Busy Being Blessed

life is shortAs most of you know, we are keeping two Ukrainian orphans for the holidays. I say they are orphans for simplicity’s sake. They live in an orphanage. I have heard nothing about the parents. They may have passed away, or perhaps not. We do not know. We had to go through some training classes and reading before hosting, however, and one of the things they told us is that many of the children are not orphans. Their parents are sick, or are alcoholic, or are abusive. I know one whose mother is mentally ill. I am sure he’s not the only one. About these children in our home, I do not know and it hasn’t seemed a delicate question to ask of one’s guests.

I can’t even begin to imagine the courage it takes to agree to go to another country where you do not speak the language and are not accustomed to the food and you don’t know a soul- when you are still a child. It must be so incredibly hard. I’ve gone to a foreign country with my family and in the company of other Americans whenever I wanted them (and even when I didn’t) and the culture shock was sometimes quite the emotional brickbat out of nowhere. There’s a reason it’s called culture ‘shock, after all.’ We are keeping siblings, and I hope that helps. One is only barely ready for first grade, and the other only barely into adolescence.

The facilitators of the program pointed out to us that the children obviously, no matter what their back story, have been through trauma- if you do not, cannot, live with your first family while you are still a child, that is a trauma, no matter the reason why. We don’t know the specific story for these particular children, and we may never know it. We’re just part of their lives for a few weeks, feeding them, loving on them, teaching them some English, showing them a bit of family life. I hope they like us enough to want to keep in touch when they go back, but they are, after all, children. We’ve been told that of those who do keep in touch with their host-families, they seem to do better than others in the orphanages, because it helps them just to know there is somebody who does care about them and what they do, and that person isn’t somebody who is paid to care.

Some host families go into hosting expecting, hoping to adopt. Some go into it planning not to adopt, but they end up adopting anyway. We are the third category- we have no intention of adopting, and we are not going to change our minds. We don’t even know if these children are adoptable and I’m not asking. I really cannot begin parenting full-time, 24 and 7, for years, at this point. They told us that would be fine.

They told us that we would need to buy the children clothes. I expected that, although I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of clothing they were wearing. What I didn’t realize at first is those clothes they were wearing are the only clothes they brought with them.

They also told us that usually the children will be a couple sizes smaller than their American counterparts of the same age. This is probably true for our young man, he is slight, even underweight. It is certainly not true of the younger sprat. HE is a solid and seemingly fearless sumo wrestler in miniature. He is wearing at least two sizes *larger* than the average American child his age- and probably in husky at that. I wondered how on earth a child could get so chubby on orphanage food- none of the others in his group are chubby, and most of them are undersized like our older boy. And then I watched his big brother give him his own food repeatedly, and I suspect I am seeing why one is so very ethereal in build and the other so very solid. This really squeezes my heart, but on the flip side of the coin, the big brother also uses little brother as a sort of taste-tester for him. He has the kid-brother taste everything first, and then little bro explains what it tastes like (I gather), and then Big Bro gives it his judicious consideration and decides whether or not he is willing to try it or not. And then again, his little brother finishes whatever he doesn’t eat, and he never eats more than a few bites of his food before passing it over. I have no idea of their back story, but that does not stop me from imagining a big brother, barely school age, depriving himself of food to soothe a younger sibling still a toddler, and destroying his own digestive system in the process.

IT’s been fun, noisy, chaotic (all the grandbabies, ten of them, are in town with most of their parents as well, and the 19 year old moved back home this month to help out when she’s not working)- and sometimes it’s been episodes of merriment suddenly interrupted by eye-stinging moments of poignancy.

It is the little things that catch me by surprise and make my eyes sting.
-The seemingly happy-go-lucky and carefree little linebacker younger brother carefully examining a used napkin and turning it clean side in and folding it carefully, delicately smoothing it flat and placing it top of the pile of napkins in my hand, because he knows better than to waste things.

-My husband bought them a snack at a gas station on our way back from the airport (a four hour drive) and they opened their bags of chips in the car and then offered me the first bite, and other incidents indicating sharing clearly being a fixed habit. (and yet, I’m told by somebody else who has adopted orphans, hosted several and spent a couple months at one that she has never seen an overweight orphan nor known them to share food).

– Concern over using two separate paper cups instead of sharing the same one.

-On a walk this afternoon my nose was runny and I kept sniffling. The little fellow pulled a stack of neatly, carefully, folded napkins taken from that gas station three days ago, and gallantly handed them to me to blow my nose.

_ Doing the laundry and shaking out a stashed bagel from one pocket, half a stashed bagel from a sock, and some other contraband food from a sleeve.

-a boy who refused to take his coat off for 3 days.

– a boy who carefully does a puzzle and then refuses to let us take it apart to put it back in the bag. He wants to tape it together to make it permanent. HE has pulled out six of our puzzles at the intermediate level and completed them all, but nobody is allowed to touch them. We don’t have any other puzzles for him or anybody else at that level to do. But I will probably go buy some modpodge or something similar tomorrow to make his puzzles a permanent creation.

-a young teen, carefully picking up pieces of popcorn he spilled on the floor and dusting them off and eating them, because you cannot waste food.

-a young teen, too cool for school, who turns up his nose at decorating the tree or getting his picture taken with it, but who turns up his nose with that air of obviously yearning somebody will make him do both, so he can have the fun of doing it while saying cooly, “she insisted, that crazy host-mom, so I did it to humour her.”

– A skittish child- friendly, playful, and cheerful but very, very skittish about my touch for days- leaning his head on my should, seemingly accidentally, to see what I am drawing. Then he leans closer. Then he lays down with his head in my lap and falls asleep. That was precious. What gave my heart a painful squeeze is when he woke up, but quickly pretended to be sleeping still, so he could stay where he was- as though he needed an excuse.

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  1. Posted December 22, 2015 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    This is a beautiful post. And thank you for doing something really special for the kids.

  2. jules
    Posted December 22, 2015 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Bless you, for your loving, giving hearts.

  3. Lindsay
    Posted December 24, 2015 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I love that you are this kind of people.

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