I Want Mama

August 30, 2015

I was coming out of the gym where I swim daily very early this morning and I was feeling very strong after my 10 swift laps. Eager steps and an erect posture readied me to get on my Vespa and ride home in the cool summer breeze. Even though I wear a padded jacket and pants, the ride is not hot and the speed is exciting and exhilarating. There is nothing I can't do after a swim!

Not yet out of the gym I dreamed of the day, but then I heard a toddler, crying and having a tantrum. At first he was out of view and I wondered where he was so that I could see him. As a pediatrician, I am always aware and drawn to the cries of children. Their cries differ and those differences are interesting and sometimes easy to figure out.

This cry was easy; as soon as I saw him, I understood what was happening. He was being carried by his father and his mother was in close proximity, but moving hurriedly the other way. Dad was speaking quietly and lovingly to our champion crier and mom was gone in a gif. She was obviously working out, and Dad had dropped her off and was taking "junior" home for breakfast. The little one was almost squirming out of the father's arms at one point and I walked a bit slower so I could take in the experience. I heard the father say, "you have to calm down, Joey," but Joey was not listening because he was missing his mommy. "I want Mama" was the anxious and desperate mantra. Over and over again, I listened to him sucking his breath and crying. Mucous and "alligator" tears were profuse, and his blood pressure was rising and his face was red. He was a blond and blue-eyed "toughster" with little fat feet in sweet plastic sandals. His transitional object was in one hand gripping tightly around what appeared to be a very soft little bunny with an appropriately battered body and threaded long ears. He was calming down and repeatedly stating his case for being with his mother... "I want Mommy now" was one of the many sentences that were breathlessly repeated until he was tucked into his car seat in ear shot of where I had parked my Vespa.

I murmured some comforting words as I passed the father and son on my way to my parking spot. My words were...."so sorry, Joey".....maybe I should not have said anything, but I was close to tears myself. I could not help but to identify with Joey's pain and anxiety. He was so deeply attached to his parents and at this moment his attachment to his mother was intensely disrupted by one of the numerous and normal in's and out's of closeness that kids that age have with their parents.

This is all good for sure. I was not judging anything--just aware and sensitive to closeness and attachment. I was happy for Joey, and his father was kind and the story was lovely.

Orphans have so little of this. Living in institutions means you don't have parents. You don't say, "I want my mama." You don't have a mantra. You don't express your pain and missing. You don't know how to identify such emotions into anything that looks like this. You are in pain and you do feel deep loss, but it goes under and is hidden and not accessible when it is not answered or comforted. You become depressed. Social skills and development become delayed and hope is hard to keep. Resiliency exists, but we can't rely on it alone.

I think you get the point. We can stop all of this. Come and join the launch of Element of Play in Orange, New Jersey, as well as all over the U.S. and the world to see how we can interrupt the cycle of trauma for children living without parental care and guidance.

Jane Aronson
CEO and President, Worldwide Orphans