At first Yasik sat quiet in Dave’s arms. Dave bent to my ear to encourage me not to be shy while he and Yasik played это и то —– this and that. Must have seemed odd to the two in front that I was holding back. Tatiana later played a hand slapping game with him and he warmed, losing his shyness, and surprising us by laughing out loud, talking and teasing; in a bit, we were too. Soon he lost enough shyness to hit me; quickly we moved to overly rambunctious. Added to that, at one point on the trip, Alexi stopped for a cigarette break and Yasik needed to pee. With our help. Pants pulled up, we climbed back into the van and Yasik yelled to the driver to get going again. The driver shrugged, laughed and returned to the van and off we went again. He never settled to sleep and we were learning more Russian than we planned – don’t get excited we are talking more than 2 or 3 words. The staff at the orphanage told us not to feed him for he would vomit yet Alexi and Tatiana gave him 3 bananas and a candy. Dave worried that in mere hours we were undoing all the orphanage niceness and order.
The drive back to Moscow, as return trips often seem to do, passed much more quickly, pulling out all the sweet memory stops: a beautiful prairie sunset and a harvest moon. We got back to the apartment and Yasik ate only an apple and had some water, all the while talking and poking around, exploring the little apartment. We showered him, got him pee-ed and into bed in a room adjacent to ours after covering the bed sheet with a ripped open plastic bag. We read to him but that was pointless for every few minutes Dave was flipping through the dictionary for words we couldn’t figure out how to pronounce right anyway. Yasik just looked at us. The barrier was bigger than we thought I write in the journal.
I gave him a flashlight with low batteries. It began to waver so Dave put a new battery in and well he was off and playing shadow animals and faces and NOT slowing down. He said something to Dave and Dave said ‘nyet’. We left. Moments later we thought we heard him cry and both leaped up. He seems to have had us on a marionette string. I went through the living room and into his room to turn the flashlight off and only succeeded in showing him how to turn it on which he did and I started laughing and left. Later we turned it off and I stayed and held his hand. When I checked on him in the middle of the night, he appeared to sleep well. 6:30 am and Dave couldn’t wait so brought him in with us. We had breakfast only after he got his shoes on, with his PJs. Is he, as John Brooks suggests in The Girl Behind the Door, our new pet (182)? Maybe. There must be some of that for every parent, biological or adoptive, in the honeymoon period. But whatever adults invest in, there are a few moments of honeymoon, are there not? Initially though most go into an investment in life with some understanding that there is more to it than that, so why not enjoy the happy surprises that come with each new venture? I say that because those days were a honeymoon for us, but I also recognize that Brooks is making the point that in doing so we may have been detrimentally oblivious to other, less obvious needs our child had. Brooks goes on to say that later on their first night with their baby, they wanted to sleep so parked the infant in front of a TV which likely was not her orphanage night time routine. They might have more deeply met their child’s needs by simply holding her until she fell asleep (183).
It also strikes me here how much I mention him talking when later we will deal with questions of the use of language for communication.
Larissa the landlady was inundating us with food. When we couldn’t eat it all (the bread was amazing) I threw it down the toilet, the only way no one would know we didn’t eat it because the garbage would be gone through. Not wanting to offend can lead to questionable actions. She did see some food in the garbage one day and left a note one asking us to let her know if it was too much. Turns out the simple solution for our culture would have also worked in her culture. So, we did tell her and that was the end of the wonderful bread.
We spent the days waiting for the adoption process to be completed mostly playing tourist. On the Metro, people gave up their seats to me and even to Dave when he was holding Yasik. One woman gave Yasik a 2-inch-long chocolate and he popped the whole thing in his mouth. She thought that was fine and went on to tell us that she had 7 children. We visited both of the largest art galleries – the Tretyakov and the Pushkin- and were quite simply blown away. The Pushkin had 5 soul satisfying Van Goghs. All of this demanded over 4 hours of walking with a 4-and-a-half-year-old boy who had known us only a day or two. The paintings didn’t do much for him but the big pieces of sculpture caught his attention, and being 4 1/2, he managed to put us in apology mode with security more than once. Next stop: MacDonald’s where probably for the first (and last) time, Yasik was more interested in feeding the chips to the pigeons than tasting the wonders of a kid’s pack himself. And this will sound obviously naïve, but Yasik took us by surprise with his speed at darting away from us to chase a pigeon and try, like Dave, to get them to feed out of his hand. We quickly began to tighten our grip on his tiny hand. True to tourist protocol, we ended this fairly long day with Red Square pictures. When we returned to the apartment Yasik conked out and slept about 12 hours though to this point the only solid meal he had was at breakfast.
