Sunday, November 22, 2009

ASL and International Adoption

Because children adopted from international destinations are accustomed to hearing another language, sign may play a vital role in introducing a young internationally adopted child to communication. According to speech and language expects even children who are not adopted are able to sign their first word before they can speak their first word. Children usually speak their first word at 12 months, but infants can do their first sign at 7 to 8 months of age. It makes since then, that a child being exposed to English for the first time at the age of possibly 1 or 2 (or even later) might benefit from ASL combined with the new language they are being exposed to.

In The Complete Book of International Adoption by Dawn Davenport, parents are encouraged to “Use hand gestures or basic signs from American Sign Language (ASL) with your child, from infants through school age, as a way to transition to English with less frustration and tantrums” ( 8C&pg=PA281&lpg=PA281&dq=ASL+and+International+Adoptions&source=bl&ots=bjIP6u_hXM&sig=WBX4cfuAyUCw9Cp9irKCH3atRc&hl=en&ei=VzgKS5uAIZOMtAO85q3BCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CB0Q6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=&f=false).

One mother, with the internet name of jwpines, explained that sign really helped her adopted child to be able to communicate “rather than pointing and grunting in frustration” (http://www.signingtime. com/forums/showpost.php?p=2910&postcount=15). Her daughter even made “little signing jokes, like signing, “milk, milk, milk" really fast so that I would say it really fast” (Et al). Sign was a neat introduction to language because, though the child had to start all over again with learning to identify new language sounds at the age of 1, sign enabled her to communicate. It should be noted that this didn’t take away from her ability to learn English, because as in the example of the language joke, her adopted mother was using English (like saying, “milk, milk, milk”) while her daughter signed. In fact, jwpines noted of signing videos for children that she had ordered “are the best DVDs for teaching English, let alone Sign” (Et al). Sign videos were helping her Chinese daughter learn ASL and English at the same time! ASL accompanied by the parent’s voice provided both “visual and verbal” communicative development.

For the past three years I have been spending my summers working at an orphanage for disabled and handicap Romanian children. Unfortunately a very intelligent and physically capable young deaf Romanian boy is in this orphanage. I feel bad for him because I know he is very intelligent and capable of a lot more than he is exposed to in this negative environment. It was this boy, Cosmin, who first got me thinking about adopting deaf children from international locations. Because America has a thriving deaf culture, I think it is an advantage for deaf children to be raised in the United States. Within the U.S. deaf persons can be exposed to a “normal” life. In many other cultures these same children are institutionalized, like Cosmin, or considered dumb and/or left to beg. It is horrible to witness deaf people being treated as though they are disabled. When cultures treat deaf persons this way they are not only robbing people of their potential, they are robbing themselves from what their gifts and talents can bring the world.

Jamie Berke, a deaf person, considered adopting a deaf child in order “give the child the kind of deaf childhood I did not have”( /a/deafadoption.htm). After adopting a foreign deaf boy Jamie had the thought, “that if the computer had helped our child to find a family, wouldn't it help other deaf children?” (Et al.) which lead Jamie to establish Deaf Adoption News Service around March 1994.

From my international experience I can testify that deaf children in places like Africa and India are often subject to extremely horrible conditions, not to mention they are never exposed to a full language like ASL. Unfortunately they usually do not get the opportunity to use a language as Deaf and hearing Americans use ASL and English. I have a desire to help orphaned children in the third word, and among these I think that deaf child in the third world should be especially sought out early as children to be adopted in first world countries, like the U.S.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Elephant In the Room

I don’t know what you want to hear. I could relate all that I’ve done since I last blogged, but I feel like that would be ignoring the elephant in the room.

I’m leaving … and whatever I would write, that fact would be buried under all the sentences, lurking between the lines.

