Category Archives: Hosting

Shampoo?

Today, while I was working, N asked, “will you shampoo my hair?” “Later,” I told her.

While I was frantically cleaning for our dinner company, “will you shampoo my hair?” “Later,” I told her again.

While our friends were over for dinner, “will you shampoo my hair?” “Not right now, later,” I said once again, truly feeling a bit exasperated by this point.

All day, I knew that I needed to be a person of integrity for her. Not one who says “later” and then never finds the time. But, someone who sticks to her word. I didn’t quite get the big deal with washing her hair, but it clearly was important to her. So, as everyone was brushing teeth and putting on pajamas, I said, “do you want to shampoo your hair now?” “YES!!!”

So, I pulled the chair up to the sink, grabbed the shampoo and forced a smile on my face, despite how ready I was for bedtime.

As I began to pour the water over the head, I saw her squeeze her eyes closed and I asked, “is the water too hot?” “No.” And then, I saw her smile. The kind that says “I am treasuring this moment.” I gently lathered the soap into her hair and rubbed her scalp. When I was done, I brushed her hair, then cupped her face in my hands and kissed her forehead.  A huge smile crossed her face that said more than all of our broken language has.

For me, it was another thing on today’s checklist. For N, it was a moment that she may have never had before: a mother to gently wash her hair, to take care of her and pamper her. That is what hosting needs to be for most of the kids– smoothing out the rough edges of forced independence and giving them experiences of nourishing and nurturing that they haven’t had before. A shower and a bottle of shampoo? Yes, she could have done it herself. But, she wasn’t looking for clean hair. She was looking for someone to take the time to focus on and care for her.


These photos have nothing to do with the shampoo story, but I can’t share a blog post without photos. 🙂

Helping me make pizza for “піца п’ятницю” as I call it– Pizza Friday. That one got a laugh from her.
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A friend gave us this awesome little sprinkler. It was a big hit!

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Gus got a scraped knee, made better by Olaf. Gus did the best rendition of “Do you want to build a snowman?” the other day while Lena was in the bathroom, complete with knocking, sliding down the door and clucking his tongue. I only wish I had it on video.
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Catching fireflies.
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N is Here

N’s flight was supposed to arrive in Denver in late afternoon. But, her flight was delayed over 7 hours. Super late for our Central-Time adjusted selves.

We saw two rainbows on our weekend trip to Colorado. This one just as we were leaving for the airport.
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As we got to the airport, I realized I’d only been to DIA one other time– when I flew in for AmeriCorps. Where I met my future husband. 🙂
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The airport involves a lot of waiting. I chatted with another P143 volunteer and Aaron walked the kids around on escalator rides and such. Here Gus and Lena are playing with N’s gift, a doggie that looks like ours.
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After we had waited for about two hours, the word was that they were near!

This girl came out, waving and smiling. She walked right up to Lena, holding her welcome poster and said, “hi!”
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I leaned over to introduce myself and she wrapped her arms around me, tight. I imagine anyone watching this scene from afar would think we already knew each other.
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She stayed like that for a couple of minutes, soaking up a hug.

We made introductions.
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Everyone was pretty much instant-friends, but as we navigated the airport, elevators and the parking garage, it seemed like we’d jumped to ten kids instead of 4. So much energy!

That was 48 hours ago, so we’ve been getting to know N since then.
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I expected her to be more quiet, shy, uncertain? Turns out she’s quite the monkey, a little bit wild, and mostly just a normal kid.
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I’m excited to see what our summer holds!

3 Weeks

N, our summer host daughter, will be here in 3 weeks. 3 weeks!

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We are officially DONE with fundraising. Huge thank you to everyone who helped make that happen.

