Sunday, July 26, 2009

The most popular girl in the room - unfortunately

I volunteered this past Friday and Saturday nights.

I have decided to make up fake names for the kids when I talk about them. It's easier than saying the 5-year-old, the 3-year-old. To protect their privacy, the names that I make up won't even be close to the children's real names. Also, I will not describe them physically or say very much about why they are there.

On Friday I spent time with Linda, a very quiet 5-year-old girl. She gradually opened up and near the end of the night told me a little about her mother and her older brother. Then she asked when I would come back. I told her it wouldn't be for many days because next week I'll be out of town.

I usually don't go on Saturdays, but I decided to go because I was thinking about Linda and the fact that I wouldn't be able to go back for while. When I got to the playroom, Linda was in a another room getting a shower so I started to read books with a cheerful 3-year-old named Joy. Actually, it was more like Joy reading books to me. She would turn the pages and chatter happily about whatever was pictured in the book.

Then a 5-year-old named Jennifer comes into the playroom after her shower. Jennifer is looking lost and crying for her mother. She must have arrived today, because she was not there last night. I ask her if she wants to read books with us. She says yes and sits on my lap. She is still crying and I listen to her while she tells me that she wants her mommy. I hug her and try to comfort her as best I can.

Linda shows up after her shower and sits down next to me. I have Linda and Jennifer each pick out a book. We read. Jennifer cries and says she wants her mommy. I continue to hold her and try to comfort her. Linda gets a sad look on her face and whispers something about her mommy under her breath. I ask Linda, "Do you miss your mommy too?" She nods her head solemnly and a tear rolls down her face. With crying Jennifer in my lap, I reach over and put my arm around Linda and tell her, "I know you miss your mommy." Linda doesn't go into full blown crying and I can see that a little bit of attention from me makes her feel better. Joy is still happily reading to herself near us.

We leave the playroom to have a snack in the kitchen. After snack time, everyone sits on the floor in the living room for singing time. The singing starts but Jennifer, still crying, leaves the floor and crawls onto the end of the couch. I'm sitting in the middle of the couch. I am hoping one of the staff will go to her. I'm only here a couple of hours a week. Wouldn't it be better for the person who is going to be spending the whole night with Jennifer to go and comfort her? Give this frightened child a chance to bond with someone other than the lone volunteer who is going to leave in an hour?

All through singing time, Jennifer is on one end of the couch, alone and crying. I'm staying on my side of the couch - waiting, waiting, waiting. Hoping a staff will reach out to her. Singing ends and they start the movie. None of the staff go near Jennifer. Finally, I can't take it anymore. I move over to Jennifer, take her in my lap and hold her while she cries. When the movie starts, Joy comes near me and also starts to say she misses her mommy. Joy sits to my right and alternates between happily watching the movie and saying she wants her mommy. Linda comes over and sits to my left. I try to smile at her and talk to her during the movie so she doesn't feel left out. She smiles back.

At one point during the movie I have crying Jennifer on my lap, Joy snuggling on my right, Linda sitting quietly on my left and a 3-year-old comes over and leans against my legs while watching the movie. I am a kid magnet.

The night has a painful ending. Joy, Linda and Jennifer all want me to read them a book in their rooms. Luckily, Linda and Jennifer are in the same room. I go to their room and start to read. Joy is screaming because she wants me in her room. I finish the book and say goodnight to Linda and Jennifer. Linda smiles at me. Jennifer continues to cry.

I go into Joy's room and she stops screaming. I read a book to her and her sister. I hear Jennifer start to cry loudly in the other room. After I finish the book I try to say goodnight to Joy and her sister and leave. I really want to go see how Jennifer is doing. But Joy starts to scream again when I try to leave. So I stay in Joy's room and sit by her bed while she falls asleep.

While I am sitting with Joy, Jennifer has escalated to screaming in the next room. I feel horrible that I can't be in both rooms at once and that I have abandoned Jennifer, who was so fragile and vulnerable all night. I hear them take Jennifer out of that room and into another. Eventually, Joy falls asleep and Jennifer quiets down.

I leave.

A heartbreaking night.


Kate said...

Kathy - I haven't read your blog in a while so was just catching up - am so impressed by your writing about your volunteer experiences. And so impressed that you are doing this. I'm sure you provide some truly unique comfort to these kids - amidst an utterly flawed system. Want to hear about the impact of Operation Enthusiastic Cupcake as time goes on - I'm sure burnout is a huge issue but STILL. Miss you guys.
-Kate (Meyers)

grasshopper said...

Hi Kate,
Thanks for the encouragement. I will definitely be giving updates on Operation Enthusiastic Cupcake if there is any progress.
Miss you guys too!