I’ve always liked writing. Sometimes when I've felt something deeply I would sit down and tell myself to write a poem in order to express myself better, to experience some kind of catharsis. But so often I would start with what was pounding in my heart and would find that I was trapped by very plain and simple language. My feelings may have been intense, but my language was not complex and routine. I feel the same way now when I write, “I’m leaving.” Such a simple sentence with so much weight.

I’ve been thinking that spending three months in another country when you speak the language, know a few people and are working on a fascinating project, can be torture. It is torture because something happens in three months; some kind of glue is formed naturally. I’m not sure from where it comes or when it comes, but the recipe for you soul sticking to foreign land for sure has the requirement that your soul must sit there for three months.

I try to write happy or interesting things when I blog and I’ve left out a lot of the negative, but the truth is that up until a month ago, I had days when I wanted to be in Sacramento badly. HOME. I didn’t feel the same “magic” as I did last summer. Many of the kids I had loved and lived for had been re-assigned to other orphanages. Many days I was the only volunteer at the orphanage. I felt so frustrated with the Romanian language that I felt like I somehow gave-up on it, though I still used it daily … but now when I think about returning I am confused.

Recently I have been volunteering in a small classroom for six of the older orphan boys in the center. I LOVE THE CLASSROOM! It is such a unique little place with a sweet security, and it brings new purpose to the lives of these boys, many of them actually men. Try putting 19-year-old boys in a school when they’ve never been in one their whole lives and you will find that there is a lot of drama to be had, but as you learn the peculiarities of each child, and the children begin to understand structure and security, there is such a sweet, motherly/teachery feeling that develops. It is one of those feelings that fill up the tank, and make your life a song. I find that the boys can almost be controlled by praise, so I have become one of their main cheerleaders. Also, as my friend Ariana teaches the clas,s I cheer her on, giving her a smile when the boys give her black stares, trying to be an extra pair of arms for her as much as I can. I feel that I would lie down on the floor if she needed to be a little taller. Because I believe in her and what she’s doing, I would do almost anything to help her, even to my own detriment.

And there are somethings I don’t like about the U.S., but once I go there, I am trapped. I can’t get away from the U.S. when I am home. It’s bothering me how alone I will feel when I’m there. When the streets are empty, and there aren’t a dozen people to meet along the road to where you’re going. I’m going to sadly miss working with people, monitoring the process of children that I’m dreaming for. I’m going to miss the company, even when it’s bad. I dread being all alone again, and for anybody who’s traveled, I’m going to miss that the people around me won’t miss what I miss. They won’t long for a world they’ve never entered.

I don’t think I’m going to like how clean people are in the U.S. I won’t like how they can leave the shoes they wore outside in the house as well. I’m going to hate hearing hour-long conversations about seemingly pointless you-tube videos and going to parties when there’s no one in the room who obviously needs help. I’m going to miss trying to speak Romanian. I’m going to miss the questions I can ask here without really offending anyone. I’m going to hate it when I eat at a restaurant and the waitress/waiter is being abnormally kind and attentive. I’m going to miss sweeter fruit with more seeds and eating peppers. And really I’m going to miss the boys at the school in the orphanage. I just don’t like them growing without me. I don’t like that Alexandra Sa. is at the orphanage right now in her bed, staring at the ceiling when she could be speaking and dancing. I’m going to miss the sincerity that seems more common here.

What I don’t like about America is shallowness, being bored because we have everything we need, being too nice, and being afraid of insulting others and therefore holding back on what we really think and feel. Oh, how guilty I am. But I want home, too, I think. I just have to wait till I get there to see if I really wanted home as badly as I imagined when I was away.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mathematical Sense

Bianca wailed for the volunteers long after they were gone. She couldn’t rest but held onto some hope they would return and she would receive their affection. She held onto the bars of the backyard gate, distressed.

“It makes my heart hurt to hear her wail like that,” a worker told me. The worker told Bianca not to cry, but somehow holding the dirty little Bianca to calm her was something the workers NEVER do. Bianca has stopped looking to them for affection.

