Title - Mittens
Author - Kourion
Summary: "We knew this going into any adoption scenario, Jane," and now Teresa has stopped talking, and is frowning - but no longer at me, or at my impatience. I turn back in time to see Sinaida stick the entire grimy head of the cat doll into her bowl of Zoodles.
A/N: I really shouldn't be writing a stand alone ficlet when I have several WIP's on the go, should I? What can I say? I'm just following where my muse takes me these days. (For the record: an update to Little Stars will be available before Tuesday, April 24th).
"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile
the moment a single man contemplates it
bearing within him the image of a cathedral"
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This fic is dedicated to Sinaida Grussman, and to all the Kindertransport children.
"Liss, leave it," I say, running my hands over my wife's back. I can feel her tension between her shoulder blades. "Everything's perfect. Just chill for a bit."
Teresa frowns at the living room. It looks far more ordered than it has since Dylan was born, to tell you the truth.
"Do you think maybe it looks like we have too many photos of Dylan up? I mean, maybe we should put some of these away? I don't want her to feel overshadowed."
"Tree, come on. Stop doubting yourself. Everything is fine the way it is. Besides what about when Dill-weed comes home from Kindergarten? Hmm? What then? He's going to notice each and every photo you've taken down - you know he will - and then we're just going to have one sullen, competitive kid on our hands, Liss. You know that. Right now he's excited about the idea of having a little sister. Let's keep that excitement alive."
Teresa sighs. "I know. I just - this little kid, Patrick. Three foster homes in six months, you know?"
"I'm just thinking it might look like we care so much about Dylan - that she'll feel like a fifth wheel, or something."
"We do care so much about Dylan. But we'll show her how much we care about her, too."
Teresa gets up, walks into the kitchen. "I feel silly making pasta, too. I feel like I should be doing more than opening a can of Zoodles."
This time I laugh. "I know, right? First, your husband - with his precise, fussy tastes. Your son - a Sous-Chef in training. And now, a new little daughter. Whose favorite food is Zoodles!"
The thought is incredible, and warm, and makes me gasp with the childlike innocence.
Because when we asked Ms. Parsons, "What can we make for Sinaida, for her first meal at home?"
our caseworker told us that what this little kid really loved - loved more than anything - was Zoodles.
69 cents a can, on sale.
Heck, she even beats my Liss for easy to please, if that's the case...
We see the pair come up the walk.
Rather, I see Ms. Parsons - Petra, as I call her - come up the walk, holding a small child in her arms.
That's your daughter, Patrick.
Our daughter, now.
Our daughter is wearing an over-sized white padded coat, with white dangling gloves. Faux fur trim. She has something cream colored and fluffy trapped between her hands, which she's holding onto for dear life.
Must be the famous cat we've heard so much about...
Aida's hair is almost black, it's so dark. Her eyes are the color of hazelnut chocolate. Her skin is unbelievable in its pallor.
A few steps before the front door, Ms. Parsons places the child on the walk and makes a motion to ring the buzzer.
I open before she has the chance.
"Hey, Petra! Good timing! Teresa's been slaving away for a full three minutes or more, maybe, over a tin of reheat-able animal pasta! Come in, come in."
Petra laughs, enters tidily, placing her boots on our shoe mat. She then turns to the child she's brought with her, and attempts to remove the over-sized white winter jacket after a few seconds of internal deliberation.
"On!," Sinaida commands suddenly, backing away from our Case worker and into the door. "On," the little girl states again, whispering this time. "Coat on."
I hear Petra sigh, as Teresa departs from the kitchen, roused by the noise.
Sinaida is 2 years and 11 months old. But she speaks like a child barely beyond 15 or 16 months.
When we signed on to adopt her it was after a two week period of deliberation. We had been told she was quote, unquote - handicapped.
We had also been told that she had been discovered by Child and Family Services after the LAPD's drug unit had busted a complex in Chino. Found the child hiding out under a kitchen sink, clutching a filthy stuffed animal. A cat doll. That she apparently never, ever - ever - does anything without.
No shirt, no socks, wearing nothing but boy shorts.
On the thin side, they had told us, but not emaciated. 'Just' malnourished.
As if you can reasonably use the term "just" in any sentence containing the word "malnourished."
Minimal exposure to media, television, music, or any sort of pre-school level enrichment, as far as the authorities could tell. Probably since birth, too. Minimal exposure to other children - certainly.
