As mentioned before, I began blogging when my girls were still foster children. As such, their identities had to be protected. I used alternate names in my blog and have continued to do so. But it gets a little confusing since lots of friends read the blog. In fact when dedicating the girls at church our pastor used the blog name. He quickly corrected himself. I found it funny, but can see how this is getting old. So, tonight’s the big night. I’m going to reveal Elise*’s real name! But you’ll have to read the story to find out.
Once upon a time, in reality, on June 2011 a 21mth old little girl came to me. Her 3yr old sister had arrived 3mths earlier. I had lots of experience
with older special needs children but none with babies. And that’s what she was. The little girl didn’t trust me or anyone else. I’d never seen a child so sad all the time.
For some reason I decided to put mirrors all around her room. Nearly every spot she looked at from the crib showed her reflection. Much later I read somewhere that looking in mirrors helps increase children’s self-esteem. At first she’d cower and turn away whenever she spotted herself. Slowly, over time, she began intentionally looking.
One of the biggest issues was her delayed speech. She could say, “No!” very well but not much else. The previous foster parents had been taking her to speech therapy. I continued with this. During our first appointment, two months after she came to me, I said something very stupid to the therapist.
“I hope she’ll just catch up,” I commented.
“At this point that can’t happen. It will take prolonged, intentional intervention. Even then she may not catch up,” was the gentle answer I received.
My little girl snuggled in my lap, her face hidden from the therapist. Our appointments became monthly. Nothing the therapist did lured her from my arms. I tried really hard to get her to sit at the table and interact with the woman. She wouldn’t. She only wanted my arms around her. I was frustrated, but the therapist rejoiced.
“She used to run around and couldn’t sit for more than 10 seconds,” the woman exclaimed. “There didn’t seem to be much of a connection with the other foster mom.”
I’d worked hard to connect. For the first couple of months she pushed me away continually. I’d just smile and talk. I talked constantly to her, fully expecting her to one day answer.
It became apparent, she understood. When I’d say, “Go get your shoes,” she’d do just that.
In October she began daycare. After a few weeks, the teacher moved her up to the older group where her sister was.
“It’s clear she understands,” the teacher explained. “And she can keep up with the other kids.”
I worried, but it did give her more time with more people talking to her and expecting her to answer. The three year olds wanted much more interaction than the 1 ½-2yrs old she should have been with.
The words came in complete sentences. There was no baby talk. She simply began talking. 9mths after her arrival, she could speak wonderfully. The only thing she wouldn’t say was her name. The speech therapist considered this to be very unusual.
When I spoke her name, it seemed to pain the child. So I called her by nick names that came unintentionally as I made up songs at bedtime. The boo-ka boo baby and beaubeana is what I called her. Her sister didn’t like it, but the other kids joined in.
By the spring of 2012 she was nothing like the baby who arrived in June. Her laughter echoed through the house. She smiled at me and the other kids. Her speech was excellent. Still she wouldn’t say her name.
I prayed off any trauma associated with it. I declared over her the meaning of her name and the verses I’d found connected to that meaning. Still she wouldn’t say it.
Easter Sunday, as we walked into church, a lady I knew stopped to say hello. She knelt down to my little girls and introduced herself then asked their names.
“I’m Athena,” my shy little one blurted out. Immediately her hand shot up to cover her mouth. In absolute shock, Athena looked at me. That was the first time she’d ever said her name. It was completely by accident and made me laugh. In so many ways the Lord had caught this little girl off guard – nudging her into health and wholeness.
In June, a year after Athena came to me, the speech therapist was finally able to complete a formal assessment. In every area Athena tested above average. The therapist was thrilled and completely amazed. “The credit goes to you,” she told me. “You brought this about.”
The words she spoke at our first meeting had stayed with me. The prognosis was so dismal – especially since Athena wouldn’t work with the therapist. The prolonged, intentional intervention was me talking to her as though she were an adult. I’ve never been much for baby talk. I do try to speak in age appropriate terms. Since I wasn’t sure at first if Athena understood, I talked to her like an adult. We’d have long conversations at the thrift store. Bear with me for one more story. This was when I caught a glimpse of Athena’s consciousness.
When she’d been with me for two months, I came across these amazing vintage shoes (which I had pictures of but lost when my computer crashed a while ago). I was so excited when I tried them and they fit Athena. Up until that point she’d refused to keep any shoes on. When I attempted to take these off, Athena let out a horrible scream. “Mine,” she shouted. For days she’d only remove the shoes to bath. She even slept with them on. Seems I’d finally found her style – vintage. Just like me!