Our first visit with Hanissa, we discovered an unexpected challenge. She didn’t know how to play. Sounds crazy. Play is a natural part of childhood, isn’t it? But, imagination and play will always take a back seat to survival.
Everything, for her, was a problem to be solved or a task to be accomplished. There was no imagination, no excitement in the activity. If she was given a book, she stared blankly at it as she obediently turned the pages to the end. Puzzles were completed, dolls dressed and undressed, but once the task was completed it was set aside. She wanted to please us, but couldn’t figure out what to do with the objects we presented to her.
When H came home, she wanted to help fold clothes, dust, sweep, wash dishes but cried if I told her it was play time. We would choose just a few items, so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, and require her to sit for just 10 minutes to play. Those minutes of torture were often accompanied by kicking and screaming. But we worked through it.
One thing she loved was being with her sisters. Tumbling, wrestling, music, dancing. Anything was great if she could do it with them. And they poured love into her. And along the way, they taught her how to pretend. They played dress up, built castles with leggos, had tea parties complete with dolls as guests. In the beginning she was more of a spectator, but soon she began to join in the fun of pretend.
As long as someone else initiated it and told her what to do, she would play. But left to her self, she’d walk into the room and ask, “What do I do?” I’d give suggestions of toys to play with or games, she’d start crying, and begin to play. A few minutes later she’d ask, “Me be done now?” This isn’t to say she didn’t have fun, she just wasn’t sure how to get into her play without help.
Then, a few weeks ago, I heard Hanissa talking in another room. I walked in and was excited to see her playing, by herself, with leggo men and building a house for them. Since then, I’ve caught her talking to her dolls, going on missions with her bow and arrows, using blankets as capes and head coverings. She loves to be read to and even reads to her dolls, now.
My heart is full. And I can’t help but celebrate how far we’ve come on this journey. Hanissa is an amazing girl and I’m thankful I get to be part of her life.