We were picked up early the following day by the driver, Alexis, Tatiana, the facilitator and a new translator, Anna. Anna was young, well educated and full of hope for the future of Russia. She had moved from Yaroslavl for the prospects Moscow offered, what they referred to at the time as the ‘new Russians’. She was a sharp contrast to the translator who helped us in Yaroslavl, someone with the same education, yet who actually wanted to emigrate, seeing little hope for a better future in Russia.
We were taken to the Canadian embassy for Yasik’s visa. Here because of whatever contacts or methods Tatiana had at her disposal, she and Dave moved directly to the front of the line in a crowded office. The same happened when we went on to the Lufthansa office. My ticket was missing, perhaps stolen, but Tatiana quickly righted that situation as well. And now Yasik was entirely our son.
About two days in we could already see or were groomed by our own upbringings to see that Yasik had led us or we had led Yasik to assign us roles. Very quickly Yasik took ‘Nyet’ well from Dave and played with him; he cuddled up to me. I write in the journal two days into our family experience, “so I’ll nurture, Dave will lead – whether we want to argue roles or not or bend the roles or whatever – they are still there; by instinct he or we have placed us so his life is complete and secure”. Yes, it is not a Duggar family message of a wife with Nancy Reagan’s smile pasted on her face and obedient, modestly dressed children under the stern but wise and responsible husband’s umbrella but for traditional or psychological makeup, cultural, societal, whatever, it is what it is.
Bouncing, giggling, chattering in Russian and making sure he had those shoes on, Yasik started our day. But one day Larissa came over for the rent, bearing gifts of food and a book of Pushkin for Yasik. While we settled things, she talked with Yasik in Russian and Yasik who moments before had been giggling, broke into fairly hysterical sobs. We were shocked for a moment and then I picked him up and took him into the bedroom. He continued to cry for quite awhile, hanging on to me. He quieted and said, “Poppa”, so I took him to where Dave was giving the rent money to the landlady. She talked to him again and again he started to cry. Dave took him and I ushered the landlady out. When I joined Dave and Yasik in the bedroom again, Yasik began to quiet, though we too were by now swamped by emotion. To divert him, we walked to a nearby park. Yasik didn’t try the swings but then I don’t remember seeing a playground at the orphanage so perhaps he was not about to attempt the unfamiliar. Instead, he chased the birds and then when some Russian kids approached, he and Dave played ball with them and flew the paper airplanes we had brought. We left the planes with the kids and they responded with a polite thank you. When Yasik piped up with ‘Ka Kas’ we took off for the apartment. The landlady stopped by once more with an art book and candies and this time Yasik warmed to her but we never received an explanation for the outburst. We were only left with an awareness that for Yasik this was a much more emotional time than we had comprehended.
Yasik also managed to give us a further scare that afternoon by hanging over the little balcony before we caught him. That night my body tightened with the memory of a time a child in my care was almost blown off the roof of an old church in the Philippines. Dave, too, already asleep, began to twitch and heave short, panicky breathing. He’d had a night mare of falling while trying to catch Yasik who was about to fall. This was rushing head long into parental fears, right.
One-or two-more days playing tourist and though we didn’t realize at the time we were enjoying the larger portion of our maternal/parental leave. We were coming to know our son as bouncy and curious about everything that had a switch or button or handle. Turning on light switches remained a fascination for several days. As we packed to return to Canada, we were surprised to find a couple of Yasik’s new toys missing, none which had be taken out of the apartment. We found the toys stuffed behind the old piano in the living room. Our introduction to what I have since read over and over again as a side effect of orphanage living, the habit of hoarding or simply claiming something and knowing the only way they could hold on to it would be to hid it from the other kids. I wonder if there are any set of siblings who don’t try the same with toys not clearly designated.
And then it was time to take one last trip through Moscow in the middle of the night. arriving at the airport when a full moon was filling the waiting room. The airplane offered even more technical curiosities for Yasik. We caught the wonder of earphones in the picture included here. While waiting for our next leg of the trip in Frankfurt, we met an American couple who had just adopted two kids and a woman who came across as a self – appointed authority on orphanages. She was part of a church mission to help orphanages by setting up children’s camps. At that time Russia was quite open to foreign help, religious or otherwise. One last leg of the flight and we were back home in Canada. Well, two of the members of this new nuclear family were returning home. The third member was only about to be introduced to a new home.
