The Boy Who Changed Everything


Our house used to be neat, orderly and oh-so-blissfully quiet.

Now it is loud, chaotic and just a little bit smelly at times.

That’s because, a little over a year ago, we adopted Ginters, an 8-year-old boy from Latvia whom we first met while hosting through Project 143 in the summer of 2017. I flew alone from Cleveland to Chicago to pick him up and, while I tried my best to look warm and friendly, I think I was probably as terrified as he was. “It’s only a month, right?” he asked, in Latvian, looking up at the adult chaperone who flew over with the group.

She smiled and nodded at him, but his eyes were still wide with fear.

Ginters entered a house that had been dominated by girls for 13 years. Sure, there’s my husband, but he’s as quiet and tidy as they come. Then there’s me, an introvert who needs my space, and my then 11- and 13-year-old daughters. Let’s just say fart jokes aren’t our thing.

Ginters came in like a 55-pound tornado. Used to fighting for attention, he quickly assembled enough English to keep up a running commentary. Dinnertime was his favorite. “Ketchup! Mustard!” he’d bellow in a surprisingly loud voice for his small size. Then he’d throw in a few chicken clucks (he lived on a farm in Latvia) and howl with laughter.

He was also the kind of kid who, when the lifeguard blew the whistle for breaktime, would climb out and then “accidentally” fall back in the water. He ran fast with plates of food and spilled them. He actually brought mud into our mudroom. He swore enthusiastically in both Latvian and English. 

Could this boy become a part of our family?

To be honest, we didn’t know. But we did know that the thought of never seeing him again was sobering. What would become of him when he aged out of foster care? Statistically speaking, the future looked bleak for him. 

And, as loud as he could be, we found him to be exceptional. He discovered every pocket of joy he could in a day. He literally stopped and smelled flowers. He made every day interesting with his antics and his enthusiasm. 

So we hosted him again — and then decided to try and adopt him. 

Ginters is now 10 and is still loud, joy-filled and full of enthusiasm. He’s learned when to be quiet and we’ve learned when to loosen up a bit. 

I still have a lot to figure out. How high is too high to let him climb in a tree? How many steps are OK to jump down from? What is rough-housing and what is actual fighting? Is it acceptable to make fart noises at basketball practice? 

Once, when he was waving around a cap gun someone had given him, I found myself grabbing it and yelling: “That is NOT a toy!”

I realized a half second later that, yes, it actually is a toy.

My daughters are the kind of girls who don’t get into trouble at school. They’re on the quiet side and never needed any help with homework. For a long time, I thought I made them that way. I took pride in how good they were and, if we’re being honest, looked down on kids who seemed crazy in comparison

While Ginters did have a disordered early childhood, it’s also perfectly clear to me that he is who God made him — and he has many, many good qualities that his sisters do not. He’s the most resilient person I’ve ever met. His energy levels are off the charts. He’s so curious about how everything works, whereas his sisters couldn’t care less. He’ll sit and talk with his 96-year-old grandpa for hours. He cleans the mudroom without being asked. 

Life has been messy since Ginters arrived on the scene — and it’s definitely been harder at times. But there is also joy — oh so much joy. The joy of teaching him to read — and seeing him treasure our nightly story time and how he leans his head gently against mine. The joy of seeing him outside playing catch with his dad and two sisters. The joy of seeing him begin to believe in himself.

I’m starting to think that, as cliché as it sounds, we needed Ginters as much as he needed us.

Thank you Colleen Smitek for sharing your story and experiences!


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Traci Mai

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