05 May 2009

a fond, simple story

(I should explain to new readers that "my" girls in 3.10 are girls that I sponsor. I visit, take birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, and just spend afternoons with them. They are beautiful and amazing. They hold a very large piece of my heart. If you click on the 3.10 label at the end of the post or in the sidebar, you can read their story. I have not yet received a referral.)

I've been thinking about a snip of a conversation that we had with the girls while we were having tea and cupcakes Saturday. (Marina was surprised that we shared teabags. I am a pro at this by now--steeping just long enough to tint the water brown before passing it on.) Marina asked if I'd made the cupcakes. "Of course," the girls and I replied. They've gone from surprise that I'd baked on my first birthday visit, to boasting on my behalf to newcomers several visits later, to now resting in fact that I do this for them every time. I really like that, actually. It sounds like they're taking it for granted that I'd make something for them, expecting this to happen. I am so glad! It's nice to be taken for granted in this way. It's nice to be expected and trusted.

Marina asked the girls if they cooked. They said no, that they didn't get cooking lessons until eighth grade. She asked them something else about cooking and it was explained to her that cooking was not allowed in the orphanage. (extrapolate the "filling may be hot" warning on mcd's apple pies and tint it with Russian bureaucracy)

Then their caretaker told a fond, simple story about potato salad. One time, she said, she'd helped the girls to make potato salad. It was all very secretive, which I can only imagine added to the delight. After they'd made it, she said, they all ate as much as they wanted. Usually, she explained, they were only given a small amount. But that night they could have it all.

Writing this makes me teary. It's not just the simple delight in a meal cooked and shared. I can see their eyes gleaming as they lick sticky fingers. I can hear their stifled giggles and loud admonitions to one another to be careful, to be quiet, to not make a mess. I am sure that Vera, my little monkey, dropped something and crinkled up her shoulders, smiling, while the others rushed forward to affectionately scold her and relieve her of her duty. I can smell the vinegar. I wish I'd been part of that feast! I would love to have seen them so full and happy, full of love and adventure and potato salad.

The fact that these girls, who are 8-13 years old, don't cook has a far greater significance than I realized when I first heard the story. When I heard it, I tucked it away in the part of my heart that holds their histories. But it rattled around in there. It niggled. And I realized, driving home, that it couldn't simply be tucked away because it was more than history. It wasn't the same sadness that engulfed me this time last year when I gave K her first lotion, (read it if you haven't) but it was similar.

The niggling came not from regret that this self-made feast had only happened once in their lives, but because this little story showed how unprepared my girls are for the real world that is facing them in just a few short years. They don't know how to cook. They don't know how to do laundry. They don't know how to shop or handle money. They don't have the life skills that they'll need to leave the orphanage and succeed.

And, oh, how I want them to succeed. (When teaching Shakespeare, I tell my actors that long vowels--especially those on their own like "ay" and "oh"-- release emotion. Read that again. It's a groan, a moan, a sigh, a cry.) And, ohhhhhh, how I want them to succeed.

There is one program here in St. Petersburg that I've heard about (though there are rumors that it's defunct) that helps eight girls each year who leave the orphanages to live outside an institution. I'll let you know what I find out about it.

14 comments:

Tami said...

My heart breaks with yours. These children are so precious...I wish there was more we could do.
When we were in Kiev, we stayed at an orphanage during our adoption. While there we met the social worker who was working to help the kids when they left the orphanage. If you would like, I could put you in touch with him. He may have some ideas for you. Let me know.
((hugs))

Lea said...

That is heartbreaking. It is such a shame that, after spending the money and time to raise these children in the orphanages, they can't figure out a way to provide a better program to help them succeed once they leave. It is as if they are doing just enough, because the world would not approve of little children dying on the streets. But once they are no longer considered little children, it is acceptable to dump them on the streets, even knowing their chances of survival are so very low.

Tina in CT said...

Heartbreaking!

Carolynn and Steve said...

Kate, I don't have words for how much this touched me. Thank you for all the good that you are doing, and please know that I'm keeping you in my prayers about all of this. If there is any way that I can help, I would be more than glad to do so.

Hugs

The Holmes Crew said...

I understand completely! We've been home now a little more than 2 months with Harry and each time we experience another "first" (i.e. running through the sprinkler in the back yard, birthday party for a friend, baking cookies as a family, movie night complete with all you can eat popcorn and the otherwise forbidden soda, etc.) my heart sweels with joy for him, but a part of me is saddened by the fact these are so foreign to him - a child who will be 5 in a few months! And that makes me think of the kids we left behind - the kids who may never ever experience such simple joys...

Rachael said...

Hey, that's a fabulous idea for a project for our little IA blog circle to support/fundraise for, with you as our emissary: the K8C Girls' Club, or something like that.

beckyww said...

I feel the pain you feel. Makes me sick.

Kathy Friend said...

OH, that is so sad! I do a lot of thinking about those things too. Like what is going to happen the first time Anya hears the buzz of the washer or dryer. Or thinking about watching her run around in the front yard, or sing in a Christmas program at church.

I've heard about kids who are in an orphanage in Russia who don't know that potatos come from the ground...and have to be cooked.

Something has to be done - but the problem seems so big!

Roxy said...

My daughter at 4 had never seeing a kitchen, which meant she did not know there were choices. Fast forward almost 3 years and she is a pro at making mac'n'cheese, getting her own milk, Popsicles .....ahhhhhh how I feel it for all of them.

votemom said...

the older sasha gets, the more i hope he'll keep his "special needs" label so he won't end up on the street. isn't that pathetic?

this was beautifully (painfully beautiful) written kate.

Annie said...

I feel even worse, now....

Yet, they do have those precious shared memories provided by that loving caregiver. One thing that the children I have adopted share is great fondness for their caregivers, who unlike most childcare providers in this country, are long-term and truly dedicated to the children. My children always want to send back letters and gifts....

One missionary I know is starting a farm for aged-out orphans where they can learn farming, cooking, food preservation skills, away from the glamorous temptations of the city.

And, in another orphanage in Ivanovo, the children live in multi-age "family" groups (and family members are kept together although other children make up the remaining 7-10 members in each group.) They do all the household chores, washing, cleaning, etc. I don't think they cook all the meals, by any means, but they do have a stove available in their group area. One little girl adopted from that orphanage did a fundraiser to buy her group a vacuum cleaner! She'd learned that much about household chores!

Annie said...

I also was thinking....on the other end of sad... My Ilya, who only experienced the comparative "luxury" of orphanage life for a short while, is an old hand at just about any work - cooking, washing, cleaning, gardening, even sewing. Why? Because as a tiny boy he had to do it all if it were to be done. Now, that's sad, too.

MoscowMom said...

Oh, Kate... It's really too bad that the program can't be reworked to teach them life skills... I know that Maria's Children really works hard to fill that gap. It's worth checking out what Maria's Children is doing in St. P; they might have some program with outreach for post-institutionalized kids there.

Here in Moscow, post-inst. kids are always welcome to come by the Maria's Children center for a hug, help with something, anything. They have seminars about life skills on Friday nights. The last one I heard was about what to be looking for in the person you choose to date/marry. After all, these kids have never had role models to teach them this!

MMrussianadoption said...

so sad that what we take for granted, these kids will never experience. but they will however have that memory for a lifetime. they appreciate so much more. my kids are so spoiled and take much for granted. it puts it all in perspective for you.