Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sasha's Dream, My Dream

Sasha, 4, in September 2011
Sasha barely mustered a smile the first time I saw her, even with Love’s gentle urging.  The four-year-old’s mother recently died, and she was struggling with her new orphanage life.  But as she stoically answered our Russian adoption coordinator’s questions, the poise of a tyke so little and lonely was equal parts unexpected and unmistakable.

Young girls are highly prized by adoptive families, yet seven months after meeting Love, Sasha still waits to be chosen.  Diagnosed with hepatitis C, a chronic and currently incurable illness of variable course and prognosis, the risks and the unknowns have been sufficient to leave this precious girl languishing motherless in an orphanage far longer than her age suggests would be necessary.

So she joined our Lighthouse Project trip to her region in April.  The chaperone, Svetlana, a soft-spoken caretaker from Sasha’s orphanage, kept the small girls close.  Sasha didn’t know me, and maintained a healthy distance as I watched her settle into the room she and Svetlana shared.  While the chaperone tended another child, Sasha shed her coat and hat, and began combing her hair. Tongue outside her mouth in focused concentration, every task was dispatched as an urgent mission. 
Sasha in her thinking pose

Our second day with the kids, I spoke to those without waiting families.  Never having interviewed orphans before, I fretted about balancing my need to glean compelling writing material with the kids’ need for sensitivity regarding the traumas of their pasts.  Sasha was an early interviewee, and my inexperience paired with her reserve squeezed a prayer from me as she shuffled into my room clad only in shirt, tights, and sandals.  She sat where I pointed, and nodded solemnly when I explained my hope of knowing her better.  Promising her a Pixy Stix afterward, I asked her to answer my questions as best she could.

Sasha in the young orphan's "uniform"
she wore for her interview with me
Sasha’s definite responses reflected her determined approach to everything.  She liked the orphanage which once had grieved her, extolling their toys, cars, and a dog named Susha.  As she praised the kindness of caretakers like Svetlana, I was gratified to know she felt at peace there now.  Near the end of our session, I kicked myself when I let slip a query about what she wanted to be when she grew up, an idiotic question for one so young.  But she had an answer, one requiring no translation: “Mama.”   She would be a good mother she said, walking and playing with her children. Delving into the crannies of her mind to recall what her own mother had done for her before she died, Sasha added she would wipe dust from the shelves.  I was deeply touched that one so prematurely bereft of her mother would already aspire to nurture children herself one day.

I asked Svetlana’s opinion later.  She laughed as she described Sasha as “serious and responsible,” remembering that whenever instructed to commit a poem to memory, she fully engaged the assignment.  When it was her turn to set the table for her group, she would don the required uniform as if her job were a weighty matter. Eyewitness to those traits all week, I was smitten with the little girl. 

Sasha swimming with the help of kind Denis, who along
with his three siblings now has a family of his own
Once during our daily swim, an older boy thoughtfully assisted Sasha in the pool; watching them interact without any direction from Svetlana was heartwarming.  After swimming, Sasha could easily dress herself, but I hated that she needed to, so I started helping her.  She cooperated with every request, though my technique was decidedly American.  As I dried her hair with a blow dryer, running my fingers through the strands, she melted at being cared for.  The dichotomy between her necessity-birthed ability to fend for herself and her God-given desire to be mothered was striking, and most moving.

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Sasha's smile for me
The last day of our visit, I still needed photos of Sasha for our program, so I asked her to come with me.  She thrust her hand in mine, a five-fingered gift of trust, and we walked together to my photo “studio.” There, she smiled for me.

While Sasha dreams of being a mother someday, at four she needs a mother herself, one whose mission is to face with her the unknowns of a difficult diagnosis, and to shepherd her through life's other trials and triumphs.   It would be a tragedy if Sasha’s gauzy understanding of “mama” ended at the dusting of shelves or playing and walking. 

So my dream is that she’ll learn soon of the comfort of a mother there to guide her and treasure her always.

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If you would like to make a 100% tax-deductible contribution to a fund designated to benefit Sasha's adoption, it could help her find a family, and then get home sooner.  Please note that if Sasha's future adoptive family does not need assistance, or if Sasha enters foster care in Russia or elsewhere, any donations to this fund will benefit the adoption of another needy Lighthouse Project child.  If you have questions, please call (616) 245-3216, or e-mail me a  Thank you for your compassion and generosity!