Preface and Update

Preface

A hair stylist tipped my head back and told me ever since she was six, she wanted to style hair.  Apparently it would surprise us to know how many people become aware of their life focus/purpose quite early in life. My desire to become an adoptive parent, as I have written earlier, began with a childhood dream.  Reaching adulthood, I, still at the teething stage of maturity, tried chewing like any curious puppy on a couple of what might have been initiations into the world of adoption.

One of the winters I Iived in the Canadian north I shared a squatter’s log cabin with a school teacher teaching elementary children who spoke little English outside the classroom. Because my religious community believed I was ‘doing God’s work’, I was financed by family, friends and some church groups in the south, receiving from this collective something north (a blatant pun) of $100.00 per month which to me, in the seventies, seemed enough for food and the roof over my head. Who knows how much my roommate was covering.  I in financial naiveté never noticed.  I was the protestant fundamentalist equivalent of a hippie, though too otherworldly to cotton on when others were talking free love, it wasn’t God’s free and redemptive love.

One afternoon while I was going through the motions of language study while my roommate spent the day addressing the needs of 40 clamouring children, I was interrupted by a knock at the door.  A man, maybe in his twenties, stood in the porch; in one hand, he held a baby girl under one year old and in the other, a baby bottle. The baby was wrapped in a blanket: thank God for little mercies. The man, her father, held the baby out to me, telling me her name was Gladys.    As I absolutely unhesitatingly took the baby from his arms, I did have the presence of mind to ask how long he wanted to leave Gladys with us.  “Oh, a day, or a week, a year… ”, he squinted as he slipped back out the door.  This was a Friday afternoon. My roommate with end-of-the-week plans for a child-free weekend, came home to find me dragging a dresser drawer out on the floor next to the kitchen table, turning it into a make shift cradle –‘enthusiastically’ she quite generously observed.   Finances, wherewithal, and most seriously, legalities never given a moment’s attention, I was fussing over what to do with a name like Gladys.  Gladys’ young mother had her priorities more clearly in order.  Within a couple of hours, she came to the door to ask if we had her daughter; with hardly another word she walked over to the drawer on the kitchen floor and lifted Gladys into her arms.  In a small town, word mercifully travels quickly.  The aborted first attempt to follow my dream summed up by my roommate: “Even you were relieved you’d dodged that bullet.”

A few years later I was visiting someone who lived above the market in a provincial town in the Philippines. A visitor came to the door who may have heard an ‘Americana’ was visiting.  My coping skills in the language, Tagalog, were not enviable, but I could pick out enough words to know the person in the doorway was asking if I would like to buy a child.  Buying a child was doable, and done in those years, with apparently little legal difficulty within the local community.  It was quite another thing for an expatriate on a work visa.  Maybe my prefrontal cortex was by then in the final stages of development or I had heard some scary stories for I had sufficient good sense to say, “ Salamat po, pero hindi naman.”  (“Thank you, but not really.”)

What you know of me so far is that I was at best comfortable with no stable income or clearly articulated reason for actually living a life on earth – something Joe and Josephine Normal think is foundational.  I had daydreams but played out each day as though only life after death had value.  I felt like a dopey bystander to life active around me.  Generously you might call me a late-bloomer.  OK.

‘In the fullness of time’ as it says in Galatians 4:4 of the old King James Bible the finances, wherewithal and legalities began to fall into place, and I could now begin to present myself as a viable candidate for adoption.  Still single and beginning a career as a school teacher, I admit I still needed a bit of a nudge from my sister with whom I had often talked of my interest in adoption.  A friend told her of an older, and sweet foster boy.  Succinctly summarized, as I was only beginning to evolve into what parenting might entail, I think he got a much better home with a couple in a small town on Vancouver Island.  Still I had taken the first step: I shook off the vague daydream, now actively seeking to adopt.

The poet and Instagram personality, Yung Pueblo, encourages people to find “a partner who supports your dreams”, not an essential in adoption, but wow for lots of reasons, a very good thing. And along came Dave.  We took the next steps together.  For most, these steps are paperwork, orientation and about two years of aborted adoptions; a few possible adoptions fell through before we were offered Yasik.