When they found Sinaida - she hadn't even been on the registrar as a United States citizen. The mother had obviously not given birth in a hospital.
In fact, we couldn't even locate the biological mother. We certainly could not locate the biological father.
The fact that meth dealers would even hold onto the child, and feed her at all, had been a bit of a mystery.
There had been little reality for this child outside of a shut up, be quiet! life of hiding under beds with stuffed toys and boxes of Cheerios.
"There's been no physical abuse, far as we can tell. No sexual abuse.
Nothing like that. Again - as far as we can tell.
But this child has been chronically neglected, Mr. Jane..."
Teresa, of course, was worried about long term developmental disabilities.
"I know you have all the love in the world to give, Patrick. That's not the question.
The question, for me, is how much this will take out of you if there is no chance for rehabilitation.
No chance for improvement."
I had gotten annoyed. And I never got annoyed anymore.
"There's always chance for improvement, Teresa. Especially in a case like this! Come on."
I had grasped her hands with renewed intensity.
"Let's do this! Let's adopt this little child! She doesn't have anyone else. Let her have us."
I knew that begging wouldn't be necessary.
I knew that Teresa was as involved, minimally, in the little girl's case.
I knew from the moment that I saw Sinaida's photo that somehow - somehow - she was meant to be ours.
"You want to leave your coat on, Sinaida?," I test slowly, enunciating each sound to minimize the chance for confusion.
All the same, the little girl stares up at me with eyes that seem to swallow up a quarter of her face. Massively huge eyes.
Finally she nods.
"Me keep coat," she replies, uneasily. "Dees mine."
"Of course, honey," Teresa stresses, "we're not going to take your coat away from you."
Petra just seems to shrug her shoulders, states calmly, "We've tried to explain to her - that we aren't going to take her coat away from her forever. She just doesn't understand that you'll give it back to her later. She hasn't taken it off in two days now. She even sleeps in it."
I can read between the lines.
I know what this means.
It probably means this little kid hasn't had a bath in two or more days either.
Probably longer than that.
I try to give an encouraging smile to Sinaida, and crouch down low.
"No, sweetie, we're not going to take your coat away from you. This is your coat," and I press gently against the toggle button pulls for emphasis, "But we can hang it up for you in the closet, if you want? On this hook, here? And when you want it, you can pull it off the wall?"
Sinaida wraps her arms around her midsection.
"My coat," the child restates. "Warm coat. Stay mine."
I look at my wife.
Teresa looks as if someone has tasered her.
We finally determine that our new daughter does require the booster seat we had set aside at last minute, being that she's a good six inches shorter than Dylan was at the same age.
"Just" malnutrition will do that to a kid, I guess...
"Here you go, Aida," I sing-song, once I finally set up the seat and deposit her slight weight into the chair a few moments later, "comfy, bunny?"
The child stares back at me, guardedly, clutching a pink Disney Princesses spoon in one hand not unlike a caveman (all the while eying the bowl of Zoodles we have put out in front of her as if it's gold).
"Zoods?," she queries with hope, licking her lips. "Zoodies?"
She really does sound like an infant.
I didn't realize she'd be this delayed.
I knew there would be problems
But nothing this pronounced...
Contrasted against Dylan, who was overly precocious at 2 and 3 and still is - only makes the situation seem even more heartbreaking.
"That's right, sweetie," I say with greater cheer than I feel, saddened for this child and the poverty she's already faced in her short life - "Teresa heard you like animal pasta. This is just for you. Specially for you."
We have stocked up on over 30 cans of Zoodles.
I slide the bowl of pasta over to her and the little sprite digs in as if she's starving.
She's also getting orange-red pasta sauce all over her white jacket...
I try not to be disturbed by the mess, and wander over to Teresa after she waves me to her with her pointer finger.
"Hmm?," I test.
"Do you think we should - you know - start referring to ourselves as Mommy and Daddy? I mean, the longer we hold off on this step, well, you know," Teresa starts, uncertainly.
Sighing, I nod. "You're probably right. It's just hard for me to get a read on her. She has the aura of a wolf cub. It's almost feral - her degree of self-reliance. And at the same time, she seems so behind, so truly like a baby."
"We knew this going into this scenario, Jane," and now Teresa has stopped talking, and is frowning - but no longer at me, or at my impatience. "Shouldn't we take that toy off her, Patrick? It's beyond dirty. God, that thing could be teeming with E. coli or something, it's so soiled!"
I turn back in time to see Sinaida stick the entire grimy-white head of the cat doll into her bowl of Zoodles.
