Thursday, April 10, 2008

"She is Very Shy"

"She is very shy"...... those are the only words that were translated for me by our guide, spoken by the woman I've come to call "the disappearing nanny" because she seemed an expert at bringing the babies to Nanchang and slipping out quietly and quickly before anyone noticed.

"She is very shy" is what she said when Cami, terrified of her new squeaky shoes, tried to crawl into her arms. It's the only thing she told me. I didn't know anything about how my new baby lived her days, what she ate, or when she slept. And I didn't notice the shyness right away. I decided it was a cultural misunderstanding, something lost in translation.

Now we have been home 8 months. Cami is confident and sure of herself in her new home. She is a sturdy child with a great appetite and quick laugh. But her view of the world is forever altered by the life she must have lived as a shy child in the dog eat dog world of the orphanage.

Cami has an interesting regard for children. She doesn't seem to like them very much. If we are in a crowd, she chooses the empty corner for play. If a child approaches her, Cami will veer out of the way. If there is a line, she will give up her space time and again and go to the end of the line so that no one is standing at her back.

Cami is coordinated, but careful. She moves methodically while other children romp. She is alert and can sense a movement in her direction and she adjusts her choreography. She does not engage......nor does she practice parallel play. She is the sentinel, the guardian. A change in the direction of the wind or an approaching truck still blocks away will cause her to change her status to "all systems alert". She is watchful. She is protecting herself from whatever she fears, out in the big open spaces, in the primitive ways she learned early in her life.

Today we took a picnic to our neighborhood park for lunch. Cami sat on the picnic bench, swinging her legs and eating her sandwich in the sunshine. But when two more little girls approached the park to play with their moms, she stiffened. She began to stuff the rest of our lunch back in the lunch box, to hide our food from the predators. She stashed her cookie under her little leg.

We watched the children play, but Cami only wanted to sit with me and watch. She melted into me and I was her shield. The little girls were friends and I tried to imagine Cami playing with friends. I know the funny little girl inside her who likes to tell secrets and to take turns because, for now, Cami and I are best friends. And while I cherish this time, I worry about how deeply buried Cami- the- friend might be from the world's view.

I don't know the social structure of her orphanage, but my sense of it is that it was a society where meanness went unpunished and being unseen was sometimes the best that could be hoped for. I can't bear to imagine Cami being the victim of anyone's cruelty. My mind refuses to go to that possible place. And if I even get a whiff of it, I"m reduced the simplest place of existence, where my only purpose in life is to stand in the way of harm coming to her again.

"She is very shy"........ What does that mean for her? What did it mean for her in China? And what level of courage did it take for her to allow herself to be carried off, dry eyed and unflinching, by a band of strangers. In a single breath she lost her home, her language, and every shred of security she had carved out in her short life.

Now I want to unbuild the walls that protect her heart. I want to return her innocence. And I will do whatever I can to heal the wounds and remodel her childhood.


V said...

I just stumbled across your blogs while doing research on a little girl we are trying to adopt. Man, this breaks my heart!! I can't imagine what kind of a life these children must live before they are finally adopted! I ache to be able to bring our little girl home, but in the meantime I keep trying to convince myself that it's not that bad so that the time we spend waiting passes a bit smoother. Our little girl seems to have developed the same level of shyness according to her medical records between 1 year and 2 years. She went from being a lively, active little girl to a quiet little girl who, as far as I can tell, probably just sits in a corner all day.

I am curious, did you do anything special to help Cami get over her apparent "shyness" or did she just thrive on her own once she got home?

Von said...

Perhaps at last the grief and loss adoptees experience is beginning to be recognised, sometimes branded as 'shyness'. it's a start!