I am writing this post to preface the story of our adoption as family, a story I will write on the template of Joseph Campbell’s interpretation of the Hero’s Journey.  Even the vague and naïve experiences above can be seen as part of a template for such a journey.  The Hero’s Journey is extrapolated from ancient stories as an explanation for why people have human experiences.  I chose a common outline for many myths as a template because I embraced the Hero’s Journey as the way I want to understand why I am on earth: hopefully I am working my way toward becoming a person who can live a life I am at home with.  As I understand the human experience as interpreted by myths like the Odyssey and many others, we as humans encounter shipwrecks, monsters, deep sleeps on some island and conflicts in our search for home, a stable life or to learn how to be human. Maybe as was Odysseus’ experience, many of us for a vast variety of reasons, do not take the most direct route to return to our homes or places of maturity.  Perhaps I took the slow boat to find what I wanted to experience in my life.  In Book 3 of the Odyssey, Athena puts Odysseus into a deep sleep in a cave.  I too may have gotten stuck on some island and put into a deep sleep.  I do know I certainly have always felt I didn’t fully awake or fully begin to experience life until I began taking realistic steps toward adoption.  I once heard a preacher say we better get our lives together because by 45 we are set in our ways as surely as if we‘d been poured in concrete.  We now know we are not hardwired; our brains, minds, even our bodies are rewiring, changing throughout our lives.  We continue to evolve on our human journeys.  We can become the people we want to be, may even planned to be as we set out on our human journey.  Sidebar: research done by Dr. Daniel Gilbert found “… over a ten-year period of time, you’re not going to be the same person” (Personality Isn’t Permanent, Benjamin Hardy p 37).

An abundance of myths worldwide give weight to this explanation of life on earth. Why we find ourselves on earth and taking such a journey is less substantiated.  I may have slipped the bonds of sanity, but I have decided to go with the assertions made by Natalie Sudman in The Application of Impossible Things: my near death experience in Iraq (2012).   Sudman had a near death experience when her convoy drove over a bomb in Iraq. I use the word ‘assertion’ as her perspective.  I have not had an NDE so for me it can be no more than a belief.  Sudman said the experience revealed to her we choose the experiences we enter into when we come from another place.  It is assumed by many Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” So maybe.  Kate Atkinson in her 2002 Not the End of the World collection of short stories has one called “The Bodies Vest” about a man, Vincent, who has observed death up close and personal: his father, his first wife and her father. On the last page of the short story (p 192), the narrator says as he lay dying himself that he wants to assure his two sons for whom he wanted better things he had come to realize   “… everything was all right but he couldn’t speak and besides he had no logical evidence on which to base that belief.” I have no ‘logical evidence’ either.  It just works for me to choose to believe we are spiritual beings who have come to earth to have a human experience.  That I might have dreamed up a plan to come to earth to deal with adoption and soon after I arrived I was reminded of my purpose in a dream works for me. Whatever.  At best we can say we are here. What do we do with that reality?

All this to say I approach my search to understand the world of adoption from the perspective I may have come to earth to experience a journey in adoption, hopefully continually learning a better way, likely less for myself and Dave now as something I might share with those who are considering becoming or have become and are still in the middle of being birth parents, adoptees, and adopters.

I go as far out on a limb as I can to find support when I seek to show it is not just the Luke Sky Walkers, Harry Potters or those we deem highly successful in the non-fiction world who are on a hero’s or heroine’s journey, but also birth or bio parents, adoptees and adopters who struggle with the baggage of adoption.  And to be even more specific, I am not only talking about those who begin life in institutional care, become adopted and go on to international success like Russian-born, American-raised, Jessica Long, but I am also hoping to make a case for the seven year old boy sent back to Russia by his adoptive mother, and of course, my son, Yasik.

The plot line for the Hero`s Journey is a three act play: separation, initiation/disintegration, return/re-integration.  So simple a plot outline must surely allow for liberty of detail: is the main character the only one who gets a full on hero’s or heroine’s journey? Odysseus was noble born and secure in a family, with a loving wife and son.  What of the crew members who died when Zeus decided to pin cocky Odysseus’ ears back a bit? Are they merely stock characters or foils summarily drowned off, or are they too on a journey with different purposes in their human experiences, finishing equally as well, yet not registering on our mainstream scale of success?

