That was her first English word. Before mommy or dad or can I have five dollars, shoes was the word she uttered with astounding clarity and amazement.
She was three years and two months when we met her. She weighed all of eighteen pounds and resembled a china doll more than a real girl. She was busy munching on animal crackers and Gatorade like it was manna from heaven when she spied the two large sacks we had brought to the orphanage. Offerings of blankets, clothing and shoes for small children that had nothing to call their own. We opened the sacks and started to rummage, but as if by instinct she found her way to the bottom and started pulling out the shoes. She was fascinated; her face lit up with color; her eyes wide in amazement. She looked at us for approval. Go ahead kid; knock yourself out. She found a pair she liked and started hobbling around in them. Shoes we said. She pointed to her feet. Shoes she asked. Yes, shoes. There was no turning back. She was ours; or we were hers. She had laid claim. We could turn out to be the worst parents ever, but we had shoes and animal crackers and Gatorade; and now we spoke the same language. How bad could it get?
We have no recollection of when or how we filled in the gaps. It was just hand gestures, a few Russian words we had learned, and intuition for a while. Eventially she built her vocabulary. But we'll always remember our baby's first word.