I was looking at pictures that a girl from the orphanage had posted on a social networking site, and was seeing this weird dichotomy, but couldn’t put a finger on where it was coming from. The pictures represented her as your average teen girl who aspires to be on a magazine cover…13 going on 30.

I guess I wouldn’t have thought twice (though it makes me sad) if I hadn’t known her in a different context. This was the girl who dreamed of being adopted. She had a loving grandmother, but the grandmother was getting older, and put her in the orphanage.

Lena desperately wanted to go visit an American family for Christmas. She had been interviewed and was on the list, but she didn’t actually find out until the last minute that she could go.

Fast-forward to a few months later, where I saw her again in the orphanage, and this time she had an album full of memories of her “American vacation.” I guess I have mixed feelings about whether or not these trips are good. I’m always glad to hear that one of the visits led to adoption, but for this girl, it didn’t.

Fast-forward again. She left the orphanage at 14 or 15 and was supposedly in tech school, but seemed to be enjoying a little taste of “independence,” staying out all night and such. I happened to be around when she dropped by the orphanage one day…out of grocery money, it seemed. Then the other day I was sitting there looking at some new “beauty shots” she’d posted and remembering another photo album, the one with her host family. And it dawned on me what the family visit had done…it had given her a chance to be a kid.

Lots of teenagers experiment, go to parties, try to spread their wings a little…but the difference is that they go home at night. The most sophisticated 15 yr old you know? At the end of the day her mother probably still does her laundry, or maybe makes her hot chocolate, or whatever.

I could see Lena in a family…sure, at 13 she was already attracting boys and trying that whole scene. But I could also see this spirited young lady bickering with her siblings, rolling her eyes at her dad’s jokes, bellowing “M-o-o-o-o-m!” when she needed something. But that wasn’t the reality she got.

She didn’t have a chance to be a kid. Sometimes we criticize parenting styles, thinking that kids are experiencing too much, too early. Too much homework…too much looking after younger siblings…too much loss of innocence. They grow up too soon. Do any of us actually know what that’s like? The thing is, the orphanage does give them a lot of the experiences of childhood. They have toys to play with, movies to watch, people protecting them. But childhood is more. Coming “home” to Uncle Boris the security guy (no matter how kind) and Sasha the watch dog is just not the same as coming home to a mom and dad.

I’ve analyzed the plight of Russian orphans to death on here, it seems. Maybe there is nothing left to say. But every once in a while I see one of their faces and think “But she’s really a KID,” and wonder if she’ll ever actually be treated that way, as someone’s kid. Because being a kid isn’t about being a certain age or having/not having certain skills…it’s about being SOMEBODY’S.