Double Vision

A while ago, in the refuge, I met a young woman with her mum.  She’s 16. and when I met her she was shut down. Closed face, hardened. Staunch.

Things happened, and her mum has disappeared, so she’s living, with her sister, with a caregiver – a wonderful older woman, with a large family who have taken the girls in, and made them their own. And I have also made her my own, with her permission.

I’ve been in her life now for a little over two months, and I wanted to tell you about a special day that we had a couple of days ago. After a big shopping day we had a few weeks ago, her caregiver alerted me to T’s need for glasses. I promised I’d organise it, and then got hectic busy. Her caregiver didn’t let me forget though, bless her, and so a few days ago I found a local optometrist and made an appointment.

I went to T’s school to pick her up, and waited a while for her. When she walked up, and saw me, her face immediately broke into a huge grin. And mine did too. She’s such a joy, and I am incredibly in awe of her, and her spirit.

As soon as we got in the car, she said: How have you BEEN? I’ve missed you! And I reciprocated, because I had missed seeing her lovely face. And it struck me that the question itself was an indicator of what a rate of knots she’s forging ahead at.

I took her to lunch, and we sat and ate and talked. We talked about her counselling and how that was going, we talked about her mum as T starts to process why her mum has done what she’s done. We talked about her spirit, her mauri. How powerful her’s is. How kickarse. How much I admire her.

And then we talked more about her sister, about what it means to look after people, be responsible when you’re not really ready.

We walked into the optometrist and sat down. T looked really unsure, as she always does with new people, and in new situations. But they put her completely at ease. All pālagi women, they fussed over her just enough, and not too much. They gave her agency – could see she was nervous and invited her to look at frames while she was waiting. She is still not confident in decisions she makes, but every time she makes another one, says the word NO she emboldens. Finally a pair was chosen – I don’t want to look too nerdy, she said – and they were lovely too. Makes you look like a very smart confident woman, I said. She grinned.

When it was time for the eye test, the optometrist immediately put her at ease. Chatting away, but not too much. Looking at her directly, speaking to her gently ( I had asked for someone who would be gentle with her). And I could see T visibly relaxing in the chair.  The whole time the testing was happening, all the fiddling around that happens, the optometrist constantly checked in with her – are you okay? You’re doing so well! – and it seemed to take a very short time indeed, compared to eye tests I’ve had in the past. She told her stories of not being able to see when she was a child, how glasses had made her life so much easier, what a great tool they were. She also asked her about her friends – were they going to accept her with glasses? Were there any other kids in her classes with glasses?  Made her aware that the glasses would have a blue tint to protect her young eyes from UV, and that some of the kids would find that a bit weird. T thought about it, decided her friends would be okay, that enough kids had glasses at her school for it not to be a problem – and she gave her a couple of lines to say if anyone gave her a hard time. This is what she told her to say, and I could cry just thinking about it: “My glasses mean I am more powerful than ever.”. T grinned so hard, I thought her face would crack. “They’ll understand that” she said.

The optometrist talked to her about what sort of sight she had, how easy it was to deal with, and how it presented no problem at all. By this time, T had completely relaxed with her, and we were done. We agreed that when the glasses were ready that they would text T, her caregiver, and me, and that I would be the one to bring her to collect them. The optometrist asked to see the frames and exclaimed at how great they were. ” I haven’t seen those ones yet! They’ve only just arrived.” And T said, so proudly “I chose them by myself”. Such a simple statement, with so much meaning to all of us.

I gave the optometrist a hug as thanks, and feedback, and she said to me very quietly: She’s a very very special young woman.

I had tears in my eyes when she said that. Because she’d seen. She knew what all of this meant. How smart T is, and how hard school has been for her. How not being able to see properly has impeded her schoolwork and the teacher’s understanding of her intelligence. What a difference these glasses are going to make to T’s confidence. She saw all of it in a very short time.

As we walked out, all staff waving to us and telling us what a pleasure it had been, T’s smile remained on her face. “Well, that went VERY well” she said.  I agreed, and as we walked out of the building, and saw a chemist, I said to her “I wonder if they have earrings in here”, and they did. She chose a very smart pair – subtly hanging little squares of glass. She didn’t put them in – her ear piercings are still relatively new and she wants to do the right thing – but she told me that with the glasses and the earrings, she reckoned she’d be unbeatable. I think she’s right.

