Saturday, August 23, 2008


My neighbor, J, has a heart as big as any person I have ever met.    I learned it for the first time one morning, in the midst of a family crisis, when I was standing in front of my house, waiting for a late cab.  I was trying to make it to the airport for an unexpected and urgent flight out of SFO.  J was on her way out her front door to I-Don't-Know-Where when she saw me, anxiously waiting for my cab.  

I didn't really know her at the time, but when she saw me with my luggage, she grabbed her keys, grabbed her baby, and we were on our way to the airport within minutes.  Not only did she drive me there in record time, but she circled around the loading zone until she found out that I made my flight, in case I missed it and needed a ride back home.  

Another time J saw an elderly woman walking with her groceries and her cane down the street on a chilly winter morning.  She stopped her car, pulled over, demanded that the woman get in the car, and drove her and her groceries home.  

She's a person who does good.

Recently an email went out to our community's 4000 person parents' group.  The email was asking for host families for a group of 10 Ukranian orphaned children.  The children were coming to the United States for two weeks to hopefully find adoptive families.  When J found out about this, she volunteered in an instant and became a host mom for a quiet, little 7 year old boy named Vladyslav.   She spent a week preparing for his arrival, doing everything she could to make the little guy feel welcome and less overwhelmed and afraid after making the 48 hour trip from Eastern Europe.  

Vlad has been wide-eyed over life in America.  Everything from flushing your toilet paper instead of putting it in the garbage can to eating roasted chicken for lunch (a far cry from the bread and water he is typically served) to having underwear with, holy shit!, Lightning McQueen on them.  As he is shuffled from one event to another, J has been his advocate and his pal.  

She is determined to find this little boy a home.  Her biggest victory so far has been contacting the local news stations to alert them to the various "parties" the children have been having with prospective adoptive families.  The more people that hear about these fabulous kids, the more likely the kids are to find a permanent home.  But the smaller steps matter as well.  She's called churches, talked up cashiers at the grocery stores, cornered busy neighbors...

My family recently went for a fabulous two week vacation to the midwest to visit family.  Upon our arrival back to Menlo Park, J met us at the airport with her son and Vlad in the van.  Vlad was less than 24 hour hours into his visit; exhausted and probably overwhelmed.  J and I had been excitedly talking in the days leading up to our return home about how much fun Vlad would have playing with our boys.  

When J picked us up, my boys were more than a little excited to be home and share stories of our travels.  They were also a bit stir crazy after having just spent 5 boring hours in the plane (with a malfunctioning DVD player!).  So to say that they were animated during the ride home is a bit of an understatement.  

The next day, we called J to see if she wanted to come over with her son and Vlad to play.  Vlad was resistant.  J could not understand why Vlad wouldn't jump at the chance to play with 3 other kids his age.  She tried to convince him - not easy to do when you don't speak the same language.  After a while of her encouraging him and him refusing, J finally called one of the interpreters available for situations such as this.  "Find out what is wrong!  He doesn't want to play!" she told the interpreter.   

The interpreter talked to Vlad for a moment, Vlad enthusiastically telling her in Russian his side of the story.  When J got back on the phone, the interpreter told J what he was saying.

"I don't want to play with those American boys.  They are CRAZY."

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