I can’t remember what I was doing at the time, but it caught my attention for an hour or less inside the orphanage. At some point, I had come out briefly and noticed that Bianca was still crying.

When I came outside I saw that Bianca had escaped from the back yard. She was moaning, whimpering, and kind of running around aimlessly. The eight year old had somehow lost all the clothes she had on earlier. Even her diaper was gone. She was completely naked. I was distressed by her running around naked and couldn’t help but note that she clearly had a six-pack. A life of tantrums had made this little girl ripped.

An older girl with MR, Doina, was attempting to grab Bianca. But Doina would respond to Bianca as the caregivers did, and Bianca would never willingly go where Doina led. I couldn’t bare Doina’s hitting and yanking the eight year old, dragging her tantruming body on uneven concrete.

I ran to Bianca and spoke to her. “Okay, come with me,” but Bianca was beyond listening. She wouldn’t have trusted an angel at this point. I saw some large cuts on her that were bleeding. I couldn’t take it. I scooped her up in my arms while her legs kicked and her muscles tightened. I held her close to me. Two adult men who work at the center had been sitting just outside the gate, enjoying their cigarettes and laughing at the sight of Bianca running around naked. I could hear their laughter as I carried Bianca inside the building, up the stairs. As I was on the stairs I set Bianca down. I attempted to use my voice in a soft and calm way to create an atmosphere in which she felt she was loved and cared for and everything was okay.

“Bine. Asa. Mergem sus sa facem o baie, dar trebuie sa cautăm pentru rufele inainte de facem baie, da? Cautăm rufele si pampers …” I walked through the steps of what we were doing and going to do. Between every word was another message, “This is such a normal, familiar, calm environment. If we feel a little excited it is only because what we are going to do is so fun.”

I washed Bianca as one of the staff watched. I was glad she only watched and didn’t tell me to make Bianca wash herself. This is usually what the staff tell me whenever they see me doing something children can do themselves. I delighted to wash out the bleeding wounds on the little girl.

“Look at your shirt,” the staff worker and Doina pointed out. Little specks of Bianca’s blood were on my yellow shirt.

I took Bianca to a room to stay alone with her after she was clean and dressed. She was distracted by all the toys in the room, donated but never used, and couldn’t sit still. I employed the ABA techniques I had learned at a seminar the day before to control Bianca, who still lacked calmness. As I sat next to her at the table I had a thought about how Bianca was hated by the staff and the workers because she insisted on receiving what crumbs of love and security she could get and wouldn’t give that up. Being beaten and having her hair pulled out and her body dragged downstairs (as I had watched for two years) wouldn’t keep her from insisting, “I must be loved.”

I thought about how thankful I was for this attribute in Bianca and how I would hate it if it left because that would mean that we had lost Bianca and she would be dead to us. As long as she insisted on being reached in meant she had a soul that still had a hope of being rescued from a mindless black night.

I looked at her across the table and felt compassion for her need.

“Come here and sit in my lap,” I said, and she got up and sat down. I moved us to a bigger chair where I just held her as she held onto a doll with no legs in her arms.

I’ve heard or read somewhere that when a mother holds her infant, chemicals are released in the mother and child’s brain that are so healthy for them. As I held Bianca, kissing her cheek periodically and telling her I loved her and what a good girl she was, I could FEEL the love inside me, and something of its power had to do with the fact that it wasn’t just myself involved with the emotion, but Bianca was there, too, giving and taking.

There was a moment there (and not a second or a minute or anything measurable, but a MOMENT) when I felt with Bianca in my arms that all the pain I had caused and encountered in my life was worth it in order that in that moment I could hold and love Bianca.

Maybe it doesn’t mathematical sense that the nine hours my mom had of labor plus months of depression in my own life could equal one moment in Romania, but in this moment it made sense.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Needy Bunch

A handful of Americans wanted to visit the orphanage and gained permission to do so after much string-pulling. The director insisted on being there when they came to supervise the visit. I was so excited when they arrived, but only a few of the really sweet kids who were not locked in the backyard were around them as the director took them on a tour of the facility.