The reality of N’s arrival is slowly starting to hit me. The past several weeks have been a flurry of emails and phone calls to find all of the kids host families and we’re almost there. We have one boy who needs a seriously adoption-minded host family ASAP, so if that might be you, check out the Project One Forty Three Facebook page. 🙂

We still have a lot to do before N gets here:

  • Welcome poster
  • Affirmations/scripture chain-link
  • Change out some photos in Lena’s room/add a photo of N
  • Pick up a couple of outfits and a set of pajamas for her
  • Pick out a small gift or two for her
  • Schedule dental appt and eye exam
  • Gather items for a family “ice breaker” a couple of days in if needed — squirt guns? silly string

Anything I’m missing?

Reed, Lena and I are also practicing our language skills. The language that N (and Big L) prefer is different than the one that I learned a bit of for our adoptions. I started learning it over our winter hosting and now hosting an even younger child, who has no experience with English, I feel it’s even more important. At least to be able to introduce our family, ask her how she is, if she’s hungry, etc. I roped Reed and Lena in on it because they need something stimulating for summer break and it’s the language of their birth country. We’ll see how well we’ve been doing when we meet N at the airport!

So excited.

Tips for Hosting

I had a few questions about hosting on a recent blog post, so I decided to put together a little list of tips. Most host organizations cover a good portion of this in their training, but I still wanted to put together a list of a few things I think are essential or I wish I’d given more thought to before hosting.
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1. Don’t buy a ton of clothes beforehand. Stick to elastic/drawstring items and things that would fit multiple sizes like dresses, etc.
It’s really hard to predict your host child’s size, unless you have been provided with recent, accurate information, which is hard to come by. Many of the host kids are small, even extremely small, for their ages. However, some like Big L, are normal or even tall. It really depends on the kid, so unless you have recent, reliable information, it’s better to just buy a few things to get you through the first few days and then purchase other essentials once you know what size your host child is.

2. But, buy books and other language-specific items ahead of time — if you are aware of your child’s preferred language.
If you are ordering foreign language books, they can take a long time to arrive, as many are shipping from overseas. But, be sure to confirm what language your child speaks and/or prefers first. Big L spoke both Ukrainian and Russian, but had a preference for Ukrainian. For Latvian kids, most speak Latvian, although some are fluent in or prefer Russian. When buying books and such, it’s better to buy books that seem “young” for your host child, as they may not be reading at their reading level. We got Big L the Jesus Storybook Bible, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables and a couple of others.

3. A couple of small gifts are good, but don’t go overboard.
A couple of small gifts can break the ice with your host child. We met Big L at the airport with a necklace and a Russian/English pictorial dictionary. In retrospect, I think I would have saved the necklace for later and brought her a different more hands-on airport gift. The pictorial dictionary was good since it was both something to occupy her, but also a bit fun. Any sort of gift that might help break the ice is great too.

I caution about going overboard for reason #5 below.

4. Bring snacks and bottled water to the airport.
The host kids will have been traveling for 24+ hours straight at this point and providing refreshments is essential.

5. The first few days set the tone for hosting.
This is why I caution against too many gifts, or even taking your host child on a shopping spree right away. Host kids, who have had little experience with things like grocery shopping and other ordinary errands, can easily get the wrong impression if you buy or do too much too soon.

Spend the first few days investing in your host child, getting them used to your routine and how things work for your family. Then, once they have the routine down, introduce a few special things here and there. The same goes for any sort of special adventures you’re planning on taking your host child on. Delay these until later in the hosting, so they are thought of as a fun, special thing, not an everyday occurrence in your family.

Also plan for your child to be totally exhausted for the first few days– jet lag and culture shock/overwhelm. Big L slept until noon and didn’t really want to eat for the first 24hours. Totally normal.

6. Sink into the awkward.
After we picked Big L up at the airport, it felt SO awkward. I really wondered what we were doing. An experienced friend told me that yes, it would be awkward for the first couple of days. Knowing that awkward was normal helped. Instead of trying to dance around Big L, we were just ourselves and invited her into our world. If she said “no” to an activity, that was okay. She could sit on the sidelines and watch and we wouldn’t try to force her into participation or stop the activity because of her. Many kids just need a bit of time to observe before they jump into family life.

