Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ray of Light

Nikolai, ten, lived in foster care, helping as he could, even caring for a cow he was afraid to milk, but after three years, was returned to the orphanage. The lady he stayed with cashed government stipend checks for his care, spent years of her life with him, and took the sweet name Mama, but such considerations didn’t trump her distaste of his growing appetite, her complaint when she left him. He was disappointed and confused, though it wasn’t the first time he’d been deflated by someone he called Mama.

Faith met him in September along with another boy who’d shared his foster home; the two thought erroneously they were brothers. When Nikolai saw a woodpecker, he was overjoyed to show Faith, to whom he wanted to explain everything. He didn’t like television, preferring instead to comb the orphanage library for books he hadn’t read. The fourth grader named math, Russian, and reading his favorite subjects, and The World Around Us his favorite book. A very good student himself, Nikolai preferred smart, helpful friends obedient to their parents. The athletic boy reveled in being soccer goalie, hunted mushrooms, and aspired to be a bodyguard to keep people safe. For all the kids she meets, I had never heard Faith rave about any like she did those two. Calling them “very bright, winners, curious, really great kids, intelligent, and with very great potential,” she tied the package with her belief that both would “achieve great things.”

Nikolai visited Moscow in October with the Lighthouse Project, a ray of light on a trip where the sun itself ventured out only once. While we awaited the host families’ arrival the first day, I shared Pop Rocks with the kids; Nikolai beamed when he felt the candy convulsing in his mouth. When I washed dishes in the hotel, he tried to wrest the scrub pad from me to clean his own dishes; he seemed mortified that someone might think him irresponsible. I lost track of the times he willingly gave up his seat on bus rides. I wondered if it was genuine until, from the back of the bus, I saw him vacate his front bench as an elderly lady boarded. Down a birch-lined boulevard, spotting a squirrel, he gesticulated with such glee no one in our group had heart to mention every American yard has several. Though he oozed charm from every pore and was never without a smile, with several more children than hosts, Nikolai wasn’t chosen for adoption on his first trip.

So with just days to find hosts for kids seeking only a chance, I’m scouring the States for someone Nikolai can call “Mama” forever.

See short video of Nikolai here.