Tuesday, December 27, 2005

About Victoria--Something Serious (11/26/05)

My niece comes over every Sunday through Thursday night. This is a new arrangement we started this school year. The reason is that, as I explained to a friend a couple of weeks ago, my brother and his wife had a daughter nine years ago and then forgot to raise her. She is the sweetest, most intelligent kid you could meet. She is extremely tall for her age—at nine, she is taller than my 5’1” and has always been the tallest kid in her class.

She learned to darn her own socks at the age of six. This is the kid she is. Her parents have not taken care of her so she’s taken care of herself, and I guess no one in the rest of the family realized how bad it had gotten until this past August. Now we are trying to do the best we can. We’ve gotten her parents to sign legal documents giving a temporary guardianship to my mother and I, though they probably aren’t even aware of exactly what it was they signed and didn’t care enough to read through it all. We have her school nights and send her to school every morning with clean, tangle-free hair, brushed teeth, and homework done. (All things her own parents couldn’t be bothered to do last year.)

She sees her parents every day after school for a few hours and supposedly stays there on weekends, except now her other grandmother takes her all weekend and her parents don’t seem to really care. So she comes over Sundays after not being here all weekend, and her gorgeous long hair—which we carefully brush and braid each night—is a giant mess of knots because it has been not brushed, not braided, not even washed all weekend. Every Sunday night we have to yank the weekend buildup of knots out of her hair while she cries and cries over the pain and every Sunday night I apologize that she is in pain but we must get these knots out.

We’ve tried teaching her to braid her own hair. We’ve tried asking her mother to braid it when she’s at her house, even going so far as to call twice a night to remind her. It doesn’t matter. No one braids it. And there she is every Sunday night in hysterics. The last few Sundays I’ve been getting mad about the whole thing, and have started saying, “I’m sorry but I’m not sorry because it’s not my fault we have to do this every week.” She was crying again tonight and started to refuse to let me brush it and I was getting really mad.

This is not my fault, I told her. We brush and braid your hair every night when you’re here and you go away and no one does it for you. We tell you to ask. You HAVE TO tell your Grandmother when you’re there that she MUST brush and braid your hair at night. Do you want to go to school tomorrow with knots in your hair? I HAVE TO brush your hair and it has to hurt. No, you can’t do it yourself because you never get THIS KNOT right here out of your head because that’s the one that hurts and you won’t hurt yourself (which I really can’t blame the kid for, honestly). Do you think I really enjoy doing something that makes you cry?

She said well let me try it myself. And I knew I was starting to get too angry so I said she had five minutes, shut her in the room, and walked away to cool off. I came back five minutes later and was truly amazed that for the first time ever she had actually removed all her knots, and in like 1/3 of the time it’s ever taken us before. She said, “It really hurt but I did it, Auntie!”

And my heart broke. What is wrong with this world that makes a kid as wonderful as her have to have such a horrible life? There are some things I will just never, ever understand. I took her in my arms and told her how much I love her and that I was so sorry for getting angry. I told her I wasn’t angry at her, that none of this was her fault. That I was angry at all the adults in her life that can’t be bothered to do these things for her. Then I said I loved her again.

That was the first time I ever said anything remotely negative to her about her parents or other grandmother but in that moment, looking at that beautiful, strong girl whose soul is so much older than her nine years, I just could not help being honest. It had to be said.

This is not your fault, Victoria. It’s everyone else’s. You poor, poor thing.

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