Join Angela, Axel, Abel and Asher as they welcome their new sibling home.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Finding Asher

Asher has had his entire 7 years behind institutional walls. Through the glass partitions I watch him in his group.  Sometimes toys are scattered on the floor, like miscellaneous blocks that don't go together. Nobody has taught the children how to play with them so they are nothing but objects with which to hit themselves in the head or tap on the wall. When a patch of sunlight hits the floor, all the children rush to lay in it's warmth. When the hot water radiator kicks in they rush to put their cheeks against it, eager for any kind of sensory input. I have yet to find a way to describe walking into a room full of 12 children that is absolutely silent. Eerie silence. They move about the room without interacting with one another. Each alone in a crowded room.

Asher stands in the middle of the room or lays on the floor, eyes cold and distant, unfocused, lost in his own world. His world, the one in the institution, has nothing for him so he has disconnected to find somewhere better in his mind. He doesn't rock like many of his roommates. Instead he stands frozen as if a statue. If he lays on the floor he is still. Silent. Sometimes he finds a thread from someone's clothes, or a stuffed animal that still has it's tag, and dangles it before his eyes, occasionally using his other hand to give it a twirl. This is Asher's day....every day....for every waking moment.

And then this woman the caregivers call "Mama" comes. Me. I appear in the door of his room. He has learned that my appearance means a change of environment. He runs to me with a half grin, his head turned away but watching where he's going out of the corner of his eye. He wraps his arms around my neck for a hug as I pick him up, then squirms to get down again, taking my hand to guide me down the hall to the playroom.

But don't be fooled by his eagerness! Asher isn't connecting to me yet. I am but a tool to get him out of that prison of monotony. He will gladly take the hand of any caregiver if it will get him the same thing. He's indiscriminate.

Little by little, I see neuron's firing in his brain. I let him have the dangly toy I brought, but only for a minute. He has to give me something first: a flash of eye contact, a smile...anything, no matter how brief...and then he can have his dangler back. We take turns, him learning about give and take, me learning what makes him tick.

As much as his room is his hell, it is also his safe place. The caregivers he knows and can predict their movements and reactions, the routine that is always the same every day. He wants to go back there. Back to the people who know how to talk, unlike this "Mama" person who does crazy talk and doesn't make any sense at all. He goes to the doorway again and again, stands and looks out, his face pressed against the glass; his way of telling me he should be going back. Sorry Buddy, I've only been here five minutes and we have 85 left to go. 85 minutes of trying to convince you it's ok to be away from your room that is both hell and comfort.

The other day I saw him get the fastest, roughest, "bath" I have ever seen. The hand of the caregiver holding his arm up in the air so he couldn't sit in the water. He desperately tried to get his fingers under the faucet to play with the running water but it wasn't allowed. I willed him to hear my thoughts, "Soon Son...soon you will get in a tub full of warm water and be allowed to soak and splash until you shrivel up into a prune. Someday we'll add bubbles to it and you will be in heaven. I promise. I promise you son. Glorious days are ahead."

When that bath was done, he was quickly slathered with lotion and powder. There was no pleasure in it. It was fast and gruff. They're not trying to be uncaring. This is but a task that must be completed, Asher being just one in an assembly line of many.

Yesterday he took my hand and we went to the playroom. He has learned by routine to look in the backpack and pull out what's in there. The dangler is always at the bottom, his fingers searching around until he finds it. He chuckles a little at his success. Then I reach in and pull out a tiny bottle and lead him to the beanbag chair.

I sit him on my lap facing me. He looks away, anywhere but at my face. Eye contact is something he's never experienced before and like many things it is scary for him. I sing to him and notice him quickly glance at me out of the corner of his eye. Just for a second. He stops shaking the dangler, frozen as he listens to me talking in hushed tones about the wonderful life that's ahead. Words in a language he cannot understand, but the rhythm of my voice I know is stirring an instinct deep within him. I can see it happening. He leans into me, puts his head on my shoulder, his hand on my chest, feeling my heart beat against his hand, the vibration of my voice. We sit that way for a few minutes, alternating between singing and talking.

I sit Asher up. He goes back to dangling while I turn the iPad to Signing Time music (might as well create another addict to join Axel!) I open the bottle of lotion and put it beneath his nose so he can smell it, the scent of green apple, and he freezes once again; processing this new sensation. I take his tiny free hand in mine and deposit a dollop of lotion.  His head is turned away from me, but he watches my hands out of the corner of his eye as I massage first his hand, then up his arm. I find a dry spot on his elbow and he grins a half-grin as I rub the lotion into the spot. He lets out a big sigh and I feel him relax a bit. I repeat this with his other hand, all the while his dangler is still as I watch his face contemplating what is happening. Only occasionally does he actually look at what I'm doing, but his mind is searching, processing it all. I can see it.

I put a drop of lotion on my arm, then use his hand to rub it in.

There it is! He looks me right in the eye for the briefest of moments! I let go of his hand and he gently pats where the lotion was, flashes me that half-grin, then goes back to dangling...detaching.

When our time is done I bring him back to his room. He protests ever-so-slightly. The playroom is better than this. His caregiver takes his hand and leads him in then closes the door. I watch through the glass as he moves to the center of the room. I watch as his eyes turn cold and he becomes a statue once again.

I have to work so hard to get eye contact with him. And once we get home, the danglers will disappear.

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