7. Organize a family ice-breaker.
Once your host child is well-rested, engage in a family silly-string or squirt gun fight! Or, for winter hosting, snowball fight! Pick a family member or two who will enjoy being the target, team up with your host kid and attack! This has been a great family bonding type of activity for us, just totally silly and everyone ends up laughing.

8. Plan dentist and eye exam appointments for part way through the visit.
Most hosting organizations want you to get your child these appointments. However, if you plan them too soon in, you may not have the trust built up in your child. And if you plan them too far out, it may be difficult to get any follow-up treatment (cavities filled, glasses, etc.) in time. A week or two in is best.

9. Think through how much screen-time you want to allow.
Screen time is a big issue with kids, as we all know. Your host kid may want to get on their social media to connect with friends. Some programs allow this, some do not (so double check with your coordinator first if you aren’t sure!). Particularly if you’re planning on adopting your host child, think through how much you want to allow and set the guidelines from the outset.

There are many pros and cons of allowing the social media connection. Homesick host kids can connect with their friends, or even just show you photos of their friends. But, it can also have a negative affect if their friends are jealous or not supportive of hosting. Or, they can just get sucked into their social media world and be pulled away from time with family.

10. Think creatively about physical affection.
This can be an awkward thing at first, until your host child gets to know you. And even once your host child is comfortable with it, find excuses to connect with your child, as they may have not had it in a long time or EVER. Most kids really need this, but it’s an awkward thing to start.

Ideas: at-home spa/salon day for girls with hair styling and nail painting, applying temporary tattoos, helping with sunscreen. Our family also did nightly footrubs with essential oils.

11. Treat your host child as younger than their chronological age, especially if they act that way. 
If you have an older host child and also have younger kids at home, offer to do the same things you do for your younger kids for your host child. They may laugh, but some kids may take you up on it. Things like cutting up food, applying sunscreen, holding hands. Even if it seems totally awkward to you, remember that they’ve probably never had a parent to nurture them in that way and it’s priceless that they can now get it from you.

12. Make a list of family rules or expectations in your host child’s language.
This is a good thing to have posted in your child’s language, especially if you’re hosting a child who has not been hosted before. They may not be familiar with family life and having a clear list of rules can be really helpful for them to understand your expectations.

Example: in Eastern Europe, it is often necessary to throw toilet paper in the trash can instead of in the toilet. We put a little bathroom reminder in the bathroom along the lines of “toilet paper goes in the toilet, flush, then wash your hands.” It was just a friendly little reminder of our culture.

13. Encourage your host child with love notes.
We did a paper chain, one for each night of bible verses and words for encouragement for Big L. It was a way for her to understand how long she had left with us, but also be filled with encouragement as that flight home drew close. I’ve also heard of families just writing up words of encouragement and hiding them around the house for their host child to find. Either way, it’s a great way to fill your child with love. You can also sneak them into your child’s suitcase as they’re packing to leave.

Anything else you want to know about? Other tips from experienced host families?

Your Best Yes

I’m not much of a sales person. I have to be really passionate about something before I ask my friends and family to consider it. And, if there’s one thing I’m crazy passionate about, it’s hosting.

Hosting is an opportunity for orphans from countries including Ukraine, Latvia, Ethiopia and China, to come to the United States and live in a family for a few weeks over the summer or Christmastime. Sort of like an exchange program, but the goal isn’t just to teach them English and for them to experience another culture (although that can be beneficial). It’s really to show the kids, who may have never had a stable family life, what love and trust is. To introduce them to God. And, maybe, to find them a forever family.

We have so many awesome kids this season, but we need families to step up. I wanted to share a bit of what I’ve learned about hosting, through my own experience hosting and volunteering with a host organization, and also to address a couple of the most common objections I hear. I’m also open to answering questions, via comment here or email.

