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When government fell in December 1989, Ceausescu was overthrown and executed.
The misery didn't die with him.
Even braced for conditions she had heard were common at orphanages, Simon had to steady herself at odor blasting into her nostrils. The heat concentrated stench of diapers, changed -- if at all -- once a day. It happened like this: children with sticky legs sat stacked on trays like loaves of bread, changed in one fell swoop.
More than smell, what struck her about this particular orphanage was silence. Wards of tiny creatures stared blankly through bars in cribs, or rocked, rocked, rocked on filthy bare pads. Children with bloated bellies and babies crawling with lice had learned not to cry. Rarely would their screams move a caretaker to dab at their tears.
Simon delivered care packages to Spitalul Children's Hospital and several orphanages. At orphanages, children buzzed about her as if she were queen bee. One child swooped down on a pink bunny, wetting its fur with kisses.
Simon returned home to Orlando, changed. She knew what she had to do.
HUG MELTS AWAY BLEAKNESS
In late October 1990, Simon again was bound for Romania.
She and her husband, Paul, in their early 40s at time, had tried and failed to adopt children in states. Five times, same thing. It was as if children were ice -- when Simons believed they were grasping something solid, children slipped like water through their fingers.
On her first trip to Romania, Simon became smitten with a 2-year-old named Ana and started adoption paperwork.
But soon her optimism faded like black-and-white snapshot of brown-haired little girl.
Simon found red tape virtually impenetrable. Each court appearance brought disappointment and more frustration. Each judge she appeared before had his own rules for signing off on adoption. That she spoke little Romanian didn't help.
Complicating matters, Simon was under a deadline: She had been in Romania for several weeks and with an airlines strike looming, she was booked on last flight out of Bucharest before Christmas.
At least she had tried, she thought.
As one door seemed to slam shut, another opened. An interpreter, aware of her dead-ends with Ana, told her about a slight boy at Orphanage No. 4.
Simon visited place. The building was old, frigid. Inside there were no toys. Outside packs of wild dogs roamed. The children slept in military cots. They shared a bathroom with rusty showers and two sinks.
After a while, Simon and boy she came to meet were brought together, two strangers in strangest of places. His father was dead and his mother was poor. His aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in a commune outside of Bucharest.
The child, in a sweater, long stockings, and knitted pants, reacted only way he could: he ran as fast as he could over to Simon, snaked his arms around just under her waist and squeezed.
Within week, boy she called Nick was gorging on chocolates on a flight bound for Orlando.
Nick was miles away from speaking English, save for words, "chocolate" and "Mickey." And this: Her son could say mama.
DISCOVERING TIRE TREADS
After a while, when newness rubbed away, Simons confronted some unpleasant realities.
An institutionalized child -- one who had been warehoused virtually all his life without an encouraging word, without love -- was going to bear scars.
The first night he spent in his room, Nick stripped sheets and ignored pillow -- luxuries he had never had. He spent nights haunting hallway, snacking on bowls of sugar.
Precious few things came naturally to him. He knew how to march and salute -- orphans were groomed to be crack soldiers -- and when placed in a bathtub, Nick would grab a cloth and buff chrome.
Since he had never seen a toy, he had to learn how to play.
Since he was rarely allowed to venture beyond crib, he had to learn to explore. Once at school, teachers found Nick under a school bus, weaving his fingers through tire treads. <
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Darryl E. Owens Features Writer The Orlando Sentinel 633 North Orange Avenue Orlando, FL 32801 (407) 420-5095 Fax: (407) 420-5457
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JOAN BRAMSCH is a family person, educator, writer and E-publisher. Her articles appear internationally in print and online. Six of her best-selling adult novels - near one million copies - have worldwide distribution. Her Empowered Parenting Ezine serves 1000 parents around the globe. http://www.JoanBramsch.com mailto:email@example.com