Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being a kid


I was looking at pictures that a girl from the orphanage had posted on a social networking site, and was seeing this weird dichotomy, but couldn’t put a finger on where it was coming from. The pictures represented her as your average teen girl who aspires to be on a magazine cover…13 going on 30.

I guess I wouldn’t have thought twice (though it makes me sad) if I hadn’t known her in a different context. This was the girl who dreamed of being adopted. She had a loving grandmother, but the grandmother was getting older, and put her in the orphanage.

Lena desperately wanted to go visit an American family for Christmas. She had been interviewed and was on the list, but she didn’t actually find out until the last minute that she could go.

Fast-forward to a few months later, where I saw her again in the orphanage, and this time she had an album full of memories of her “American vacation.” I guess I have mixed feelings about whether or not these trips are good. I’m always glad to hear that one of the visits led to adoption, but for this girl, it didn’t.

Fast-forward again. She left the orphanage at 14 or 15 and was supposedly in tech school, but seemed to be enjoying a little taste of “independence,” staying out all night and such. I happened to be around when she dropped by the orphanage one day...out of grocery money, it seemed. Then the other day I was sitting there looking at some new "beauty shots" she'd posted and remembering another photo album, the one with her host family. And it dawned on me what the family visit had done…it had given her a chance to be a kid. 

Lots of teenagers experiment, go to parties, try to spread their wings a little…but the difference is that they go home at night. The most sophisticated 15 yr old you know? At the end of the day her mother probably still does her laundry, or maybe makes her hot chocolate, or whatever.

I could see Lena in a family…sure, at 13 she was already attracting boys and trying that whole scene. But I could also see this spirited young lady bickering with her siblings, rolling her eyes at her dad’s jokes, bellowing “M-o-o-o-o-m!” when she needed something. But that wasn’t the reality she got.

She didn’t have a chance to be a kid. Sometimes we criticize parenting styles, thinking that kids are experiencing too much, too early. Too much homework…too much looking after younger siblings…too much loss of innocence. They grow up too soon. Do any of us actually know what that’s like? The thing is, the orphanage does give them a lot of the experiences of childhood. They have toys to play with, movies to watch, people protecting them. But childhood is more. Coming “home” to Uncle Boris the security guy (no matter how kind) and Sasha the watch dog is just not the same as coming home to a mom and dad.

I've analyzed the plight of Russian orphans to death on here, it seems. Maybe there is nothing left to say. But every once in a while I see one of their faces and think "But she's really a KID," and wonder if she'll ever actually be treated that way, as someone's kid. Because being a kid isn't about being a certain age or having/not having certain skills...it's about being SOMEBODY'S.

5 comments:

  1. This is an absolutely beautiful post, and insight.... I hardly know what I think..... It always breaks my heart when children are hosted and don't find a home... If every one of them knew they were just coming for a visit, it would be one thing - they'd all have a great visit, but when some are adopted and others (who are available) are not...it just seems so sad.

    It is the way of life that some kids have privileges and benefits in life that others don't, but somehow having a loving family is something all children deserve.

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  2. I should add one more thing, though.... Some kids cannot handle a family when their early life has been too traumatic. One girl I know, adopted by dear friends of mine, seemed like such a precious homebody. We had her babysit our kids! But, early sexual abuse and parental neglect had so twisted her soul that she couldn't make it in a family. As puberty had its way with her she changed from sweet Sasha into what she is now - an exotic dancer (and hooker, I'm pretty sure) who posts things on FB that completely turn my stomach, in an inner city "voice". She does not seem to see any beauty in herself and all she observes in herself or anyone else is crass and vulgar. It breaks my heart.

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  3. It wasn't really about the hosting program, more about how there is always another side. Sometimes it is hidden and sometimes it comes to the surface. I keep track of so many of these kids I know, via the Internet. Every time they post new photos I just want to ask, "who are you really?" And about being "in a family," what does that mean really...under one roof? It may be hard for kids to live in a family, especially if they are used to a Russian orphanage. Different culture+ different structure. Maybe group homes ARE better...but couldn't they still be "adopted," have an honorary family, even if they don't live with them?

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  4. An honorary family...I kind of like that idea. Years ago, my mother "adopted" a child through one of those tv ads. She thought she was really being like a grandma/pen pal to a child. When she found out the letters and pictures were just of kids in a general sense, she was very disappointed. There are probably plenty of people who would send gifts and make contact with kids who need connections.

    Found this blog doing research for a novel...glad I did! Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. I know some people who have sponsored children. That makes me sad that there are scams or other forms of misleading people.

      The orphanages have some private sponsors that help with gifts and such. Sometimes they come visit. But as far as contact, it's important for kids to understand what the commitment level is. It would almost be better to stay on the level of "sponsor" and not break a child's heart, rather than promise more and then let him/her down. But in general, they do need contact with families. It can just be hard to facilitate.

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