“How was your birthday?” my sister asks from the East coast. “Full of lovely suprises,” I say. “Like what?” she asks in earnest to share my joy.
“Like Cindy,” I gleam. “Who’s Cindy?” she asks, puzzled.
Eight year-old Cindy walks into my Miracle Project class last October wearing two pig-tails, baggy clothes, and absolutely no expression on her moon-round face. Except for periodic screams, interrupted by alternating biting on her hand, she barely makes any sounds at all. My one goal for Cindy – help her to find her smile.
Throughout the year of participating in movement, music, and creative dramatics during class-time, Cindy’s painful screeches lessen; she settles in, she finds a friend (Jenna, a nine year-old who also had never had a friend before). But still, Cindy’s visage was smile-less. Movement exercises usually do the trick – let’s find joy in our bodies through learning to skip, glide, hop across the floor. Cindy painstakenly learns how to execute these movements, and even stops screeching in class. She clearly is enjoying herself – still no smile. How about pretend play? “Let’s pretend we are animals that are pets,” I call out. Cindy offers to be a kitty cat and lovingly licks pretend milk from a bowl that Jenna offers to her. No smiles. However, within a few days I hear that Cindy and Jenna have become friends outside of class. They go on play dates and even have a sleep over! Neither one of them had ever had a friend before. Occasionally, Cindy will sing with the others, but so quietly we can barely hear her. She even participates in our end-of-the-year show. It is definitely a successful year for her.
I am thrilled when I hear that Cindy is attending our week long summer program. She arrives in a pretty pink top, a skirt, pig-tails and characteristic, sans smile. Her mom is concerned when she realizes that her friend Jenna is not enrolled. Sarah, one of our teen volunteers instantly takes Cindy under her wing and supports her throughout the five days. Each day, Cindy participates in more activities. Her screeches have lessened considerably and she verbalizes to Sarah and the other kids. I am delighted with her progress and particiation.
The last day of camp happens to be my birthday. The “lovely surprises” begin. I awaken to my sweet husband’s hugs and kisses, Nealie enters my room with a big hug, and then, when I go to Starbuck’s, I am gifted with a free birthday iced green tea soy latte. A lovely beginning. I am excited to spend the day at camp on my birthday surrounded by the warm atmosphere of staff, volunteers, and campers. Just as soon as I get out of my car, I am greeted by Sarah and a miraculously jubilant Cindy. “She couldn’t wait!” says Sarah excitedly. “Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Coach E e-e-e! Happy Birthday to you!” sings Cindy, her face beaming an incredibly radiant smile. “Thank you, Cindy. Thank you Sarah, “I manage to utter as tears run down my cheeks.
This year’s birthday will be remembered for all the unlikely surprises, free lattes, my bff’s joining me for opening day to see “Eat Pray Love, “ my hubby cooking the most amazing dinner for all of us afterwards, and the miracle of Cindy’s smile.