I walked with them through the orphanage as they looked at empty rooms that the director showed them, but the whole time I was trying to think how I could get them permission to go where the kids were outside. A couple in the group asked about a boy they had met last year, Johnny.

“He’s outside,” the director said.

Almost without thought I found myself saying, “I could take my guitar outside. We could sing with the kids, and they could see Johnny. I could get some instruments for the Americans to use with the kids? “ I looked at the director. “What do you think? Would that be okay?”

When the director consented I ran to collect the tambourines that spent their hours locked up in room, unused. I grabbed my guitar and one American girl passed on the tambourines to the Americans.

As soon as we approached the gate to the back yard, the kids ran towards us screaming. They were shouting unintelligibly, so excited to have visitors, and from the drool on their shirts and their pushing each other, you could tell they were a needy bunch.

One worker yelled at me, “Marilyn! Tell your friends to come in quick and not hang around the door or else the kids will run out.” Once the kids get out of the backyard they can no longer be supervised, which is quite dangerous.

I yelled in English, “Come in, quick so the kids don’t run out!”

I wondered why they waited.

I forget how intimidating these “children” (many of them actually adolescents and teens) can seem.
In the end, two of the men entered. Kids surrounded them. One adolescent girl was walking around topless. Nobody knew what happened to her shirt. Bogdan hit the guitar as though it were a baseball, using his instrument like a baseball bat. Then he twisted the tuning strings, making the guitar out of tune. I sang a few songs (before Bogdan twisted the strings) and then yelled for the Americans to go. They left slowly, one by one, so that the kids wouldn’t notice them leaving. I continued playing, but nobody was really excited about the songs now.

Looking back, it was a complete disaster. The workers chastised me for bringing the group. Somehow the instruments were broken or stolen and Bianca couldn’t stop crying for about an hour after they left, because she wanted the visitors to come and hold her. Bianca has received affection primarily from visitors. When they come, this eight-year-old fights to get the attention and affection of just one.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dramatic Dental Hygiene

Adriana begged me to brush her teeth with her.

I believe Adriana hates getting her teeth brushed, but begs me to brush her teeth because she likes the attention. When it comes to the part where the toothbrush enters her mouth, she wants no part of the hygiene ritual. Today she screamed a care worker’s name while I patiently faced her with the toothbrush. We have the difficulty that she won’t open her mouth to allow her teeth to be brushed even after she’s claimed that she wants her teeth brushed and/or she shakes her head from left to right so that it is impossible to brush her teeth. For this reason I make her do “toothbrush exercises” before I consent to brushing her teeth each day. These exercises require her to open her mouth for 5 seconds straight without turning her head.

Today a cleaning lady passed by the door and looked in. We were in the middle of teeth brushing and Adriana was being especially difficult. When I saw the cleaning lady, I said loud enough for the woman to hear: “Oh, let’s show the cleaning lady how you brush your teeth!”

The older woman kindly stopped and looked in on us.

“Open your mouth!” I commanded with enthusiasm.

I could see the desire to please in Adriana’s eyes. She had a look of pride as she held her mouth open despite the fact that she didn’t want to. Quickly I put the toothbrush in her mouth and then began to count, “1,2 …”

Seconds one and two are usually the best two seconds when I can actually hit some surface area of the teeth.

“3, 4 …”

Now Adriana began wagging her head back and forth, slowly at first but then the momentum built. The more she wags her head, the more uncomfortable she is with the toothbrush in her mouth. Her lips were closing. I couldn’t see if I was doing good work with the toothbrush at all, but I was hoping that I was managing to at least sideswipe one tooth. By now she was starting to moan.

“…5 …!”

I breathe out and smiled as I removed the brush from her mouth.

