As I start to fill a cardboard box with the line of shoes, I explain that we will deliver them to the “kids without mommies and daddies.”
As the weather begins to warm us again, I feel the urge to organize. On this particular day, it’s kids’ shoes. My kids are growing too fast.
It is a sunny Saturday morning and I gather the kids into their room, have them sit on either side of me on their floor’s carpet, and announce that we’re doing “shoe testing.” They each have a wicker basket in which their respective shoes are meant to be stored, but after a winter of chaos, they’re all mixed up.
I kneel on the ground and dump out both baskets into a big central pile. I hand pairs of shoes to each child and begin a notion of separation, trying to quickly pass along shoes that are now too small for my five-year-old daughter over to my three-year-old son to try on. They’re having a great time testing footwear and soon it’s all I can do to remember which shoes go where. I begin to differentiate the shoes that are too small for either of them by chucking them out the door of their bedroom into the empty hallway. Soon it is all I can do to keep the kids from whipping their still wearable shoes in the same direction. They think it’s a game, of course. Oops.
Eventually, I regain control of the shoe show and we finally have some clear footwear focus. I have adequately separated the remaining functional shoes into their respective wicker baskets—one for my daughter and one for my son—and then wrested the Elsa & Anna boots off of my son’s feet (“They’re for rainy weather, not for wearing inside!” “But I like wearing them, mommy!” “Not inside, honey…”), and then I line up the remaining too-small shoes along the edge of the wall. I take a short video. I place that video on WeChat moments saying, “Surely there’s an orphanage nearby who needs these.”
The responses are plentiful. I am mostly referred to Roundabout as the best-known outlet to which expats can make donations (and no disparaging their great work), but my goal is to take the kids into an orphanage and have them personally deliver needed items to children in need. How do I instill any awareness of their good fortune without having them witness, if even for a moment, the alternative realities of children not as fortunate?
But, I still haven’t decided on which orphanage we will visit. As I start to fill a cardboard box with the line of shoes, I explain that we will deliver them to the “kids without mommies and daddies.”
“When can we go, Mommy? Can we go now?”
She is impatient to learn that this will not happen immediately. I explain that we will gather other things too, like clothes and toys. And that this process takes some time.
“Maybe you can donate some toys you don’t play with anymore,” I tell her, trying to distract her from the disappointment.
She disappears into her bedroom and ruffles around for a while before emerging with two stuffed toys and a half-filled-in coloring book.
“What about these things, Mommy?” she asks, not waiting for an answer before plopping them noisily into the open box.
I smile at her approvingly. She is starting to understand the concept, at least.
Then she surprises me:
“So when do we get to see their castle?”
I’m confused. I ask for clarity.
“Well, the kids are like Elsa and Anna, right? They don’t have a mommy and daddy either!” she says, referencing the Disney movie Frozen. And then I see it: she thinks that all orphans are royalty living in castles.
I have a bit more work to do than I thought.
This is an updated version of the article that originally appeared on p. 46 of beijingkids April Issue. Download the digital copy here.