Sometimes – when a pocket of silence at Northwood is long enough for me to hear my own thoughts – I wonder what the therapeutic care of children really means. For between the rise and fall of the daily disciplines at Northwood, it’s the tinkling laughter of the little mice, the simple songs of happiness sung with such energy and the little patter of feet all trying to be “first” in line that brings a smile and dare I say a sense of comfort to my soul.
Much of our understanding and definition of a therapeutic construct – especially when weighed within the creative space of a child’s life – I suspect – must remain in the realms of mystery. For in truth, what we eventually understand as regards its impact, is borne out of what we perceive as perhaps being a helpful and at times a corrective encounter of meaning.
What cannot be mystery however is what we see and experience unfolding when lives are enriched and changed through the simple touch of honest grace which imparts dignity and confidence through the paradoxical space we call time. Therapy at its best I think is having the patience to wait at the door of sacred souls, gently watching, sometimes challenging, yet always allowing individuals to discover for themselves, new possibilities through choice and consequence.
Regardless of what any trauma, illness or life experience may be that brings us to a place of needing therapeutic intervention; wanting or choosing to grow strong from its impact cannot be simply approached, it must be firstly acknowledged in all its truth and fullness – as only then – can we wrestle with it into a place of new beginnings.
With the referred children at Northwood, some of whom are already so vulnerable, so formed and re-formed through sadness and cruelty, it’s really easy to think we must take charge, to form and trans-form the little ones into what we believe is “right” and “normal” because after all we are the adults…… And yet, if we are to be real, if we are to be honest, then the challenge as I see it is that we have to have the courage to linger, to stay with the children for a season or even seasons; so that what unfolds is their own growing and in-formed journey of life and not our expectations or presumptions for their livesT
Time, energy and sacrifice
That is the ingredient in the recipe which takes time, energy and sacrifice. That is the ingredient which moves us to think outside of ourselves and outside of the box of life’s normality which we are often so comfortable resting within. That is the ingredient which will grace us with courage when we can understand that the “fullness” of life may be only and ultimately found, when we will have earned the trust of a little hand that will hold ours – even through to the point which we call death from life.
Many of the “rules” of life’s road are just not the same when we cross the fuzzy lines of traditions, spirituality and culture, but the primary need as I see it, particularly when we seek to care for little ones, is to somehow really try to embrace and care for the children’s families and primary carers. I say that because it is primarily their constant choices which will either debilitate or emancipate the tender shoots of childhood. Yet it is also their generosity that will allow us the freedom to embrace their children, to assume a part of their responsibility, and, ultimately, it is their humility that will grant us the freedom we need to share in all of their lives at a very vulnerable time.
No concrete answers
Over the last 3 years I have seen the lives of children both change and be strengthened through the journey of what we have started at Northwood and we certainly still have a long, long way to go on this road of discovery.
Sadly though, and one of the biggest dangers I think, is to presume we have concrete answers or even a recipe to offer into the reality of loss, disease and the very raw unfolding of what a nation – reeling under tremendous poverty at grass root levels – is experiencing.
To see children whose tender years have sometimes held more life experience than I can fathom or begin to understand, is a truth that I still find hard to embrace. Everything inside of me struggles to accept its reality. Yet, if I am to be constructive and real, the challenge is not only to accept it as such but to resist judging a world and conditions that are not my own.
What I have discovered for myself is that often I don’t understand the real problems that present themselves or even some of the questions that are being asked. What I see, are the tremendous layers and gaps that can so easily be misinterpreted into a myriad of solutions and equations of what seem to a tidy mind, to be practical, neat answers.
Hope has wings
What I know, is that hope has wings when we simply nurture the seeds of potential found in every child, with unconditional love and with the very best of our skills, because only then can the measurable outcome be blessed instead of being hampered by our own processes of expectations.
These last few years at Northwood have enabled me to rest and wrestle with so many unfolding discoveries that I can only say thank you Lord, for so many cherished moments with the various little mice that I keep as precious kisses, stored safely in my pocket……
About the author
Maureen Lamb is the Director of Operation Smile Madiba Bay. The organisation offers services of interdisciplinary care to clinically referred children through their community projects known as:
Northwood Day Clinic
Northwood ECD Section
Isidima Safe Home
& ultimately through Northwood Children’s Hospice which is currently in the process of building and renovation.