We went into this hosting experience knowing it’d be unlike anything we’ve done before. And we weren’t wrong. The days are filled with a swarm of thoughts, efforts, oversights, and wonderings that are new. The whole climate of day-to-day life is, quite simply, different. As of course it should be when we’re spending 5+ weeks with a person we’d never met who speaks a different language.
But with time and shared experiences, real relationship grows and a sort of normalcy takes shape too. And that’s certainly – blessedly – where we are now in our fourth week. W. is – as I mentioned before – generally a pretty easy person to have around. He’s adaptable. He jumps into whatever’s going on – cooking food, walking the new dog, swim practice, helping change the oil in the car. He tolerates the things he’d rather not do – bedtime earlier than he’d wish, going to Sunday School when he’s the oldest child by 2 or 3 years – without complaining. And he’s more talkative now than he was in his early weeks, shares his real opinion more freely, and asks lots of questions.
In general terms, W. functions as a normal and even affable kid. The notes of his former host family (he came to the US through the program two summers ago) show their experience with him was similar; the two short lines of comments written by his Latvian foster mother on his P143 bio said basically the same thing. He’s been in the same foster home for two plus years and seems to have a pretty good relationship his foster parents, and with the two other kids who live there. He appears to enjoy school and the activities he does there.
This stands in contrast, as far as I can tell, to most children who come from orphanage settings. Latvia is trying to phase out orphanages entirely, replicating the kind of model we have in the US where all parentless children live in foster homes. But today, orphanages as still more common than in foster homes. And as we all probably know, it’s much, much harder to grow up in the average orphanage than in many other places (including the average foster home).
One fantastic thing that Project 143 does is host a closed online discussion forum for host parents and former host parents– who can jump on there and ask questions, share photos, discuss concerns, request prayer. It’s incredibly helpful and encouraging. It’s been interesting to see the threads there from parents hosting different kids from different backgrounds. A number of them are facing challenging behaviors in their host children – food issues, anger, manipulation. These issues are, frankly, the kinds of thing that one anticipates seeing in kids who have suffered neglect and live without parents. Then others on the opposite end of the spectrum are host parents who find themselves engaging with pretty well-behaved, seemingly well-adjusted kids – polite, bright, capable. It’s almost confusing, like a non sequitur. This latter group – the one we’re in with our W. – seems to mainly contain kids who’ve spent their time in foster care settings rather than orphanages.
Engaging with this second group of course raises questions for host parents. Like: the kid seems to be doing pretty well overall; would it be best for them to stay long-term in that setting (if that’s an option)? Is it possible that the foster parent might make the kid a part of their permanent family? (The answer is generally no.) If leaving a home of relative stability and contentment to go to a forever family is a possibility for the kid, is this the best option? It’s hard to know. It’s even harder to know when you know very little about your host child’s background and circumstances… And when the topic of adoption is strictly off the table (organization’s policy, and a wise one in my estimation.) But you wonder how he’s experiencing everything that’s happening here; what his thoughts are. Then you go back to wondering about what your own thoughts about the whole thing are… And they seem to vary day to day, especially for a someone prone to over-thinking, like me. [And the online forum shows me I'm not the only one.]
All that to say: it’s complicated. Which is OK. As far as I can tell, most things about orphans and orphan care (and adoption) are complicated one way or another. It goes with the territory. On the forum, an experienced host parent advised someone who was finding it all too overwhelming to contemplate: “Live in the present. Focus on your hosting and the time you have now.” Wisdom: be here now. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do.
So without further ado, here are some fun shots of recent activities with our plunge-right-in boy:
(Part of a blogging series on orphan-hosting with Project 143)
Originally published July 20, 2014.