Four days since she left has felt like weeks. Our busy lives continue, as do the endless messages and video chats from Ukraine. I wasn’t sure how quickly or how much we would hear from her. She messaged me as soon as she was back in her orphanage, and non-stop since. Like in most areas Alina never ceases to amaze me.
Realistic expectations have been the most important key to a successful summer. I feel that realistic expectations is something our society struggles with. The lack of self introspection and work on ourselves has further created a divide between our happiness and enjoyment of our lives. I spend much of my time preparing for the worst case of every scenario and being overjoyed if the experience is just semi normal. Going into hosting was no different, I expected the kid that was going to runaway and throw fits, and was pleasantly surprised when I got a sweet girl who has settled in perfectly. I don’t think i’m lucky, I think I was prepared. It takes more than a few weeks of reading to truly prepare to help children from hard pasts work through their history, and without working on their history there is no future. Preparedness takes years of self work, ability to see beyond the moment, to the root of each behavior, and the emotional intelligence to see that each behavior is a tiny child crying out for help. Behavior is just a way of exhibiting what they don’t have the skills to articulate. If you can start early and respond to the behaviors and answer the questions that they cannot ask, you earn trust and your hosting will go much smoother. If you think you’re hosting because orphans are cute and you think it will be easy, then hosting isn’t for you, and that’s okay. It isn’t for everyone. Thankfully for Alina, it was for us and I could read her messages better than I read Russian.
In planning for the future of my family it is very important to run through each child’s history, present, and future goals. Things they’re working on, the developmental milestones, the interpersonal relationships, the hobbies they are trying to master. In only a short summer the assessment of where we are with Alina is complicated by the fact that it is extremely difficult to ensure accuracy with communications. The journey to get to know a girl, gain her trust, and make her part of a pre-established family unit has been a challenge, but one I expected. It is a similar repeat to adding Lori into our family, a process the younger children love, and a process the older ones are familiar with. Without the support of every member of my family this would not have gone so well. I’m so thankful to have such a great group of kids at home. It is no small task to learn what it means when she chews her nails, or when she pulls her hair in her face. It is the most essential work I’ve ever done to assess how they’re feeling before they even know. This was the biggest work in hosting, pulling out the meaning of each message she didn’t know she was sending. I’m so thankful for my ability to read their feelings and for Alina’s unique insight. She has been an amazing girl to work work, and learns quickly to use words, coping skills, and contemplate feelings. I’m so thankful to connect with a girl excited about working as hard as we are.
The journey of our summer has been more than how to make Alina comfortable. It has been a learning process for each of the kids to think outside themselves, to learn to be selfless, and compassionate. They have learned to be patient, to be role models, to be teachers, to be students. We have challenged Alina to step outside her comfort zones and learn and experience new things, and in turn we must do the same. This summer has challenged our entire family to grow, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. This summer is so much less about how I feel personally, and so much more about how I can conduct the most beautiful orchestra by highlighting each child while all playing together in time. What a privilege to be leading these amazing kids.
As we prepared for her to leave, things went smoothly. She seemed to address leaving with a flat affect. Never offering she’d miss us, but reciprocating with a “I’ll miss you too” when we offered the thought. She seemed happy enough to return to Ukraine, but I knew it would be a matter of time before she started missing the first family she’s ever had. She went to the airport nervously biting her fingers, but continued to smile for the photos and spent last few minutes pretending it was a day like any other. When her smiles drained to dread and her stoic face looked back as we waved and blew kisses, I knew she was certainly our girl. Bravely she marched on, because she knew this was not a choice. The thoughts running through her head without consciousness, would we forget her? Would we really bring her back at Christmas? Would we keep our word and stay in touch? She handled her worry with grace as she used the new skills she learned this summer to be a friendly and helpful sister to the group traveling with her. We are so touched by the remarks of our Director who commented on the transformation that has taken place between her first flight, unwilling to communicate and completely withdrawn, to a girl who was happy to help others because she had spent the entire summer finally belonging.
Since her return we have had endless messages start around 3am straight through until dinner. time. I’m not sure she’s slept at all since she left us.
“Why do I have a car in my backpack?”
“I guess Ollie thought you would need it so you don’t forget him.”
“I will never forget him, this is truth.”
“We will never forget you either, we miss you everyday.”
“I miss you. I want to come home. I used the soap you sent, it smells super. Like home”.
Four days after her necessary return trip to Ukraine, she starts to process her summer memories. Equipped with her memory book and social medias she sits bored in her orphanage. She lays in bed most of the day, she had one day of school and now a weekend. She has had nothing but time to think about how much she misses us, and to contemplate her future. Although I’m busy my responsiveness is essential in building the trust of our relationship. She knows too well the pain of disappointment and she cannot handle any slight miscommunication that makes her feel that we are too busy for her and have forgotten. This is not to say I answer the messages at 3am, but with sensitive reminders not to send any messages to America before a certain time, I remind her why I didn’t respond, holding my boundaries and expectations while still sending the messages of love and support.
“I want to write to you”
“What do you want to say?”
“I want to tell you about my English lessons. I will write to you in English and my teacher will be surprised. I am excited for tomorrow to have an English lesson.” She sets goals, overflowing with hope.
This from a girl who refused to use the translator for the first two days she was here, and told us repeatedly all summer “English is boring, it’s not interesting to me”. She was very resistant to learning new words and was happy to just speak through google translate no matter how slaughtered the translation. Just a few weeks before she left she remarked “Even when I live here I’ll just use my translator, I won’t need English” and couldn’t accept the reality that this would certainly not be the case. After only four days of missing us shes excited to learn. The absence has a purpose in the processing, and we will all be better for it.
“Do you still have on your amusement park pink bracelet?”
“Of course, I promised.” A promise I made to keep it on until it falls off, her first mother-daughter pact.
Her messages are full of excitement for the contact, sadness in her longing, anxiety that we may forget about her, and desperation for love. I have received endless messages from other girls who recently returned to Ukraine. They reach out to any American mom they can find. They crave the kind encouragement of a strong woman. I send messages to many reminding them that in America we love them. We are excited to hear about their day, and we want to remind them they are worth it. Just having someone to message with good news, with sadness, or with uncertainty is helping lift these girls out of desperation. I’m so thankful to Host Ukraine for putting me in a position to be able to support these girls, if even in this simple task.
We are sad she’s gone and our summer ended, but more than sad, we are happy and thankful. Without an end we would not appreciate the gift of being together. With no room to suffer we have no room to grow closer together. Without an ocean between us we would never fuel our desire to work hard to
bring her home. There is a purpose in everything, and for this growth I am happy and thankful. I welcome the challenge the separation will bring to grow us all into more tolerant, patient, and thankful people. Over all I am thankful for the pain.
As I sit for another 7 hour day in the airport stuck between where I’m going and where I’ve been, I give thanks for every possibility of positive outcomes starting to grow. Thanks Spirit for the 14 hours of quiet contemplation. I’m thankful for technology keeping me in such close contact with all my kids whether a few states or an entire continent away, we will always follow our red string back to find each other.
Thank you Host Ukraine for challenging us to grow into a better family. It all started with you. Now its time to get the community together to bring Alina Home.