New Little Boy

Roger_1I unexpectedly took him in my arms and held him close. There was something about him that grabbed my heart from the first moment. He closed his eyes when I looked at him, as if trying to make himself disappear. He made no sound but for a whimper. He turned his head away as if he wished he were unseen… I couldn’t help but blink back tears. He looked so weary, like there was no fight left in him. His feet and hands were grossly swollen. Malnutrition, the more serious kind. I tried to reject the thoughts that he had arrived just a little too late… He seemed so fragile, so hurt. Jesus, hold him, I prayed silently.
3rd degree malnourished, just 16 months old, 14 pounds… same story… left to die… abused, neglected, unloved, and unwanted by his parents. He was brought to our center for rehabilitation by another family member… she had had to fight to get him away from the mother and now stood hysterical beside me, pointing at the swollen feet, tears streaming down her face.
My husband and I took little Roger upstairs and began our routine, silently, each of us knowing the steps to take. We laid him gently down, his muscles almost unable to hold his head up, we inspected his body, looking for scars, for wounds. Trying to piece together a story that we would need.
As we offered him different foods, we were surprised to find he was starving! The relief that force feeding wasn’t needed was felt by both of us. Mashed potatoes were a hit! He took tiny mouse size bites all with squinty eyes, as though he was embarrassed of his hunger. His tiny little fingers would take the excess on his lips and quickly stuff them in his mouth. Then he would lean back against me quietly, his eyes rolled back, and chew. Then without warning, he would open his mouth and cry as though he was in pain. We quickly figured out that it meant more mashed potatoes.
As the evening wore on, we bathed him, cuddled him, fed him bits of this and bits of that, and tried to get to know him. Then I lay down to put him to sleep. The same routine continued. Every 15 minutes or so, two tiny morsels would be thoughtfully chewed and swallowed. I put the food away and he shrieked. It was going to be a long night. This is ridiculous. How can I sleep with a bowl of food right by my face? Come on, Roger, let me just put it here on the shelf. His high pitched scream, head back, eyes roll right back… okay okay. You win! The mashed potatoes are back. I tried to give him a bit more. He was full, you could see by the stretched skin over his little tummy, but there was no way that bowl was going anywhere. I rubbed his little hand and promised not to move the bowl. He held my eyes, squinting. The hurt, mistrust, fear, pain so very easy to see… I smiled and squinted back. He feigned sleep again for awhile…his eyes going from my face to the bowl of food and then the rhythmic breathing of rest came. Finally. He was exhausted.
I lay for a long time just listening to him breathing. How long would this rehabilitation take? Would he heal? All the concerns, the risks, the possible damage that could be long term. And there, the bowl of mashed potatoes, safely between us. Right where he wanted it. There was something about this little one. He stirred and his arms reached out to me. How precious he was. I fell asleep, his one hand on my arm, the other on his bowl of mashed potatoes.