Yesterday we packed. All Day. It took hours longer than it should have because the little guy had major meltdowns. He ran through the house opening all the outside doors and the garage and as I followed, closing them, he ran back around opening them again. He threw things. He tried to eat all the snacks I’d planned for the next 24 hours they had of traveling. He got angry because I gave his big brother (who will soon be 15) deodorant and didn’t have any for him (he’s seven).
Together we went through my desk to look for things that he would like. He chose a pair of children’s scissors, some stick-it notes, and an old cell phone case that he likes to use to pretend to take pictures. In the van on the drive he pulled out the package of gum he’d lifted from the back pack and passed out pieces, pressing more on us than we wanted to take. He reached back to hold my hand sometimes (he sat in the middle and I sat in the very back). Other times he reached back to try to tug off my boots. He also alternated hand holding and gum sharing with punching the FYG, upon whom he has an enormous crush. He’d turn his back and face the window, sulking angrily, and then be sweet, gooey warmth a minute later. It’s a traumatized child’s clumsy way of detaching so it won’t hurt. Sometimes, it’s a non-traumatized child’s (or adult’s) method as well.
At the hotel he had more meltdowns. We told fellow host parents the next morning that when he was in one of those moods he was essentially 80 pounds of solid ‘no.’ My husband got him into the bath, which the boy didn’t want but which certain events unfortunately had rendered compulsory. While in the bath he jollied up and played a game of volleying plastic disposable cups back and forth across the shower curtain for about half an hour. AFterword, they settled down on the couch in our hotel suite and watched the Jesus Movie in Ukrainian (something he has requested multiple times). I brought him a pillow and a blanket and the little guy took his pillow and tucked it in behind Tato’s back and covered Tato’s knees with the blanket.
We ordered pizza and when the pizza came, he jumped up and helped the delivery guy carry them in and held the door for him, and the delivery man said that his mama raised him right and I did not cry. At least, not outloud and in public where everybody could see. He ate his pizza, and then laid down with his head in Tato’s lap and went to sleep.
We had to get the boys to the airport at 6 a.m. this morning. We had arrived last night and miscalculated time zones so we woke up at the time we intended to leave. That had us scrambling. We discovered that our little guy had gone to sleep with a package of yogurt covered pretzels under him, and they had melted all over his shirt, which he had intended to wear to the airport (yes, he slept in his airport clothes. There are battles not worth fighting). Happily, I had an extra shirt for him – the rest were packed in the suitcases downstairs.
I looked at the hotel breakfast to grab some food for them, but there were only four bananas, 2 green, 2 black. I didn’t think about the apples because I am stupid, and I didn’t see the yogurt at all because I was not awake. I brought a bowl of muffins, which none of us wanted.
At the airport all was chaos and joyful reunion with their two brothers who had been with another family, and it was fun to see how much all three brothers really look up to and admire their oldest brother, and how much he looks out for them- and also bosses them.
They warned us not to have any expectations about good-byes- they said some kids might want hugs, most wouldn’t, and some would be stand-offish and matter of fact (that detaching process). Our boys broke away from their brothers at goodbye time and gave us very convincing hugs. The oldest looked at me and struggled for the English words he wanted to say and couldn’t find them, so he just hugged me and said yes, yes! Then he hugged my husband and stood there smacking his own chest and saying “Oh, oi. Oh.” and nodding, and we got the jist of it. Little dude hugged all around and giggled and was wired and emotionally jittery already.
I was dry eyed. I told the other host parents there that I would probably be sad after a week of sleep, but right then, I was just exhausted.
I was wrong. We drove back to the hotel to sleep and on the way the FYG asked me a question about their life in Ukraine and I tried to tell her that the host-father to the other brothers had told us that at their orphanage they mostly eat soup and potatoes. My voice broke. At the hotel I saw they had put out more bananas, and I cried. I saw the yogurt I’d missed before and I cried more. I went upstairs to sleep and woke up and cried. I cried when I saw the text message from one of the host parents accompanying them on their flight who shared that the little guy had eaten all his snacks in his backpack and I realized what an idiot I was for putting anything but crackers in his backpack foodwise. I cried when I found his dirty shirt, when somebody posted a picture of them to our FB wall, when somebody said their names, when we got home and found a package of pants I’d ordered for the 80 lbs of ‘No’ had just arrived today, when I found the various trash and remembrances of their stay both good and bad (chocolate wrappers behind the couch, and dirty socks and playing cards scattered on the floor and the discovery that they’d been coloured on, and so forth).
We were picking up parts of the house, just doing the preliminary steps of putting things back together, throwing trash and papers and so forth away, when I came across a little notebook where the little guy and I had drawn some of the pictures from the Draw, Write, Now series. I was about to toss it when I remembered how much fun it was to draw with him, and I thought about the fact that probably there are no keepsakes of his childhood anywhere, since he’s been in an orphanage since he was 1 year old. Nobody saves his little bits of paper, his drawings, his schoolwork, and sentimentally reviews those things, so I set the notebook aside so I can write “V, when he was 7” and date it and put in a scrapbook of his visit here. And, of course, I cried.
See how I put that in the past tense? I lied.