by Charis Negley
A dozen toddlers shrieked the name with nothing less than pure excitement as they pitter-pattered toward us, arms outstretched. A tidal wave of children, nearly trampling the poor cats that roamed the yard, spilled out of the building with complete delight in their gazes.
We lifted each of them into our arms as they bubbled over with laughter. Wide, toothy smiles stretched across their little faces. Had we ever been so small, so dependent, so joyful?
The sixteen-year-old boy next to me struggled to hold one of the babies. The girls laughed and told him he needed to hold the toddler on his hip. The boy looked down, then back up, utterly confused. “Where?”
We cooed at the children as they babbled back, eyes alight like all their dreams had just come true.
“Why do they call us Anna?” we had asked their caretakers the day before. We were told that the children at the home referred to any white person that way after a volunteer with that name had worked with them. This had been years before any of the children currently living there were born. It was a word passed through the children year after year.
I and a few others woke up at dawn the next morning to help feed the infants at the home. What a wonder to hold a baby in your arms while he gazes back up, endless eyes a sea of the most beautiful brown.
While there wasn’t much for the children materially, they were spoiled with love, and that was more than enough.
“Anna! Anna!” the toddlers cried out hours later when I passed the window of the room they lived in. They crowded the window, poking their little hands out. I let them grab my fingers, smiling back as I told them hello. The dark curls on their heads were soft to touch, and their smiles and overflowing interest in my visit melted my heart. Their day was not the only one made that morning.
I played with them before dinner that night. The kind of chaos only two-year-olds can make was ever-present in that room. Some of the calmer babies, however, sat along each of my legs. I was soon flanked by eight children, three to each leg, one in between, and one hanging off my back.
I found that what they loved most was to sing. I asked what song they wanted me to sing for them but could not understand the things they requested. I had to settle on what I knew to be on the top hits list for toddlers worldwide.
Enraptured, they listened as I sang “The Wheels on the Bus.” They giggled and sang along to each “beep,” “swish,” and “flick.” As the song went on, a few of the other young ones stopped to listen. Eventually, all the kids had stopped their roughhousing to try to follow along. The other couple teens in the room lifted their voices too as we captured the attention spans of close to thirty toddlers, if only for a couple minutes.
To my astonishment, the screeching, rambunctious children snapped back to attention as soon as their caretakers returned with their dinner. The little ones sat down in a large circle, and each of us were assigned four to five children to feed at once. Some of the toddlers took the meal into their own hands, as I assumed they did most of the time, for how could two women alone feed thirty toddlers in an allotted dinnertime?
The babies who decided to feed themselves had a messy way of doing things. Some were still so excited that I was there with them that they never took their eyes off me, directing their spoons into the sides of their faces. They coated themselves in mushy food that dripped down their fronts. Others just were not good with motor skills yet. Others still either allowed me to feed them or refused half of their meal altogether.
We were invited to help put the children to sleep, but they ran and bounced and shrieked around our feet. I worried we were hurting more than helping. I wondered how on earth their caretakers were able to put them all to sleep every night.
I had a newfound respect for the women that chose to do that each day. That was a pure, honest dedication that sprouted from their love for God. It was an act of worship, taking care of those little children, mothers of those who had none.
Charis Negley is from Wilmington, Delaware, and currently studying professional writing at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Her previous work can be found in 50-Word Stories, Literary Yard, and Page and Spine.