For going on seven years now, I’ve tried to figure out a “good” way to deal with the chaos of TONS of children, largely unsupervised, running around everywhere you go. These children, not only the ones from families who have very little, but ALL of them, need a LOT of affirmation and attention and you discover this very quickly if you dare to talk to them like little humans and even tell them that they made a nice picture of a tea-pot.
Typically, toys and art supplies are not a priority here. Kids are put outside in the morning to get out of mom’s way while she cleans and cooks. Mom (and grandma and auntie and whatever other women live together at home) have a lot to do because it’s DUSTY here and when it’s not dusty, it’s muddy. And there aren’t dishwashers (with the exception of your own hands) and every meal is made from scratch and you only have a laundry machine if you are very fortunate (thankfully, I’m very fortunate!). Appearance is everything so the house is swept and washed til it looks like no one lives there. Clothes are washed, hung to dry and ironed because hubby or father-in-law need them to be perfect and will fight with you if they aren’t. They won’t thank you or even acknowledge you if they are perfect, there will just be the absence of a fight. Whatever fruit or vegetables are in season need to be canned as well, because you never know what winter will bring. All this work is done every day and will be done without anyone ever saying thank you. So, it’s understandable that in light of all that work, kids are shooed outside every morning and are largely unsupervised.
When we lived in the apartments our door was made of steel and never fail, every morning the knocking would start – reverberating throughout the cement stairway. Children wanting to come in and play or wanting my kids to come out and play. It was always a bit comical to me when an undernourished child, barely weighing more than Emmett (he was a chubby baby) would ask if she could bring him outside and would assure me that she could look after him well. I never went for this. I might let her hold Emmett right then and there and he would already be slipping out from under her grip, like how a child might hold an oversized doll. The door knocking would start in the morning and not end til night-time. There is not the same idea here as there is in the west, that if you knock for a while and no on answers that might mean that they aren’t home or maybe they don’t want visitors. If no one answers (this goes for phone calls too) you just knock louder and more. This always made me quite grumpy when I had small kids taking naps. You might think that you could say, “No, no one is going to play in our home today.” And you can. And I would. But that does not mean anything and it certainly does not stop anyone from continuing to try. No just does not mean ‘no’ if you don’t smack the kid and swear at them or curse them or something. But I’m just not into doing that.
The knocking is a tiny bit better now that we live in a house. There’s at least a bigger space between our gate door and the front door of our house. I call that the buffer zone. Kids still knock from morning til night and now I have a longer distance to walk to open the door, but most moms are trying to figure out how to add exercise to their days anyway. There’s a saying here, “Give a finger and they’ll take your arm” much like “give an inch and they’ll take a mile.” And that’s how everything works here. So there’s knocking, children always trying to play in our home and yard and with the playing comes even more messes, stuff getting taken and so much attention needed. If kids just wanted to play in my yard and I just needed to check on them every so often and I could trust them to obey my boundaries, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But they want me to see and affirm EVERY.SINGLE. THING. THEY DO. When they are swimming, they want me to see them dunk their head under the water. Not once, but at least ten times. They want me to see them hop on one leg. They want me to see them float on a floatie. They want me to see every step of every drawing they make. For someone who gets overstimulated really easily and who becomes exceedingly less productive when interrupted, this becomes really trying. There’s also a lot of emotional energy used to have to enforce boundaries on the days that I just can’t handle all the kids in my yard. These children, regardless of if you already told them ten times that no one is playing in your yard or house today, conveniently ignore that and hope that you changed your mind and, eternally optimistic, keep knocking. If you just leave them to knock, which sometimes I do, they just do it longer and louder. You end up being the cause of disappointed looks on little faces all day long. Which, is also tiring.
On one hand, I trust that the love and life we show these kids will not be fruitless. We want the future of Tajikistan and its families to be full of hope. Speaking life into these little ones is something we can do. On the other hand, I feel the effects of too much time allowing them in – chaos, exhaustion, grumpiness and a general feeling of, “I don’t want to see another neighbor kid for the next week.” So since we’ve lived here, I’ve always tried to come up with some idea or some solid boundary that surely, if enforced over time, would train these children to only come at certain times or only knock at certain times. I’ve tried certain play days or play times, certain play areas (ie: only playing on our porch, not inside our house or only playing in our outside guest room). Right now we have a “boys aren’t allowed to swim unless Akai Zafar is home” rule. Akai Zafar is Rees if you didn’t guess that. But none of the plans work.
I finally came to terms with this the other day and realized that all my valiant attempts to curb the chaos and stimulation or try to keep it manageable just don’t work. They never have. I looked around and said, “this is just my life and it’s time to accept it.” That doesn’t mean that I won’t determine, many more times, some newfound way to control the crazy. But it does mean that each day, I’m asking for grace for that day for not only my own family, but also for all the other kids who wish they were part of our family. Each knock will just have to get dealt with – without a big blanket policy. And I’m asking for God’s help to live in the moment. Not borrowing stress when it’s 6am and the knocking has already started (“Oh great, it’s going to be THIS kind of day”). And if I have to tell ten children, ten times some days that, “No, you can’t play” then oh well. Their disappointment will wash away in a second on the days that I say, “sure, come play.”
The picture on the top right, is of our neighbor girl on our front steps, watching some of the boys swim and patiently waiting for “girls’ swim” time. The picture on the left is Annabel and the same neighbor girl, Oisha, ready to jump in and have their own swim time. Oisha is Annabel’s height but two years older than her.