1. You don’t need to have it all figured out to say “yes” to the summer.

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I’m kind of a chronic planner and this is one of the most challenging parts for me. When I say “yes”, I want to have accounted for every possible long-term scenario, worst to the ideal, most likely to the most unlikely. But, if you know you can do this summer, I’d encourage you to consider saying “yes” to that and see where God takes things from there.

I had the pleasure of getting to know a couple who said “yes” to a ready-to-age-out teenage boy last summer. Unfortunately, they realized pretty quickly they could not be his forever family, but they shared about him at church and a family they’d never met before stepped up to adopt him and his brother. They’ll be home soon!

At the very least, kids need a place away from their war-torn country for the summer. A place with good meals, a bed and all the hugs they need.

2. You don’t have to be the perfect family, just willing.

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Like my thought #1, you don’t need to have all of the future possibilities planned out. You don’t need to have a ton of extra space for your host child, or be an adoptive parent, or have experience with preteens and teenagers. You just need to say “yes”. God can use your weaknesses and flaws to write an awesome story.

Last summer, we had our house on the market, we were barely only enough to adopt any of the host kids, we had no experience parenting teenagers and we knew we’d be spending a large chunk of the summer out of town. Yet, we said “yes”. And, I’m so glad we did.

Even in all of your imperfections (we all have them!), you have a ton to offer a kid this summer.

3. “But, we already have xyz planned.”

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Bring your host kid! As long as it’s not out of the country or downright dangerous, you can probably bring your host kid. And, it will be a great experience! We took Big L on a LONG trip to visit family and a short camping trip. I also had a work trip in there. She came to school registrations and doctors appointments and all kinds of things. It all worked out and Big L had a great time with her variety of experiences.

4. “Isn’t it expensive?”

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Yes, there’s no way around this one. The hosting fee covers the paperwork, airfare, passport, visa, etc. for your host child, so it does add up.

There are so many things you can spend your money on, but investing in a child is investing in God’s kingdom and in the “least of these”. It might mean saying no to a new couch or an extra couple of days on your next vacation, but it means showing love to someone who wouldn’t know it otherwise.

All of the host programs I am familiar with take tax-deductible donations. Some of the kids have grants. And, most families fundraise. We were blessed with generosity from friends, family and strangers. Don’t let the money hold you back.

5. “I don’t know if I could send my host child back.”

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You probably can’t, but somehow you will. Goodbyes are the hardest part. Both times, as I told Big L goodbye, I knew that even if it was goodbye forever, hosting had been worth it.

I’d also like to address that a lot of people question if hosting is “fair”, to bring a child here for the season and then send them home. First, the children know from the outset that it’s temporary. And secondly, the rules are pretty clear that you do not discuss a permanent scenario, like adoption, with your host child. Big L was well aware that she would return to her home country. It was a vacation and an opportunity to get nurtured. Would you not want to take a vacation if you knew you’d have to return home?

Many host kids do end up being adopted, but there are also those like Big L, who love the family experience, but would rather stay in their home country. This is where many people see our own story and wonder how I can advocate so enthusiastically for hosting after Big L chose not to be adopted. Not every story ends how I want it to, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. We learned so much from her and I have no doubt that she learned so much from us. We stay in touch with her and keep on reminding her that she has people who love her. People she can count on.

Even apart from hosting, we all have people in our lives who are only there temporarily, but they still can have great impact. I’ve had people pour into me for just a season and I walk away better for it, even if the goodbye was hard.

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All it takes is one person to invest in a child and show them their worth. One person to hold the mirror up to them and show them how God sees them. One person to let them know that their life was worth something, could mean something, that they could have great impact.

Maybe you don’t think you have a lot of offer, but if you have any love and space to offer, I’d encourage you to say your best “yes” and see what God makes out of it. He can take the little things, the broken things, the imperfect things, and do something incredible.

We still have around 30 kids with Project One Forty Three‘s Ukraine program alone that need summer host families. Overwhelming? Yes. But, we can find them all families. If you cannot host, can you donate to help another family host? If you cannot donate, can you share about hosting at your church or even just on your Facebook page?

