Friday, January 24, 2014

Li'l Tootsie

For obvious reasons names have been changed.

Yesterday late afternoon I walked into Richmond Kaiser for an appointment. Just ahead of me, walking through the sliding glass doors I saw the backs of three adult women and a little girl. Even from behind the little girl looked adorable, in black jeans, black and shocking pink Nikes, and a down black jacket with a fur-lined hood. Her hair was neatly braided and the pink barrettes exactly matched the pink of her sneakers. I judged her to be not more than three years old. When I saw her profile, I gasped.
"Is that li'l Tootsie?" I asked.
She turned and smiled and all the women turned toward me.
"Li'l Tootsie, hi, do you remember me?"
"Yes," she smiled. Her mother whom I then instantly recognized smiled also.
"We have thought about you so much, we all miss you" I said to Li'l Tootsie.
"My grandmother has just had surgery" she said to me. "
Li'l Tootsie is all of three years old. I worked with her from the time she was five months old. I will never forget when I first saw her. I had read the referrals and according to postnatal records I fully expected to see a very ill little baby, barely alive. Her young mother opened the door to let me into their home on Ohio Avenue in Richmond. We completed the paperwork while Tootsie slept. I asked her mom whether I could take a look at her before I left. In the crib was a tiny pretty ball of fire. A shock of hair surrounded her lively little face and she looked at me - a completely unfamiliar, out-of-place face - out of big, very alive black eyes and smiled.  My initial  thought was that the mother had shown me the wrong child, although there were no other children present.
And so I had the pleasure of playing with Li'l Tootsie from her earliest months of life. In an amazingly short amount of time she began to crawl - up the stairs she went, and down again all by herself. She did not like to be held. She wriggled out of the arms of whomever tried to carry her, quite the little Houdini. And, as her grand mom would say, she was "busy, all the time busy". By the time she turned one she was running. Her mom, grand mom and myself thought it would be good for her to attend the program at the George Miller Center. Because of the circumstances of her birth she did display some delays, although she herself had no idea! Absolutely no learned helplessness in our Li'l Tootsie.
She attended the program for about a year, winning over everyone's hearts. Everyday she came to school in a different outfit. She very soon saw the children with severe delays and began to help them. I will never forget a little boy who had Down Syndrome, and was fed via a g-tube. He had a dysmorphic face and cried and cried. Li'l Tootsie sat next to him at snack time patting him gently, "okay, okay - will be okay."
She continued to be very very busy, unable to sit down for longer than a minute, and seemed not to pay attention in the group activities, but soon she was talking, and obviously taking in everything and everyone around her. She practically ran the Center.
To our deep sorrow, we could no longer justify having her attend our Center and told her mom she needed to find a 'regular' program for her. The day she left was a very sad day for all of us.
That was a year ago, and ever since we have wondered how she is doing. Whenever I drive past their house I look to see whether anyone is home. In fact, it turns out, the home was sold and they have moved.
And now, after a year, here she is - looking as beautiful and as lively as ever. What is more, she allowed me to hug her - Toots was never a big one for hugs - ''down," she would say.
Besides explaining that her grand mom was having surgery she pointed to her outfit, black and pink sneakers, black jeans, and a pink shirt, and told me the colors in spanish as well as english. She then pointed out shapes to me, the circle of the reception desk, the rectangular doors, even  to the crescent moon bright in the outside sky! When I said goodbye and walked to the department I heard her saying to her great grandmother and aunt "Nesta is my friend."
How very happy that encounter made me. Maybe you, dear readers, have noticed that I haven't blogged much about work, although that was my original intent when I began the blog, but over the last couple of years, and in the last year especially, there have been so many disheartening changes that I have had little desire to write about them. These changes are what led me to write about the 'snow globe.' That disturbing sense of me having been tossed around and thrown up in a flurried landscape. I shall write about them in new entries, because these changes affect me, as well as our society. But here is "Li'l Tootsie" - a beacon of light and hope and joy!

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