After Friday's visit to the children's shelter, I've been doing a lot of thinking. Mostly about one little girl named Irina, but also about parenting in general. On an almost daily basis, I doubt my parenting capabilities. Jack watches too much TV. He eats too much sugar. He isn't potty trained. He doesn't get outside enough. The list goes on and on. And these pressures I put on myself don't just come from, well, myself. Facebook is a constant reminder of how other parents are doing far better than I am. My mom gave me a guilt trip about going back to work over the holidays. And I really need to unsubscribe from that cursed "Your Baby This Month" email list.
On Friday, I spent the day with two dozen children who were either given up by their parents or taken away from them. These kids live in a group home with children they've never met before. They are well taken care of, but they are without their parents, and sadly, that's probably the best thing for them. This doesn't just happen in Russia, of course. There are children all over the world who are abused, neglected, and unwanted. I'm not saying that should be the standard by which to judge one's own parenting, but it helps put things into perspective.
We decided upon this lifestyle largely because we wanted to bring our child up with an open mind and a better sense of what the world is really like. We wanted him to experience other cultures, learn foreign languages, meet people from all walks of life, and see the world in a way you simply can't by growing up in Alexandria, Virginia. That's part of the reason we took him with us on Friday. He was obviously too young to really understand what was going on, but I don't think it's ever too early to start teaching your child life lessons. It was also a reminder to me that Jack is incredibly blessed and fortunate (as are we).
This morning, Jack started to cry when he saw our nanny. I told him that perhaps if he asked her nicely, she might make his desired breakfast selection. To my horror, Jack held one finger up in the air and said, "Katya, pancakes!" like the poor woman was a short order cook. Fortunately, she insisted he ask her politely, in Russian ("Mozhno blini, pozhaluysta."). Still, I couldn't help thinking that perhaps I should be more concerned about his sense of entitlement than anything he might possibly be lacking in life, not to mention where that sense of entitlement comes from. If I act like my child should get to eat whatever he wants for breakfast, can I really blame him for taking me up on it?
As I tucked Jack into his newly-appointed toddler bed this weekend, in a warm room filled with books, clothing, and toys, I felt both extremely lucky and profoundly sad. I keep thinking about those children in the shelter, not just little Irina but the fifteen-year-old girl I gave a bracelet to, and the thirteen-year-old boy who wanted to know all about California, and how any of them would probably kill to have parents like John and me (or Emily and Ricardo, or Courtney and Peter, or Meredith and Dave, or any of my amazing parent friends). That's why I hope Russia will reverse this adoption ban and allow children to find homes wherever they can. There are many things children can do without - fancy train tables and from-scratch pancakes included - but a loving family should not be one of them.