Wednesday, April 22, 2009


“Ordinary” would be a compliment for Egor, nine. The second grader plays soccer, favors macaroni for lunch, loves reading, and, like many boys his age, aspires to become a policeman. He wants friends, and is legitimately choosy when picking them.

Thoughtful and soft-spoken, Egor expressed basic desires with a gentle demeanor that sought reassurance. His interview translator asked, almost apologetically, if he had a dream, as if such a boy might not dare to dream. When Egor looked heavenward, finally answering simply, “Mama, Papa,” the entirely ordinary orphanage dreamer needed no translation for an answer that broke this heart with its simplicity.

Calling Egor an orphan, while true, falls flat in conveying the gravity of his circumstances. Born with a cleft lip and palate, he also suffers ocular, facial, and hand deformities. An American plastic surgeon opined the cleft palate could be repaired in one extensive surgery; the ocular and facial disfigurement, a likely result of a rare congenital disorder, would require more complex surgeries spanning a period of weeks to months. It would take commitment: all parenting does, but Egor’s life could be transformed by a family minded to give him a chance.

Watching him offer his measured responses, I come up with my own questions the interviewer mercifully leaves unasked: How much of his desire to protect others as a policeman is seeded in his own unmet need for protection? When Egor says he chooses as friends only good kids, elaborating he’ll not play with any boy or girl who calls him names, I mentally counter: In an orphanage with minimal adult guidance, how much does that stipulation narrow the pool of potential friend candidates?

It seems cruel that any child, faced with such challenges, should be doomed because of them to become, and remain, an orphan. A boy, whose most grandiose dream is shyly contained in the two words he would have uttered thoughtlessly under different circumstances, might never use them as more than an answer to an interviewer’s query about some unattainable wish. A little boy with perfectly average aspirations waits trapped behind a mask that might deny him their fulfillment.

I know Egor defies his physical challenges, unmasking his soul when he whispers his dream. But the silent interviewer within frets, wondering if he really thinks the translator can make this far-fetched dream of a mama and papa come true, worrying whether anyone, anywhere, will even want to make it come true.