We are mostly through the first week of Bates Youth Arts Program, and what a beautiful week it has been. I spent much energy preparing Alina for the grueling schedule, expectations for hygiene, appropriate social behavior, and listening skills. As my investments accumulated I wondered how clear the translations and understanding really were, and what her capacity was for learning. I was on the edge of my seat as I prepped my kids, their friends, and the staff to help Alina navigate YAP. I wondered if she would want to stay all day, if she could navigate the choices in the cafeteria, and if she would be overstimulated by the constant English commands. I was so anxious to get started, and as we arrived on Monday morning I watched from the distance to see if my investments were paying off.
As we walked through the doors, pay off they did. For the first time Alina walked in to a situation she was prepared for. She knew as much information as we could predict, and she was confident.
“Do not worry, I have the translation on the phone, I will be ok”. Her bravery shines.
I left the girls at camp, and I went home to relax and finally take a nap.
Just kidding, I went home with 3 little kids, to learn the new routine that we will create over the next three weeks. I made meal plans, ran errands, did all the things needed to run a house that’s bursting with busy. After two hours I got my first message.
“I did hip hop class, I didn’t realize it was possible to be so tired! I think I love it!”
Immediately I felt the blanket of worry lift, as she sent messaged periodically about how much fun she was having, new friends she had made, and how magical America has been. My anxiety was downgraded to curiosity as I wondered if this would be maintained or if I would pull an argumentative bear out of bed the next morning.
When I made the pick up rounds with my three little ducklings and a Clifford trailing behind, I found a girl that could not stop smiling. She showed a mother for the first time the amazing work she had done listening, following along, and making friends, and for the first time in her life, she had a mother who was proud of her. She pointed at us and translated to her new friend “This is my family, This is my mom, and this is my little brother who loves dogs and cars”. She beamed for the rest of the day recounting the amazing day she had and how excited she was to return tomorrow to the endless possibilities of excitement.
The next morning the three girls were up and out of bed before I was, ready to run back to the magical place where the arts need no translations. I dropped them off and they hurriedly ran in ahead of me to say hi to the teachers they adore. More messages through the day of how great camp was, and I wonder if maybe it will just be this easy. Maybe the mix of Ukraine and America navigated with compassion, predictability, and understanding had been exactly the right ratio to help this sweet orphan fit into a family. Maybe the hours of education, preparation, and conversations were working. Maybe all my investments were paying off, and the work from both sides was making this free from the drama I had prepared for. Maybe it’s fate, or maybe it’s just a commitment of a family working really hard together to make the ship run smoothly while adding a new crew member. Either way, I’m thankful.
There is a fine balance between asserting rules at the very beginning so they are known and established, but also realizing until there is a basic relationship of trust and respect it is a very fine balance to traverse. As my relationship deepens with Alina, layers and layers of positive memories are stacked up in her trust bank. When I tell her things like “Shower now” she takes it much more seriously than she had a month ago, when she would literally roll her eyes and ignore me. She is learning not only that she is safe here, but she has a responsibility to the family to keep doing her work so she carries her share of the load to make the family run. In only one month she has transformed from being exhausting to being a delight. She has learned doing what she is expected to do makes us proud, and she loves to feel pride in her work. I had never considered she had never before had a reason to learn to be proud. Having a family to celebrate with her, and impress has given her a drive to work harder.
Today is the fourth day of YAP. Last night we laughed about translation fails, stories of the day, how exciting the opportunity has been to be invited to dance with a real dance company in a professional performance. She has started to dream. She has considered things she might want to do in the future, to dance, to draw, to take photographs. She has started to have hope. She messaged me first thing this morning, the first morning I was working and not present to take the girls to camp:
“So you are aware I am awake, but I did not want to get out of bed”.
She shows me responsibility, pride, and dedication as she pushes herself forward in this unknown world while she starts to make it her own. During a discussion last night with our piano teacher she mentioned how America was more than she’d ever dreamed. She literally had never dreamed. There are so many resources for her, so many connections to Russian speakers, and so many paths her life could take with the resources available to Americans. It makes me encouraged that she can see the unborn miracles awaiting her dedication and hard work to bring to life. The girl that refused to use the translation app and wanted to run away at the airport is contemplating how much English she can learn before she comes back to see us at Christmas. Hosting has given her dreams, goals, drive, belonging, and life. Hosting is breathing the life into her.
Imagine the miracles a forever family might bring.
With each passing day I enjoy her presence in our routine more and more, while watching the sand in my timer race with the force of gravity. The sand of time is emptying as I grasp at every single grain hoping to save the memories forever. I scan the rest of our schedule, things we want to show her, bring her to, experiences we want to share, and contemplate how to fit this all in the schedule and budget. As the summer days run full of laughter, hard work, and life, I see in my periphery the day standing in the distance waiting for me, holding the yellow shirt I must dress her in as she returns to a world without me. A world where I cannot easily provide for her, keep her fed, keep her safe. An eternity of more waiting until I can have her back with us for another round of memories. I try to focus on the grains of sand, but the pain that is to come is never far from my mind. All I can do is invest as much love, support, and trust into her bank so she returns to orphanage full of enough life to sustain her until she can again return home.
I am so thankful to the community that has rallied around this wonderful girl. The Shvets family for extending their family and love to share Ukrainian-American culture with her, The Fields for embracing her as one of our own, The YAP family for planting seeds of hope and dreams in her mind and body, The blog readers for sending us mail, encouragement and support, Ms.Margaret for Russian conversations and warm smiles, and my own children for having the understanding and compassion to share their lives with a girl so she could have a chance. As I look at an exhausting journey ahead of potentially starting an adoption process, I am scared of the costs, the navigation, the insecurity of a process constantly in flux with no guarantee until you are boarding a plane for America for the last time. I hope this community will get bigger and stronger to hold us up and get us through the endless fundraising, paperwork, and emotional American Hills of having a girl an ocean away I can see but can’t hold.
Today I will continue on, though all these emotions and look forward to each message of excitement as her bank fills with joy, hope, and love. I cannot let the dread of things to come distract me from grabbing a snapshot of every grain of sand as it falls into the past.
My story isn’t the only one. Spread across USA Host Ukraine brought 112 other kids like Alina to experience hosting, Host Ukraine is supporting aged out orphans with visits, and life sustaining supplies, orphan camps that teach skills, in addition to supporting the endless families that have come through the program and remain family. The thoughts and prayers of this community extend from the first time host parents, aged out orphans, sending supplies to orphanages to provide resources so needed, all the way to the families that started with hosting and are in country right now struggling to bring their children home forever. This project is bigger than me, bigger than Alina, and goes back to the world wide orphan crisis. I hope everyone that reads our story can find someone to share it with, so they can share it as well, and the world will finally worry more about how to advocate for change to end the orphan crisis than the current manufactured news. Supporting each family and creating resources to bring these kids home forever goes beyond my family or the next, it is changing the world for so many kids who have had all the odds stacked against them.
You don’t have to be a host family to be part of the Host Ukraine Family. Talk about the project, share with your friends, support families like mine with fundraising, words of encouragement, and whatever energy you can send. This program is changing lives, you never know what way it might change yours.