A moment later we hear that bell-like voice of our newest family member ring out in delight.
"Ees eet gud, Mittens?," and then a smacking of lips. "Gud? Yummy Zoodies?"
Walking back to the table, I sit down as easily as possible.
"So your pal here - her name is Mittens?," I ask, truly interested.
Aida uses her left hand to make the cat doll nod its head. Her right hand continues to shovel food into her own mouth. Around the intake, the rapid and nasally breathing, I hear a retort in a mock-high pitched voice.
The cat's voice.
"My name ees Mittens!," and Aida makes the plush head move yet again.
I shake one orange-pasta drenched paw with two fingers.
"Just swell meeting you, Mittens. My name is Patrick, and this-," and I grandly swirl about and point to Teresa, "is my wife. We are very, very happy that you and Sinaida have decided to come and live with us. We hope that you both will be very happy here with us, and with our little boy, too. You'll get to meet Dylan later. He's at Kindergarten right now."
"You have puppy?," Sinaida asks extremely seriously, and I squint. "Me no be puppy. Puppy scare. Me like kitty! You have kitty?"
I am beyond confused. I never mentioned anything about Chicory to our daughter, and I'm pretty sure Petra hasn't, either.
"We do have a puppy, but-" I stop when Sinaida starts scanning the floors as if something is about to jump out from the depths of the woodwork, and bite her.
Maybe something has...
"Oh honey, our puppy is very, very nice. Our puppy won't hurt you. He's a little puppy. Little like Mittens."
Which is not exactly true, now.
Chicory is older than Dylan by almost two years.
He'll be turning seven soon.
He's bigger than Sinaida.
"He toy puppy?," and Aida seems to relax, her shoulders drooping.
"Here," I pause, glancing at Teresa - who shrugs at me helplessly, totally lost and uncertain on what to do, "I can show you Chicory. You sit right here and keep eating your Zoodles, ok?"
The child laughs. "Bok bok bok?"
She must think we have a pet chicken. Given the name of "Chicory."
I smile, despite myself, and go outside and call for our little Prince.
"Weet!," I whistle, "Here Chicky-chick."
Chicory likes to spend time outside running around and digging stuff up. At first, we tried very hard to stop him from doing so. Now, given that Dylan does much the same thing - we don't even try to stop either of their antics anymore.
Today, however, Chicory is quite clean.
He trots over with a Kong ball, and drops it at my feet.
His head tilts to the side with a "we playing fetch, Mister, or not?" question in his eyes.
I stroke his ears gently for moment, before patting my side.
He follows me into the house.
When I get back, I can see that the bowl of Zoodles has been replaced with a bowl of cut up grapes, a glass of orange juice in a sipee cup, and a smaller Dr. Seuss bowl containing either rice or tapioca pudding.
Teresa has a wet washcloth in her hand and is tenderly cleaning Aida's face of all Zoodles residue.
Then her hands.
Then her jacket.
Personally, I think she should just wait until Aida's done eating entirely.
Kid is just going to repeat the process in another minute or two if she eats anything else.
I cough, and wait until my wife realizes I'm back.
She looks at me, sees whose accompanied me inside, and then glances back to me anxiously.
"Patrick, do you think-?"
I dismiss her concerns with a wave of my hand.
"It'll be fine."
Chicory, ever well behaved, enters the room slowly.
Aida sits up in her booster chair as if tied to a plant stake.
For one split second, she looks afraid.
Then Chicory lets out a small bark, and the fear seems to dissolve from her features.
A moment later she lets out a sound that can only be termed a chuckle.
"Dat is kitty!"
A look then, as if both me and Teresa are daft. Like, Silly People - can't you tell you have a cat?
At least she's pleasantly surprised.
When Aida - and Mittens - are finally done their lunch, Teresa broaches the subject of Mittens having a bath.
"You want to help me give Mittens a bath, sweetie?," my wife asks, as warmly as possible.
Aida looks indecisive.
But the cat doll really is a mess. If she takes that germ-ridden creature into her room, she's going to have red pasta sauce all over her sheets, her dresser and her chairs in no time, too.
"How about Patrick and I show you your new bedroom first, and then we give Mittens a bath later?"
The child waits, thinks over the deal - and then nods, before pointing at the bright purple and white wood letters that hang from her door.
They read: S-I-N-A-I-D-A'-S-R-O-O-M.
She points to her name, and underlies the letters with her finger.
