Going into hosting we are repeatedly told to have no expectations. This is clearly the most praised stance of any parent entering the world of parenting children from a faraway land in a sea of unfamiliarity. I had done as much hypothesizing as I could, reading memoirs, support groups, testimonies, laws, and adoption stories in preparation for what was headed my way. I threw myself directly into the middle of the community as much as they would have me. I volunteered for everything I could, I started learning Ukrainian geography, language, sociology, and history. I learned as much as I could about life in an orphanage, the time after ‘graduation’, the options available to the kids, and what the adoption process looked like. I had to know everything, because not knowing feeds the demons of uncertainty inside my mind.
When the kids initially arrived there was a buzzing in the support groups, messages from families, translators, forms and photos that had to be sent. There was a nervousness in the air as the first time families looked to the returning families for guidance and reassurance. As the days started we had a unfamiliar girl in our family, and much like a first date, in that situation no one really knows how to act.
How much behavior do you excuse for settling in. How many things are done on purpose rather than not knowing better. With your own children you have a good handle on the expectation level that is appropriate, and even in America children there is usually a recognizable stages of development, even if some stages are stunted or missed. The lack of orphanages in America has made us all but unaware of the unique challenges and paths of development institutionalization creates. The seas we navigated had highs and lows, but a smooth sea never created a skilled sailor. There was never a part of this journey to date that I thought wasn’t worth it, even as I look at less than half of the summer left, 33 days until I dress her in a yellow shirt and send my heart away.
As time moved forward we settled in and became familiar, learning each other through charades, and patterns, we all settled in to our roles, and Alina too settled in to the family. I moved away from the support groups because it was important for me to focus my energy in, working on our own strategies to set the path for success, I had less energy for the static of the examples I could not relate to. Every journey is so individual, and so much if it is based on your own emotional intelligence, you realize how healthy you actually are versus what you thought you were. Through hosting and our shift to add Lori full time to our family I have come to learn the process of parenting kids from trauma is very much like a final exam of your own therapy. How to separate yourself and objectively steer a child in the correct direction based on only the lessons of life rather than your raw emotions is difficult and something you absolutely can prepare for, just not in a few weeks between signing up for hosting and actually parenting.
The strategy involved in monitoring, trusting, consequencing, encouraging, and molding children should not be taken lightly. It involves more than one parent, more than one family, more than the people of the past. The world is a fluid life force with all the factors of all the beings interacting together, influencing one another for the worse or the better. The best I can do with my life is effect as much positive productivity on the world as I can control, and this goes beyond just smiling at the store or making soup for a neighbor. It goes into the depths of my soul to examine my own thinking, my own feelings, and my own intentions. A university teacher told me once, there is no way to achieve self actualization, but you should never stop trying. I don’t need a religion to make me understand that every thought I have, every word I speak, and every interaction I am involved in is part of the worlds constant flux. The best thing I can do is sort through my own past in order to make it to a level where I can steer my children to avoid the lessons I had to learn through burned bridges and lifelong consequences. I’m thankful I’ve reached at least this level toward self actualization prior to be challenged with two girls from hard pasts.
When I was younger I was very alone. I looked around me at all the people I wanted to be like, I created my own definitions of success and failure, as we all do. I was attracted to people who knew themselves well and were secure in their identities. I was drawn to families that worked, lived, and played together. I longed for a family to hold me up the way so many of my peers had been gifted by life. I realized the only way for me to finally belong, was to make my own unit that I raised from the dust. Here I sit, some 33 years after being born to less than ideal circumstances, married to a man who is kind and patient enough to allow me to fill my house with chaos so I can grow my own support system, and a family I’ve never had but so desperately longed for. I have been given the opportunity to be the mother I so craved, and in this opportunity I am so honored. The paths my children take will be directly relational to the work, dedication, and resources I provide to them. Raising a family to be strong, work hard, and fulfilled is no easy task. It is exceptionally hard with no reference of my own except the examples of the families I’ve only caught glimpses of. Everything I do is methodical and working in a clear direction. Sometimes the paths take turns I never expected, but adaptation is necessary to survive in the ebb and flow of the world. I’m not trying to keep up with the Jones’. I’m creating a legacy from dust.
Having an orphan from another country has been nothing but another path the family has to learn to support. Each of our members has their own story, their own work, and their own dreams. Identifying the strengths, struggles, and desires of each member is a team effort. Having a large family is busy beyond words, but also exceptionally rewarding. When I attend a live performance, I become part of the dancer’s life, if only for a moment, the dancer shares with me and everyone else in the audience a part of themselves. It is a raw and beautiful opportunity to be invited inside someone for even a short moment in time. This moment we share is different for everyone in the audience as it is reverberated off each individuals life experiences, moods, and knowledge. The mind expanding honor of being involved intimately with someone whom you have maybe never had a conversation with is transcendent. Being part of 6 children’s choreography is an honor beyond words. I look forward to every dress rehearsal through their lives. It all prepares them to go off and create their own productions, all of which I was their foundation. How amazing to be entrusted with such important work.
