A Month of Busy

I've been away from the blog for a month, the longest time since I started.  I've blogged in my head but it's been harder to get the time to write.  To catch up on several fronts:

The new school for one of the girls has been wildly successful!  She is happy and self confident, and loves to go.  She has so impressed the taxi driver that he took out the taxi to take her on a puja holiday — something he has never done before.  He said, "I just thought of that little girl and how much she loves school."   On our way to school the first day…. a girl about ten put her hand in the window for money.  I asked if I should give her money, and of course my girl said yes.  Then I told her that when she grew up and had a job she could give money to children on the street and she beamed.  I told her she could bring children to Shishur Sevay.  Something clicked for her and she saw a future for herself.  My kids are so incredibly caring and generous.


I finished the finances and had the audit completed and had the taxes filed.  These are major accomplishments since documents all need lots of signatures, and there had to be meetings to discuss many aspects of the finances and taxes.  And, mostly I have to do it through others.


I put an ad online and hired an assistant part time.  I am really thrilled.  This is my first real relief from all the responsibilities.  He is working on the annual report, which has to be done so we can file our registration renewal and then apply for FCRA.  I met with the registrar of societies who said a foreigner CAN be on the gov body of the society — contradicting what i'd been told for years.


The girls have had me very busy — actually they consumed me — and I'm not totally sure why it became so bad.  Starting our weakest girl at a good school shook up the order of things and there was a lot of jealousy.  There was more fighting, and more out of control time that kept me here, which was their purpose.   I felt trapped.  No one else wanted to deal with them.  Neither did I at times, but they are mine, this is what I say to myself over and over.  They are mine, so I have to find the solutions.  Part of this is their feeling more secure, and know they won't be kicked out.  So the more they feel secure, the more they will challenge me.


In their anger they repeated the "old lady" term and a re-run of past emotion.  Some of that is still here, and there are still people who would like me to fail.  Too many people are waiting for me to die. 


There have also been magically wonderful times with the girls, the big ones and the little ones.  Today is the last day of the Durga Puja which has really been fun.  Without real family we had to create how we would spend the holiday.  I found people to visit.  Like others in the community we dressed up and visited the beautiful pandals, elaborately decorated temporary temples.  I totally overspent on Puja clothes!!!! I was really angry with myself until I saw them all dressed up and was happy for every rupee I'd spent, every gold thread, deep colored beads of glass, bright pinks and blues and deep red… I will get pictures up soon.


We found a local mela with rides, not crowded as this was not the more elaborate of little parks around.  But it was perfect for us.  Rani rode alone on an child's airplane ride.  Most of the girls went on the ferris wheel.  They stuffed on puchkas. We went back a second day.


We were invited to an ashram where we were truly treated as guests.  I had hired a bus for the day.  We all went except for Sonali who was running a fever, and a massi who stayed home with her.    Everyone was tolerant and even laughed as Rani took the paper plates from the table as I moved her along in her stroller (until we noticed!).  I asked the Sambuddha Maharaj to bless all the children.  He held Bornali on his lap as she smiled at him.  The food was great; there were geese and a field to run in, and lots of kind people.  On the way back the bus had a flat tire, just another bit of entertainment.


Yesterday the girls were invited to Gibi's for the day.  They dressed up again, and truly enjoyed their time with Choto Ma and her family.  Ganga and Bornali went too.  Rani stayed home.  I took Sonali to the doctor as her fever and cough had not improved after three days on antibiotics.  I'd listened to her lungs and thought we just needed to change antibiotics, but I wanted another opinion.  The doctor did not have chamber hours but asked that I bring her to his house.  We are really accepted and supported by so many people her.  We make them smile.

Staffing over the holiday has been very difficult.  The usual seems to be to wait for puja bonus and then leave.  Of course, I like many others think this won't happen, but it did, so we are very short staffed.  It's hard on the kids because the same women who often try to become "mothers" to them disappear overnight without a call.  I've been more and more aware of how vulnerable the girls are to people who indulge in fake emotion that makes them feel good, and then leave.  It was hard with Sonali sick as the massis she knew were all gone! 


