The five-year old girl sat waiting in her wheelchair. When she tried to speak, all she could say was a mournful “aaah.” She was scrubbed clean. Her pink leggings matched a pink t-shirt matched her pink sneakers and pink socks. Her tight black curls were cut close for easy care. Her head swished back and forth as if she was scanning the room with her deep brown eyes.
Abandoned by her birth mother. Abandoned by her foster parents. She was denied placement in kindergarten, because her constant crying disturbed the other children. No one knew if she had ever received any therapy.
She and her caregivers met with several doctors and therapists at the clinic. The physical therapist said her legs were stiff and contracted, and her spine was curved and would continue to twist as she grew.
The communications specialist at the clinic saw she had something to say. “See how she raises her eyebrows, when she likes something,” the specialist told the caregivers. “See how she frowns when she doesn’t.” The girl’s head swished left and right.
The specialist showed the girl a computer with an eye-gaze communication system. Cartoon pictures lined up on the screen with a preview of three videos. The girl’s head stopped swishing long enough to gaze at each one. She found a video she didn’t like. The specialist showed her the comments page. The girl found the button she wanted. “It’s boring,” she said with a digitized voice. Then, with her eyes, she found a video she liked and smiled.
It was time for the clinic’s dietician to speak with the caregivers. The girl was crying. She had been listening to people talk about her for over three hours. She was bored and tired of being poked and stretched. I rolled her wheelchair outside to the sunlit courtyard. Her head swished, and her arms flailed. I started to sing to her, just like I used to sing to Ariela when she was a little girl. I sang all the songs I could remember, the songs that made Ariela laugh.
“I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” When the spider wriggles and jiggles inside her, I tickled the girl’s tummy like I tickled Ariela, The little girl didn’t laugh. “Aaaah, aaah” she moaned. Maybe she didn’t like my voice.
“Yellow Submarine.” The girl continued to cry. I wondered if she knew what a submarine was, or if she didn’t like yellow, or pink.
“I Love You a Bushel and a Peck.” Ariela loved the silliness of that song. But I didn’t hug the girl like I hugged Ariela or give her a peck on the cheek with a loud smacking noise.
I looked at the girl and wondered if she had ever heard, “I love you”? How do you know you’re lovable unless someone tells you? Or hugs you? Or gives you a peck? Or says you are the best, most wonderful child in the whole wide world?
As I sang, the girl’s crying lessened. She looked up at my face, her eyes burrowing into me. Then she stopped crying, and my off-key singing wafted into the courtyard.