Culture of Discontent

Ads work by:
convincing us we have a problem which must be solved, usually by:
making us feel somehow insecure or discontented
then supplying the means to solve the problem, usually by convincing us they are the experts. Here’s a lovely example:

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Nature study, poetry, and art

nature study quote poety art and business“In nature-study, however, the emotional senses are cultivated
incidentally with those powers of observation upon which the work
of the poet and artist depends, no less than the success of the man
of business, the farmer, and the scientific investigator.

Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that nature-study adds greatly
to the pleasure of life, rendering intelligible what is going on in forest
and stream, in hedgerow and in garden, that it is part and parcel of
all true sport, and paves the way to any number of fascinating hobbies.”


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Of Food and Wonder

IMG_20160617_103347381I keep this, one of two containers I use for the purpose, full of food  and on the counter all day, along with unlimited seaweed, bananas, and trail mix.  It doesn’t always have deviled eggs. Sometimes it has sausage, radishes, berries, carrots, breads, other kinds of cheeses, braunschweiger (some know it as liverwurst,  very popular w/our boys), and various other odds and ends.

Some things are unlimited only in the sense that as long as I have them, the kids can eat, but it’s gone when it’s gone- the big bowl of trail mix, for instance, will not be replaced by more of the same.  Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, yogurt, and bananas I replace constantly, everything else depends on what is for sale.

By 11:00: 12 pancakes, four yogurts, 8 bananas, four popsicles, nearly two pints of cherry tomatoes, six cucumbers, 8 croissants, 11 Hawaiian rolls, 3/4 lb of braunschweiger, 8 deviled eggs, a few slices provolone, a few handfuls of trail mix, and 8 radishes. And around 11:00 one asked when we could eat. He saw somebody at the park with food.

By bedtime- in the same day-  they had consumed more braunschweiger sandwiches, more tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes, slim jims (2 or 3 each), a capris sun juice pack, yogurts, pizza, fried chicken, a cutie each (*yes, yes they are!), more trail mix, grapes, bananas, a couple yogurt drinks, and I think that may have been it- oh, and a couple mugs of milk for the baby of the group, and day lilies because I showed  the lads day lilies are edible.  Yes, we are going to be asking for the grocery store to give us a discount.

For some kids, regular meals and no snacking is important.  For these kids, it is important for them to be convinced that their food supply is safe. Orphans from hard places (and being an orphan is itself a hard place) nearly always have some food issues related to scarcity and the horrible experience of genuine, real, gnawing hunger and the knowledge that you do not know when you will eat again.  And that is why we always have at least cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and bananas freely available.

It was a beautiful and also a hard day.  We had some melt downs.  there was a moment of panic and terror that I didn’t recognize as such when it was happening and I was not really there for the child as I would wish- I was focused on parking, he was ordering me to not park and just drive away.  You see, the splash pad we visited the day before, when it had 2 children, was now full of children, and that child was intimidated.  He  handled it well, but was more standoffish afterward.

On our way home from the splash park, down country roads, we passed a doe in a creek running right along the side of the road. Stopped and watched her until the 11 y.o. couldn’t hold back any longer and shouted at her. Drove no more than a quarter of a mile later and saw a turkey vulture right by the side of the road. Pulled up and opened the van doors so they could really see. It flew away, but must have had something tasty there, because it circled and returned 3 more times, and the boys were gasping in awe and delight at its graceful flight and wide wingspan.

Because we had a too long and too busy day,  child 2 and 4 were definitely not on their best behavior. However, while we were out I took the 3 oldest into Aldi’s with me, leaving child 4 in the van with my husband,  a better arrangement for everybody.

In the store I was seriously showered with compliments on my wonderfully handsome and eager helpers. One lady said they were the best behaved boys she had ever seen. I literally did nothing but point at what I wanted- they handled it all otherwise. I asked them a few times if they wanted something, and their oldest brother told them if they did or not.=) But they did not really ask for anything. When I pointed at something, they just asked how many (one? two?)
I don’t think we went down a single aisle without somebody telling me how amazingly helpful the boys were, and everybody was correct.

We had an epic meltdown on the drive home, and we had one again over supper (same child both times).

After supper the boys went out to put their bikes up and came racing back in screaming for us to come look, come, come- understand this is mainly communicated via gestures and full body charades.  What we heard was “мама, тато!!” WOW!!” and what we saw is the three youngest boys waving their hands at us and dancing in excitement for us to hurry and look.  What they wanted us to see:  the fields around our house and our yard itself were glittering with fireflies. Bedtime was extended 20 minutes for firefly catching (for the younger 2, the older 2 used their time to kick a soccer ball).

It was beautiful.

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You might be orphan hosting

splash padWhen, in spite of a serious language barrier the 11 y.o. at lunch tells you quite seriously, as one parent to another, that the 8 year old has already had 2 pieces of chicken and may not have a 3rd.

When you show the 11 y.o. a chicken wing, indicating via eyebrows and pantomimes that it is a small piece, a very small piece, and he eyes it judiciously and nods his approval and permission.

