I have kept a diary since my 20s. When I finally obtained a satisfactory level of cool, I started calling it a journal. Now when I am wanting to understand more about becoming and being a family via adoption, turning to my journals is like cautiously pulling the thread Isabel Allende imagines in Of Love and Shadows (p.140) to unravel the conflict her story narrates. Allende may have used the metaphor to suggest that pulling on a thread would start a dangerous or damaging domino effect but it struck me personally as a way to see what my experiences were made of. This is not an unusual curiosity. I have read a library shelf worth of studies and memoirs written by people who because they themselves were parents, both birth and adoptive, or children of an adoption turned to the study of adoption. They wrote to pull on the thread of their stories, to unravel the parts of their lives that helped them to see the knots and hopefully work them out. I think most of these writers, or artists, or musicians or film makers were compelled from within to do so. I know this is why I read, watch movies or documentaries, sometimes get directed to music by my husband, sift through my journals- to seek some understanding of our family’s experiences as it has come through adoption.
And a word to address veracity: Someone says, “I remember it like it was yesterday.” Science arches an eyebrow and responds, “I doubt you do.” A first year psychology text addressing memory makes the point that we are constantly reconstructing memory as time weaves new perspectives into our narratives, changing a certainty into a gist well peppered with what must be acknowledged as fiction. In the stories I share from my journal, there will be new perspectives and a fair bit of ‘gisting’ goin’on but I do have a first person primary source, my journal to guide each narrative.
The entries I select to draw together into a post have been first read by my husband and son.
I start with an entry from June 24, 1997. Yasik was about 4 ½ and living in an orphanage in Yaroslavl, an ancient city about 250 kilometers from Moscow. Because he was considered cute enough to still have potential for adoption, even at the advanced age of 4 + years, he had been allowed to remain in an orphanage for younger children and on a roster of adoptable children. He had three older siblings in other orphanages. His full name was Yaroslav Guerin Nicolavich; someone told us that Yaroslav is a name he was probably given more as representative of the region he was born into than because his parents saw their new born son as ‘fierce and glorious’, the meaning the name has in Slavic regions.
Dave and I had been trying to adopt for about two years; this an average time though for those determined to have a newborn the wait averages out to seven years. Those two years were about learning what the process involved and then standing before the doors labelled: domestic adoption, open adoption, friend of a friend adoption, international adoption, guessing behind which door we would find our child. We chose the door labelled international adoption. Dave’s hand was firmly on the door handle. My fingers were still a bit twitchy. I have boxes scattered all over the floor and shoes well broken in before I walk out of the shoe shop with a new pair of shoes. And there is much, much more to consider when looking for a child than a pair of shoes. Yeah, really. In the midst of laying down money to the society facilitating our international adoption, I would find myself still toying with other possibilities. Having a biological baby is a desire that is woven into our beings by biology, tradition, culture, religion, and societal expectations. This was the desire to be as normal as possible despite now living in a body beyond the age of reproduction. I was 47 and could no longer give my husband his own child, even though I had never wanted to do anything but adopt. But Dave, how was he feeling about never having a little David or Darlene growing into a remarkable likeness of himself. Dave stopped me up by asking how he could make a big deal of having a child that came from his DNA when he was adopted himself. That settled my twitchy fingers. We were on the same page about adopting.
The first child we were offered when we started to apply to Russia was a 7 month old boy. The woman who was facilitating our adoption, Julia Ivanova, told Dave to be considered for this baby he should shave his beard because it had gray in it. I was already well dyed. But it didn’t help because Russia came back with a policy that said we had to be less than 40 years old to adopt an infant and we weren’t, I being more years beyond 40 than gray-bearded Dave.
Anyway we looked at our options, a biological or adopted infant was out for us. When I told a friend who was on maternity leave with a toddler, her less than sympathetic response was, “Good, you will not have to deal with diapers.” I think she saw them to be a waste of good money. The child was going to be an older child. I was teaching adult education classes, Dave was working on his art degree, and he was meeting mortgage payments with a week-end job. We each tucked in minor surgeries; mine left me with a pee bag sloshing around on my thigh while I was stopping in at various offices to get signatures, and sign away lumps of money. The pee bag would rock and roll as I rushed about and sometimes surprised me enough that I would jump or yell for what looked to others like no particular reason. So did we stop to check out what it meant to adopt an older child? No. We knew little even about the state of affairs in Russia. Would the KGB be following us around? What would the weather be like in August? At this point all we knew was our adoption process and a bit about the stories most common at the time regarding adoption, the miracle of a god given ‘forever child’. I am not sure if the term ‘forever child’ had begun to trend, but when I later began to study adoption, I found a decent body of research on adoption beginning well back in the twentieth century. No one hinted to us that we might consider even a visit to the SFU library where a study of Romanian adoptions was into its fourth year. We were simply running through a domestic to do list.
We were working through pages of paper work about our home, our finances, our jobs, our families and our health. And we had started to put down money to pay our way through the process of adoption. If we backed out now we would have to do all that over for another child. Money always has a loud voice. So we asked what was available to us if we were not going to be allowed a baby. Julia told us about a 3 year old boy , wheel-chair bound with cerebral palsy, and a 4 1/2 year old boy. We were not open to the 3 year old because we worked as caregivers for challenged people for many years. We thought we might have a hard time distinguishing between a sense of being at work and being in a family. We wanted family, not more job. Is there a stone to overturn here in terms of becoming and being family? This was not the pursuit of altruism or joining the ranks of rescuers of the destitute.
Yes I was pursuing the dream that refused to fade which I write about on the home. But even my dream of adopting a little blond boy was not about saving his sorry little butt; it was because in my dream I had been given him. And I know what flags pop up on the landscape with that admission. I will deal with them in time, if not already in other posts. And here is another admission found in this entry: Dave liked that the 4 year old would allow him to keep going on his studies because the 4 year old would go to school part of the day. Doesn’t that sound convenient? Neither Dave nor I had altruistic ideals fueling our desire to adopt. We wanted a child and if we found one who would fit our finances and work demands, nice. BUT… hear a very firm ‘however’ here: being near to ageing out as prospective parents, and being low on discretionary funds, we had little leeway to be choosy. We were two people stretching our necks to be counted as middle class, yet about to pack our lives with some serious financial demands. Factor into these constraints an odd little piece: our school had managed to get us unionized in negotiations that decided maternity leave for adoptors could be dispensed with because those at the meeting knew of next to no one planning to adopt at the time.
Julia gave us the first picture of Yasik: blond- just like my dream, chubby- well, pictures add 10 pounds, and one definitely crossed eye, and as someone at my school pointed out, a very cute nose. I was looking at this picture of Yasik while calling Julia to tell her we had chosen to go ahead with adopting Yasik. The little fellow in that picture was drawing me in. A question I wrote down that day was: How do you hold back dreams? We were about to do as James Michener suggests at the end of The Drifters when the character Brit says, “[people] ought to inspect their dreams. And know them for what they are.” So we went shopping – always a nice way to put a dream in action. We went shopping for a 4 year old boy. Dave got him a book of paper airplanes.