In his interview with Bill Moyer, Joseph Campbell makes clear the hero is not limited to our ideas about a classical hero but is for all of us the path of maturation all evolving humans follow. If Campbell is right, Odysseus’ crew too were on a hero’s journey.  The young fellow who dies early in a freak accident or in an act of gun violence, or someone one’s cherished daughter who dies of an overdose on her first experiment with drugs, or the child who languishes in institutional care: have they too not come to have a human experience on a hero’s or heroine’s journey?  What about the child caught in an abusive foster home until self-worth has died?   What gods came to her rescue? Yet Campbell says the hero’s journey is for all of us. In Ernie Crey and Suzanne Fournier’s book, Stolen From Our Embrace, he shares details from the life experiences of two of his siblings who were taken from their families and put into foster care. The following is the piece about the life journeys of two of his sisters.

Frances and Jane had fared no better in their foster homes [than others among his siblings].  The fundamentalist Christian foster parents [they were placed with] exerted strict “discipline” through whippings, psychological terror and heavy farm labour.  The girls were told if they didn’t submit to discipline they’d burn in hell along with all the other pagan Indians.  As adults, my sisters told us with tears flowing down their faces about their foster father’s favoured punishment.  For any imagined infraction he’d march the girls in the middle of the night down to the poultry barns to shovel out chicken shit until dawn.  Both Frances and Jane carried deep shame throughout their lives about being Indian and a lot of anger towards white adults.  After Frances began drinking heavily as a young mother, her baby daughter, Roberta, was apprehended by social workers, again without any notification of family members.  The loss of a second generation of Crey children was well underway.  It seemed like nothing could ever repair the abandonment and grief Frances felt, and her guilt for failing Roberta.  In the late 1980s she died of a heroin overdose.

 As an adult, Jane told me of being sexually abused by her foster parent’s son, who was never charged and is now a Christian missionary in Africa.  In her late teens, Jane gave birth to a son who was adopted…. Jane now spends most of her time on Vancouver’s meanest  streets in a methadone- maintenance program but receiving no psychiatric care or counselling to help her cope with the immense losses  in her life (42,43).

Just now as I update this post I am listening to The Daily Show being moderated by D.L. Hughley (1/30/23).  He is interviewing Ben Crump, a lawyer, after the death of Tyre Nichols.  In talking about how Tyre Nichol’s mother is coping with her son’s death, he told Hughley that the mother said,”I believe that my son was sent for an assignment and now he’s back in heaven with God because he’s completed that assignment.  That’s the only way I can cope with this tragedy.  A greater good is going to happen with what happened to my son.”

There has to be more to understand about the Hero’s journey and how the end goal of maturation is understood if each of us is truly on such a journey.  I choose to hope there is a story with more widely open arms, being careful not to massage the story to fit the Hero’s Journey plotline.

An Update:

June 6’20, a Saturday morning.  Translation: in no rush to get out of bed, time to run a finger over my tablet snooping for Trump gossip and slipping passed Covid tracking graphs. It wouldn’t have entered my head to check for any activity on my website.  Just days before, Dave had installed a spam blocker on my site. Within minutes my ego which had been swelling in wonder at the numbers of hits I was getting on my site was a spurting, sputtering balloon. Not one real hit remained.  OK, so I really am writing only to myself, not just pretending to journal my way to a personal understanding of adoption.

But Gmail, yes.  I check it daily.  A tap on my Gmail and there was a little surprise. Gmail had alerted me to a comment on my website.  The comment, you can check it – as of Feb 19’21 it is still the only comment, reiterating ‘in your face’ how non-existent traffic to my site is.  It reads, “I believe we adopted Yaroslav’s older sister, Svetlana!”

For me this is one of those ‘time stops’ moments. I had given some thought over the years to Yasik’s ‘bio’ family, wondering how we might help him get in contact with them if he ever showed interest in finding them.  He had not yet expressed interest, at least to Dave and I.  Sometime in his later teens, I asked him if he wanted to look for his mother whom I believed must have cared for him enough to have taken him to a hospital, returning to visit a couple of times.  His response, “She never cared about me, so why should I care about her.’  I think that was a flat statement, not a question.   Still, we had the parents’ names and from time to time I googled them.  We had lost the one paper in Russian with a list of Yasik’s siblings’ names.

That morning I showed no restraint hitting articles on Trump, yet now I was restrained.  I rolled over and with eyes in full stun mode looked carefully at the alert, trying to comprehend that I even had one.

“Daaaavve, look at this.” I opened the website to pull up the comment.  And there it was.  Yasik might have a sibling trying to get in touch with him.

Restraint again.  What if this was just another way in for spam?  A Nigerian prince wanting us to rescue him as he drained out our bank account?

We let this electrifying comment hover over us all day like a drone trying to see if we were going to respond, waiting for or taunting us to get over our silly cautiousness and deal with it.

