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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Making Eye Contact


This picture is from last week.  And when I first saw this image, it again caught me off guard.  It made me cry and I couldn't figure out why.  Then I really really remembered the days when Tess would have never had made eye contact like this.  Maybe it's just the depth of her eyes.  Or that sweet little smile that is creeping up.  Or maybe it's the fact that if I zoom in, I can clearly see my and Jujube's reflection, like we've been able to seep into her soul.  Maybe it's just the fact that in this eye contact she is seeing me.  (Look here.  It really is awesome to see the reflections in her eyes.  Photography is surreal sometimes.)   Maybe its early onset of Glaucoma.

A trip down memory lane might be in order.

When Tess came to us, one day after her first birthday, there were several things that caught Papa and I off guard.  We believe that we were prepared for a child that had been in institutionalized care for a year.  But we also know that the duaghter that came to us was far from the the typical Vietnamese orphan. 

Tess, at 12 months old, had never had solid foods.  She still had an infant's gag reflex.  She only weighed 15 lbs.  She could not crawl or even sit.  Some of this is really typical for children growing up in institutions and orphanages... really sad but typical. 

But what took Papa and me by surprise, was Tess's complete avoidance for any interpersonal contact.  It was so eerie.  She didn't want us to touch her, or look at her, or face us.  She certainaly didn't want to look at us and would quickly spin her body away from us.  She looked at things but not at people.  She'd study the button on a shirt, or the rim of a pair of glasses, but not a face.  She wanted nothing more than for us to leave her in her crib and walk out of the room.  Being alone eased her anxiety.  She would respond to tickling, an autonomic response, but didn't really have any emotions, including smiling, fear, or crying.  Yes, she was a child that didn't cry for months And these behaviors didn't just last for days or even weeks, but months and actually still are present in some forms.  I was scared.  I mean I was really really scared not knowing what the future would hold for my girl.  The thought of having a child incapable of giving or receiving love was more than I dared think.  Needless to say, the doctors who evaluated were no help at all, and some were very hurtful.  We stopped going to see several of them.


For nearly 3 months, a long 3 months, we goded Tess into just making eye contact with us.  We'd capture her attention with a toy or food, then slowly move the object until it was in front of our face.  And at that very brief moment, when her eyes would meet mine, the game was instantly over for our sweet Tess.  Untill about 4 months when she started to finally "look" at people.  We'd see her looking at us briefly when she thought no one was looking.  Then the game was to hold her attention for more than a couple seconds.  Then we added smiling.  And eventually we tried to get her to respond to her name.  It's still a work in progress, but these days the eye contact comes so do the smiles.  These days, she smiles and giggles and seeks us out for games of peek-a-boo.  These are good days.

Here she is practicing her smile.  My heart melts!
Tess is still developmentally delayed in several areas.  Thus her 3 therapy sessions a week.  And it still amazes me when her therapsts say they still see weekly improvements in her, "connection with the world."

It's still a work in progress.  But isn't everything in life?  I'm not so scared anymore.  The Lord only gives me as much as I can handle.  Admittedly, there have been times, that I asked the Lord in doubt,  "Are you sure I can handle all this?"  I can.  I did.  I will.  Again proving, that's despite my doubts, He is right, and I am wrong.  And through it all, we've become better people, and I've become a better mama, one that has learned lessons in surrender.  That picture made me look deep into her eyes and know that I really am the lucky one!

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I find it so ironic and wonderful that you mentioned even before meeting Tess how it was those very eyes which especially drew you right in and how you saw a whole person and soul in them right from the beginning. What a miracle now that she's looking back at you, or perhaps it's more that she's allowing herself to be vulnerable enough to let you see her looking. That's what trust is all about. Tess is on a journey and you're not only guiding it, you are the path. You're both lucky or, as they say in Vietnam..."good for me, good for you."

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  2. You stepped up to the plate swinging and Tess is proof of that. She is the most beautiful little girl - I see total happiness in her eyes - knowing that she is loved and accepted for who she is. She is going to be okay, with God's help and yours. I can just tell. :)

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  3. I hardly recognize her in these photos. She looks so grown up, and yes...there is not much that can be better than seeing your own reflection in your daughter's soulful eyes.

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  4. I read, took a deep breath and smiled at the progress Tess is making. You and Papa are making great progress with her...the pictures were amazing and show you that she is coming along. Hugs!

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  5. Michelle-
    I never connected the eyes, both before and now after. Ya, you are so right. Tess's eyes are her windows and were the very very first thing we noticed and were drawn to in those pictures from half way across the world. Then her call for help, and now they so clearly show the healing. Thank you for pointing it out. I forgot. Really... thank you.
    Nancy

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