When we saw Victor exiting customs in his orange NHFC shirt he looked so tiny. He handed us a plastic bag with a Banana Republic logo, which contained his belongings for the summer: his medicine and five rolls of Ukrainian cookies. He was wearing his only change of clothes—a soccer jersey and shorts—underneath the orange New Horizons shirt and a pair of jeans.
He was tired and quiet on the drive home, but we were able to share some “words” via Google Translate. I remember being impressed by his bravery: here was this 60 lbs. kid traveling 1/2-way across the world with no itinerary save to enter the home and daily activities of two strangers, his host parents (my wife Vanessa and me).
Upon arriving to America, it is said that Oscar Wilde said “I have nothing to declare but his genius.” Upon arriving to LAX, Victor had nothing to declare, we’d find, but cookies, meds, and a big, vital personality. Vlad has this theatricality in his expression—a winsome (if impish) crooked smile and bright blue eyes—that made his thoughts and feelings clear.
Our days with Victor were illuminated by little miracles. We were suddenly “Mom” and “Dad,” and our condo was home.
We made routines: a nightly story time after bath, morning breakfast, weekly trips to the library, daily trips to the pool, daily tending to the deck’s garden.
A couple of weeks into the hosting, we taught Victor to ride a bike—it only took a little pushing around on a grassy field, and he was off. Nearly everyday thereafter included a 4-to-5 mile bike ride.
We don’t have children of our own, so hosting Victor was a radical change to our daily experience. As teachers, we are used to having the summers off, and having time for rest and other pursuits. For the five weeks Vlad was here, we were forced to open our hearts and love a little stranger unconditionally. The five weeks we spent with Victor were a beautiful (and challenging) change of that routine. How “good and pleasant” it is to be thrown out of a comfortable space, and have been able to love another.