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A Song for Everything

February 4, 2012

My girls were adopted into a line of women who have a song for everything. My maternal grandmother and my mother both had the ability to free-associate music. I inherited just a touch of the neurological quirk that brings a song to mind fitting any occasion.  Although I think being an introvert moderates this; I don’t sing the songs out loud nearly as often as they do :).

Joy, too, has a song for many of the things she hears. And she’s delayed just enough that she doesn’t grasp, yet, that the world is not an opera; most people don’t compulsively sing what they think. But singing and rhyming are among the few ways she can spontaneously communicate. So Joy sings.

Hand her a ball and observe, “This ball is squishy,” and she’s likely to respond in tune: “The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish!”

When she wants me, she calls me, “Mama, mama red pajama.”

Lately, woe to those who mention the words “fish” or “water;” they are likely to be treated to endless rounds of “Slippery Fish.”

This week, in the midst of a gooky cold, she summoned me to wipe her nose by singing a variation of “Hi Ho the Dairy-O” they use in OT: “We touch it to your cheek, we touch it to your cheek. Hi ho the dairy-o we touch it to your cheek!”

Makes sense, if you think about it. Joy can’t yet say, “Please wipe my nose,” but she can sing a line from a song that comes close. She can’t yet participate in a reciprocal conversation. But she can let us know she understands what we’re talking about by responding the only way she can.

Recently I’ve realized that Hope sings, too. Except my brain is not wired to naturally make the leap between my announcement “Dinner’s ready!” and Hope’s impulse to clear the table with a sweep of her arm, then throw a stray fork at me for good measure.

Joy can’t resist singing and Hope can’t resist swinging.

Joy’s brain damage is visible all the time. So when she does something atypical like sing for her supper (Old MacDonald had a chicken) we judge it cute and surprisingly functional for a child with brain damage. Hope’s brain damage is hidden so we judge her dark songs oppositional and dysfunctional. But at some level invisible to me, I think Hope’s songs make sense.

The problem is that from my relatively intact neurological perspective, I cannot intuitively grasp what it is like to live in a mind that sometimes perceives a dinner as a threat. But I sense that Hope no more able to stop herself from reacting when she feels threatened than Joy can prevent herself from singing “Humongous whale! Humongous whale!” when a sister asks for a drink of water.

This is what brain damage does. This is what brain damage is.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra cronnelly permalink
    February 8, 2012 9:51 pm


    My name is Debra Cronnelly and my family is big, beautiful and created
    through special needs adoptions. We have been so blessed to have a
    wonderful relationship with an adoption agency in new York that has a
    special needs adoption program ( we have 5 special needs children from
    them). The agency is spence-chapin adoption services in new York.
    They have been diligently trying to find an adoptive family for an
    adorable Chinese heritage 5 yr old who has cerebral palsy. His name is
    Alex and his smile lights up any room he is in. He has lived in a
    children’s rehabilitation hospital in new york since he was born. His
    birth parents have been involved with him the whole time, but are
    unable to care for him at home and come to the loving decision to place
    him for adoption.
    Spence- chapin has been trying to find him a family for several months
    now, but there have been only a few inquiries, with no matches yet.
    I told them I would try anything I could think of to try and help find
    Alex a family. So I found your beautiful blog and thought maybe you
    could network Alex’s situation to families that may be willing to
    consider him.
    I would be love to be a contact for anyone wanting to know more about
    Alex or spence-chapin.
    Alex is eligible for an adoption subsidy and Medicaid, regardless of
    parental income, in any state through his eighteenth birthday. The
    adoption subsidy from new York is very generous and would really go a
    long way to helping a family provide for Alex. Spence-chapin’s
    adoption fees for special needs are $1,000-3,000 on a sliding scale,
    but they can waive this based on family need.
    They are looking for a strong family that has resources near by and
    parents no older than 45 years old, family size is not an issue, as
    long as they have a strong plan for Alex’s care.
    I know this is a lot from someone you have never met but Alex has
    captured my heart and I want to do everything I can to find him a
    family. If you can help with your blog or connections it would be such
    a blessing.
    Anyone interested can contact me anytime, I will help in anyway I can.
    My contact information is
    Debra Cronnelly
    1351 summit chase drive
    Snellville, ga 30078

    Here is the link to spence-chapin’s website that has video and
    information about Alex.


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