Our oldest had cub scout camp this week, and Friday was his final day. Ten minutes before he headed out the door for his carpool, W. (our Project 143 host child who had just flown in from Latvia the day before) woke up and padded downstairs. We had some bracelet-making bands out on the table, and we showed W. how to finger-weave them into a bracelet. He immediately set to it with proficiency, and it was clear that he’s put at ease by having something to do with his hands.
We had a quiet morning, the three girls and W. and I – just what the circumstances seemed to call for. We jumped on the trampoline and enjoyed oogling a tree frog that was clinging to the side netting and trying to climb up. Just as he’d get up about halfway up, he’d tumble to the bottom for more bouncing. Quite funny and a good ice-breaker. We reviewed vocab- English and Latvian- for frog, legs, eyes. green, yellow, and black (the colors on its body). W. genuinely did not seem to mind hanging out with a bunch of little kids, girls at that, and me. Afterwards we came in and played a round of Race to the Roof, which I chose because there are no words and it’s good for vocab review. Again – fine. W. was fine to play and engaged.
I gave everyone a little room time and prepared to head to the pool for Littlest’s swim lesson at 11 AM. W’s only shoes were sneakers, not great for the pool, and the shoes I had on hand for him were far too small. He wears size 7! We stopped at Dollar General for crocs, which they didn’t have, and ended up with flimsy flip-flops as a stopgap.
Unless you're actively doing swim lessons/team, you’re not allowed to swim in the large pool. Bystanders can play in the small baby pool if they are under 6… or over 6 but chill and not-splashy. So the two older girls and W. and I bided our time in the baby pool while Littlest swam, but I could tell he wanted into the big pool. At the end of the lesson I asked the instructor if W. could hop in so I could assess his swim skills; she gladly obliged. He made it quite easily across the pool; I’d describe his style as enhanced doggy-paddle- keeping his face above water. They said they’d place him at Level 2 for swim lessons, and since Level 2 was about to start up, I asked if they minded if he tried out a class. Again, they were happy to do it. (Such great staff at our pool!). I explained – thank you Google Translate! – that he could stay in the big pool but only if he took the class with the other kids and tried to do what the instructors said. He said ok and hopped in.
I admit it – I was a little stunned. Here’s a kid who’s less than 24 hours off the plane and barely speaks the language, only moderately comfortable swimming… jumping right into a lesson. Talk about a bold spirit! At the end they let the kids go down the slide… Clearly W’s favorite part.
We lunched and rest-timed, and at the end of rest time I had a few minutes to quietly look over an “opposites” puzzle one of the girls had out on the floor. I reviewed each of the words with W – back and front, in and out, up and down (etc) – in English (he seemed to know them all already) and had them say the equivalent in Latvian. I knew only about 25%. Felt like a good bonding exercise.
One of the most inspiring things in the weeks prethinking W’s arrival was finding and reading through another P143 mom’s blog, A Moose in Moscow. There’s a private online group for participating host parents, and I found her blog through that. Molly is a photographer, an adoptive mama to three, and a fellow first-time host mom. Her thoughts and steps are really, really helpful and inspiring (and her photos are beautiful).
It all started with this: 67 Things I Want Her to Know. It’s a paper chain with 67 links, one for each night her host daughter is here (she’s on the extended program)… and each, in Molly’s words, “inside each link is something I want her to know. About half are Bible verses and half are affirmations. Things like ‘L is a joy to be around.’ or John 3:16.”
I read this a few days before W’s arrival and it really got me. It struck me as exactly the kind of helpful thing to be pre-thinking and pre-praying before W. arrived… The important stuff that I want us to try to impart, soul-level, during his time with us. But I hadn’t yet. So I started. What kinds of things do I want this kid to take away from his weeks with us? And what’s the best way to get that stuff into his heart? (You should check the blog out because she’s full of great, big-picture stuff about what this is supposed to be all about for those of us participating. I find that reading it really pulls me out of the weeds).
And I think Molly hits it on the head: bravery is a great place to start. Incredibly brave to be a kid without parts jumping on a plane and flying across the world to spend weeks and weeks with total strangers, hoping for the best. Putting yourself out there. Amazing, when you step back and think about.
So last night I wrote out some Latvian words on an index card – Google Translate saves the day again – and put it on his bed. It simply stated that he did a great job with his swimming, that he was brave to take the lesson, and I was proud of him. All true. I anticipated that he’d read it after he went to bed but he picked it right up while I was still bustling upstairs and read it in front of me. He looked up and smiled. I said in Latvian, “You understand?” and he nodded. I hugged him, and it went ok – a little better than the airport, though not exactly reciprocation. He pulled out the little photo booklet I’d given him the day before and slipped the note into one of the blank pages. And I breathed thankfulness that I’d followed the Holy Spirit-prompt and done this small thing.
And this is what it’s about, I think. Noticing his gifts and strengths. Calling out positives. Nurturing, in small ways. Intentionally saying affirming things, true things, to a heart that has been (one can only imagine) under-mothered for years – perhaps for his whole life. God wove this child together in the depths of a sacred womb; he’s fearfully and wonderfully made – and wholly beloved. I get to be a part of conveying this true and holy identity – in haphazardly and improperly-translated words – into this kids’ life. For these weeks. Such privilege.
Since then we have had many other fun moments. The kids had received him well and greatly enjoying having him around. The language barrier is real and occasionally taxing, but overall it has not been the impediment that I feared it might be.
The trampoline is a huge hit, especially light-saber fights on the trampoline. During the eldest’s swim team practice this morning, W. played soccer with a couple other kids behind the pool. We went to the library. swam at the YMCA this morning so I could work with W on his strokes, and so he could play more (since he can’t at the swim team pool). He loved it and was extremely receptive to my teaching. He was fine putting his face in the water by the end of our time. Seems to be a ready learner. He got an archery lesson from Host Dad:
Full, full few days.
(Part of a blogging series on orphan-hosting with Project 143)
Originally posted on June 28. 2014