Meanwhile the sender of the comment was on “pins and needles “so certain was she of her message.

You see I had started putting out posts from my journal about our adoption experience.  In Journal Entry #1 I provide Yasik’s full birth name, Yaroslav Guerin Nicolavich, and the name of the city he was living in at the time of our adoption, Yaroslavl.  The comment sender, Cherie, had been looking for her adopted daughter’s younger brother since 2000, shortly after their adoption and with the aid of a set of documents not provided at the time of our adoption.  Good ole’ Google – as obscure as my site is – found the match.  Cherie put in the comment and crossed her fingers.  On our end we dithered until the evening.  Finally, we returned the email with a tentative response.  She phoned.  And sent pictures of her daughter.  The evidence was in the pictures.    Svetlana is Yasik’s sister.  Turns out the other two, though half brother and sister to Yasik and his sister, look amazing like Svetlana and Yasik as well.

And this may not sound particularly PC coming from an adoptor rather than an adoptee from whom the observation usually comes, but as this discovery started to shift our thinking, I began to sense that in some hardly fathomable way, Yasik has some kind of fuller substance, is more substantial as a human being?, a reality, a history with a bio family.  No longer a ghost as some adoptees describe feeling of themselves.   I don’t understand why this is and maybe it is an idea from societal constructs, still it impacts.

Next step: now we needed to get in touch with Yasik about this life–altering news.  Cherie says “our kids are complicated and guarded”.   And when Dave and I try to get in touch with him to share news that deserves a flashing Breaking News tag, we agree once again.  It takes nearly a month to finally get him on the phone.   I sent him phone messages, wrote letters –one letter was one sentence in bold, in  caps, as tall as the page allows: IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN SOME LIFE-CHANGING NEWS … CALL THESE NUMBERS: numbers he knew well.  His sister and her family were getting as antsy as we were.

Near the end of the month, Dave and I had an optometrist appointment at Costco.  Dave went in first and I waited for my turn on a plastic chair along side a busy aisle of product and shoppers.  With some finger twiddling moments to fill, my default brain mode in times of Yasik stress is to try twisting God’s arm to get him involved, never certain that I have his ear.   “God could you please get Yasik to call.”  In this very poor excuse for a waiting room, God may have done something. My cell rang.  I fumbled to find it and turn it off, certain it was a robo call in a foreign language.  I didn’t recognize the number. But I answered it: curiosity? boredom? auto pilot kicking in? a prompt from God? maybe, certainly not because it would normally have been a good idea.

A receptionist was on the line, calling from some medical office and wanting to know if we would be willing to offer our home address to give Yasik an address in order for him to receive MSP.

“Of, course. Our address is —.  And uhmmm, would it be possible for you to get a message to Yasik for us.”

“Want to talk to him? He’s right here.”

“Oh, yes.”

Fumble, mumble. “Hi, Mom.”

“Yasik, I don’t want to tell you now. We are at appointments.  But please, phone tonight. We have unbelievable news.”  Or something to that effect.

Yasik interpreted all this to mean that we were at a doctor’s office and Dave must be having some medical issue, having no idea that I was going to be telling him he has siblings.  One as nearby as the US.

I was so excited myself that I burbled to the receptionist, who was trying to prepare me for my eye exam, something to the effect that tonight my son was going to be finding out that he has a sister in North America.  In the most blandly receptionist tone possible, she responded, “Oh, that would be weird.”   Really?  This is some of the best news I have heard in my life time.  Cherie says Svetlana was over the moon at another point in their developing relationship.  I was over the moon at this moment. But like Dave says, just because it is filling your heart and mind, it might not be registering in quite the same way to a stranger…..   Duh.

Yasik called in the early evening.

‘Are you sitting down?” I asked in announcer mode.

He thought Dave must be seriously ill.

“Yasik we got an email and pictures and everything. You have a sister and she lives in the US.” And whatever other details came bubbling up.

“So what do you think?”

With a chuckle, “That sounds interesting.” There was happiness in his voice.  But no “Wow! Holy Shit! You have got to be kidding!”  Just – “That sounds interesting”.  Interesting?  It’s mind blowing to me from a perspective that was nurtured from infancy to express emotions with the confidence that they would be acknowledged.   Again as Cherie noted, these two siblings are complex and guarded.  If from infancy, a display of emotions has been ignored or even discouraged, a guarded response is deeply ingrained.  Only the note of happiness in his voice was allowed to slip through.

