Sunday, July 3, 2011

Crushed Little Blossom

I honor two self-imposed rules on our Lighthouse Project trips to Moscow. The first mandates I never bring the same child unhosted twice, as I resist breaking a heart with scant chance to find a family. The second dictates I won’t cry at the train when the kids leave, because while I deeply feel for the hosts as they leave “their” children, the train’s departure signals the close of a Herculean effort for one trip, and the commencement of a new push for the next.

Angelina, now 11, grabbed my heart when I met her in October 2009, so trampled in her orphanage, talked over and disrespected by a loudmouth orphanage director (Scared, 12/21/09). Seven Moscow trips later, this gem of a girl, who would blossom with a family’s attention, has garnered more promotion than any other child I’ve met. The passion and frequency of my presentation has not availed her: when I mention she’s a wallflower’s wallflower, callers never request her photo or documents.

On Angelina’s first trip with us, unhosted, one boy from her orphanage monopolized the conversation during our question and answer session. Finally cajoled to speak, Angelina uttered four words before the boy’s mocking silenced her. I broke rule one by bringing her on a second trip, still unhosted, because of a situation where I thought she stood a chance. During a game requiring each participant to share a personal factoid, Angelina collapsed into the couch at her turn; even gentle encouragement provoked tears. Finally hosted on her third trip, I was elated by her opening up when focused on; alas, it was not enough to earn a family. So I brought her again this June, as even unhosted, new circumstances offered her a possible family.

Arriving at the train station, Angelina rushed to give me a hug of remembrance. Day one, she mingled admirably, and seemed drawn to two hosts. Walking the second day, she attached to one mom, delighting me with the premonition that she’d found her family. My joy evaporated, though, when the mom politely asked me to lure Angelina away, as her hovering was off-putting to the child the mom really wanted. When another family echoed those sentiments, I buddied up with Angelina the rest of the trip. Grasping her stiff palm, I held her hand much more than she held mine; when I let go, she returned at once to the others, glancing accusing daggers my direction. Only with my repeated and exaggerated collecting of her hand did she resign herself to the truth that she was specifically rejected, and acquiesce to my more institutional attentions.

Outside Red Square, kids tossing coins over their shoulders made wishes at the medallion marking Russia’s center. Angelina fingered a kopek, but participated only when I dragged her with me to toss our coins in unison. So shocked was I that she went, I neglected to make my wish. In the square, hosts clamored for photos with the children they hoped to adopt; while I would never begrudge anyone this happiness, my heart cried for Angelina, the lone child whose photo was unsolicited. She stood forlornly aside, watching the families to whom she’d latched pointedly ignoring her in their zeal to avoid sending wrong messages to her or the objects of their interest. So I requested her photo, though by trip four I’d been “outed” as a worker, not a family. As I was hardly looking to adopt again, it wasn’t like the real thing, but she derived some solace from not being so conspicuously solo.

As we walked hand in hand, I winced at her shirt bearing a Cosmopolitan-like magazine cover photo, spewing innuendo mercifully in English, and hoped no Angloglot thought I’d dressed her. Perhaps a number of these had been donated to the orphanage, as another child wore this remarkable shirt, in a different color, on a previous trip. While she was surely oblivious to its message, the shirt felt a flashing neon announcement of her alone-ness, and I grieved her privation of anyone to guard her innocence and dignity.

During our discussion session, the chaperone Svetlana, from Angelina’s orphanage, encouraged her. Asked what she liked to do, she had no answer, so Svetlana extolled her as a “good girl” who “liked everything.” Later, in a whisper, Angelina identified her favorite colors, ice skating as a preferred sport, and English and math as best subjects, though she kept mum about her life’s dream.

The last day, I asked Svetlana privately to describe Angelina. From a dog-eared booklet she pointed to the words modest, kind, serious, just, and hardworking. Through the translator, she confided Angelina had never attended school while at home and was not a stellar student, but always tried her best. Svetlana reiterated that she was a good girl, yet without many friends after four years in the orphanage. I ached to ask if she had any at all.

At the train that evening as we said our farewells, Angelina clung to me until I thought my heart would burst. Several new disappointments and rejections to her account, her fourth trip was history, she no closer to a family than when I’d first met her. She bade goodbye to everyone, but kept returning to me, thanking me with a lisped, “Spaceba.” I wished she could know how hard I was trying, though knowledge of my intensive, but failed, efforts would risk making her feel even more inconsequential.

So my search continues, my sinking heart wondering what else to do to find her family, or how to convey to callers how kind and deserving I think she is. As the train stole away that Sunday night, carrying several children rejoicing in their newfound families, and one crushed little blossom, I broke rule two, and cried.

I cried for Angelina, and cried for myself. I should never have brought her when she didn’t stand a chance.

*****

If you are interested in hosting Angelina or another needy waiting child on our August 20-26 trip to the Moscow countryside, please contact Becky via phone at (616) 245-3216, or e-mail at becky@lhproject.com.