(by guest blogger Alex Kamin, Renewal House Children's Advocate)
Children enter the world filled with hope, wonder, and authentic yearning to interact with those around them. As they develop, their natural wonder can be fostered and encouraged through creative play, nurturing homes, loving adults, and stability. The child who is allowed to develop in this organic way will learn to trust in the world around them. They come to believe that the world is a place where they can invest themselves.
What about the children who were not given the tools to develop this wonder? The children who were not able to explore the world around them? The children we encounter at Renewal House are often caught in this state of transition, which has inhibited their sense of safety in the world. The child who enters Renewal House is going through a plethora of changes -- they have left their home, most if not all of their belongings (toys, pets, movies, music, etc.), and a traumatizing violent home life. Each child enters Renewal House with a different set of experiences and coping mechanisms, yet they have one quality that links them, which is resiliency. Children are incredible healers. Despite the harsh circumstances, turmoil, and transition that each child who enters our shelter has faced, they have incredible strength and capacity for hope. Renewal House, its staff, volunteers, interns, and the resources they all provide for the parents allow the children to reinvest in a world which has thus far not proven to be a safe place.
Although this hope is not always apparent and it certainly does not happen overnight, there are moments when it shines clearly in the eyes and words of the children. An encounter with a 5-year-old boy reminds me of this. This child entered the shelter as a very timid boy, barely talking to anyone outside of his own family. When he did talk he would be submissive and polite. He loved to read. As his time at Renewal House was drawing close to a month, his personality began to change. He became aggressive with the other children, he was rude to his mother and staff, and he would lie and yell. He would refuse to listen to anyone, and disobey rules he had once recited to anyone who would listen. After a few days of trying various disciplinary techniques, I decided it would be best to sit down and talk with him in my office. I knew he had been having nightmares, so I asked him about those. He told me he dreamt of “his mean daddy, and the blood from the cuts he gave himself.” His eyes got soft as he spoke and the anger he had been exhibiting earlier seemed to melt away. He continued, “and I have dreams of my mean daddy pulling out the bathtub and throwing it out the window and everything breaking.” He told me this with certainty. I asked him if he would like to draw a picture of all the people and things that made him feel good. He could keep this picture next to his bed, and it would keep away nightmares. He liked this idea. I drew and he told me different animals and people he wanted to have on the drawing – his grandparents, his dog, a snail, a polar bear. After a bit, I asked if there was anything else he wanted to include in the drawing. He said, “oh yeah – we need to have a lion on top of everything. The lion is God, and protects me from everything, and he watches all of us.” I took a deep breathe, said a silent prayer of gratitude for the gentle spirit moving inside this boy, and acknowledged the great strength which this young boy possesses. I drew the lion.
When I got to work the next day, the boy ran to me and said, “Can we draw more animals? The dreams of my mean daddy went away last night.” Being present to another in their time of suffering is a true gift.