Do you remember the first time you rode an escalator? Or your first time spending a night in a hotel?
Imagine being twelve and doing those things for the first time.
Peter, the guy from the Franciscan Children's Home who made my English teaching trip possible, came to meet me in Bucharest with 3 of the boys he cares for; Lorand, 13, Tikka, 16 and Sabi 12 years-old.
Although Peter had to remind the boys to be on their best behavior in the hotel's executive lounge where there was a steady stream of food and a fridge stocked with highly-craved coca cola, the boys had better table manners than I did. They used a knife to cut their food. I've gotten in the habit of just using my fork as both the cutting and eating utensil. My fork habit was also brought to my attention when Caroline, the Swiss Cal Poly student who stayed with me for a semester, mentioned the notable lack of knife use by many Americans.
The kids willingly ventured out of their culinary comfort zones by eating the rice and seafood dish offered for the Christmas Day offerings. It was a day of firsts for them. And with that brought a bit of overwhelm. Lorand needed new winter boots but with so many to choose from at the communist-era style shopping mall in Bucharest, he had a hard time making a decision; the brown ones with the black rubber soles, the black ones with the waterproof material or the boots from the other store that laced up?
To my surprise the two other boys didn't whine about not getting boots, or phones, or games, or ice cream. I would have thought that the kids who have so little would want as much as they could have. But they seemed rather unaffected by all the shiny gadgets and latest winter fashion trends.
Tikka has lived at the orphanage home for 8 years. His younger brother, Gabor, lives at the house, too. In fact there are several sibling pairs who live at the Franciscan house. They arrive here for a variety of reasons; none of which have anything to do with the children.
Some parents who relinquished their kids improve their circumstances but when they have a child with a new partner, they choose to leave their original kids in the group home. You can imagine the psychological effects this has on the children. Some parents choose to spend their money on cigarettes and alcohol to the point where they've pried up the wood floor panels to burn for heat rather than buy wood or pay a gas bill.
Just the other day Pete and Andee, a foster parent at the house, went on wellness checks in neighboring towns. They each came back with a kid to stay at the orphanage for a few days. At the boys house, there'd been some physical aggression - and the little girl hadn't been bathed in 4 days and maybe hadn't had much to eat during that time either.
Andee spoon fed the girl vegetable mixed rice, gave her hugs and loving smiles.
"What made you become a foster parent here?" I asked Andee when I met her upon my arrival at the house.
"God." She said. "It was God." She surrendered, "God chose this." Her tone led me to assume there were days when she would have chosen otherwise, at least for a few weeks during the year.
In the few days I've been here I've seen Andee carry wood, hand wash stacks of dishes, prepare food, lug a vacuum cleaner up and down 3 flights of stairs - not to mention caring for a dozen kids. I've felt guiltily appreciative that God hasn't sent me the same message she got. Of course there's a part of me that wonders why I'm not able to, or perhaps interested in committing to something. One cause, one plight. I think about Pete who was only twenty-eight when I first met him 7 years ago.
He's dedicated the past 7 years to parenting boys at the Franciscan House. He's spent his vacation time with the boys and even arranged his employment from the states to allow him to reside in the house to care for the boys. He speaks fluent Hungarian, which apparently is one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn.
There was a time in my life when I needed the security and stability of my marriage; knowing our daily, weekly and yearly routines gave me comfort. It took a long time for me to detach from needing that. If I hadn't let go of certain beliefs, I wouldn't have been able to move forward. But now that I have, I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far? Am I capable of committing to something? Someone?
Today I reject the thought of permanence. It sends a tremor through my body when I think of doing one thing in one place over and over. As much as these children have a place in my heart, I can't even fathom the sacrifice to devote my life to caring for them. And the same with the elephants in Thailand, the children in the Dominican Republic at Dove Missions, and the stray abandoned dogs in all three countries.
Is this a fear of commitment or am I beginning to live the life that I was meant to?