Today got off to a bad start.  We were supposed to have three massis but one called Bijoy at 7 to say she wasn't coming.  So I figured we would all pitch in, which we did and it's worked out.  But one of the girls took my keys when I went to shower.  We found them scattered, off the chain, but the key to my money cabinet is gone.  We all tore this place apart but didn't find it, as she stood by watching.  I have her on time out in Rani's crib and I've been clear to everyone she isn't after the money, only trying to make my life miserable and trying to make me angry enough to hit her.  I told her I could beat her but then I'd be the bad person.  I asked her a few times to tell us where it is, but she won't.  She is also the one I pulled out of school for the rest of the year last week as she hit another child in the nose with a scissor.  Before this the school didn't believe me when I said she couldn't manage school in terms of behavior.  I worry about her a lot.  She scratches herself, makes herself bleed.  She is in so much pain.  I'll lock my room tonight to keep her out of the cabinet and tomorrow the carpenter will change the lock.


I've been sorting clothes all day, matching up the three pieces of churidar and salwar sets, and I've been doing laundry.  The girls scrubbed the classroom and all the desks.  The room looks beautiful.  Now they are working on homework, as one of the teachers returns tomorrow morning.


Neither of the two massis today has cooked here before so we did the simplest kitchuri, a rice and dal mix, and the girls cut all the garlic and ginger, potatoes, and cucumber for salad.


The man who cleans the bathrooms is away, went to his village, so I clean the bathrooms.  Someone dropped a towel down the toilet so I reached in and pulled it out.  This is not a glamorous job!


I have been thinking a lot about what this job is, what is needed, what I can delegate and what I can't.  No one else will worry about whether the red outfit runs in the wash and turns the white outfit blotched pink.  I care, so one of the girls and I washed all the outfits.  I taught her to separate the colors, and to wash gently to protect the sequins and stones.  We changed the water after each group of colors.  We hung the clothes on hangers to dry.  Nothing ran, nothing was ripped, no sequins or stones came off.  I've lost a lot of good clothing I bought for the girls because of how they were washed.  This is universal, not about India, or our home, or our staff in particular.

The girls missed lassi, a yogurt drink they usually have mid day, so I said they would have yogurt with rice at night.  I like them to have yogurt every day.  We make it here.  It is healthy.  But it wasn't served.  The massi didn't give it to them.  It's like vegetables — or anything else — staff or babysitters will rarely do as we say (I say this after years of babysitters in the US).  It's part of how I've come to define motherhood, being the one who cares the most, who commits the most, the person to whom it matters most that homework is done, clothes are clean, good food is given and eaten.  It's also what is hardest to find or create in an institution, where  ultimately the children only have each other.  These girls lived together, along with many others.  But they are like a sibling group, their fighting, their caring, their vigilance for fairness, and their acceptance of the oldest as their Didi.


I know what their lives were when they were alone.  So even when they are at their worst, I am grateful they are with me, and not out there hungry, cold, being abused, not getting their yogurt and vegetables, and looking like orphans.  I asked for orphans, not "good" orphans.  This is what I signed up for.  This is really what any parent signs up for.  Kids from any family may act this way.  There are no guarantees with who we give birth to, who we adopt, who we mother in any other form. 


Maybe it's just an illusion to help me through, but I really imagine one day that this girl will say to me, "Mom (she refers to me as mom), I'm really glad you stood by all those years when I was such a jerk."  She might even thank me.  Or, none of the above, but I'm doing what makes me feel right, standing by, steady as I can be, yelling when I'm not so steady, writing when I feel so alone in what I am doing.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. purba
    Nov 01, 2008 @ 23:40:16

    you are such an inspiration Michelle!!
    great to hear about the possibility of you being able to be a part of the governing body.


  2. travelingcloud
    Nov 02, 2008 @ 23:56:16

    thanks so much Purba. I’m mostly aware of what I don’t get done.
    sonali was in hosp bec of seizure — and I discovered this “top” Kolkata hosp is re-using IV catheters and syringes, and there is NO soap in toilets. I stayed with her all night and she is home now and doing well.
    anyway, thanks.


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October 2008
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