26 January, 2019

You are a good boy.

Friends have mentioned a couple of times that i need to post more often.  That the last post has been there way too long...so I try, and I fail.  I get to my room at night with so many thoughts of the day, so many things happen that I could write about and then I wake up the next morning and think, "ooops, I didn't write".

Well tonight is one of those nights.  One of the frequent nights that after a very full day, I want nothing better to do than take a shower and fall into bed.  But I can't still my mind.  I sneak to the volunteer dorm and searched the fridge for an opened bottle of wine that was left over from a nice evening when friends came to visit.

It's not much, but a glass to try to get the image of a defeated crying little boy out of my mind at least for a little while.

Years ago, I was the nanny for a family that had a little girl who didn't like hugs much.  One weekend I drove the children to a family gathering at their uncle's house and when we were getting ready to leave, the uncle came over to give the kids hugs.  This one little girl didn't want to give him one. It was nothing personal, she just didn't like to give hugs to people, even relatives.  As the grandparents and others tried to 'make' her give him one, I walked over and took her by the hand and led her to the car.  Once there, I told her she didn't have to give 'uncle so and so' a hug if she didn't want to.

I strapped her in her car seat (she was about 5) and walked around to strap the other kids in.  The uncle came over and leaned into the car and forced a hug on her while she was unable to get away.  He laughed after getting out and the other family members chuckled along with him as he stated "I got me my hug!"  I was enraged and as we drove away I looked in the rearview mirror and saw her with tears streaming down her face.  That face stared back at me with a mixture of rage and helplessness.  I fought back tears as I told her over and over that uncle so and so should not have done that.  Uncle so and so was wrong to do that to her.  That she did nothing wrong and I am sorry that I could not have stopped it.  

I told her she was a good girl.

It was years before that look on her little face stopped entering my mind, but tonight I have a new little face to haunt me.

At Wat Opot we encourage the children to keep in touch with their biological family members. We reintegrate when it is safe to do so. There is a good reason children come into our care via social services.  One such reason is of a grandmother who was unstable, transient and unable to care for her preschool grandson properly.  He was referred to us and arrived a little wild but slowly started fitting in and understanding our routines and schedules.

One such routine is for the preschoolers to spend Saturday nights sleeping on the playroom floor instead of their beds.  A slumber party of sorts.  Blankets are thrown all over the floor and they each find a cozy nest and settle in to watch movies until everyone falls asleep.  Tonight, the little boy's grandmother was visiting. (something we encourage as well).  I got the crew showered, teeth brushed, and warmly dressed (it's ben getting down to the low 80'sF at night - FRIGID!) and all settled down to watch Despicable Me 3 - which I never tire of.

The little boy went with his grandma to shower and they came back into the playroom to get him dressed.  I don't know what transpired but all of a sudden I heard a loud slap (hand to skin) and I jerked around and there was the little one wet and shivering with the g-ma yelling at him.  He was looking past her at me with the now immortalized look on his face.  I was frozen in my spot for a second registering what had just happened; it was just so out of place.  All the other kids had stopped what they were doing and were watching as I walked over to him as the g-ma got up still grumbling (at me this time) and walked out the door.

I took him in my arms and dried him off and helped him with his clothes, speaking the same words of comfort that I did so long ago. He could hear the g-ma outside the door but wouldn't take his eyes off me.  Instead of a couple of siblings in the car, I now had a room full of kids watching everything.  I wondered how many of them had been hit by someone they loved.  Addressing the room but looking at the boy, I told them that the g-ma should not have hit him, that no one should ever hit them.  

I told him that he was a good boy.

So now as I sit with my wine finished (there was only a small amount left in the bottle!) and I have to stop the thoughts of the relentless 'orphanage bashing' with their worn-out slogan "Children should be with their biological family" from going through my head while slowing willing away my own feelings of rage and helplessness.

Tomorrow I will dig out my smudge stick and cleanse the playroom to make it a happy place again; a place where tears should come from a skinned knee or a lost toy, not from a grandmother's hand.


Helen Tindall said...

Sorry to hear this happened Melinda.
Without making excuses for grandma, I can't help but think what she herself has likely experienced (and lacked) in life, leading to such dysregulation. I hope she can learn from you, that there are alternatives other than placing our hands on people who are less powerful than us. It would seem that Mister R has already learned this lesson, knowing as he did, that you were his safe place. He is a lucky boy despite everything.

Melinda said...

Yes, am sure the g-ma has had her own issues, for whatever reasons she was banned from her extended family. It is one thing that is on our list...to find out if she can be reintegrated back and if that is sustainable, then little R can. It is always harder for me to excuse adults so thank you for reminding me, Helen, that everyone has their problems and they come out in a multitude of ways. It is also a reminder that we have to be very diligent with supervision when allowing family members to visit.

Helen Tindall said...

Again, not making excuses but trying to understand - when we know that a very large proportion of the Cambodian population have PTSD, anxiety or depression courtesy their experiences during and since Pol Pot, I think grandma's inability to offer a more regulated response to her grandson comes from something quite tangible. It makes sense that the trauma becomes inter-generational too. Thankfully you are here to disrupt that cycle in some small way for some few super lucky children!