Smells Like Hunger

 August 26, 2011

Now that The Butterfly is living at Shepherd's Field I am getting new pictures and even video on a regular basis.  Recently there were photos from an End of Summer Pool Party.

The normalcy the kids seem to have at Shepherd's Field continues to astound me. I mean really can you even get your head around a pool party in a orphanage?

Of course you first have to be able to imagine an orphanage. Which honestly without being there is quite near impossible.  Because, there is no academic way to truly understand orphanage life.  You can't study it in a book or get it by looking at a picture. You need to TOUCH it, SMELL it and TASTE it to even begin to understand.

Recently I've seen people on some of the adoption message boards discuss whether they should visit their child's orphanage or not.  Frankly I can't imagine not going.

First, it is part of your child's story before you and that matters, a lot.

Second, I think a multi sensory experience is critical to your understanding of the realities of orphanage life which provides insight and understanding to your child.

Third, the memories your child has of their orphanage will not likely be captured in a photo (particularly of the outside of the building - because they never saw that).  Instead your child's memories will be smaller, more specific and "child sized",  like images of a the room or crib where they spent most of their time or even more powerful they will be the visceral memories of sound or smell or touch. AND at some point they may need you (or someone) to help add context to these memories.

I will never forget the smells of the baby house in Ust Kamenogorsk; the thick pungent wall of cabbage soup that seemed to replace the oxygen in the room. It remains my most vivid memory of that orphanage.

But I am not the only one who remembers this.

We routinely talk to the girls about their adoption stories.  We tell them about how mommy and daddy got on a plane and flew across the globe to meet them.  It's a sweet story the girls beg us to tell over and over again.

One night, like many before,  I cuddled up with The Bee and started into "her story" but this night without much thought I added a new detail.   I said, "Mommy and Daddy walked into the baby house and right away we could smell the cabbage soup." Suddenly The Bee began sobbing, her chest heaved... a deep primal wound ripped open wide.  

She choked out between sobs, "I...was...hungry",  She tried to catch her breathe and stammered, "they took... my soup."  Gasping for air she repeated over and over, "I wasn't done. .... I. was. hungry."

For the next ten minutes she cried and shook and heaved in my arms.  I rocked my sweet daughter while she continued to sob, "I was hungry, I was hungry, I was hungry..." until the words became rhythmic and faded to a faint whisper and she fell asleep in my arms.

The Bee was TWO YEARS OLD (and 16 pounds) when we adopted her and it had been more than a year since she last smelled that soup.

Most of the time orphanage life does not include pool parties.  Most of the time it is brutal.  I've heard stories that make my heart sink BUT I don't think any story or photo or video clip will ever teach me as much about orphanage reality as the month I spent in the baby house in Kazakhstan or the weeks I spent in China. Being there informed me in a way nothing else could. Those experiences are unforgettable for me...and my daughters.

If you have the chance to visit your child's orphanage I encourage you to do so.  Hopefully you will find it to be a pool party orphanage.  Either way you will learn something about your child and that is always a good thing.

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