To Sink or Swim? A Cautionary Tale


Throughout hosting, I must remind myself time and time again to assume nothing, expect nothing, and meet the children where they are.

Laurel F.

Host & Adoptive Mom, P143 volunteer

Our first experience with hosting was the winter of 2017 when we welcomed a sibling pair from Ukraine, Karina (7) and Bohdan (10), into our home. During that visit, we took them to a small, indoor children’s waterpark at a nearby hotel for some water fun. With kiddie slides and a zero-depth entry pool that remained quite shallow throughout, it was perfect for our host kiddos who didn’t have a great deal of previous experience in the water. They loved the slides and splashing in the water with the security of their feet always touching the pool bottom and their heads above water. It was clear to us in observing them that neither had strong swimming skills so even in the shallow water we kept an eagle eye on them. 

    Fast forward to the following summer 2018 when we again hosted Karina and Bohdan. During the previous winter hosting, they had longingly stared out the window at our pool, wishing for summer days of warmth and sunshine rather than the bone chilling cold of Wisconsin winters. They were so excited about the pool that swimming was the very first thing they wanted to do once we arrived home from picking them up at the airport. Nevermind that they had been traveling for twenty plus hours, they were going swimming! 

    We knew from the previous water experience that winter that Karina could not swim. Karina knew she could not swim. Nevertheless, before we could even process what was happening, she jumped into the pool with a large inflatable beach ball. Not realizing she wouldn’t stay balanced on the ball to stay afloat or just how deep the water was in that section of the pool, she very quickly found herself in trouble. Fortunately, my husband’s amateur lifeguarding skills kicked in immediately and he jumped in after her, fully clothed in dress pants and leather shoes, and of course with his phone in his pocket. While he and I tried to regain our composure from the near tragic incident, Karina rebounded quickly and immediately fitted herself with floatation devices of all kinds and was right back in the pool.

    Although we can laugh about the incident now, we obviously found little humor in it at the time because the outcome could have been very serious. The incident also served to highlight an interesting dichotomy common in host children: a naivete to many of the life experiences or everyday knowledge that we take for granted, mixed with a very strong survivor mentality. Karina had minimal experience in water (much less so than is common of many 7-year-old American children) and no idea of the true danger she faced. She thought she was safe on the ball...until it floated away from under her. But she is also a survivor. Like many other host children, she was used to taking care of herself with little availability of or reliance upon adults. As a result, she and many host children are extremely self-reliant, mature, and confident in many respects. I am certain Karina thought she could handle what she was doing and that she perceived no potential for danger. And after being rescued, she hesitated only long enough to solve the problem herself (by loading up on floaties) before jumping right back in. 

In our experience, the dichotomy between host children’s naivete to experiences or knowledge that we take for granted mixed with their strong survivor mentality, requires us to toe the line between constant vigilance yet allowance and respect for some level of freedom and self-reliance on the children’s parts. Throughout hosting, I must remind myself time and time again to assume nothing, expect nothing, and meet the children where they are.

And always, always watch them in the pool, even the children who tell you they can swim because often their understanding of what that means is not the same as what you think that means.

Thank you Laurel F. for sharing your story with us!!

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