New Bonding

I had one serious worry about opening the orphanage.  How would i get them to sleep at night?  That really was a symbolic question, because it was about how we would discipline children who had already been beaten, abused, and hardened.  I also got mad at myself for worrying about this…  Some weeks after they came I stopped thinking that was an odd worry.  How DO you discipline children who have already had everything done to them, and who still are not compliant and ready to relinquish all the behaviors that allowed them to survive.

What a range of antics we have all participated in as they battled to cross boundaries and i battled to keep them contained.

On the first night I told them all to be quiet, and they GIGGLED!  This I had not anticipated!  They laughed at me.  They thought I was funny.  It made me double over laughing and they laughed some more.  What do you DO with a room full of giggling girls?  Eventually we all went to sleep.

The battle over vegetables:  Hand feeding of children, even older ones, is part of parenting here.  Most of the girls refused vegetables on principle.  it must be a worldwide phobia, because once confronted, most of them came to love vegetables.  But principle is principle, and this was a testing ground.  I would go around and "catch" whoever was trying to give hers away, or hiding it under the rice, or just being defiant.  One of the girls got desperate and she crawled under the beds to get away.  So, I crawled after her, with my sari sweeping up the floor, under one bed after another as they were all lined up.  And then I poked my head out just where she was.  Yes, everyone was laughing.. kids, Gibi, staff… but she ate her vegetables.

We have a range of "punishments" including restricting tv, games, time out, keeping out of dance class, or not letting them visit other homes.  Actually they dare us to hit them… trying to see if they can push us past our own controls.  They constantly threaten teachers and staff that they will say they were beaten.  But the two times it actually happened, they didn’t tell us because they were protecting the teachers. 

I am the only one they really listen to.  I punish them for not listening to others, but I’m really the only authority they recognize.  I have even pleaded with them to just be bad with me since others get so upset…

Hitting/beating is the big no-no.  I have fired two teachers for grabbing a child so hard her mouth bled.  When one of our girls drew blood in a fight, I had her head shaved. 

Head shaving… and thus the title of this post… A few of the girls have now had their heads shaved for serious offenses.  it’s had a range of good effects, and one unexpected one.  They have become closer to me.  My hair is very thin, a result of chemotherapy eight years ago.  It never really grew back well, and the medicine I continue to take continues to take its toll on my hair.  So, in a rare bit of vanity, I put special "hair growing" oil on my head — when I remember.  The oil was sitting on my table and the girls picked it up and asked about it.  I said it was for growing hair, and offered to put some on their scalps.  Of course they loved it.  And they hugged me, and now every morning before school the punished girls line up for their hair-growing oil.  They have also seen a photo of when I had a bald head, so we are another kind of group, another form of bonding, and a mothering activity each morning that draws us closer.

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September 2007
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