When I got home, I stuck the sticker on my refrigerator to remind me of the moment. The edge of the sparkly heart curled up from where Olivia had peeled it off her paper and it lost its stickiness. For little girls Olivia’s age, stickers are quite important. And for her to give me one of hers was no small gift.
It all started with a game. Lately the older children like to take turns crawling up in our laps to play the “Xuejia” game. Roughly translated, it means the napping game. They like to curl up like a little baby in our arms, tightly close their eyes, and pretend to sleep while you sing a song. Usually they take turns, patiently waiting for their turns — one song each! — and they can go on and on. I’m not sure which of the children invented the game, but it has definitely caught on.
The game itself breaks my heart as I watch these little ones reach out for extra love and affection. And, it doesn’t escape my notice that it is so controlled. They are the ones who decide the terms and limits of the affection. They choose the moment. They choose the song. They give strict instructions on how the game is to be played. It’s clear that they’ve lost the childhood innocence that defines the moments when most children cuddle up with their mothers for a song. But they still want the affection…
Like I said, usually each child is limited to one song each since there are others waiting in line. (Yet another thing that breaks my heart… Children who must take turns to receive affection.) But today was different. Everyone was off and busy doing other things. When Olivia came in, she was clearly out of sorts. She walked over to where I was sitting on the couch and asked me to hold her. I picked her up.
She curled into my arms. She turned her head towards my chest and buried her face deep in the fold of my arm. I felt tension ease out of her body, and she whispered what song she wanted me to sing. It is one you know… I began softly singing and she remained still.
Olivia is a beautiful girl. She’s often told that she is beautiful, and many visitors are drawn to her. Though she’s only 4, she has learned how to beguile and attract people with her engaging personality and winning smile. She is cute, but for her, it is all about control… she uses it to get the attention she needs and wants. Emily, on the other hand, gets attention by forcefully grabbing it. Cheryl pretends she doesn’t need it. I could describe how each child has learned to receive the attention they need, but it was only recently that I learned to recognize Olivia’s method.
But when she curled up on her lap and asked me to sing the song over and over again, I could sense her letting go of that control, if only for a moment. She rested. She trusted. She let go of control.
And she fell asleep.
For nearly a half hour, I held her as she slept. As I watched her, I wondered what her life would hold. When would she finally go home? Where will her journey take her? Will I be able to tell her mother someday of this moment when I stood in for her? How can I help her heal?
When she woke up for dinner, we sat and played for a little while longer. She gave me the sticker… a broken heart from a broken heart… and I had to go home. As I walked out of the foster home, I found myself humming her chosen song yet again:
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak, but He is strong.