I traveled to Tommy’s orphanage with a list. A list of hopes, a list of requests. An agenda.
Not a bad agenda.
But most decidedly an agenda.
We arrive by bus in Tommy’s city with plenty of time to spare before our appointment with the director of his orphanage. We find a little restaurant across the street from the hotel that serves food traditional to this beautiful country, and it suits us so well that we go back to it every day. While we enjoy a late lunch, I talk my list over with the pleasant young woman who is to be our translator for the week. I can see she is hesitant, and we agree to take it slowly through the week.
When we arrive in Tommy’s orphanage, we have the first of what will become many long and productive meetings with the director of his orphanage.
We learn that within the past few months, Tommy has been moved from the top floor to a lower floor of the orphanage and his weekday routine has changed. Now, instead of staying in bed nearly all the time, his day contains various activities that have him up and out of his bed for most of the time throughout the day. We are invited to come early and stay late this week.
I had prayed that the director and I would connect, and connect we do. From the first moment our eyes meet, there is an understanding and trust between us.
Despite the opposition she is receiving from inside and outside the orphanage, she has accomplished an extraordinary amount in the past eight months. She is the perfect person for her task. She’s intelligent, compassionate, sensitive, creative, visionary, hard-working, and energetic. She’s driven by the motivation to get the orphanage to a point where the individual needs of each child there are met as well as an orphanage can meet them. She is very open to learning.
Now it’s time to officially meet you, Tommy!
Here you come, carried in the arms of your baba. Throughout the week, we discover that she is very open to learning anything she can about how to help you best. She told us emphatically that she always calls you, “Tommy” now, and is so glad you have a family.
You’ve just had a snack, and look ready for some play time, but…
…you don’t know me, Tommy, and my face is unfamiliar to you. All you know is that your baba keeps saying the word, “Mama, mama.” Does that mean me?
But I have loved you for almost two years and blink back the tears as I think…
…how hard it is to believe I’m really here, looking into your familiar face.
What will you think? How will you respond to this strange lady your baba is calling “Mama?”
Your baba tells me you like toys that you can rattle to make noise. This is one of the few things about you that is similar to Katie.
I notice a few of your characteristics right away. You’ve learned to compensate with those quick hands of yours, and you are very tuned into toys. They don’t interest you for long if they don’t make a noise.
You are not resistant to physical touch.
This makes my heart glad and sorry at the same time, because I am a stranger to you and your response is more proof to me of how you have been wounded.
You quickly catch on to The Bag as the place where all your new treasures are kept.
This bag is with your baba now, and will provide a small measure of continuity during your transition into our family several months from now.
I notice that your nature is essentially calm.
You are curious and bright-eyed and don’t miss much.
You don’t resist eye contact, which will help us bond more readily.
You loved the noise the treat bag made, and that was very positively the full extent of your interest in the treats!
Your teeth…well…now I know what rotted stumps look like. Your breath smells exactly like Katie’s breath used to smell. You have adult teeth that came in directly behind your baby teeth, again, just like Katie’s.
You reach out your hand immediately to grab the bubble bottle.
Is this a look of anticipation?
Lady, what’s taking you so long? [I thought Target would have better quality bubble stuff than this! Should have tested it before bringing it!]
Time to remove the leg brace you wear on your left leg for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.
I find out that four years ago, at almost twelve years old, Tommy first received a baba. She saved his life by holding him and providing just a few hours of interaction each week.
After two years with this baba, he received a new baba, and continued to progress under her care, although he still spent almost all his time in bed. Here’s Tommy as we first saw him nearly two years ago. We never dreamed that he was almost fourteen years old.
It’s time to say goodbye for the day. We go back to our hotel to prepare for the evening ballet. The director’s young daughter will be part of the performance, and she has arranged for some of the children from the orphanage to attend. It turns out to be only a handful of children, because the available vehicle space and winter wraps are insufficient to bring more children. I look down from my box seat and recognize every one of the other children from the orphanage. With emotion, I picture which mommies will be carrying them home within the year.
The staff psychologist pushes Tommy into our box in a stroller and places him on my lap.
I study the reactions of Tommy and the other children to the crowds, the movement, the music. Tommy bobs his head back and forth, keeping time with the rhythm. He shrieks a pterodactyl shriek when he is overcome with happiness, and everyone in the theater hears it more than once. He even draws a comment from an announcer on the stage. He responds well to calming and soothing techniques that I have learned for Katie.
When the director comes to bid us goodbye for the night, we hand her a stack of thank you notes, translated during the bus trip by our facilitator. I wheel Tommy out to wait for his ride. It is bitter cold and his coat zipper is broken. His tiny, thin hands quickly lose their heat, and then he is ushered off to the waiting vehicle.
I am consciously in the present, drinking in the experience.
But underneath, my mind and heart are beginning to process…
[To be continued…]