We are beginning to feel right at home when we visit Matan.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had the rare opportunity to play with him while his entire grupa was there.  We arrived a bit early, and found that what we thought was a special room for foreigners, actually doubles as a larger playroom for the kids.   

When we arrived he was there with all his buds.  The ratio of caretakers to children was very good, between 2-3 children per adult.  Most of the caretakers were interacting with the children in a positive manner, with play, dance and physical contact.  Overall, very impressive.  The children were a mixture of healthy and some with Downs.  All were playing quite nicely together. 

We were invited to play in  same room since our alternate playroom was not available.   Matan showed immediately that he wasn’t pleased to be sharing his special visit with the rest of the grupa.  He threw himself on the ground and screwed up his face in the closest thing I’ve yet seen to a tantrum from him.  In this photo, he is doing the only rocking I’ve seen yet.  Many of the children came up to us for attention, but once I gently, but firmly pointed them in another direction, and maintained my focus on Matan, he slowly began to relax.  Not so with Karen.  She got really freaked out by all the small children coming up to her and touching her.  She “escaped” by climbing on the furniture and sitting high enough that they couldn’t reach her.  She came back a few times to try and play with Matan, but each time, she ended up whispering that she was scared by all the children touching her.  

This second photo shows one of the caretakers holding two children while “dancing” with a third.  I think it is a really good shot that indicates the overall level of care shown by the staff.  The whole grupa returned to their room after about 45 minutes, and we remained with Matan and Karen.  As posted yesterday (sorry for the repeat), we had a wonderful response from him when we gave him a jar of mashed fruit which he quickly polished off.  He then proceeded to eat the banana we offered.  He even took the bottle, although it is clear that he still isn’t quite sure why we keep giving it to him.  We also saw him put his thumb in his mouth.  We never saw any thumb sucking with Karen.  None of the children use pacifiers.

I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos of the caretakers and children at play since we were unable to ask their permission.  But Karen has become quite the photographer, so I gave her the camera and he took most of these photos.  Pretty good for an almost five year old!

Later in the day we went shopping and bought Karen a new winter coat.  Here she is showing off as the girl in red.  The photo was taken just outside of the building we’re living in.  I promise some more photos, maybe tomorrow, of our neighborhood and apartment to give an idea of what the “better” part of Lugansk looks like.