“Okay,” I said as though it wasn’t that dramatic of a five seconds. “We’ll take a break and then we have some more brushing to do on the bottom.”

Adriana didn’t look excited.

“Well brush for five seconds,” I reminded her, “and then we’ll take another break.”

I looked at the cleaning lady’s face. She was laughing. Our efforts at dental hygiene were so pathetic they were humorous. I think that Adriana wasn’t aware of how poorly she was doing, and my upbeat attitude about the whole event brought added layers of humor.

The cleaning lady tried to encourage Adriana and help make my work easier. “I brush my teeth every day!” She told Adriana. “It makes our breath smell good.”

“Oh, yes,” I chimed in, “And it’s healthy for us!”

“Yes, yes!” the cleaning lady backed me up. “Well, I’ve got to mop the floor in here, so I’ll see ya around...”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Separating the Boys From the Girls

So a British Charity has arrived that wants to work with Marin Pazon. I am so glad they are there because I don’t feel so alone when they’re here. Like me, they want so much more for the orphanage only they've come with a whole team ready to do something.

Today the woman who leads the group came in the room where I was feeding Lucica mashed potatoes for lunch and sat down across for me.

“We’ve noticed that some of the boys are living in the girls quarters in the orphanage,” she began.

I nodded. This had bothered me, too, in the beginning, but after initially noticing it, I had gotten used to it.

“We don’t approve of this and we want to make it completely clear to the director that this is unacceptable.”


“We think that if all the foreigners get together on this and all say the same thing, it will motivate the director to change things.”

So she wanted me to be clear that I disagreed, too.

I honestly thought about what she said, and following after the Romanian way, I didn’t hesitate to bring up any oppositional thoughts. If I was going to be with the British folks on this, I wanted to be with them 100%.

“I have one thought,” I explained, before agreeing. “I’ve noticed that they’ve put some of the more passive boys with the girls, and I’m worried about how the other boys will treat the more passive boys if they are grouped together.”

I thought about this comment later as I was walking home, and realized that really I’m thinking of Vasile, the small 15-year-old boy who is often grouped with the girls. I do see him get hurt by the big boys, and I am afraid of anything happening to him. I’ve never noticed him mistreating any of the girls. I only notice him being safe.

The woman told me, “That’s a different situation entirely, and we need to start with the step of separating for boys from the girls.” It seemed to me she wasn’t concerned for the small boys as much as she was concerned for the small girls. And it seems that if we are going to begin protecting someone first, and we should have to choose, it should be the small girls.

“No matter how passive some of boys are, they are still boys,” a young British girl told me, as she listened behind her leader. I agreed.

The British woman continued and brought up some of the girls who had been placed with the boys. She brought up the fact that many of the male staff sleep at the orphanage and have care of the girls that had been placed with the boys. I cringed. I knew what she was getting at. Quite possibly our worst nightmares had already happened.

Yes, yes, yes, I agreed, and I would support them.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


This morning I rode in a car with two ladies from Canada and another American to a Catholic convalescent and disabled children’s home. Some of the kids from Marin Pazon (the orphanage I volunteer at) had been relocated in the past year to this new center. The five children who were moved were the ones who were the worst off at Marin Pazon. They sent almost all their time alone in cribs.

I would know five of the children: Roberto (who eats EVERYTHING), Marian (I think he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), Maria with cerebral palsy, Blind Aurel, and Donut (with hydrocephalus). The home was big with a cross in front and when we arrived all the kids were outside under shaded awnings. A few elderly people from the center were also outside. With only ten children, and three or four staff on hand, it was obvious this atmosphere was centered on the children. Nobody was yelling. The staff were all patiently and lovingly working with the children, and the children were OUTSIDE! Aurel, who was always laying down in his crib at Marin Pazon, sat upright in a stroller. I’d like to think that when I grabbed his hand, he knew it was me, but can only hope that this was the case. As he felt my hand, however, he moved to get up out of his chair to walk, but he was strapped in.