One of my very few positive childhood memories is the Theater at Monmouth. My wonderful grandparents who are no longer with us understood the importance of expanding my world. They provided me with every children’s play available, every book they could find, every music event obtainable, and this was essential to preserving what my trauma could not break. It kept alive my intimacy for the world. Shaking the hands of the actors following a performance, or speaking to the members of the community band bonded me to them in a silent reverberation that was sent out in the universe. It created in me a love for the arts, a curiosity for the world, and a determination to find my place. Did my grandparents know the key to saving my life was expanding my world? This no one will ever know, but the lesson was learned and I strive to gift the world to my own children. Everyone wants to give their children the world, but how many identified what this really means to them. Is it endless toys they will forget? Is it movies and media that gives us nothing but an illusion of connections? Is it teaching them to quiet their demons with endless junk food because of our own history? What exactly is it to give children the world.
I brought here a girl with no idea of the world. Through a shift in the tides I was connected to a resource of wonderful friends at Bates Dances Festival. Through 6 years of participation I have been drawn closer to their stories, their feelings, their souls, and I have extended to a girl who came with nothing and had no one the opportunity to be part of something so much bigger than us all. I have been tasked with teaching her to respect the possibilities before her, teach her to focus like she’d never been asked, and raised the expectations of working hard, being responsible, and respecting the opportunity not everyone is afforded.
Alina knows all too well that opportunity isn’t offered to everyone. She comes from a place where most people she knows are not given a chance, and the best way to survive is a good attitude.
“It is important to focus at camp. This is an honor to be invited to dance with a real company. You must do your best work possible to be thankful for this opportunity”.
“Yes, Not everyone is given opportunity in life. I understand and I will do my best”. She replies.
And her best I believe she does. She has come to a unfamiliar place, and the expectations she had were non-existent. She had no dreams except how to learn to dream.
This summer has not only given her the opportunity to see what the world can offer, but it has challenged her to a steep learning curve for which she rises with all the capacity she has within her. She is motivated to learn, to focus, to work hard, because she realizes she has been given the opportunity to participate in the world she had only seen from her window, and she respects the honor it is. Does she still pull her phone out during the wrong times, jump in front of people taking photos, ignore prompts to shower, and pout occasionally? Yes, she’s 14. She’s come from a world so vastly different, and she cannot be held to perform skills she has not ever learned. She has transformed this summer from a girl who refused to wear a helmet to a girl zipping up and down the street on her bike, safely. She accepts every challenge put before her, and we reward her with encouragement, patience, and guidance through opportunity that builds upon itself to transform her from an audience member who passively participates, to a dancer on the stage of the world.
You never know when you might have the chance to impact someone’s life. Just playing in the community band may have a life long impression on a young child. The challenge is to do what you love, and send your energy out into the world so that others might too be inspired by your love and joy.
Hosting isn’t for everyone, but love and kindness certainly should be. There are a endless list of ways to help spread love and kindness. Even helping to support an important mission like ours changes the entire world for a girl who spent 14 years waiting to be invited to dance.
Endless Thanks to the people who are helping us make this summer possible. The kindness and patience of our Bates Dance Family has left me tearfully speechless. From their daily guidance, hours of work, invitations to dress rehearsals, and warm hugs, you have given me the energy to continue the mission and rise up a girl to join our dance. Thank you to my neighbor Cheri who selflessly extended her offer to drive the girls to save me the nightmare of dragging 6 kids out of bed in the morning, to the Kovacevich family for always attending our parties and events and always being available to us anytime we are in need, to our closest family friends the Fields (and Jacquie and Dave!) for wiping my tears, dancing in the celebrations, and raising my children with me. Thank you to Tessa who is the warmest soul and keeps me on track, my cousin Paula and her husband Josh who have been my biggest cheerleaders and mentors, Randy, Michelle and Abby who are always here when we need them, and last but far from least my amazing husband who is always tearing down my walls as fast as I try to build them up. Thanks to everyone who has sent letters, donations, prayers, and hugs. I hope through this journey we continue to add dancers and raise the resources needed to bring a girl from isolation into dancing in our world of endless opportunity. Continue to share our story, spread the word, and encourage people to join us as we attempt the impossible and give life to a girl. This takes a community, and anyone that wants to learn to love more is encouraged to join.