Blog Post # 22: An Orphanage Story

Waiting for Mom and Dad, Part 1

Here is the beginning of how we completed our family!

In a small Romanian village, on an auspicious day in the middle of January, 1993, a child was conceived.  

(Amazingly enough, at that same time, in Tallahassee, Florida I fell in love with sign language. (Blog Post # 1: How I Fell in Love with ASL).  Starting that day, I looked for any opportunity to learn and use signing.)

Seven and a half months later …

In Bucharest, Romania, a scared unwed teenager was in the hospital, a long way from her home, having her babies.  She had come to the big city so no one in her village would know she was pregnant; they considered it to be wrong to be pregnant out of wedlock.  Now she was having twins and it was 6 weeks too early for them to be born. Sadly, only the first baby survived. His mother named him Alexandru.

Alexandru had to stay in the hospital for 6 more weeks since he was premature.  During this time the young mother returned to her village, giving up her child to the authorities. So after being released by the hospital, he went directly to the local orphanage. They were later to discover he was deaf, becoming the only non-hearing child in an orphanage of over 500. 

As he grew to be a toddler he learned what was going on in the orphanage by watching, since he couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. The caretakers gave the babies all the love they could. But they were so few compared to so many children, and they just didn’t have any time left over to help a deaf baby start learning language. So he developed his own language, consisting of 2 “words”: Point and Scream.

Despite the language barrier, as time passed love grew in the caretaker’s hearts for him.  He was such a cute child!  He could also be a handful! Sometimes he would take off running with no notice, and since they couldn’t just call him back, they’d have to take off running after him.  Or his quick hands would grab a treat off the counter where the workers were preparing a meal.

Yet often he gave them no trouble as he learned to entertain himself. He loved sitting at the fence for an hour and watching the flag flap in the wind. Or spend another hour sitting in the orphanage yard watching the curtains flapping in the window.  He absolutely loved umbrellas, and if a staff member or visitor let him play with theirs he was ecstatic.

He had playground equipment to climb, swing and slide on, thanks to the donation by Michael Jackson during his visit in September, 1992.

He watched and learned. He was very affectionate, and freely gave hugs to any adult. 

But, he would not give anyone eye contact.  He would not play with the other kids; he preferred interacting with adults or zoning into his own world. At night in his crib he would fiercely rock himself back and forth until he fell asleep. (His caretakers thought these were just part of his deafness. We would learn later how wrong they were.)

Important fact: In Romania, not all children in orphanages were true “orphans”, meaning their parents are dead or have abandoned them. Poor, homeless or otherwise struggling parents were allowed to use the orphanages as a day and night care-center. But they still visited their kids every day, until the time came when they had enough food and shelter and could take their kids back home. 

So Alexandru daily saw other parents come into the orphanage looking at the children or meeting a particular child. He watched kids whose parents would come visit, bringing their kids treats and playing with them. The child and parents always looked so happy. When the parents would take the child with them when they left, all were smiling. 

He wondered why his Mom and Dad never visited, and wondered when in the world they would finally come. He didn’t know that during the first 2 years a true orphan came to an orphanage, the child could not be adopted. The law required that the orphanage wait for two years to see if any birth relative of the child came to visit the child. If any birth relative came for a visit, then the child would not be available for adoption. 

After 2 years, he spent his next 6 months still watching other parents with their children, yet still no one came for him. He didn’t know that the law had another requirement: That for the first six months of availability, only Romanian citizens could apply for adoption.

So he was forced to learn patience as every day he kept waiting and watching for a parent to come get him.

He was sure his parents were out there somewhere.

LESSON LEARNED:  Follow your heart, whether it is learning sign language or waiting for a parent to come.

LESSON LEARNED:  A disability can be an asset. For example, being deaf can lead to extra attention and love needed from the caretakers in an orphanage.

LESSON LEARNED: When nothing you eagerly await seems to be happening, be patient. Exciting things might still be happening, just beyond your current ability to see (as we’ll learn in Part 2!).

Games and YouTube Videos

Here are the links to my signing and cueing YouTube “Word Of The Day” channels. I post a new word every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Check it out and I would love to know what you think of them!

YouTube ASL Word Of The Day with Signed Sentence Examples:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLOG4fqHRMQ8zL3llMl9YDg/

YouTube Cued Speech Word Of The Day:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxojUy-dP6C2YKp3BWQPg1w/

Also, Check out my Adventure Games in the App Stores:

Please join me for my new blog posts each Friday.  Have fun with your ASL and/or Cued Speech Adventures!

Published by Donna Gateley

Developer of SignCueQuest and CueQuest

2 thoughts on “Blog Post # 22: An Orphanage Story

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