I have FAQs on hosting here and I will be doing an FAQ post in the next few days for families who are already preparing for summer hosting.

Summer Hosting!

I mentioned in my last post that we decided to host again this summer. Our family, Reed and Lena particularly, are very excited about this. Aaron and I really wanted to make sure that they were okay with sharing their summer with another kid. We talked with them about how they felt about our hosting experiences and if they’d like to do it again. They both said, “YES! What’s her name? How old is she? How soon will she be here? Can I make her a card?” Gus was there for the conversation too, but he doesn’t really “get” exactly what it means, especially since it’s still so far in the distant future.

Who?
We’re hosting an 8 year old girl from the same country as Big L. She’s just a bit older than Reed. Her bio information says that she likes math and science, as well as crafts. And, that she loves animals, especially dogs and wants to be a vet! She sounds like a cool kid and we even got to see a short video of her (a new thing that P143 is doing this year). When we first decided to consider hosting, we narrowed it down to a few kids with some specific criteria and P143 then pointed us towards her.

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What does this mean for Big L?
Big L still isn’t sure about adoption, due to her current circumstances. We wanted to keep things “open” in case she had a change of heart. We basically decided to look at the possibility of Big L’s adoption and hosting this summer as two separate questions. Her adoption is still a possibility, but things are very complicated. Hosting is at the very least an opportunity to show “N” some love and stability this summer.

How long is “N” here?
She will be here from early/middle of June until the end of August.

How can we help?
We’re going pretty low-key with the fundraising this time. I still have some MudLove bracelets and a few t-shirts left from the winter. If you would like to order some prints, you can order here. And, I am offering photo sessions for local friends.

I’ve also added a button on the right side bar which shows how much we have left for N’s hosting fees. All donations made through there (Razoo) are tax deductible. We always appreciate your donations, as hosting is expensive.

Valentine’s Day

My most memorable Valentine’s Day was 3 years ago. That day, I found myself in the very cold city of Moscow, where I met my youngest love.

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I hardly even recognize that kid anymore. A shadow of who he really is. At one year old, smiles were hard to come by.
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Quiet, observant, stoic. That’s how he seemed.

We didn’t see any bits of his personality until 3.5 months later, after our court trip, when we finally started to see his goofy and wild spirit come out.

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Now, he’s the family wild spirit. He keeps everyone laughing.

A few mornings ago, he woke up sick. Normally, he wakes up smiling, chatty long before the rest of us are ready to hear a sound. On the dark, freezing winter mornings, I joke it’s the Russian in him, better adapted to the dark and the cold than the rest of us. But this morning, I turned the lights on, patted his back and then headed downstairs, knowing he’d get up when he was ready.

And when he did, he just cried and screamed. I picked him up and he started to calm down. A minute later, I tried to put him down again, so I could help Reed and Lena get ready, but the screaming started again quickly. All he wanted was to be held. So, held him I did. In the moments that are usually spent rushing around the house to get his siblings ready for school, we sat on the couch and he pressed his body into mine, positioning my arm around him like a seat belt. He relaxed and quieted.

Those moments of sitting on the couch, holding him, were sacred. I often wonder if I’m doing this parenting gig right. Maybe I’d be a better parent if I had more experience, if I was less busy, if I was just a more patient and gentle person, but you know what? In that moment, Gus would have settled for no one else. In that moment, I knew that I, with all of my flaws and imperfections, was enough for him. He felt loved and secure with me.

My heart keeps jumping to the host kids. The listings for many of the hosting groups are up, or will be soon. I read the little bits of their stories and I wish I could hug each one of them, tell them that someone cares. Parenting a teenager isn’t remotely the same as parenting a preschooler. But, when they’re sick or when they’re hurting, they still crave that love of a mom. They want someone to care and nurture them, too. Not the perfect family, but a flawed and imperfect family who loves them as they are. They all need someone to make them feel secure and cherished.

Maybe you’re that somebody?

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