Preventing Failure to…Provide

Oona, who writes the fabulous  and buds know blog, has crafted a fabulous post about failure to thrive.  She kindly shared it with us:

failure to provide

By Oona

He has gained a pound and a half in the five weeks he has been here. More weight than he gained in Ethiopia from June of 2010 to February 2011. His skin is smoother, his eyes shine, he laughs easily and is good natured most of the day. He sleeps well, is learning English at a truly spectacular rate and he meets each new day with a sense of joy and anticipation. He is an all around wonderful and wonderfully capable little boy.

Today, on a recommendation of a friend of mine, we took a dance class together in the little village a few miles South of our city. I e-mailed the teacher to inquire about the 9:30 AM class and explained that Dawit understood a lot of English and talked and sang constantly at home but did not speak in public. She recommended another class. “The children in the 1:30 class are really special and will welcome him happily.”

We entered a beautiful old brick building and were met by the teacher, a thin pretty woman in her late 40′s. She smiled sweetly and I believe we both felt calmer just being near her. Dawit didn’t hesitate to walk in and was as thrilled as I with the beauty of the space. A large room made homey with curtains on the windows on either end of the space. There was a wall of mirrors and opposite that was a wall of pegs hung just where a child could easily take one of the scarves that was hanging from them. The floor was covered with mats and then foam pieces in various shapes. There were objects to sit on, crawl under, and fall on top of. There were shapes to beams to walk across. She invited Dawit to walk on the balance beams and the circles and to hang from a swing and fall onto the blanket that was stuffed with beach balls.

Before she joined Dawit and her other students we spoke. “Do you know about my work?” she asked. I told her no not really. “I’m a dance psychotherapist. I work with movement to help children heal or reach their potential. I specialize in adoption.”
I felt a catch in my throat when she said this and thought I might cry. I was surprised by my reaction but perhaps shouldn’t have been. Having spent the last five weeks wondering if there was anyway Dawit could have stayed with his family, I was constantly coming up with a list of things they would have needed; running water, a school, medical services, to name just the very basics. Now, when looking for a toddler dance class I end up with a dance therapist. I was struck by the difference between what his Ethiopian family lacked and by what were provided with without even looking for it.

She went off to do her work and I sat on the wooden platform at the end of the room and chatted with one of the moms as I watched and was amazed by how Dawit opened up to her and the other students. Slowly she would bring each student into Dawit’s orbit and say “Did you notice we have a new friend in class this week?” Then she would say their names and have the child look into Dawit’s eyes and say hello. Dawit was in heaven. The children were typical and yet not. They were calm and energetic. They were centered for lack of a better word. After the children had been exploring the space, rolling, jumping, balancing it was time to put all the foam pieces and pillows and crawling tubes away and Dawit rushed to help everyone. We danced to the beat of each child as they all took turns on a hand held drum as we walked in a circle and the beat told us to go quickly or slow down, step lightly or stomp. Dawit loved every moment. If a child was wiggling their fingers the teacher would say, “Oh look at that lovely motion L is doing with her fingers! Let’s all try doing that to see how it feels. Oh, see how Dawit raises his legs when he marches? Let’s raise our legs like Dawit.”

What does it do for a child when an adult singles them out to say “Wow! Look at you! I love that so much that I’m going to do it and tell others to do it to!” For Dawit it was empowering. So completely satisfying that by the middle of the class a small miracle happened. Dawit began to speak. The teacher would say, “up,” and Dawit would say “up.” The teacher would sing “Shoo fly don’t bother me” and I would hear Dawit try as best as he could (which is pretty darn good) say “ooooo fly on’t other me!” Again, I held back tears. Then it came to me. Again, I was surprised. I have not in the five weeks we have been together been deeply emotional. The work of making him feel secure; meals on time, bedtime rituals established and rules such as no hitting and pinching being enforced made me too tired to be emotional. At the beginning it was difficult to know if he would be alright. Three and a half years old and 20 pounds is a challenge. Over the last week or so I began to see how he was thriving in this new environment. And that is what had me finally so emotional. Failure to thrive was a lie. The diagnoses he received in Ethiopia, the one confirmed here in NY by the big specialist, it all was a lie. He was not failing to thrive. We, all of us, were failing to provide. For this little boy, this sweet, smart, attentive, good listener, great learner of languages, adventurous little boy had everything in him to succeed. He was meant to succeed and yet he almost didn’t make it here. My mind went back to his last medical report in Awassa “Dawit entered 7 mos ago at 19 lbs and has continued to lose weight. He has diariah and loss of appetite.”

A few weeks later he is sleeping through the night, eating most of what we offer him, learning his third language, and when asked to, dancing a solo (yes, each child danced a solo on a lovely asian carpet with a scarf in hand and has latin music played and we all sat watching in wonder) in front of strangers. He shares his toys and food and laughs with joy and irony when we do something funny.

We are failing our Dawits when we as a world cannot ensure that everyone has clean drinking water. When children cannot go to school because they have to work and when mothers die and leave an infant so bereft that infant will not eat but instead cries on and on. We are the failure.

So, that is what I learned today. I banish failure to thrive from my vocabulary. Failure to provide. That was the problem and that should not ever be.

Thank you Oona, for your inspiring words of wisdom,



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