We still have many situations when Rhema cannot express what she wants and needs, or tell us what hurts… when her lack of language is heartbreaking and frustrating for her and us.
But slowly a page has turned, and we’ve entered a new phase of discovery. On previous pages was a child hyperactive and isolated. Seared in my memory is the time a group of clowns came into a small hospital waiting room and called her name, blew bubbles, tossed toilet paper, while my girl ran in circles and never seemed to hear or notice them. But now, here is a girl who demonstrates appropriate affection, is teachable, has relationships with her family and teachers, understands words and directions and tries her best to follow them. Of late, this same child is discerning, so very present and participative, so with us.
She’s always enjoyed the ocean breeze on a late summer day. But now when she grins and squeals, she shares it – for just a moment she looks our way and we get to see her eyes dance. Her growth, in spite of all the challenges, is changing our family heartbeat, bringing unexpected joy.
Two quick stories.
Yesterday morning I got to sleep in. You know. Until 6:30 am. Rhema burst into my room, making her happy sounds, moving all around. I figured she was probably hungry, ready for the day to begin. But I didn’t move. I wanted to see if she would acknowledge my presence, approach me. She wandered the room in ceaseless “song”, flapping an old cheese wrapper in her hand. She chewed her shirt. She found a water bottle and guzzled it. She went into the bathroom and flushed the toilet. She jumped up and down on the bed.
But I waited, pretending to be asleep.
After a while her humming stopped, and I sensed her beside me. I could feel her breath while I held mine. I was in a precarious position and wondered what she would do – jump on me? stick her fingers up my nose? push me out of bed? But anything she did – even if I lost an eyeball – was better than nothing at all, the nothing that used to be.
And then… then… ever so lightly, like an anointing, she laid a wooden puzzle piece on my forehead.
Then she bounced out of the room, humming as she went.
She acknowledged me in her own special way. She gave me a piece of her; treasured puzzle.
We have locks on the refrigerator and freezer doors. I like to think the locks may prompt her some day to come and ask for what she wants. But really the locks are to keep her from engorging on cheese and popsicles. I grabbed something out of the freezer for dinner and forgot to lock the door. I ran upstairs to throw in a load of laundry.
When I came back I found Rhema chowing down on an Italian ice cup. When she saw me she dropped her spatula. She slinked out of her chair and put the half-eaten Italian ice back into the freezer.
Can I tell you how unbelievable this was?? The fact that she understood that she shouldn’t be in the freezer, should not be eating sweets before dinner (?). The fact that she bothered to get a utensil – albeit a big plastic spatula- and used it! The fact that her face registered something like guilt. (Until recently, she’s had the moral compass of Swiper the Fox, always grabbing, snatching other children’s food, toys, etc.) The fact that she understood she did something wrong and tried to, oh so typically, remedy the situation.
I laughed until I cried.
Goodness. This girl of mine, she’s keeps growing up.
It’s beautiful and hope-filling and amazing and just about the scariest thing I can think of. But watching her and experiencing her now, this blossoming, I feel strangely braver than ever before.
And I like her. I really like her.