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Bickering Bikes

It has been nearly three weeks since Alina has arrived. We have had many moments, thoughts, and experiences.
She has finally relaxed, and with this comes struggles like any normal kid. Her development was incomplete, so we see behaviors as she makes up for the stages of development that she was unable to complete.
“You must wear the helmet with the bike”
“No thank you”
“This is not a choice”
“It makes me too hot”
“No helmet means no bike”
Then you spend the next two days making sure you’re always keeping tabs on where she might be to catch her sneaking off not ride without the helmet. The exhausting consistency you provide drives home the point you make.
Once you get past the helmet fight, don’t worry, there are endless things that a 14yr girl would rather not do. This list will take the rest of your evening, so I’ll spare you. One thing you can imagine is me standing in the street having a toddler argument with a girl taller than me, narrated by the lovely lady at google translate. You start to learn how to say things in Russian like “this is required”, “shower WITH soap”, and “yes, everyone is going”.
Missing the phase of industry versus autonomy doesn’t mean they just skip over it. Every day is a new lesson of what can be chosen, and what is required. None of this is her fault, but that doesn’t make it less exhausting. It doesn’t mean you’re totally sick of frozen in Russian or hearing “Stephanie LOOK!” while you’re driving the turnpike so you can turn around to answer the emergency to be show talking tom, yet again. It’s a balance for her to learn what answers are negotiable, and which are not. Luckily for her this family has an excellent understanding of things that are not choices, so she’s learning quickly. I can’t imagine hosting if my own children weren’t in order. This takes a village, including my own kids.
There are other moments as she develops out of order and through a winding journey in the new world.
“I don’t fit in to this family, I make many mistakes and I was only sent here for vacation”.
“You fit in fine here, I’m in trouble all the time and I still live here” Lorelei commiserates.
“I love America, it’s so full of magic” She replies.
She struggles with autonomy versus doubt in ways I had never considered. She doesn’t know what to do if not told. She couldn’t problem solve how to swim if she was wearing shorts, and didn’t know what to do unless being told to take them off, and where to put them. Decisions my children make easily everyday she’s never been allowed to make on her own. She doesn’t know to ask questions, because she doesn’t know the questions to ask. She has been told exactly what to do her entire life. The rules are always the same, she’s never left her orphanage. She knew what was expected and what was against the rules. Here there are so many autonomous choices to make she doesn’t know how to start. We try to reward her independent thoughts and ideas as often as possible, as long as it doesn’t involve bikes crashing into trees with no helmets on. This is a balance.
Every day Erikson visits me in a reminder that I have a 14yr girl here that is still working on various stages of development she was never able to experience (and an 11yr one also for that matter). Some of the orphans are stuck in trust versus mistrust. Some trust easily and they’re hung up on Initiative versus guilt, they can’t go to the fridge and open it without asking express permission, and without the building block of trust versus mistrust they don’t even feel comfortable asking. Every kid is at different levels of every stage of development, a biography would be a memoir to include all the information needed to explain to you the child you might receive. This is a lesson in life, taught by the children who never were shown.
“Your host mama cares about you, this is why she wants to make sure you are safe, this is normal for a family to show they love you” The translator tells Alina on the phone.
She rolls her eyes. She still doesn’t want to wear a helmet, but because she IS 14 and not a toddler she accepts this line much quicker than someone without the physical ability to have a complex thought.
Helping Alina get caught up to speed enough so she can participate in her environment is daunting. We tell her “the helmet is required, if the police see you without it there is a fine”, then she comments “many people in this city don’t follow the rules, that kid doesn’t have a helmet”.
Just because they don’t follow the rules doesn’t mean we should follow.
This is a concept not easily translated, but one she does understand. She doesn’t smoke or drink, although she could if she wanted to. I’m not sure if this is just her personality or if she has some lingering effects of an alcoholic mother. It is difficult to truly get down to what her personality is like when we can’t easily communicate. We both go through phases of wanting to throw the translation app at the wall, but it’s our only life line, so we continue to drudge through.
Today she celebrated the independence day of America. She wears a shirt “All American Girl”. Her favorite shirt.
What is going on in her mind, I have no idea. I know she’s very concrete. She has no idea how to take a compliment or use sarcasm. Maybe these things don’t exist in her world? I know she does follow rules, and she’s sensitive. I know she hates to brush her hair, teeth, or do anything that is work. That might be her history speaking out, or it might be just her age. After years with my children, day in and day out, I learn new things all the time about them. This helps me to navigate how to help them learn the lessons they’ll need to survive in the world. The task of learning a girl who not only doesn’t speak my language, but doesn’t even know she needs someone to help guide her to learn lessons has been daunting. She’s never had a mom, why would she need one now?
I don’t know how much dreaming Alina does. I don’t know where her mind is about her trip to America.
I savor every statement that is offered unprompted as she proudly shovels in the popcorn she’s prepared herself. I think about how hard I’m working to learn about her, what she likes, what she thinks, what she dreams, and how to relate to her.
I owe her the realization she also must do this, not speaking this language, in a sea of new sensory overload, as she tries to establish a relationship not only with parents she has never had, but 5 siblings she had never dreamt of. She has a tall order, and she’s moving through it seamlessly.
This girl will break glass ceilings if given the chance. I hope her future is full of stars that line up perfectly. The world knows she deserves it.




One Comment

  1. Jeff O Jeff O

    How beautiful. What an intense relationship. It must be so difficult for her. And how brave she is to make that leap to spend the summer with a strange family who also doesn’t speak her language. I’m so excited that she is having this experience. It is certainly one that she will never forget. Oh and by the way…I must say… You are a wonderful writer. Thanks so much for sharing.

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