Thursday, December 20, 2007

Home for the Holidays

This week, in the New York Times, there was an article entitled, "Study Quantifies Orphanage Link to I.Q." Lyle and I both read it and had a long discussion on the topic. Really, the findings of the study aren't at all surprising. The years-long study concluded that, "toddlers placed in foster families developed significantly higher I.Q.'s by age 4 than peers who spent those years in an orphanage." The difference was large and the study found that the earlier children joined a foster family, the better they did.

I firmly believe that we would have met a different child in China had Maya not spent the previous 2 months with a foster family. I think that her own indominable spirit would still have emerged and she would have caught up, but it's impossible to say.

Before we adopted, one particular conversation with an adoptive mom had more influence on me than any other. She told me that when adopting their daughter from China, they were allowed to visit the orphanage. As they were walking down the rows of cribs and looking at each little girl, she was struck by the sameness of each one. She tried to focus on the obvious that of course they were similar, all being little Asian girls from the same city, all roughly the same age, but it wasn't until her husband spoke up that she realized what they all shared and why she felt such overwhelming sadness. He said, "They have no hope in their eyes."

When I look at orphanage pictures of Maya, like the one above, taken just before she left for foster care, and then look at pictures of her in the home of her China family, I'm always struck by the remarkable difference. Maya is not smiling in a single orphanage picture. In some of the earlier photos, she looks close, but as the months went by, the hope left her eyes. The pictures in foster care show a different girl. I will be forever grateful that Maya had the opportunity to leave the orphanage when she did. I like to imagine that her foster family got a great sense of satisfaction when they saw her smile for the first time. I picture them saying some Mandarin version of, "Well, hello! There you are!"

We were so humbled to see this transformation happen right before our eyes in China. Frankly, not so much with Maya, who'd been in a nurturing home for the previous two months, but with other babies and children who went from blank shells to individuals with hope in their eyes. In some cases the difference was stunning.

With Christmas approaching, I thought of the oft-used phrase, "Home for the Holidays", and couldn't help but say a prayer of gratitude that for a short time Maya had a true home in China. During this Christmas season, If any of you feel so inspired, consider sponsoring an orphan so that they can leave the orphanage and enter a home. Adoption will not happen for most of these kids, but foster care can truly change lives. There are numerous organizations who do this throughout the world. Maya was sponsored through Holt International in Eugene, Oregon. Twenty-five dollars a month is so insiginificant when you consider what that money is buying. Every child deserves a home where they are cherished as an individual and where hope can grow.

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