September 5, 2011, Labor Day
I sat on the couch in my den tonight with my 11-year-old son, Ben (adopted from Vietnam as a baby), helping him tend to the 53 mosquito and flea bites on his legs and back from a summer of fun and escape. We visited friends and family each weekend, capped off by a trip to Niagara Falls and Canada where our dear former neighbors from Maplewood, NJ, rented a cottage in northern Ontario. They enjoyed road trips to the beach, swimming eight hours a day in a friend's pool on the North Fork, sports camp, robotics, mountain biking, camping on an island in Lake George, fishing, freshly baked chocolate croissants, tubing near Shelter Island, card games of any sort you can name, and a 1500 mile drive to Canada and back.
Ben and his brother, Des (adopted from Ethiopia at 6-years-old) will not be able to remember many of the details of the fun they had, but that's okay because that is what childhood is all about. It is the feeling or gist of having fun and the freedom to play that matters... There are no calendars and the dates and times and schedules that dominate the school year are for parents, like me, not for kids. Although I clearly had to keep track of our complex plans, I had fun too because I planned this wild domestic summer extravaganza so my children would enjoy themselves. Last summer, we were in Ethiopia with a few other families, attending camp in Addis Ababa with the kids I serve through my organization, Worldwide Orphans Foundation, and they had a blast and learned a lot, but this summer, we were hedonists.
Labor Day was the swan song and we cleaned the basement and got the house in some order for the start of school. Then I felt like the boys needed one last fling so I picked up two of their friends and we made a quick trip to a local amusement park. This park is likely 50 years old and needs a facelift, but my kids and their two friends -- who were adopted from China as babies and had just returned from China on a "heritage" trip -- didn't care how old the rides were... they grabbed one last moment of the summer.
The amusement park was not that crowded and I parked easily and the kids scattered instantly to buy a day pass for all the rides you can do in the two hour time span that I allotted. I brought some paperwork to complete and played my iPhone to blot out the loud music from broken speakers at the top of tall poles that seemed to be everywhere I looked. I sat at a picnic table by myself and occasionally swatted a yellow jack and finished my work while listening to Selena Gomez sensuously belting out "Love You Like a Love Song". I must have listened to this song dozens of times. "I love you like a love song, baby" is in my head and although after a while I couldn't repeat the whole song line for line, I felt the vibrations in my shoulders. I felt young and I could have been 90 (or the almost 60 that I am) and it would have been the same. There is nothing more intoxicating for me than the music of the times through a set of earplugs.
I watched four formerly orphaned children fly past me from one ride to the next. They were free and unconscious... and none of them thought about the abandonment that marked their lives. I always think about their abandonment. They were each one left by parents... ghosts in their lives, who likely due to extreme poverty made a desperate choice to not parent their child. Each one of the children have a different story... a treasured and almost magical and poetic story that is revered by their permanent parents who adore them and dote upon them.
We never forget their loss and we always know how lucky we are to parent such resilient and hardy human beings. I can't help on a day like today, as I watch my children whiz by frantic with happiness, that there are children dying in Somalia and others being abandoned in China, never having the chance to live out their potential as children. And that is why I have a foundation that serves orphans and vulnerable children...but more to the point on Labor Day 2011...
I love that my children were thoughtless on the topic of abandonment today.