Svetlana had called that afternoon.  Like Dave and I, she and her mom were barely holding their breaths as well.  She wanted to know when she could call Yasik and I said, “It just so happens…. He called just today.” We were able to let her know we had finally connected with Yasik and that he would be calling us in the evening.  She gave us her phone number stat.

I gave her phone number to Yasik.   He called her without hesitation later that evening.  Pictures were sent back and forth, pictures of Svetlana and Anya and Nicolai, that could have been Yasik at different times; especially in the younger pictures, the similarities are obvious.  Cherie and Svetlana also sent copies of the documents we had not been given.  Svetlana’s passport picture at the time of adoption could have been Yasik’s.  So begins a new chapter of their lives.

I will include other details, especially from the documents they received, of their lives in chronologically appropriate journal entries.

 

Post #12A Set and Setting

Entry #12A   Set and Setting

Yasik was now a Canadian Vincent.  It was time to move from his Russian nurture to his nurture in our family, not ignoring that he would be bringing his Russian-transferring-to-Canadian nature along.

Even though Dr. Spock said parents know more than they think they do[i], let me begin this group of posts about parenting by straight up saying Dave and I had the awareness of Donald Rumsfeld when we took on parenting; there were “known knowns” and “known unknowns“, but then there also are those “unknown unknowns”.[ii] The “known knowns” would be similar to what SNL suggested Kevin Federline might have known: 1. Always feed your children. 2. Children are ‘babe magnets’.  3. For the rest, Federline suggested parents should call him to babysit.[iii]

We didn’t have Federline’s phone number so that was a non-starter.  But like Federline, Dave quickly picked up on how much of a babe magnet Yasik was for women gave him their seats on the bus and fawned over Yasik.  So that was good. And we did know to feed our kid. But maybe for that one we were simply following the Golden Rule of ‘do unto others as you would have done for yourself’.

But from where did we know to do the other things we so quickly fell into doing? I ‘conducted’, or less pompously, ‘asked around’ about the assumption that we parent like our parents which perhaps more pompously is called the ‘intergenerational transmission of parenting’.[iv] The responses I got ranged from vehemently ‘Never’ to ‘Yes, my parents’ way worked for me’, but most also added on reflection, that the times are different. In the everyday details of life which have been part of our society for a century or two, Dave and I did things as our parents did:  maybe hugging was not yet a comfortable expression of love for our parents but feeding, clothing and sending us off to school was held as a daily routine; vacations were pilgrimages to visit the relatives or combine fruit gathering or job hunting with some relaxation.

Whether I was comfortable with it or not, I know for a time Yasik carried my little Bible around and sat with it on the couch watching TV.  He prayed with me at night – “Dear God, named all his cousins and aunts and uncles, Amen” and made us laugh.  It seems to me that was a holdover from my childhood and my own religious upbringing although, of course, perhaps Yasik went so willingly along with prayers and carried the little kid size Bible like a toy or icon because of some religious activities encouraged in the orphanage.[v]  Dave has always found a tool box to be a special kind of candy box, so whether he worried about his tools or not, he may have passed the toolbox’s wonders on to Yasik.  Or did Yasik come from a long line of mechanics?  It is hard to be definitive about where our inclinations have come from, but for both Dave and I some childhood experiences were valued and continued: eating the evening meal together (when work schedules allowed) was important for it was the time of togetherness and laughter.  Going to the lake or going for drives up the mountains were also important as were weekend get-togethers with family and friends.  Having parents equally involved in our home care was also respected.  If my Mom was working, then my Dad burnt the pancakes. Dave’s dad cooked with the salt and pepper shaker. In both families, gender did not dictate chore assignment; each kid was expected to wash dishes or mow the lawn.  Wearing hand-me-downs was a given; no noses got stuck in the air when we were offered hand-me-downs for Yasik. Interests were encouraged as far as the dollar could reach. Pets and bicycles were musts, even if it meant an opportunity to encourage sharing.  In my family, all four of us truly tried to ride our lone two-wheeler together. Dave’s dad bought a bike for each of his kids. Dave’s mom bought art supplies for him and even sent one of his cartoons into a drawing contest.  I still hear the Hallelujah chorus when I remember the day my Mom took me to the library.

