There is much truth to the old adage that as the twig is bent, so the tree inclines. Things that happen early in life have long-lasting consequences. As we have seen, one mechanism behind this tendency is environmentally induced epigenetic change. But in my many walks in the forest, I have noticed that some trees start growing in one direction, then change direction quite dramatically, sometimes up to ninety degrees. This usually occurs when the tree begins life by growing sideways due to some environmental impediment, like a rock or other trees, then makes a turn toward the vertical and sunlight. There are numerous analogous cases in human psychological development. Many who get off to a bad start make mid-course corrections. Most victims of child abuse do not become child abusers. That cycle can be broken (73).
Taken from: Epigenetics: the ultimate mystery of inheritance by Richard C. Francis 2011
From Dream to Reality
Listening to the radio on my morning commute, an over-the-top lead-in question caught my attention. What is being done for someone who has had ‘his soul ripped out’? I had happened on a discussion of PTSD. In that context, the sense of histrionics fizzles out. Always quick to make personal connections, my thoughts picked up the question and moved it to my context — concerns I have with the family in adoption. It became the question which initiated this blog as I joined the search to understand the adoptive family when the adoptee has spent some part of his or her early years in an orphanage – and what this start to a life brings to the struggle of the adopted person and his or her parents, both biological and adoptive. The blog is about my search for information about life in a Russian orphanage in the 90s, the adoption process of that decade, the early years with our child, the changes that came in the teen years, and what our family has learned and experienced as our son moved into adulthood. And once some of the markers of these years surface, hopefully guidance will begin to come to light.
Before the search officially begins, I offer my story.
One summer afternoon when I might have been seven or eight, I watched an afternoon TV movie. A woman who apparently knows she is dying goes to an orphanage and adopts a girl of five or six. They become very close. And yes, then she dies. The husband draws into himself in his grief and so the little girl feeling shut out runs off to sit on a big rock on the seashore to cry out her loneliness to the ghost of her mother. Of course, the father comes to his senses in time to recognize that the little girl was his wife’s gift to him. She had planned to replace his loneliness with a child. The movie comes to a crescendo as he rushes out to rescue the child before the tide comes in to wash her away.
With even deeper impact, in my teens, I dreamt one night that I had been given a child, a little boy with blond hair. For some reason I spent most of the dream struggling to get around a rock slide (I like to think it was around Angel Rock on the Port Alberni highway in the picture above) with this little boy in tow but the impression I was left with was that, though there was some kind of struggle, this boy was for me. My memory holds that I had this dream more than once or at least with enough impact that with it and the afternoon movie, I always seemed to have planned to adopt. Creating a child from the eggs within me never compelled me in the same way. Adoption had become my romantic ideal. I took up the challenge James Mitchner throws out to his readers at the end of The Drifters, “…now I believe that [people] ought to inspect their dreams. And know them for what they are.”
Samuel T. Coleridge wrote of it in this way:
And what if you slept? And what if in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awake, you had a flower in your hand? Ah, what then?
Yes, “Ah, what then?”
In my twenties and thirties I entertained half formed thoughts of adopting children I was asked to help with, but not until I was in my forties could I begin to act on what seemed to me to be simply what I must do, rather than idly chit chat about a romantic notion. I secured sufficient financial independence and I accepted a date with a good man, Dave. Together, over two years, we completed the requisite orientation and exploration of adoption options. Check, Check, and Check. As many who have adopted internationally know, the flurry of the final weeks made up for the dragging months of the years leading up to the adoption. After rushing about getting medicals, references, finances and a wardrobe for a child of indeterminate size, we flew to Russia, drove to a large provincial town, and were introduced to our little, blond, four year old son. It still strikes me as noteworthy that at the end of the day we met our new son, we slept in a lovely old hotel in single beds – no sex required for the making of this family. The next day we stood before a very young judge who appeared charmed by our shy happiness, drove around town to remove this child from the Russian record system and then picked him up at the orphanage. In less than 24 hours of meeting him, and only having been told that he seemed to love music, he was our child. It never occurred to us at that time to think that amazing. We (read ‘naively’ here) assumed that we likely knew as much as any set of parents holding their just born biological child. Besides which, as international adoptions only took off in the ‘90s, little easily accessible literature was available other than memoirs offering the theme “God has given us the forever child we were destined for”. These were usually written about the pre-adoption period and the first two years post- adoption, a kind of honeymoon period for most adopting families. Any memoir we might have wanted to write at the time would have produced that same story line.
Only once in that period was our bliss punctured for a moment. An American couple called and tried to engage us in a conversation about why their child seemed so easily disruptive. We looked at each other blankly and tossed the problem off, assuming the parents lacked parenting skills.
Yasik (the diminutive of his Russian name) was beautiful, sweet and cuddly. We cocooned with him in the nuclear family dream. But this blog would not have been created if that nice and normal dream had not taken a turn toward the need to understand why adoption creates a special kind of family drama. Yasik began to challenge our ideas of the best choices for his life soon after he turned 14. We chased him down a rabbit hole for several years but around the time he turned 18, the downtown community of our town became the family and home he sought out more and more. We were asking him to make choices he could not maintain, and eventually we lost our son to the streets. As Coleridge asks, “Ah, what then?” The search to understand became unavoidable. We needed help for ourselves and for our son.
July 2020: An update
To quietly write I am updating “From Dream to Reality” which I started in 2016, is to try to contain the thrill I feel (when I just want to belly yell) as I write for I know this little update may shake things up a fair bit. I add it though I have no intention of discontinuing winnowing chronologically the perspectives we had as we moved through the experiences of our life with Yasik.
Last month a mother in the United States, at the request of her daughter, googled the daughter’s younger biological brother’s full Russian name one more time in hopes of contacting him for she and her daughter knew he was also adopted in North America. I had recently begun to work through my journals of our family’s experience with adoption. In the first entry of my journaling posts, I wrote out our son’s full Russian name. And Google did what Ancestry.com could not in this situation. Google found Gurin Yaroslav Nikolayevich for this mother and her daughter, no small feat given that other than this mother, none save trolls have found the post. Here is the mother’s comment on our site: I believe we adopted Yaroslav’s older sister, Svetlana! Given trolls were the only responses I was getting to my posts, my husband and I were hesitant. But something stronger than curiosity urged us to respond to this mother, waiting in stunned mode, but hopeful. And all worries of having to send a fortune to Nigeria dissolved for certain when we saw the daughter’s picture. It continues to feel like some kind of miracle even if we do understand a little of the powers of Google.
And since then? Yasik and his sister have connected and as her mother says “They seem to be forging a strong bond.” I hear in my son’s voice these days a note those of us with family take for granted, a note of connectedness, for lack of an adequate word, when I hear him say, “I have to call my sister.”