Rani

Practicing winter
Does not blunt the icy shards,
Mother’s heart is pierced.

Rani is about five.  I remember the government officer asking, “You mean you will take Rani too?”  I’m still not sure why he asked, but she is different from the others.  She used to spin around and around, and bang her head, and wave her arms — and she didn’t seem too aware of what was going on around her.  And she had some pretty disgusting habits, which is probably why her family could not keep her.  But she is a sweet child, and her spinning stopped, and she only hits her head if she feels she is being seriously ignored.  She learned not to pull off my glasses because I yelled really loud!  Instead she reaches and pulls my head down so she can kiss me.  Rani loves Barney songs, and will watch a DVD for hours, waving her hands.  she has rhythm and sometimes i enjoy tapping with her. She has no understandable language.

Last week Rani had a seizure that did not stop, and she was in the pediatric intensive care unit at Calcutta Hospital for two days.  One of her caretakers was always with her.  The emergency room took her immediately, and the hospital care was excellent.  Since we had no history we decided to do some investigation, thus the icy shards.

I’m a doctor but in these situations I’m more mother than doctor.  I know this child has no language, little understanding, can’t walk because she has little control over her limbs, and can’t talk.  She can feed herself finger food, but cannot take care of any other of her needs.  someone once referred to her as retarded and i was so angry.  I remember thinking, “how dare he call her retarded!’  To repeat, I lose my clinical objectivity with my kids, and these children have become My kids.”

Then i read the EEG report… slow background waves, encephalopathy.  This is very bad.  How could I not have been prepared?  Knowing, seeing, cutting through levels of denial, the things we tell ourselves.  I wrote to a friend that sometimes I think Rani will just snap out of her state and talk to me.  This will not happen, I tell myself.

How do I look at her now?  I’m sad.  I want her life to be as good as it can be.  I wonder what happened to her — probably post measles and/or chickenpox.  And today I found myself wondering about spirit.  Where is spirit?  Is it affected by brain injury, encephalopathy?  She is sweet.  She is innocent.  Whatever her life is, I’m glad she is here.  She is a part of our family; she is one of us.

Why Blog?

I blog in my head all day long.  I mean, I am telling the story as i live it, playing with words and images to paint the pictures of the thoughts and feelings as they happen or as they have just happened.  These days I want to blog about happiness. 

There have been bad moments, many of them, and there will be more, but I tend to forget bad times, like forgetting labor.  I live much in the moment.  It hasn’t been easy starting an orphanage in Kolkata.  It’s still not easy, but when I’m with the children, or when the community gives us the support I’d hoped for, the hard times fade.  I feel blessed to be living this life.

The morning is always special.  I sleep on the floor with the four little ones.  For Ganga, I am the center of her universe.  If I’m not next to her when she wakes she lets out a howl, and i, helpless to resist, come running to soothe her.  Then she looks at me and smiles.  Her world is good.   She is about three years old.  We have no records on any of the children.  She has cerebral palsy.  Her arms and legs don’t work very well.  She chatters and chatters, trying to form words.  We are beginning to understand.  But she is also a force.  She does her best to organize us to meet her needs.  I am her number one need.  But there are certain situations when she leaves me willingly:

to eat, if she is hungry enough

to go upstairs to the classroom and sit in while the older children have class

to watch a good Bengali movie or Charlie Chaplin. 

She is serious.  She doesn’t really care for kid stuff.  Her favorite movie is Damu, about a father who searches for an elephant for his daughter.  She talks to the movie, waves her hand, seems to worry, and tells me a long story when the movie is over.  I wrote a story about a flying elephant.  It’s a connection on this strange journey of mine.

I am happy walking the children to school, the ducklings I’ve described.  I am happy when they crowd around the vegetable cart and argue about which vegetables we will buy this day.  I was surprised the first time, the" girls leaning over the cart and calling out, "saag, saag, Mummy, saag."  Saag is spinach!

Finding time to write is hard, but years ago I had a fantasy of being here and writing while children went to school.  That was a lifetime away.

Twenty three years ago i adopted a baby from Kolkata.  I had a ten year old "stomach baby" as they call it here, and wanted another child — a long story but here i am now, and two of the women who took care of my daughter 23 years ago now work for me here.  In those years after adoption I kept wondering about the women who worked at the orphanage — what happened to their children as they cared for the ones heading for foreign countries.  I worried about them, about their children.  They were in my mind.  Now they are in my life.

As I write I am interrupted by a teacher calling for help with one of the girls.  She won’t do her work.  She has put her head on her desk.  Some days she is like this, and some days she is really good, in behavior and work.  She is smart.  But she pushes limits and frustrates teachers… and likes to see them call me upstairs.  By the time I get there she is behaving.  I make a fierce face and wave my arms and pretend to yell.  She grins.

My laptop and office area are in the small living room, reception room, and often the girls are here too, preferring to study, play, talk nearby.  But today they started talking a bit about their earlier lives.  Several lived in rail stations or along tracks.  Today they were comparing TV screens at different stations…. then they talked about siblings they lost, and parents, one mother died while pregnant; another was murdered; a grandmother was hit by a train; a father was beaten by police.  But interspersed are also stories of celebrations, food, happy times in their families.  And always they are sad when they talk about younger siblings.

I’ve always loved being a mother.

July 2007
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