You know, I talk to so many women in a day’s work. I hear their pain, and often see it too. I empathise and relate. But I don’t carry their sadness. I seem to have heard most of it before, and am able to let it go, not my pain.

But this child, and others like her. This child, so smart and wise. So kind, and thoughtful. This child who isn’t a child. This young woman. She is imprinted in my heart now. Anyone who meets her sees her light immediately, and that makes their world better. What a privilege to get to know her. She gives me so much hope, and makes my eyes bright with love. I see so much clearer when I’m in her company.  That she’s so open with her feelings, and so wanting to express them. I asked her if she believed everything I’d told her about who she was: smart, kind, powerful, affecting. She turned to me immediately, and said yes. We could all learn from her.

A trip to Butterfly Creek

And so it dawned – the day of our refuge trip to Butterfly Creek. A trip that everyone was looking forward to, with great excitement, and that many of you made possible with your generous donations.

I arrived at the refuge at about 9am. And everyone was up and ready to go. We weren’t leaving till 10 so there was a lot of anticipation obviously. Women who live in the other refuge arrived, kids and the correct number of carseats were gathered, and off we went. Some of the women in their own cars, some in the refuge van.

When we arrived at Butterfly Creek, I was going to take a photo of all the kids – 16 of them – in front of the dinosaur at the entrance, but they were all moving far too fast! They really were so excited. One of the boys said to me: I’ve never been here before? Are there real dinosaurs?  And baby J wasn’t too sure about that dinosaur, anyway, so I thought better of it. When we got inside, the kids were ready to race off, but a head count had to be done, and the money paid. That all took a little while.

And then. And then. We really WERE off. Through the fish, into the butterfly  room. One landed on Z, and such a sweet gentle boy he is, he said to me: Aunty J, look! Look! It loves me!

There was a peremptory stop to look at the crocodiles, and all of the children wanted to know if they were real. S said to me – If it’s real, can it climb the walls?  I assured her it wasn’t climbing any walls, it was just basking, and waiting for food.

The bugs? Anyone interested in the bugs? The cockroaches were popular, and the women laughed that they had bigger ones in their own homes….and the axolotl held fascination for many of the kids, and adults alike.  “Look, I’m taking a selfie with the spider” said K.

It was the dinosaurs who were the biggest drawcard, really. D (4) had told me at the refuge that he was going to be a dinosaur today but he wasn’t sure which one, he’d see how he felt. Fair enough too. Once again – “Are they real, Jackie?” Well I don’t think so, but I hope not! They were very large, with horrid big teeth…..

Two of the girls and I found ourselves in a mask making workshop. We sat down and the girls got going on butterfly masks. One of them said to me that she wants to be an artist when she grows up, her cousin said “I think I probably do too”. So I told them about all of you, and how some of you were artists, and that if you found out they needed art supplies, that you would send some to them. “ARE YOU LYING?” S said. “No.” said her cousin. “Jackie doesn’t lie”. And with that vote of confidence I took down a list of art supplies the girls said they’d like. “It calms me down when I’m frustrated, or when there’s yelling at home” they told me. Art as therapy? I think we can do that.

We had booked the train especially because there were so many of us, and it was waiting for us all at 11.30.  The younger children’s faces lit up, as the train driver TOOT TOOTed for us to hop on. D held his little sister’s hand and said – you mustn’t go on the train tracks, M.

Everyone was VERY hungry after that – and agreed that we should retire inside and settle down. Piles of chips, fish, hot dogs, steak, burgers….yes, we were all very hungry. And then, as if they knew we were going soon, a dinosaur came wandering, found us, and let the children pat it, and Z said to me – I told you they were real. Indeed.

I wanted you all to be there, but you couldn’t be. I want you all to see the photos I took of the kids faces,  but you can’t. What I can share with you is just this: when you put $20 in our account for this trip, you would have maybe hoped it helped to give some kids some joy. So I want you to know that it gave 16 kids the time of their lives. They didn’t stop talking, they didn’t stop smiling, and they were very happy – all cares forgotten – for 3 hours. That’s something to hold on to. Thank you. From all of our hearts, to all of yours .