So let me jump off that word ‘introduce’ and take a moment to do just that. I have shared fairly liberally what we knew/came to know over time of Yasik’s background. I will round out what has been shared with some of the physical data of the child Dave carried off the airplane: Yasik was 35 inches tall and weighed 35 pounds, roughly the weight of our one-year-old niece and shorter than our three-year-old nephew. He had convergent strabismus in his left eye. He had soft, very light blond hair, a perfect nose and a tad over blown ears. His eyes remain hazel brown even though his passport has them marked down as green. Like I said, he was beautiful.
And the other two in this family? As I have exposed Yasik, it is only democratic to provide a basic sketch of Dave and me. Dave first.
Dave was 40, five foot 11 inches, not overweight but not skinny either as he had given up smoking the year before. Our adoption home study says he has “blue eyes and glasses, balding short reddish blond hair”. He was born in Calgary, Alberta to a couple whose marriage barely made it past his birth, their second child together. At the time of the home study, we understood his mother’s heritage was Metis and his father was of Scottish heritage. He remained with his mother who moved on to a host of uncles, two more marriages and 3 more children, half siblings to Dave and his brother. His relationship with his biological father was not much more than a single letter. The first step father was simply criminally abusive. The second step father, who legally adopted all Dave’s mother’s children, was anyone’s definition of a dedicated, working-class father, although it is possible to say that a man Dave met later in life offered the kind of mentoring that qualified as the most impactful fathering of all. His mother, coming into this loaded adulthood poorly prepared, was, at times, supportive and, at times, unable or unwilling to be the mother she needed to be. In his late teens he sustained a serious car accident which left him with visible facial scars and two years of intensive rehabilitation mentally, emotionally and physically, but as he healed, he was imbued with a strong desire to get back into life. He went on to train in welding and motorcycle technology even while still paying for the impact of his childhood and accident by going into a marriage ill prepared and rather quickly abandoned. He also had many years training and working with challenged people which is where we met.
For a year or so we were little more than passing acquaintances. One fine morning I mentioned I was soon leaving the group home where I worked. He came back with an offer of a ‘farewell’ coffee on a Friday evening; we went for a drive that led to some house hunting, marriage, and moving into a house together a little over 3 months later. And whew, this mad dash worked for us. A year after we married, Dave was accepted into Emily Carr University of Art and Design (ECUAD); he was going to school fulltime, working a weekend shift with a challenged client and practicing his interests in art and motorcycles in his spare time at home.
He was about to start the second year of study and parttime employment when we flew off to Russia.
And me? The other day I wrote some preliminary notes and went off on a rampage about the religious world I was born into. I will spare the reader. In August 1997 I was 47, 5 foot, 6 inches tall and respectable weight-wise. Our adoption study says I had, “long brown hair with bangs, green eyes”. I was born in Chilliwack, BC to a couple who remained married their entire lives but were not well-equipped to maintain a healthy marriage. Both my parents had a few generations to deepen their Canadian roots but as was common in the 50s held on to their origins: mother’s family were British and Scottish; Dad’s family were German and Polish. Guess which one in post-war Canada was a source of pride and which one was best whispered? Both came from families somewhere between fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantism. Whenever an issue arose that needed a Biblical response, the tilt was toward the fundamentalist explanation of God’s truth. Was bowling a sin? Most definitely, until, of course, someone thought it was possible to skirt around the sinful dangers. But we were a family and each of us, my self, my brother and two sisters, knew that our parents loved us and wanted us to be happy. Maybe they were too unsophisticated to be able to guide us into what would have ensured solid doors were held open for us, but they would have resisted little of our inclinations, other than what was ‘evidently’ evil. Mini skirts made Dad squirm; drugs freaked him out. Moving into our twenties these struggles got sorted. I use the plural for this part of my life because we siblings were each a year apart. We all finished high school more or less and moved on to likely Canada’s largest fundamentalist Bible School. We each graduated and went into missionary service. I was in Northern Canada with my youngest sister and then we two joined my brother and other sister in the Philippines. I only then began to shake free of the compliant, insecure, hunch-shouldered stand-to-the side-rather-than-engage manner I have already mentioned in relationship to becoming Yasik’s mother. Even if God was holding a flaming lightening bolt over me, I had had enough. I returned to Canada and enrolled in SFU along with my brother and one sister. We each found jobs caring for the challenged and settled in to completing our studies until two years before Dave and I married. In those two years, although I continued working in a group home, I also began teaching in adult education in Vancouver. I lucked out, finding a career I had only dreamed of in the days when I was certain God would not hear of me leaving what He considered the highest calling.
I was about to return to a full-time position as a high school English teacher when we flew off to Russia.