Americas

Mothering

Christo jumps up into my arms and kisses my face, over and over and over and over. His big toothless smile and wide eyes are absolutely irresistible. You never see a kid smile that much. His little arms and legs cling to me so hard that I don’t even need to hold onto him. He is glued onto my hip and he won’t let go.

As I walk toward the orphanage with Christo in my arms, kids run out to greet me. They smile and yell. Some try to climb up to be at Christo’s height. Eddy, a petite child with big Steve Urkel glasses, hobbles over to pound my fist. Other children grab at my shirt so that they can walk while holding onto me. I’m certainly not one of the first white people to come volunteer at this orphanage in Haiti, but I am probably one of the very few white people- white women, particularly- that speaks a respectable amount of Creole. For this reason, I’ve only been here for two days and yet the kids are incredibly attached to me. They ask me to stay forever. They just talk like crazy because they can rarely talk to the other foreign volunteers that come around (though there are plenty of Haitian house mothers and teachers that can speak to them, of course).

We sit down and the questions begin, as usual. “Do we have computer class today?” and “what’s your father’s name?” and “how old are your brothers?” Usually the questions have to do with computer class or with my family. I suppose these two subjects are most important to them.

When I sit there are two children on my lap and numerous gathered around. I look at my coworker Bill and laugh. “I feel like a mother!” I exclaim to him.

He smiles kindly. “That’s the thing- to them, you are a mother,” he says.

It’s an interesting thing, mothering. Some of these children have minds that are quick as lightning. Others are mentally or physically disabled, often because of a disturbing past. I look at the faces of these children- round, narrow, big eyes, all different colors and ages. They are all so unique, yet they are all family. Their pure existence is an ocean of feeling, of political mishaps, domestic mistakes, brutal mistreatment in many instances. Their stories are as diverse as their faces, yet they all speak of a silent and mutual loss.

I watch them dance and play and hold me, kiss my face, and I wonder where their parents are. There are two people that created this child. Are they dead? Are they starving? Are they drug users? Are they happy? Where are they? It angers me to see these children without parents. They are starved for attention, for individuality, for a sense of self.

When I leave the orphanage after three days, I am near tears. I want to give these children everything. In many ways, I want to be their mother. I want somebody to be a parent to them, to claim them. It angers me that they must grow up so fast and learn to fend for themselves. At the orphanage, they are safe from a history of pain. They will grow up healthy and unharmed. But that pain will follow them forever like a small, dark shadow. It won’t ever leave them. I wonder who holds them when they wake up at night from a bad dream. I wonder who holds them when that dream is not imaginary, but a part of their past that they still relive over and over.

Beth Santos
Founder and CEO of Wanderful, creator of the Women in Travel Summit, enthusiastic lover of ice cream, picnics and art.

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