Like it or not, consciously or not, we fall back on neuronal pathways well-trod unless the experiences associated are too negative or rendered useless by the march of time.  Gabor Mate in The Myth of Normal: trauma, illness & healing in a toxic culture, in a tone that sounds quite confident, says, “It turns out that our innate parenting instinct is perfectly calibrated to ensure the provision of the thing many “experts” would have us ignore: the child’s developmental needs”.[vi]  And Mate is backed up by Bruce D. Perry who says

The brain is an historical organ…. Our life experiences shape who we become by creating our brain’s catalog of template memories, which guide our behavior, sometimes in ways we can consciously recognize, more often via processes beyond our awareness…. Since much of the brain develops early in life, the way we are parented has a dramatic influence on brain development. And so, since we tend to care for our children the way we were cared for ourselves during our own childhoods, a good “brain” history of a child begins with a history of the caregiver’s childhood and early experience.[vii]

According to the Pew Research Center we would more easily recognize that we do indeed parent like our parents at times if we see categories of parenting.[viii]

Dave and I were middle-aged parents who had lived in a variety of environments.  We had whatever our parents had taught us, and we had ample time to observe ways that other parents parent; we must have had some trending input from reading or other media.  We had also taken the 9-week adoption prep required by BC’s social services: about all I remember from that seminar was information on the adoption process for domestic adoption and struggles adoptors may experience with special needs children.  I recently found notes Dave made at the orientation meetings.  Turns out we were given a basic overview of Attachment Theory. Perhaps abstract notes could not secure solid ground in our hearts and minds amidst the case histories of families with special needs adoptees or the boggling but potentially exciting procedural information for the adoption process. In the flurry of such an experience and despite the advice of adoption experts, “The adoptors who were most successful were prepared, had educated themselves, and had ties to support services[ix], parenting as a life challenge I was about to engage in and more specifically, Attachment Theory, sounded like ‘news to me’ when I began reading in adoption years later. I also now know we were not the only not-so-super parents out there for Scott Simon in Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: in praise of adoption takes pains to note that some otherwise excellent parents showed neither interest nor made the time for books or support groups while raising their very happy child.[x]

But now I am taking a backwards look.  Recently I was taxiing the neighbour kids to the Dollar Store, a trip the neighbour, in the house between us and the kids, said they made sound like a trip to Disneyland. They range from 2 years old to 15.  On the way I asked them what they thought a parent was. The 11-year-old without hesitation listed off pretty much everything a Google search would offer: protect and provide.  The 15-year-old topped the list up with “and have fun”.

Google offers up numbers, letters and alliterated titles like 1,2,3 Magic Parenting, the 3 As of parenting: Authoritative, Attachment, and Acceptance or the 3 Fs of Positive Parenting: Firm, Fair and Friendly or the 3 Ts Parenting: Tune In, Talk more, Take Turns.   Actually 3 seems the favourite as it often is in many realms, for here is yet another 3, 3 Principles: Love, Limits and Latitude. The # 4 offers some competition with 4 Cs: Choices, Consequences, Consistency, Compassion or the 4 Rs of Parenting: Respect, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Restraint in the process of raising children. Gentle parenting is built on 4 Basic Pillars: Empathy, Respect, Understanding, and Boundaries.  The 5Cs of Neurodiverse Parenting are Self-Control, Compassion, Collaboration, Consistency and Celebration.  And then there are the 6 Parenting Dimensions: Warmth, Rejection, Autonomy support, Coercion, Structure, and Chaos. And so it goes until at least 10 unless you consider Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life but only one of those rules is directly related to parenting: #5 – Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.  No, that is not true. # 11 also applies – Do not bother children while they are skateboarding.[xi] Is it all summed up in the Parenting Golden Rule: “Treat your child as you would like to be treated if you were in the same position”, which is apparently simple, straightforward, and effective? Ok, like the kids said, protect, provide, and have fun.

I heard Dr. Phil once say, in a context I may be misconstruing, that it (life/relationships) is all about perspective or perception.  It seems to me that life’s experiences have another and equal dimension. More specifically for this post, adoption has another and equal dimension. And let me say right here that this could get a bit messy as I worked this out in the middle of the night, but at the time it sounded sane to me so here goes.  Set, as in ‘mindset’, and setting are terms for a theory that refers to the psychological, social and cultural parameters which shape the response to psychedelic experience.[xii]  I would like to apply that thought to adoption as family with ‘mindset’ being both the genetics and the perspective or perceptions the adoptee brings to family and ‘setting’ as all that impacts the development of the adoptee’s ‘mindset’: social, cultural, historical, political, physical, economic and spiritual environment that impacts the relationship (even with a list like that I probably missed something). Or as I put it in Entry #11 (with help from Google) we as persons are physical and mental beings who develop networks of beliefs that impact how we calculate and think about our environment and social relationships, using reflection and language to make autonomous choices and engage in actions, with the right to be accountable for our choices.

