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Overwhelmed With America

Father Worthley, Dr. Bob Vizza, and Tom Christman were excited to share the plans of the day. After breakfast, we would go to the CHINA GROTTO OF OUR LADY OF SHESHAN located at Father Worthley’s house. Then we would have a scientist take us through a famous cancer research lab where the children would be invited to ask questions and stand side by side with real scientists.Then we would go to a yacht club and go out on a large boat. After we would have a pool party and BBQ. I realized Erline was struggling to translate and nothing that was said was registering with the children. The children had all taken English lessons for several months after the visas had been approved. However, living on a campus within a village so remote from any opportunity to speak English was a real detriment. Only 14-year-old Kenson had excelled in the classes. The other 4 children were gifted in school and very perceptive, but I believe they were slightly “in shock”. This was the first time to ever be: on an airplane, on a freeway, on an escalator, on an elevator, in a fast food restaurant, at a house with a swimming pool and electricity. The kids had never been away from our home in Haiti.

And the night before was the first time they have seen many of the folks who had supported them since they were just toddlers and how very much they wanted to know them. They were absolutely overwhelmed. I felt sad for a moment. I was afraid for them. Had I expected too much as well? They were just little kids. What was I thinking when I told them they were going to get to visit the US? Would they disappoint everyone by failing to integrate? I had told everyone how excited they were to be here, and how they would someday change the world if they came here and met the people who are my heroes and mentors. I had to tell everyone how they had each overcome the worst possible circumstances by sheer faith and bravery. Would anyone believe it? Would anyone “see” what I knew to be true about them? I found myself talking for the children and making excuses. They were virtually unresponsive to our hosts who had planned every moment of every day for the next four days in NY to be the greatest adventure of a lifetime for my little kids. Dang. I had put the kids in a situation in which they would surely not excel. I had over-claimed their brilliance.

Night With Our Host Families

The night before Mace, Moise, and I followed Mr. and Mrs. Christman through a garden next to the pool and down a hallway lined with decades of photos of their own children and grandchildren I was thinking that I wish my family had been like the Christmans. My two little boys were introduced to their own bedroom with two twin beds. Another first, ever. I would sleep next door in a room that was full of medical books and nautical memorabilia. What a family; there were certificates of success everywhere. I had known the Christmans and the Vizzas for almost two decades. Father Worthley had just visited us in Haiti with Mr. Christman a year ago. He would welcome anyone who had nowhere to go. Our staff and children would never let him forget them. He would not talk about himself, but instead asked such detailed questions that I felt he could write a book about everyone he had ever known. We only learned of his close relationship with Mother Teresa much later.

I had never stayed with a family like this, and knowing the children had not either I went to help them unpack their little duffle bags that had been filled with donated clothes perfectly ironed and starched. I wondered what they were thinking; would they ever want to go back to Haiti? We all went to brush our teeth in the bathroom that was full of pretty and good smelling things. It was 9 pm EDT. I helped Mace and Moise lay out clothes for our big adventure tomorrow. They slept in their long pants and socks, not yet used to the climate of Long Island. An hour later at 10:00 pm they were so quiet. I went to check on the boys. Mace was sound asleep, and Moise was pretending. I could see from the light of the moon his eyes were trying to stay closed. “Ça va, cherie?” Are you ok, honey?

Moise smiled with perfect teeth and grabbed my neck to pull me closer. “I love you, Mom.”

Will English be a Problem?

I did not know it yet, but at the same time over at the Vizza’s family house where Robin and Kenson were staying Robin was asked by Mr. Vizza, “Could we have a word?”. Robin joined Bob in his living room. Bob very politely shared that he was surprised that the children did not speak better English. He was concerned that the plan to visit the Cold Spring Harbor Lab where we would meet Dr. Lyndsay to learn about the lab’s efforts in finding a cure to pancreatic cancer would be difficult without a firm understanding of English.

“I have worked closely with Erline for three and a half years, and I have full confidence in her”, Robin assured Mr. Vizza. “As long as Dr. Lyndsay is comfortable working with a translator, everything will be just fine.” With Mr. Vizza’s stellar reputation in mind and Robin having a moment of doubt, offered to get another translator and silently prayed the children would miraculously speak English in the morning.

I slept well enough – I kept hearing the toilet flush and thought about the first time I wet the bed and wondered if I should get up and check the boys’ beds before they went up for breakfast. Finally, it was quiet, and I sank into a deep sleep.

Exciting and Eventful Morning

I woke naturally without an alarm. I had asked Robin to call me at 8:15 am EDT for a wake-up call; I could take my time reading my daily devotional, pray, then wake boys to get them into the shower and dressed. They were going to look “astounding” for this day. We would have a little breakfast; oh the smell of bacon and fresh toast was coming through the garden into our living quarters as I dozed. This was going to be a spectacular day!

I scanned my texts as I always do when I wake up and smiled as there was only one; nothing urgent from Haiti. The only text was from Robin as well as two missed calls from Robin; the first at 8:00 am and the second at 8:15 am. The text said, “I hope you and the boys slept well.” The text continued “I have called you to make sure you and the boys are up, as per your request. Your phone is off; I will be at the Christman’s house with the other kids and Erline at 9:15 am”.

The text went further, “Wait ‘til I tell you what happened this morning over here.” Mr. Vizza is the Chairman of the Lustgarden Foundation, (established by the Founder of Cable Vision and owners of Madison Square Garden) he had told Kenson that there was juice in the fridge in the kitchen and if he was thirsty he should help himself. Kenson was thirsty when he awoke and did not know that drinking out of the facet was ok in the US. He went to the fridge and grabbed a can. Turns out it was a can of beer, not juice. Mr. Vizza heard the rustling in the kitchen and went to see if all was fine only to see Kenson with a half empty can of beer in his 14-year-old hands!

Late For The Big Day

The time on my phone read 7:15 am. That’s odd. The time of Robin’s text was 8:15 am – Holy cow!

Thud! Thud! Thud! “Susie let’s get going. We have to go now! We are going to be late for Mass.”

“Robin, hold on!”; I had slept in my sweatpants and a tee shirt, but was shaken by his shouting. I opened my bedroom door.

“You haven’t been answering your phone! Where are the boys?” Robin asked.

“They are sleeping!”. Just then Mr. Christman walked through the door to the garden in the most beautiful suite. He had a pink and white starched shirt and a handkerchief in his coat pocket that complimented his tie.

“Oh, my gosh”, I said, “What time is it?” “9.15”, Tom and Robin said in unison.

“I turned my phone to silent because it kept waking me up and I feared it would wake the boys next door.” I put my hands over my mouth and ran to the boys’ room, pulling them up and out of their slumber.

I checked the boys’ beds for pee-pee. No pee-pee. Great! Mace and Moise were dressing while I threw water on my face. I’d put makeup on in the van. The boys appeared in front of me in their precious little suits, leather belts cinching-up trousers that were slightly large; they were calm and confident. What was I so uptight about? These two little boys were smiling up at me with absolute trust and faith. No matter who they met or where they went they were safe with me. I could see in their faces that with their unquestioning faith in God and me walking behind them, they could do anything – they could be anything they dreamed of becoming.

Anyway, apologies were made we loaded everyone into the huge van and made our way rapidly to the CHINA GROTTO OF OUR LADY OF SHESHAN, where we celebrated a Catholic Mass and shared communion with Father Worthley officiating.

From the heart,