Growing up as an only child, I had the best of both worlds: undivided attention and more toys than I could shake a stick at. The latter was a great thing to have, because we lived in a rural area and my parents, perpetual loners, were just fine with few-to-zero visitors.
Sure, I had friends at school, but at home I usually had to rely on the random He-Man, Ninja Turtle, or GI Joe for company. Oh, who am I kidding? Random? I practically had them all. I had a lot of stuff.
As an adolescent I retreated into my belongings even more. Ever afraid that my friends and family would discover and reject the real me, the gay me, I knew that I would always have my stuff...and the more I collected, the more I needed to collect. Toys, movies, books, stamps in my passport. Whatever.
Even as an adult, happy as I am with TJ and life in general, I still LOVE buying stuff. What can I say? Old habits die hard.
And Christmas? I love Christmas. Because at Christmas, not only do I get stuff, but I get to give stuff to other people, too!
When we lived in Orlando I would always make an effort to donate toys to one charity or another during the Christmas holidays, pat myself on the back for a job well done, and continue living my stuff-filled life of blissful ignorance. One year we had a Christmas party for all of our friends. In a moment of selflessness, I sent out invitations suggesting that, in lieu of a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, everyone bring a toy to donate to charity. Then my selfish stuff-needing nature kicked in, and I sent everyone a text message suggesting that it would still be cool to do “Secret Santa,” too. Stuff, stuff, stuff.
In fact, losing Christmas was the hardest part about converting to Judaism. Not because of any unresolved religious feelings. No, no, no. I was going to miss the tree, the presents, the lights, the presents, the songs, the presents, the food, and the presents. You know, the reason for the season.
God forgive me, I'm such an idiot.
They're orphans. They don't want toys. “Stuff” doesn't interest them. Santa himself barely registered on their radar. They crave love. Human contact. A warm meal.
TJ and I were the first to arrive, and we were immediately swarmed by the kids. They had no idea who we were and they didn't even care that my Spanish is worse than that of a six-month old. They just wanted to look, talk, and touch. As TJ held intelligent Spanish-language conversations with several kids, I awkwardly stood there and let a couple of them swing from my arm. They had fun, and I didn't have to embarrass myself by talking, so I think we all lucked out.
The rest of the evening's volunteers soon began to trickle in, and the evening kicked off with a little entertainment.
This little guy loves ketchup. That's actually a cup full of ketchup he's drinking/eating. When the show started he took one look at me and jumped into my lap. He took an instant liking to my camera, so I let him try it out. He spent the entire show taking pictures of his shoes, the floor, and the backside of the other kids' heads. Any time he thought he took a good one, he'd smile and show it to me, then snuggle in closer. He spent so much time taking pictures of his feet, and I spent so much time making sure the camera was ok, that neither of us saw much of the show. But that's ok...I think we had a better time by ourselves, anyway.
He ditched me as soon as the show was over, but I didn't feel too terribly rejected. It was dinner time, after all, and I was hungry, too. One look at the 100+ kids shoveling chicken tenders and french fries into their mouths (courtesy of Outback Steakhouse), however, and I knew that I wouldn't be eating until I got home that evening. There were plenty of leftovers, but there was no way I could deny one of those kiddos a second helping. This was a treat for them. The orphanage recently lost it's biggest food supplier. Dinner usually consists of a donut. A donut.
While dinner was wrapping up, I helped bring the toys into the room for Santa's grand entrance. Suddenly, the part I had been most looking forward to was the least important thing in the world. Stuff was meaningless. Is meaningless.
This little fella latched onto me just as Santa Claus arrived. He didn't even notice. He just wanted to sit on my lap and sip his juice. I held him for about an hour. If I even tried to put him down, he'd burst into tears.
Only, it didn't. The battery was dead. There was no bark to be heard, no light to be seen. But he didn't care. He was happy anyway. Not because he had a new toy, but because I took the time to show him how it was supposed to work. He wanted to walk the doggie, so I put him down. He walked the dog for a couple of feet before he lost interest, looked up at me, lifted his arms, and cried to be held some more.
If it had been me, I would have been ticked off that my toy didn't work. I mean, what kind of crap is that? But for him, it was all about the interaction. It's just stuff, after all.
He eventually fell asleep in my arms, and was put to bed by one of his caretakers. I didn't get to say goodbye, but it's probably for the best. If he started crying, I think I would have too.
TJ and I have talked about the possibility of adoption in the past, but it's something that has always seemed intangible. Unattainable. And would I really even want to? Do I have anything to offer to a child? I'm pretty selfish, after all. I'm not proud of it, but I own it. If we're being honest, and this is horrible, I've always secretly wondered if I am too selfish to love a child with which I share no biological connection.
After Wednesday night, I have an answer to all of those questions.
Yes, I want to adopt. I have all the love in the world to share. And screw biology. Adoption is the only path I would ever consider.
I'm not going to belittle anyone and pretend that I'm a better person now. I still like stuff. I'll always like stuff. Heck, I will probably always look for excuses to have a little Christmas cheer.
Despite that, I did leave the orphanage with a little bit of perspective. I know what's important, and I know what I want. And what I want isn't just stuff. Not anymore. I'd love to adopt one day.
In the meantime, the consulate makes bi-weekly visits to the orphanage. I look forward to it with immense happiness.
In closing, I just want to share a few photos that the kids took. They all loved the camera, and I let them hold onto it for most of the event.