“Can I untie him,” I asked one of the staff, “and go for a walk with him?”

“Sure!” said the worker who continued feeding yogurt to one of children.

I untied my little Aurel and we walked. I noticed right away his shoes were strong and sturdy. Also, he was physically stronger than last year. That signified that people had taken time to walk with him. He was no longer confined to his crib. He loved walking, and, oh!, the change I saw in this little man. He LAUGHED and GIGGLED as we walked and he felt the sun on his face! He was the same boy, who preferred being carried and swung around, despite his weight and age, but he was a happier, freer one. When he got tired he just wanted to sit on the ground like he used to do last year in the halls of Marin Pazon. As I rounded the corner of the building with him, tears collected inside me and rushed toward my eyes. This Catholic home WAS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!

The five kids here, sitting in the sunlight, properly dressed, feed, no longer sitting in their own urine and feces were the children who had been the MOST HOPELESS, THE MOST ALONE, AND THE MOST ABANDONED at the orphanage! God had taken the ones we thought there was no hope for, and brought them to “a land flowing with milk and honey.” I cried out of awe of what God had done, and went on to imagine how safely, how warmly these children could continue their days – outside of the city, in a spacious home with green lawns, toys, and LOVE.

The sister who attended the children smiled like a child herself, without worry or fear and spoke to us in Romanian. “I’m actually from Paraguay,” she told me.

I gasped with delight! “That means you speak Spanish!” I exclaimed.

“Yes,” she continued, “I also speak Italian. I worked with handicap children in Italy for thirteen years before coming to Romania in 2007.”

Her Romanian was very good, but she declared that it was such a difficult language, using the Romanian term ‘dificil’ (from Latin) to describe the language.

I looked in her warm eyes and wanted to tell her so much about my faith. I sensed she felt too, this love of God and I wanted to celebrate with her, the love that meant so much to both of us.

Roberto was there, and all the sores that had covered him for lack of care were practically gone. He was no longer dressed in his straight jacket, but in a Spiderman shirt with matching shorts. He used to wear the straight jacket because he would always eat his clothes and his diaper. A staff member noticed he had bitten through his Spiderman shirt at lunch. “We’ll just have to keep a better eye on him,” she cheerfully reasoned.

During lunch I remember looking at Donut (who has hydrocephalus) lying with his enlarged head in a stroller. He looked back at me consciously. I smiled slightly and his eyes gleamed with great joy. I realized as we looked at one another that his joy surpassed mine which caused me to smile back all the more. He erupted with laughter. He has SO MUCH to give this crazy world. His laughter reminded me of the thought that he must know Christ in a way we don’t. Where does his joy come from when he has spent more than sixteen years alone in a crib in constant pain? If anyone knows the heart of God, it must be him. He has received so little but gives so much.

The catholic sister asked me when I would visit again, which I took as a sign that I was invited to return. I considered that they didn’t often probably get visitors that stayed very long, so it was probably a treat to have someone come. I wanted to come again, even though my presence didn’t seem as necessary. I would be one more pair of hands to HOLD the kids. For all the attention they got, I still felt that there could be a little more HOLDING. One can’t over-love a child, right?

So all these little details really tell us something about God. People started praying for these children in inhumane conditions long ago. Later (two years ago), an American friend of mine saw Donut in his crib at Marin Pazon and it caused her such agony. She couldn’t find it in her heart to return to the orphanage because it was too emotionally disabling. People were usually afraid to touch him or pick him up. I was, too, when I first saw him. And here he is safe, and leading a life outside of the noisy city in a peaceful, loving, catholic atmosphere. If I had known that God could answer prayers this way, then I would have asked for more. It seems to me, that when you pray for widows, orphans, and abandoned people, God hears these prayers better than others. I don’t know how he is able to take the most hopeless cases and turn them around, but apparently He does.

Oh, God, take the most hopeless part of me … and turn it around.