I believe in the power of young children; I believe in the unexpected changes that transform lives in just minutes; I believe in the importance of the reciprocal influences children and adults have on one another.
Anya moved here from an orphanage in the Ukraine when she was two years old. This was five years ago. Over the past five years I have watched her grow from a frightened, reticent toddler to an outgoing, intelligent young girl with an incredibly bright future.
As Anya walked up my driveway for the first time, she anxiously clung to Terri, her adoptive mother, afraid of entering our house. Eventually, Terri was able to lead her inside—a necessary encounter, as I would be her babysitter for the next five years before leaving for college. As Anya made her way into our family room, the fear in her eyes resembled that of a child lost on the streets of New York City.
Hoping to make Anya feel comfortable, Terri introduced her to my family, but Anya remained silent. My mom and I presented her with a variety of toys, but she hesitated in playing with them, as though it may not be allowed and a punishment could follow. Once Anya realized she was permitted to play with the toys, I built Lego creations with her on our family room floor in silence for about an hour, observing her tendency to glance up at Terri every few seconds, making sure she hadn’t abandoned her.
Throughout the afternoon I noticed many things that aroused fear in Anya. During the time I spent playing with her, she caught sight of my cat and was nothing short of terrified as she ran to Terri for safety. At the end of the day, as she was preparing to leave, the mere sight of a power drill sitting idly on our fireplace induced so much fright in Anya that it brought her to tears.
After these encounters, I was convinced that Anya wouldn’t be spending much time with us. Instead, she and Terri continued to visit us frequently, and Anya grew more comfortable with each visit that passed. Before I knew it, she was screaming with excitement at the news of me coming over to babysit. I thoroughly enjoyed spending this time with Anya. Young children have an entirely different perspective of their surroundings; they are so full of belief and wonder. Spending time with Anya allowed me to adopt her perspective, to regress to the fantasy world of princesses and glass slippers.
I began to realize that Anya looked up to me when she told Terri, “I want to be a ballerina, like Alyssa.” To her, I had no flaws, I could not disappoint. My relationship with Anya has taught me of the benefits an adult can achieve through spending time with young children. While I served as a role model for Anya, she became my link back to a childhood full of hope and imagination.
Today, Anya is one of the most polite, social, and intelligent young girls I have ever met. At the age of seven, she continues to take dance classes and has already discovered a passion for animals. Watching her develop into such a promising individual has opened my eyes to how unexpectedly and dramatically someone’s life can change. In just minutes, her future shifted from growing up in an orphanage with little hope and no family, to being raised by great parents in a country with endless opportunities for success. I am incredibly grateful for influencing and having been influenced by such a special person. Because of Anya, I believe in a young child’s ability to inspire an adult, and more importantly, I believe in her.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.