To have a good trip both mindset and setting must be taken into account. Jerome Kagan, a developmental psychologist at Harvard, put the idea this way: “Genes and family may determine the foundation of a house, but time and place determine its form” for as Dr. Nicole Letourneau says on the preceding page, “Genetics may determine how easy it is to push a person’s buttons, but the finger that actually pushes them belongs to the early caregiving environment – how a person was parented.”  ” … regardless of who raised them“.[xiii]

Dr. Nicole Letourneau and Justin Joschko explain it as entwined in this way:

To divide traits into genetically determined and environmentally determined compartments is to misunderstand how genes work.  Consider hair colour, a trait that, on the surface, seems to be determined solely by a person’s genes.  A child’s hair is seldom a colour that does not have some familial precedent.  By contrast, the influence of the environment on one’s hair seems nonexistent.  Blonde Nordic children adopted by Chinese families do not spontaneously develop black hair.  However, this does not mean genes alone are responsible for a person/hair colour.  After all, genes can really only do one thing: instruct cells, by way of an interpreter called RNA, to create a series of amino acids, which then link together to form proteins.  Now, this one function is extremely, unbelievably important. Proteins are the body’s proletariat, the workers who carry out the myriad tasks which all us, the society in which they dwell, to function.  But genes cannot on their own, dictate, the colour of a person’s hair.  Hair colour is determined by melanin, which is the end product of the amino acid tyrosine.  Now, genes do code for tyrosine, hence the genetic influence.  However, in hair the degree of melanin accumulation is decided in part by the concentration of copper to the cells producing that hair.  When that cell has more copper, the hair is darker.  Should the intake of copper be reduced to below a certain threshold, hair generated by the same follicle will be lighter than it was previously, when copper supplies were plentiful…. Such is the case with thousands of environmental factors we take for granted.  It isn’t until a radical change in the environment depletes once-plentiful resources that we realize how much those resources contributed to our development…

I guess all of this allows me to continue to use the set and setting metaphor but with the caveat that mindset and setting are both taken into account. We have considered the world Yasik came from and how that was impacting his mindset, and now we will begin to consider the world Yasik moved into with adoption, our family, with Dave and I as parents.  As we strove to parent in a way that we thought offered love and care to Yasik, what perception was he forming of family? When we took Yasik to the park to ride the teeter totter, he was a tidy little package of 40 inches by 40 pounds and whichever one of us got on the opposite side of the teeter totter that stood a mere 2 feet above ground was north of 3 times 40 by 40. Sometimes Yasik was in danger of being tossed into the air; other times he could be stuck on the ground as we and all that pertained to his new world of family strove to find a good experience on the teeter-totter of life. The parent-child relationship works for a balance with those dynamics. Riding together with tiny on one side and extra-large on the other can still be wonderful fun if extra-large is caring and responsible and the mechanism that holds the teeter totter together and the playground it has been set in are copacetic (a weird word Dave used to love).

I will look at our set and setting in the next posts by laying out our setting of family via adoption with the hopes of culling some awareness of the perceptions Yasik was developing.

Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire,

to know nothing for certain.

An inheritance of wonder and nothing more.

― William Least Heat Moon[xiv]

Footnotes at the end of Entry# 12D

 

 

 

Entry #12B   Set and Setting

Entry #12B   Set and Setting

Most parents start out with a child with no words but we started out with a child whose words we couldn’t find in the dictionary, and even if we found them, we couldn’t figure out how to use the dictionary’s definition to our advantage. When we said ‘Nyet’ to Yasik we had little idea what that communicated.

What books might we have read at the time or what concepts might we have picked up from other parents or from the media of the nineties to guide us? That was a time of concern over ‘helicopter’ parenting. And I, back in my religious years, had read James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline (1977) and some other book about a couple who followed his ideas and ‘transformed’ their lives which may have held some residue neuronal territory in my brain. (I will bet that sentence could knit some eyebrows into a furrow or raise them heavenward.) But for the most part we neither thought we needed to bother to read in this area or were too busy to try.

