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Santa couldn’t stop crying as he hugged my daughter tightly. Then, he said the only thing he could: “I’ll see what I can do, Sarah. I’ll see what I can do.” Santa was a wreck as we walked away. I wasn’t faring much better.
Sarah had only been my daughter for eight months when she demanded that I take her to see the Jolly Old Elf that her friends and older brothers had been telling her about. The barely 5-year-old’s first question shocked the old man: “Santa Claus, vy yoo neever come to mye house weyn Aye leeve in Rosha?” When he tried to distract her by asking what she wanted for Christmas, she made him cry with her response: “Aye vant yoo taek presents to mye frends in Rosha.” But it was the third thing my daughter said that tore out the old man’s heart. She wanted the magical man of Christmas to take parents to her best friend who remained at the orphanage.
Meeting the children at Sarah’s orphanage changed my life. Forever. To me, they weren’t “orphans;” and by that I mean that the stigma that comes with that word simply wasn’t there. My daughter’s friends were happy children. They were friendly. They were optimistic, as only children could be in such circumstances. To me, those children were my friends. They were my friends that didn’t have parents.
It isn’t that there aren’t children in the United States that need families. There are. There are far too many of them. It’s just that this was the first time in my life that I had slowed down enough to turn my head to the side, to acknowledge children who grow up outside of families. Russia was the place that I happened to be when I finally paused to observe and consider. These children in any country continue with optimism of joining a “forever family” until they get to be about 7 or 8. Then they begin to comprehend the real world. At that time, most of them give up hope. “Oh! Never lose hope!” we cry from our positions of familial security and lives of excess. “I’m too busy right now. But someone will come for you. Never lose hope!” But they do lose hope. They lose hope because they observe those who are around them as no one comes, year after year after year.
We raise our biological children, viewing those years as the best and most successful of our lives. Then we rush to leave those times, to drive around in motor homes, float around on opulent ships or to litter golf courses and spas. And the children without parents fail while we wither away. How sad. What a better world we would live in if successful parents decided to play out the rest of the game; even into overtime, if that’s what it takes.
Children who are raised outside of families often end up with children that burden the system, because they never had parents for examples. Not surprisingly, prisons have a high percentage of their residents that grew up in foster systems or orphanages. I look at the birthmother of my daughters, who sold the only thing she had to sell until there was nothing left to sell. On one of my visits to Russia, I finally found the remains of the abandoned shack where my younger daughters had lived with that woman. Questions posed to a neighbor yielded that the birthmother had died, but no other details. “I don’t know,” the old woman said when asked about the particulars of her demise. “You know how these people live.”
I listen to people judge the birthmother of my daughters for her horrific abuse and neglect of her offspring. But I ask: Was it the woman who grew up in an orphanage, who aged out of the system, who was turned out on her own with no ability to care for herself or the children that would come, who failed? Or was it those who could have taken her in, given her a home, and taught her how to be a mother?
Would it have been worth giving up an early retirement to have changed the lives of future generations forever? Of course it would have been. But somewhere there are two graves, side by side, filled with the same bones and dust that would have been there had they spent another 15 years parenting. It matters little to the polished stone and the two caskets. But the world is a worse place because those successful parents decided to trample golf courses and haunt spas instead of raising a few more children. What a waste.
I have decided that I would rather die tired than lazy. And I’m with Sarah; either Santa or someone else ought to get out and find parents for children who need them, rather than worrying so much about which new toy to provide for already overindulged children.