My 2nd daughter came to live with us permanently 14 months ago. She would visit us in the summers prior to this, but it wasn’t until I spent perduring time with her did I realize she also was a child with scars. If someone says you hurt them, you don’t get to decide you didn’t. It is not only orphans that struggle with abandonment and attachment issues, we have walked a winding journey with her this past year. Struggling to tend to each child’s unique healing processes is a challenge. The pain you feel when they are hurt by family members you can’t control, people you can’t negotiate with hurts as much as if it happened to you. When I watch her mother refuse to participate in her life, for lack of interest or for lack of capacity, it still hurts her the same. When her grandparents make elaborate plans a year in advance, and break those plans, you find yourself scrambling to put together surprise trips for a birthday celebration. There is this overwhelming feeling to compensate to ‘make up’ for other people’s failures so they hurt a little less. The hardest truth is, you can’t ever take that pain away, and compensating doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt or do damage. Although I’m the only mother she’s ever had a stable relationship with, I’ll never be her “Mom”.
I find one of the most frustrating things of parenting is not being in control of how other people treat my children. I cannot control when other people make false promises. I cannot control their conversations, their lack of compassion and empathy for her current situation, or their desire to participate in helping us heal her wounds. I cannot control when people say insulting things, when peers tease, or when they feel pressured to do things. All I can do is teach them how to navigate the pain, be supportive of their process, and be consistent so I do no further damage. This is their path, and their wings must grow. I can only prepare them to one day fly off alone.
This feeling does not lessen as you prepare a 14 year old girl to go back to her orphanage. This doesn’t reduce my worry for her as her friend tells her on social media she met the ‘perfect’ man for her, and he can meet her at the orphanage when she returns home. The panic and the fear set in as I feverishly explain through a butchered translation this is possibly the worst idea anyone has ever shared with her. I make phone calls and talk to translators, and explain why it is so important she knows about safety. August 30th she’s returning to her familiar, but all the same wolves are still lurking in the the shadows. I will not be there to translate or protect her. This is the time I have to give her the knowledge about how to stay safe until the universe decides if she belongs forever in our home. This is the first time she’s ever had a mother to worry about her communication, or her safety. So far she has only enjoyed it.
“I’m happy in America” she tells the translator. “It’s more magnificent than I ever dreamed, I didn’t know I’d like a family this much” she admits to a woman that speaks her language, but she’s never met. I ask her “Did you have a good talk with her” when she’s finished. “Good, whoever she is”. This girl has been required to have blind trust in us to bring her to America, to show her the right things, and put her in contact with safe people. We threw her into a confusing world of “never talk to strangers”, but “talk to this translator you have never met”, because I need to ensure the message is correct. America is a confusing and exciting world for her. She’s traversing it with beautiful grace.
We spent the evening exploring the trampoline park, on a Wednesday night so there wouldn’t be too many people. She had wide eyes as we walked into the giant room blanketed with trampolines. She ran around silly, laughing, rolling around watching videos of herself being crazy. I had never heard so much laughter come from her before. She has been working on her stamina, her typical life is very boring and sedentary. She is completely exhausted after a walk along the river, and needs to sit frequently during any physical exertion. While exploring the park we had the place to ourselves, or so we thought. Quietly sneaks over a little girl with dark hair, she shyly walks over to Alina and they start to talk.
Typically when people approach Alina she knows what is coming next. A parade of English she can’t understand. As I watch this little girl approach from across the room, this time it looks different. This time Alina smiles, and talks back. How can this be? How can she understand? Alina runs over to me jumping up and down. “русский!!” She whispers. I point to the girl and reply “русский?”. “да!!!” she says and she runs back.
How can it be, in Portland, Maine on a Wednesday night virtually alone in a trampoline park, we met a Ukrainian girl who speaks three languages. “I go to American school in Ukraine!” she declares to us. Here before me I have two complete opposites. An orphan from a world where few people care if she can read and write, and a girl whose nanny taught her a third language. Together they navigated a conversation in the language they share, while sitting together in a land where miracles happen. Every turn we take we are reminded how small this world really is.
My life has been a challenging ride of fate whipping me around. I often feel like I am on the endless marathon of the “American Hills”. All pain has a purpose, I wonder sometimes if being alone at 15 and serially married led to me have the strength to allow not only myself but my entire family to love a girl that I have to put on an airplane in 8 weeks, and strengthen my faith in the universe that nothing will happen to her until the paths are made clear what the next move should be. I have learned the next step is never clear until it is history. The algorithms I write to help me make choices get better over time, but are always theories, never laws. I watch families write their own algorithms this summer as I write mine. The complex legal, social, and financial factors are exponentiated by the love that is starting to develop. No one has the correct answers when deciding the next step with a Ukrainian orphan, or how much to limit secondary gain to a kid that needs to work on self validation. There is no user manual to this life, the best we can do is calculate our next moves based on the information provided, and be willing to change our course based on newly found facts. This is the time I could really use that village.