There was something that became apparent to us early on with Rebeka, she didn’t ask questions. Even when we had a translator here, she didn’t ask questions. She sometimes would respond if we asked her a question, whispering “yes” or “no”, but sometimes she’d just act all embarrassed and shy, or she’d stare into space like she was trying hard to understand what we were asking. It was befuddling. Why this strange reaction, when we just wanted to know if she was hungry or not? It was like she was not totally engaged, just taking note of all that was around her.
I’m not talking about the kind of questions that require language. Questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” Most American parents are inundated with these sorts of questions when their kids are young. There’s “what’s that” and “why is” and “how come?” I’m talking about more simple questions, asking for food, or crayons, or another game of memory. I know she has the language for these simple questions, she could name them if we asked her to. But until recently, Rebeka never asked for anything, except “toilet.” This was a question whispered ever so quietly. She’d crawl right up next to me and look in my eyes with great intensity. “Toilet.” Would I understand her question? You should have seen the happy dance I did when Rebeka first asked to go to “toilet.” Not because there was danger of an accident, but because she’d ASKED something. We were communicating, and it wasn’t one-way.
I guess in a way, questions are not a right, but a privilege. In a world where your main concerns are having food, washing clothes, getting water, and taking care of younger siblings, maybe there isn’t much time for questions. Recently, Karen Berlanga agreed to tutor Rebeka twice a week. After just two times, I’m already hearing more questions. Rebeka will say “What is?” and point to something. Joy! Happy dance! It’s like I’m seeing her mind working, unfolding, learning, and craving more as she takes in new information. There is so much to learn!
Another thing I noticed early on with Rebeka was that she didn’t do much imaginary play. She’d take the heads on and off the Playmobil figures, but never act things out with them. She’d dress and undress a doll with great concentration, but never pretend she was the mother taking care of it. I had always taken it for granted that kids just had imaginations, and used them. Whether imagining a big pileup with all their matchbox cars or imagining a day at the castle, it was part of everyday life.
During tutoring today, Mrs. Karen brought some dolls and doll furniture to work on language with Rebeka. She’d play with the dolls, waking them up and having them talk to each other, and Rebeka would mimic her. Then lo and behold, Rebeka began making her dolls talk to each other on her own. She was learning how to do imaginative play by watching Karen. And she was loving it.
There are lots of reasons why Rebeka’s questions, and her imaginative play, make my heart sing. As a writer, I love an inquisitive, curious, playful mind. And something inside me just aches to know, does she like apples or bananas better? Perhaps even more important, by asking questions, engaging in conversations, and using her imagination, Rebeka will be able to play even better with the new friends she’s been making. It takes a special kind of kid to engage and play with a mostly silent playmate, though there are those who excel at it.
Rebeka has done just fine with the new brace she got last Wednesday. In fact, she figured out how to set it herself each night, pulling out the pins, rotating it to 80 degrees, and then pushing the pins in and replacing the “child-proof” plastic casing that’s supposed to keep kids from tampering with their hinge when they aren’t supposed to. One thing about Rebeka, she obeys what the doctor says. No complaining, and of course, no questions asked. At least, not yet.
As the days and weeks go by, and the weekly casts come and go, I anticipate many more questions. The more she learns, the more language she acquires, the more we will find out about this fascinating girl who has taken up residence in our home, and our hearts.