"Dat ees me! Dat says Sinny!"
And now, a very large and very excited smile.
I try to contain my surprise that she can read.
That she can read anything at all.
Mentally handicapped, my ass.
I knew this little sprite wasn't mentally handicapped the first time I met her.
For all of a minute.
But for the first time all morning I now feel a very present sense of hope and relief for this child's future.
My god, little girl. You somehow taught yourself to read.
How the hell did you do that, sweets?
Teresa comes down closer to Aida's line of sight.
"Can you read this word too, Sinny?"
She calls herself "Sinny", apparently.
We probably should do the same.
"Roooom?," Sinny stresses, not familiar with the word. She gives us a cautious, 'am I right?' gaze.
"That's right, sweetheart. This is your room!," comes the praise from my wife.
Sinny smiles right back at Teresa, happy with the praise, then turns to me.
"I say right?"
Teresa hugs our elfin daughter.
"You said it wonderfully. You did a good, good job."
Sinny looks proud of herself.
It truly is the first genuine smile we've seen all day. And it's delightful. This child actually has dimples. It's great.
A dark haired Shirley Temple is what we've got.
I just know it.
If Jurassic Park had truly been a real place, I imagine the look on any notable Paleontologist's face could not eclipse the look of awe that we are now seeing on our child.
Not that I feel we went overboard.
In fact, Teresa was adamant that we didn't. Of course, it would be all too easy for us to do so. For me, and Dylan, to do so. Primarily when Liss was at work.
Yes, that would have afforded me sufficient time me, whirling around with Dylan at the Toys R Us, the smaller and home owned toy shoppes - just putting whatever I thought would suit the little kid's taste into our blue cart...
That would have been a cinch.
Teresa's level headedness certainly came into good use this time, however, because as it stands Sinny already looks close to passing out.
We decided on a pink and purple schema for the walls. Mostly purple, given that we were told it was her favorite color.
Dylan suggested that we trail the purple and merge it with the pink higher up, and even include wisps of white towards the top of the wall. To give the illusion of a beautiful "cloudy day, Dad. Like when the sky is all pinky-purple and looks cool! She'll like that, I think!"
So that's what we did.
The top of the wall was painted an indigo blue too, and Dylan helped me apply the glow in the dark star stickers. He even brought out his star charts so I didn't put them up "incorrectly" from my place on the ladder.
Picking toys was another matter entirely. Primarily due to the fact that we were informed that Sinaida was handicapped. Thus we were uncertain what age-level of toy to get for her.
Eventually we decided on many, many books with fabulous pictures and drawings for her to browse through - Rupert Bear, Dr. Seuss, Corduroy, The Velveteen Rabbit, Babar - and an assortment of brightly colored blocks for her to build or stack, along with a doll house without any extremely small pieces, and a multitude of plush animals and soft faced dolls. Some larger puzzles and drawing supplies, too, but we've put those out of reach for now.
Dylan also thought we should fill the room with ferns and trees and plants. "Sorta like she's going into the jungle, like Max did in "Where the Wild Things Are", Dad! Or like Never-land, sorta. It'll be more magical. She should have a magical room, Daddy!"
Sinny continues to stare in complete wonderment at all the new dolls (friends!). Her eyes trail to the low set Radio Flyer, now overflowing with books. Many generously donated from Dylan's private stash.
The child then walks up to the Radio Flyer almost immediately, stopping to let her hands flutter over a baby Cabbage Patch Kid that's sitting atop a toy chest before she takes in the books themselves.
She stares up at us hesitantly, as if uncertain if she can touch anything.
"Yes, honey, that's for you," Teresa smiles, then fixes me with a grin. "The toys and everything in this room are yours. You can pick up anything you want, ok? These are all for you."
The little girl nods to the wall, not meeting our eyes, and then finally picks up the doll. After a moment she checks under the baby doll clothes, before proclaiming her new friend a boy.
"Alright, Sinny," I say, trying not to laugh. Last I knew, Cabbage Patch Kids didn't have detailed anatomical structures under their clothes. All the same, the fact that she can imagine scenarios so readily is a positive sign. "Ok. Maybe's he is a boy. What do you want to name him?"
Dylan always took hours determining names for his assortment of plushies and stuffed animals, usually springing the new name on us during a family dinner, a look of resolute expectation that we just would follow along.
I can only hope, in this sense, Sinny's a little less persnickety. I still haven't had my lunch, after all.
Sinny stares, bites her lip, tilts her head back and forth, then puts the doll close to her head. Closes her eyes.
