Pon sits on the couch looking somewhere between stoic and sullen. He watches Spongebob Squarepants as my husband plays with my daughter, and I tidy up the house. We went out earlier on Saturday to help our new visitor pick up some sundries and snacks. It didn't quite go as planned...
Pon was too overwhelmed to shop. He kept starring at the aisles of the mega-mart completely uncertain of what he should do. For a moment, I wonder if Wal-Mart/Fred Meyer type stores didn't exist in Thailand. I ask him this. Pon shakes his head and tells me that they can be found all across his country and that his family go there frequently. He appears curious that I asked the question, but says nothing more.
Aisle after aisle we travel aimlessly, following Pon as he wanders towards some unknown goal. My husband and I attempt to provide guidance. "Do you want to buy something to drink?" Pon shakes his head. "Juice, milk, soda? A snack?" Pon pauses for a moment and half nods. "Potato chips? Perhaps you want some type of special lunch-meat or vegetable?" Pon shakes his head. "Are you finished looking?" Pon shakes his head . It occurs to me that our new friend is likely unaccustomed to doing his own shopping.
I let my husband and daughter move ahead to find their own snacks and I decide to take a more pro-active approach. "Let's try this aisle" I say, gently leading him to the potato chip section. "It sounded like you might want chips. Am I right?" Pon looks embarrassed and nods. "Okay," I say "we have corn chips and potato chips..." Pon points to the potato chips. Progress! Pon stares at the 8 different varieties. I pick up a bag and put it in his cart. He smiles. Okay, so he's definitely not used to making decisions, I nod.
Pon's passive nature extends beyond culinary decisions. My daughter soon adopts him as her own personal playmate, horsey, tea-party partner, and valet. I draw the line when Gracie invades Pon's room as she merrily dances around his bed, donning his I-pod. "Do you want her to leave you alone?" I ask him.
Pon frowns and looks gravely serious "it is her choice," he replies. I unceremoniously sweep the headphones off Gracie's ears, tuck her under one arm and bring her into the living room. It is not her choice.
The next day we take Pon into town. We look for a good place to eat, Pon's choice (now we're actively encouraging him to make decisions). Dave, Gracie and I walk the block twice before we give up and settle for pizza. Baby steps, we think. Baby steps.
My friend comes over the following evening and we discuss the situation. She tells me that one of her friends adopted two Thai children years ago and may have some insights. Sagely as always, she tells me this story as relayed by her friend:
When my friend's children were almost grown, their cousin came to visit America. She was 26 years old and had never been out of country. My friend asked her if she wanted to come along on a cross-country trip with her to provide translation services to others in the Thai community. The young woman immediately says "yes" but my friend tells her to think about it first. The next day, the woman agrees to come along. She appears to have a wonderful time. Several years later, the lady tells my friend that the act of being asked a question- in sincerity- was a life changing experience. In all her 26 years, she had never once been expected to make an independent decision. She was moved by the opportunity.
The story strikes home. If a 26 year old adult was never expected to make decisions, 15 year old Pon must feel terrified. I know in that moment that we will have our work cut out for us.