Sunday, April 15, 2007

Saturday afternoon

We paid a little visit to the bowling alley with some kids from one of the orphanages… the botanical garden girls, in fact. The counselor made sure we met the newest girls to join their group, two sisters named Nastia and Lena. They also have an older brother in the orphanage and a baby brother who lives with the mother. They have 4 different fathers.

As we began bowling, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and there was a pirate standing there. Well, a man in a pirate’s costume. He had said something to me, but when I turned around he turned serious and said “Hello, madam.” It turned out that he was supposed to be doing entertainment for the birthday party in the next lane. Shortly after that the guests arrived and would not even crack a smile as he did his routine. Poor guy!

Our girls did okay. I was looking at the 6 yr olds in the next lane and noticing that they were almost the same size as Nastia, our 9 yr old. Nastia is cross-eyed and hadn’t been going to school regularly, but is actually quite smart. Her sister Lena is 13, studying at a 3rd grade level, suffers from epileptic fits, and wets the bed. The counselor dotes on them as she does all of her kids. However, the other girls were not as pleased with the newcomers. "They behave very badly," one whispered to me. They described the older sister as mean.

As we left the bowling alley, another girl Olya's mother (foster mother?) had come to take her for the evening. "She really loves Olya," said the counselor. "She just can't handle her. Olya goes out to parties and drinks. But I think the parents should learn how to get past these problems." Yeah, how about dealing with the problems rather than sending the kids off to an orphanage every time there's a conflict? What kind of parenting is that?

We were walking out the door and Lena (the one with epilepsy)got a little lost, so I went back for her. I didn't try to force conversation, thinking she wasn't interested. Then to my surprise she took my hand. Her hand was very cold. "Sometimes my eyes start blinking and it's hard to see." I looked at her and her eyelids were fluttering uncontrollably. "I can't see either when I don't wear glasses (or contacts)," I said as she squinted at me.

Then it was time to say goodbye.

I won't go so far as to call children "angels." But I felt as though these girls, with all their sicknesses and behavioral problems, were gifts sent from above.

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