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Water slides and Donuts

Alina’s normal life is very boring. She does as she pleases for the most part, and as long as she’s staying out of trouble she goes unnoticed. In America she has been gaining stamina to adapt to the busy lives, but still spends her mornings asleep until noon, then watching videos for several more hours. This is her way of trying to adjust to the sensory input she will encounter when she leaves the solace of her room. This isn’t to say she’s not willing to get up early when she request it, but when left to her preference she like any other 14yr girl, would rather be sleeping (unless it’s 2am), and forcing her to wake up for no plans isn’t a battle I’m interested in.

The morning of the water park we all got up early. She wiped the sleep from her eyes and replaced it with excited anticipation. We stopped at a donut shop and she stood in line looking around. We must order for her because she has no idea what she wants, and doesn’t have the skills yet to decide. She never eats donuts, and doesn’t even know what sea salt caramel means. We ordered her a chocolate glaze, and we continued our journey to the water park. Often in this culture I think we give too many options to children. Most times we have found giving only one choice (do you want juice or milk) and picking their meal for them has helped to reduce stress in our younger children. As Alina gains skills and preferences she will too gain control of ordering her own meals, but for now we help her by ordering what we think she will like.

As we drove up to the park, her eyes got wide and she said “Klass”, a saying that has been carried over from the UK’s media. Until this summer, media was the only way Alina knew anything about the world. This has opened her eyes to all the things day in and day out that aren’t advertised.

We walked through the gate and she stood right next to us. “бассейн!!!” As she points to the wave pool. As she got more comfortable she eventually transformed to running up to the top of the slides by her self with new found courage and excitement.

Watching her gain courage and learning to believe in herself is priceless. Every day I watch a brave confident young woman being born of a timid nervous girl in each little fear she overcomes. There are many seasons to any personality, and Ukrainian orphans are no different. She jumps and runs and gets back in line over and over. She is enjoying her moment to be a kid. With every experience, she encounters her world expands. She went from being only comfortable in her orphanage, to expanding her ability to walk into a donut shop, and now running through a small water park with comfort and ease. “Let’s come back here again!” she said into the translator as we prepared to return home.

These beautiful stories aren’t the only stories to be told about summer hosting. I chose to highlight the best most touching moments because I am thankful I don’t have a door slammer. This doesn’t mean she’s ‘perfect’ either. This doesn’t mean that every minute of every day is like a movie.

One night Alina discovered the nerf gun stash. She was so excited, she tried to shoot bottles and cans off the porch railing. She ran around collecting the nerf bullets and starting over. This went on until it escalated to her laughing hysterically and putting the nerf gun execution style to our heads, shooting the dog in the face, and shooting blanks at us. No matter the amount of re-wording into the translator we couldn’t get her to understand that in America people have guns, some in their homes, and all children must learn never to point any guns at anything living, even if it’s only a toy. We got to the point where I told her “If you keep pointing that at us, I will take it away”, and that’s exactly what I had to do. She might be a good kid overall, but there are issues with integration when the only reference you have for America is Hollywood. In these moments I remember the training materials, we set the firm safety rule limits, and certain things are not up for discussion, like pointing a pretend gun at someone’s head and laughing, or shooting the most timid black lab repeatedly in the face.

Hosting isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s emotional, it’s physical, it’s using your mental capacity for endless strategy, and it’s expensive. It’s providing everything a child needs, glasses, dental work, clothing, food, and endless attention and support. It’s watching a child be carved out of my heart and sent back on an airplane after only few short months. It’s struggling to stay in contact, provide as much support as you can when they’re thousands of miles apart, in a world where you can’t protect them, and you control nothing. Hosting is tears of joy, frustration, anguish, hope, and fear. Hosting opened my own children’s eyes to other people’s situations, and taught them to give with compassion and love. It has taught them to ignore their annoyances as the ever-disappearing yogurt smoothies and the Russian Barbie on full blast at 11pm, because she literally doesn’t know better. It has opened her world to new experiences, to a new family, and to the love and stability it can provide. It has taught us to love each other without language, and bond without boundary. Hosting is an endless worry of finances, when to say yes, when to say no, when to hug, and when to give space. There is no user manual for this job. It is a job that you learn as you go through, and the good news with everyone is learning together in this wonderful community.

It is important for me to frequently check my emotional level before opening the door to the group chats, or answering messages. I have to be responsible to not exhibit transference to a well wisher or a concerned friend just because my host daughter handed the baby an open yogurt smoothie and now the dog is having a yogurt facial. It is controlling my ever present worry about finances and how we will get through to the next paycheck feeding 6 kids, and yes, I know I chose this, I realize I signed up, I don’t need to be reminded and shamed that our lives didn’t go according to plans and we weren’t completely ready for the financial burden. This is my stress, and although it’s very real, I need to make sure I don’t treat other people poorly because of it. This has been a journey for all of us, a learning curve, and a wonderful journey of hope.

Is hosting worth it? A million times yes.