When you have a closet full of clothes but they were purchased without clear ideas as to the children’s sizes, so you have a trying on party. Or you intend to. However, A. they are boys. B. ALL boys. And C, the 14 year old sits down with you with his leg over his knee, for all the world like an elderly grandpa, and walks you through the clothes as you hold each item up and he eyes it, looks over his younger brothers and pronounces judgment as to who owns which shirt or pair of shorts, and he’s nearly always correct. He folds the clothes back up properly, too, and puts them in their correct piles, and without being asked, stacks up the discarded ones (mostly jeans much too large, and a couple sweats much too small) in a basket and carries it downstairs for you.

When your husband takes them down to the creek and tell them to play while he weed wacks the 4 foot tall grass to make a path to the creek, and they look at each other and just sit blankly, because they don’t know what or how to play without sports equipment. they play sports. they don’t really seem to engage in any imaginative play most of the time. then they see what their host father is doing, and all pitch in to pull weeds.

When you are driving Ukrainian children to the park while playing Korean music on the stereo and singing the lyrics in English…. Okay, well, that’s probably just me.

But otherwise, when these things are happening at your house, you just might be orphan hosting.

Also, when you are at the park and a little girl falls and hurts herself and her brother runs to comfort her and shepherds her over to her mother, who is anxiously calling from the edge of the park, “Are you okay?” – and your own four charges stop what they are doing and turn to watch the little drama play out, naked longing on the youngest two faces, and your heart contracts so hard you can’t breathe for a moment and you want to wail aloud in grief over all the orphans in the world but especially these boys because they are here, and they are the face and feel of orphans everywhere for you, but you can’t because they would be terrified. So you can only smile at them when they turn took at you, and reach out and rub a head or a back of a skittish lad who comes from hard places and wants so much but cannot allow himself to receive all he wants.

In fact, your heart contracts a hundred times a day, so hard it feels permanently bruised, but you are so glad you can do this one, small thing.

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A Hug

I sometimes worry that I come across as though I think I am the original discoverer of orphans. Really, I think I’m more like that annoying new mom who can’t talk about anything by her kid, like nobody else in the world, ever, has done this before. But really- this kid. All the kids. My heart cannot take it.

Last Christmas when we hosted and met the kids at the airport, we all kind of hung back, excited, but nervous, anxious, interested, curious, and entirely unknown quantities to another. I remember watching the other families picking up their host children, watching to see how they interacted.

This time, our boys were first out of the restricted area, ahead of the pack, trying not to run, but walking awfully fast. When they reached us,  everybody else in the terminal disappeared for me. The 2 boys we had not hosted were more standoffish, reserved. Our baby grinned and grinned and hugged my neck and held my hand.  And the teenager, well, he hugged us good. He grinned sometimes  because he could not help himself. He tried to be cool, though.

Apparently, not cool enough. We pulled them over to a side area of the terminal to open their goody bags, and a total stranger came up to us and grabbed my hands, blinking back tears and saying she did not know what was going on but she just had to tell us that seeing the smiles on all our faces, we had just put some sunshine back in her life after a horrible week, that we could not have any idea how blessed she was just watching us. Not that you can tell from our teen’s pictures! He will not smile for a camera.

Our hosting organization, and I guess all of them, require each family to sign a notarized statement promising to return the children at the end of the hosting program and not attempt to keep them here in the US. Both times, my husband and I have shaken our heads over the madness of having to promise not to kidnap children. Both times there have been moments in our hosting where I thought, “I know why we had to sign those papers.” Both times, I have had moments where I thought, “Oh. I *really* don’t want to send these kids back. I get it.”

You realize I’m saying both times and it’s only been 6 hours since we picked them up as I write, and probably 3.5 of those hours they have slept?

We were getting our picture taken (by the nice lady who cried) at the airport. I casually laid my hand on the youngest’s shoulder and he reached up and grabbed my hand in both of his, and held on *tight.*

We were walking out of the airport, the oldest straggling behind because he is cool and independent, when I heard, “Mama, mama! Ya! Ya!” (me, me), and he trotted up and grabbed my purse from me so he could carry it.

All four of them offered me the first bite of a treat I gave them in the van- even the middle boy, who I have been told was very stand-offish, and he called me ‘Mother. ‘ Which, btw, if you have not heard that in a Ukrainian accent by a grade school boy with dancing blue eyes, and the widely dilated pupils of a traumatized child holding it together in spite of his fears, maybe you don’t know how my heart contracted with sharp pains. But maybe you can guess.  And orphans sharing food?  I am amazed, but these boys do that a lot.

Bedtime, when our too cool for school eldest, who is a rascal and a rapscallion of the first water, gave me a bear hug so tight I was afraid a rib would crack.

I signed a notarized statement. I will give them back. I will return them. It’s the law in two countries and would cause reckless harm to countless other families if I keep them, because it would damage the reputation of our program.  Plus, it would probably be wrong.

Children are people, not pets. You just can’t ‘keep’ them because they followed you home and call you mother or mama in winning, wheedling, charming accents.

Also, I turned my back on the youngest for like 30 seconds, tops, and he had my purse completely emptied on the bench at the airport.

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