Seven year-old scores 2 for Humanity
My daughter is lying in bed a few feet away as I type this, weeping softly because she is trying to be brave. After a relapse during a time when her mothers were stressed out and fighting, she is re-learning how to fall asleep on her own. She is seven.
Sleeping has never been easy for this child. I try not to think about the year of orphanage nights she might have cried herself to sleep hungry or cold. The day they brought her to us at our hotel, she was in pyjamas and sleepy when the other babies were dressed. We figure she must have fallen asleep in her little crib and awakened a few minutes before they put her in our arms- awakened, handed over to green and blue-eyed aliens who can’t speak Chinese, and then whisked across the globe. Adults call this kidnapping “adoption”.
The first months, we paced the floor at bedtime to 11 or 12 songs from Raffi’s Rise and Shine before we could even attempt to lower her into her crib. I still remember the first spot on the playlist where I could risk raising my foot to the crib rail to brace my aching arm. She had night terrors and nightmares and we could not hold her because she didn’t know how to be comforted by our presence. We stood next to the crib and rubbed her little back and she fell asleep again on her own. And during the day, she could fall down and crack her head on the floor, get up, shake it off, and keep moving, because she seemed to have no idea that we might care.
Eventually, she learned to feel safe with us at night, and when she had bad dreams she’d crawl into our bed and sleep like a hyphen between us, feet lodged firmly in my ribs.
And then we weaned her off the bedtime routine. First, rather than lie down with her until she fell asleep, we sat next to the bed. And then in the middle of the floor. Then the doorway. The hallway, in sight. The hallway, out of sight. Our room on the other side of the wall. Throughout this process, she would call our names, her signal not for us to come to her room but for us to say “You can do it!” and “T’es capable!” She worked so hard at being brave.
Now she is starting that work again. She holds her hand out toward me and whimpers, but she doesn’t really want me to go to her. What she wants is to be brave.
This is the baby who found herself in an orphanage at three days old, umbilical cord still attached. The child who lost her whole world again at 12 months and had to start over alone in an apartment with two strange women on the other side of the world. The girl who had the courage to adopt just us rather than keep on trying to attract and charm every other adult in sight.
By the time she was two, she had mastered two new languages, English and French. At three, she went to daycare and she thrived. At four, this kid was sent by her pre-school teacher to get an adult to help with a boy who had just wet his pants. Instead, she took the boy to the bathroom, went to get dry pants and underwear, got him changed, put the wet clothes in a plastic bag in his backpack, and made him wash his hands before delivering him, grinning, back to the classroom.
This is the kid who started first grade this year in a combined high school and elementary school where six year-olds have lockers and a homeroom and roam from class to class. And who ferried her class from math to the fourth floor cafeteria and back the day they all got lost.
Our daughter is strong, and smart, and independent. But she has always been that- that was how she survived. She has also had the courage to learn to trust. To cry when she is hurt, to call out when she’s afraid. And she is sleeping soundly now, one arm around her Bunny-Doo.
Sleep, baby girl. You are braver than you’ll ever know.
The Apocalypse: 4.5