimuli. He has to undergo medical procedures. He cries a great deal.

One could hide behind medical facts & suppositions...x number of such children by country...causes & preventions...treatments & prognosis...quality of life vs right to life. Or, one could swoop right in & give comfort & care, as the other volunteers do, pretending it's just another kid who needs a tender touch.

For me, I stay away. Many things in this world are too terrible to face. This is what dreams are dream a world where such babies do not exist. Or, at the very least, a world where personal failings do not come at the expense of others.

I apologize, Little Andre -- you whose life is no life -- for turning my eyes from you.

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Sometimes You Wonder When the Thing You Have Been Waiting For Will Happen

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sometimes You Have To Imagine Your Own Life

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos Luciana is 14 months old, but a mouse of a child. She is a failure-to-thrive baby, meaning that she has been starved such that normal weight gain has been impossible. She is skinny as a twig. She is an orphan with no last name, no history. No one knows anything about her parents, the circumstances of her birth, or how or why she was abandoned.  Who will she be, in this world full of long & tangled histories, ancient ancestors?

The answer to that question is silence. So I will create a history for her:  Miss Luciana Dealurile Husilor (that is the name of a glass of merlot I am sipping, from Timisoara, a beautiful,mysterious, mountainous part of Romania) was born to high nobility, a daughter of the ancient line of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, ruler from 1448-1476, who inspired the Dracula myth). Most of the family succumbed to the Austrian Habsburgs, who built their empire in Transylvania. But one daughter escaped by pretending to be a servant maid. Her descendants survive to this day, hiding their true identity.
Luciana is the last daughter, born under dark of night, in the deep woods of Transylvania. Her mother died giving birth to her. Her father is a descendant of the Moldavian Prince Stefan cel Mare, who built the great monasteries of Romania. He does not know where she is. She was found in the woods by the wild dogs of Romania, who brought her to the orphanage doorstep, for all dogs tremble before Vlad the Impaler.

And so Luciana Tepes awaits her reclaim the rule of her ancestors, to spread awe throughout the land. Her father now sails the Black Sea, coming ever closer to claiming his girl, the Princess of Darkness, the Girl of the Forest, the Child of the Mountains, the Daughter of the Dogs of Romania...she who will cast fear upon the land.

In the meantime, Luciana awaits in a little room in an orphanage in Barlad.  She is restless & cannot tolerate being cuddled or gentled. She will not drink from a bottle or crawl or display normal baby behavior. She is a tiny, impatient one who waits.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Squeaks & the Touch of Snow

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos This is Luca, otherwise known as Squeaks, for that is his language. He's 4, but small as a 2 year old. He is autistic & supposedly deaf & supposedly of very limited vision.

He smells sour, like all the children here. The staff rarely bathe them...only wipe their bottoms & mouths as necessary. In part, this is due to the Romanian fear of air. It's 32 degrees outside & 82 inside. Every hospital/orphan smell is intensified & everyone sweats, especially the children & American do-gooders. During the communist days, there was no heat...families shivered for decades. Therefore, Romanians now want their heat goddamnit & they want it hot. Hence, the following rules to live by: 1) fresh air kills. 2) wet hair kills.  3) wet hair in the winter double kills. 4) if children are bathed, air will move across their wet skin & hair & they will die a thousand deaths. So, one must learn to hold & love & hug very stinky children.

Squeaks has spent his life in a crib, in his own world. He sucks both thumbs at the same time, butts his head against any corner he can find, thrashes in that institutionalized-child rocking motion, & squeaks. He drools copiously. He's a worrier...his worries are secret. It's easy to forget he's lying there in his crib, covered in drool, deaf & inaccessible...rocking & thumb-sucking & worrying.

I pick him up...solid, askew little boy. "Squeaks," I say, "you need a friend." He agrees, for after a mere hour of lap-sitting & head-stroking he turns into a soft snuggle-pup. He gazes into my eyes for long periods, this boy who doesn't make eye contact. He watches my lips & grows still when I whistle a song, this boy who is deaf. "Squeaks," I say, "there's more to you than meets the eye." We play a game where I whistle a bit, stop, then he bumps his fist very lightly against my chin, at which I whistle again. After about 15 rounds of this, he smiles & smiles some more, this inaccessible boy.

I carry him on a stroll down the long hospital hall, past the Psychiatre & Neurologie rooms. At the far end of the hall is a window, with bars on the outside. It has snowed considerably & there's a shelf of snow along the outside bottom ledge. I turn the forbidden latch & open the window. I scoop a little snow into my hand & show it to Squeaks. He examines it. I nudge his hand toward it. The tip of one finger touches it. He is so surprised & pulls his hand away. We have a little back & forth. Soon he voluntarily reaches to touch the snow...flakes stick to his fingers. He touches again & again, with great delicacy, & smiles a little secret smile.

A boy needs a friend who can whistle & find magic in a handful of snow.

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