And states a few seconds later, with absolute certainty: "He ees a boy, Pateek! He tell me name right now. He ees Creamy."
Well, who am I to argue with that logic?
Except that somehow, in translation, she's also assigned me a name that sounds almost East Indian.
All the same...
Charlotte once had a hippopotamus named "Gippy-Gee"
Teresa, as a child, I have come to learn - had a pig doll by the name of "Tiddlywinks."
Dylan, however, must take the cake.
He named his brachiosaurus "Pacifica-Alta", at 2, for reasons we still have not yet unearthed. (Pun intended!)
Heck - compared to those names, "Creamy" seems downright sensible!
Sinny's still talking to Creamy when I'm roused from my memories. She now seems to be introducing her new roommate to her cat doll, Mittens, in fact.
"Creamy dees ees Mittens. Say "HI" Mittens," she commands the grungy looking cat. "Say HI to Creamy!"
"Mee-mew-HI!," the cat doll says, half-meowing, and half speaking in English - while Sinny gives me Creamy to hold.
"You make move ees head, ok?"
"Ok," I respond, seriously. This is no nonsense business, after all.
"You come wit Mittens and me to rarey?," Sinny asks Creamy, happily. "You want come?"
I catch Teresa's mouth moving, without sound. 'Rarey?'
I decide to respond in a very soft, young voice.
As the baby Creamy. Hopefully.
"What is a "Rarey?"
"Place lots books. Many books. See dare, Creamy? Dat ees rarey. Right dare!"
A little chubby hand is now pointing to the Radio Flyer, and suddenly I understand.
Rarey is a LIBRARY.
"Place lots books..."
I make the Creamy baby doll nod its (his?) head eagerly.
"I like books!," I say in a little-baby doll tone. "Will you read to me?"
The little girl smiles at me for a full few seconds, not looking at the doll at all now. Just at me.
Then she offers me her hand.
"You read me and Mittens and Creamy, Pateek?"
I feel the last chunk of uncertainty and doubt and icy fear about having a daughter again - slowly begin to melt.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with this little girl.
"Yes," I agree, resoundingly strong, "I'd love to read to you, and Mittens - and Creamy. And all these other little people, here. You'll have to tell me all their names, alright, Sinaida?"
Sinny smiles - this time wider, and with little baby teeth poking through.
"Day have tell me dees name first! I doan know all dees names!"
"Should we ask them their names, now?"
Then a lofty and assured, "No. Day all sleeping now. We read quiet?"
I try not to laugh.
"Alright, we can read quietly. Sure. We will let them get their sleep. We won't wake them up, I promise."
"No wake up. Day need ees sleep. Lots 'n lots. Day babies!," Sinny admonishes me, while I slowly help her turn around and rest between my crossed legs.
She seems to slump back against me with minimal reservation after a minute or so, then selects the book "The Velveteen Rabbit" when I ask 'Mittens' and 'Creamy' what they'd like to hear.
"Day say dees one, Pateek!," and she holds up the book, struggling with the weight, or the size, I'm not sure.
All I know is that I'm amused.
I clear my throat, and begin to read.
"THERE was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.
There were other things in the stocking, nuts and oranges and a toy engine, and chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse, but the Rabbit was quite the best of all..."
A/N: my muse can rest now. For a bit. I hope. :)
For those so interested, I was inspired to write this story after reading about a little girl named Sinaida Grussman. She was one of the survivors of the Kindertransport in 1938/1939 out of Germany. She later lost her family in the concentration camps.
Being of German and British ancestry myself (Dad was from Dresden and later East Berlin, my Mum was born near Lancaster), I was always provided with an exceptionally informed education on the war, as you can very well imagine (having families involved on both sides of the war), and from my earliest years have been interested in the idea of fostering and adoption. Actually, I've always been haunted by children in orphanages, and by the idea of children around the world that are not only poor or disenfranchised, but who don't have anyone to look out for them or protect them.
Sinaida Grussman's photo has always stayed with me too (so many of them do, of course) - hers quite a bit. Perhaps because this child in real life looked so enthusiastic about getting to leave? Just that pure innocence and authenticity has always lingered with me. (At the age of 7, I decided that one day, when I grew up, I'd adopt. It's a goal I still have :)).
If you want to see the photo I'm referencing, just type "Sinaida Grussman" into the google search engine and go to the USHMM's "Remember Me" website and archives.
Thank you for reading!