But now as I seek to understand the ‘setting’ for Yasik’s mindset, some obsessive-compulsive habit of mine exerts itself for I have long felt like a subject was not adequately addressed until I have checked off the 7Ws or as many states of human experience as Yasik might have had interactions with which could possibly offer insight.  If I, however, need backing for my obsession I will generalize from a point being made by Siddhartha Mukherjee in The Gene: an intimate history which makes roughly the same point, while making a point of the interconnectedness of genes and environment.

Identity, we are told now, is determined by nature and nurture, genes and environment, intrinsic and extrinsic inputs. But this too is nonsense – an armistice between fools …. whether nature predominates or nurture is not absolute, but depends quite acutely on the level of organization one chooses to examine.… in the estuarine plains of crisscrossing information, history, society, and culture collide and intersect with genetics, like tides.  Some waves cancel each other, while others reinforce each other.  No force is particularly strong – but their combined effect produces the unique and rippled landscape that we call an individual’s identity.[xv]

Mukherjee comes back at the end of the book to “recall the scientific, philosophical, and moral lesson of [the] history [of the gene]” in 13 points. In point #6, he offers a good example of how Nature and Nurture are seen as working together.

#6. It is nonsense to speak about “nature” or “nurture” in absolutes or abstracts.  Whether nature – i.e., the gene- or nurture – i.e., the environment – dominates in the development of a feature or function depends, acutely, on the individual feature and the context.  The SRY gene determines sexual anatomy and physiology in a strikingly autonomous manner; it is all nature.  Gender identity, sexual preference, and the choice of sexual roles are determined by intersections of genes and environments – i.e., nature plus nurture. The manner in which “masculinity” versus “femininity” is enacted or perceived in a society, in contrast, is largely determined by an environment, social memory, history, and culture; this is all nurture.[xvi]

I happened to read both The Gene and The Myth of Normal at the same time.  The Gene gave me some understanding of Nature and The Myth of Normal focused on Nurture. In The Myth of Normal, Gabor Mate, warns against diagnosis for those elements of our humanity that are not “all nature” as Mukherjee says above.

Diagnoses are abstractions, or summaries: sometimes helpful, always incomplete. They are professional shorthand for describing constellations of symptoms a person may report, or of other people’s observations of someone’s behavior patterns, thoughts, and emotions…. [D]iagnoses reveal nothing about the underlying events and dynamics that animate the perceptions and experiences in question …. A … study looked at the prescription records of almost one million B.C. schoolchildren over an eleven-year period and found that kids born in December were 39 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than classmates born the previous January. The reason? December kids entered the same grade nearly a year younger than their January counterparts – they were eleven months behind in brain development. They were being medicated not for a “genetic brain disorder” but for naturally delayed maturation of the brain circuits of attention and self-regulation.[xvii]

Caveat here: Of course, I will not be covering everything related to Nature and Nurture, but hopefully will cover aspects I see as related to Yasik.  As well, I am trying to stretch Nature and Nurture to accommodate my metaphor of ‘setting’ or environment for Yasik’s perception or mindset of adoption as family.

Historical/Political/ Economic:

Parenting an Adopted Child reminds us “that children’s lives do not begin the day they are adopted.  Regardless of the type of adoption, children have biological relatives and genetic histories of their own”.[xviii]

History is the narrative of human experience in time and place.  I think you would have to read historical examinations of human experience like Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature or Hans Rosling’s Factfulness or Jennifer Traig’s Act Natural to appreciate what Dave and my human experience was/is in relation to our forebears’ human experience.  We lived on the edge of a metropolis both in New Westminster and then in Maple Ridge which meant job, mortgage, commute, local schooling, weekend social events like family picnics and soccer games within the context of a government that legislated in respect of BCers’ vote, tipping a bit to the left of center. Canada, or BC for that matter, were not remotely turning toward an authoritarian regime that was Russia during Yeltsin’s time, the place of Yasik’s first four years.

We have, as I have mentioned often, only a bare history of his life in Russia, things adoptors are now heartily encouraged to check out, but we do know that his Russian environment was like that experienced by many of the worlds’ poorer, less developed countries. Russia’s reputation as a poor country is such a given assumption in the pool of common knowledge that even Jennifer Traig, in her book on hypochondria, Well Enough Alone, uses Russia as an example of somewhere you might expect to find people with bad teeth. She is writing of her own gray coloured tooth, and wonders how the tooth turned on her. “I’d known other people with discolored teeth, but they’d always had a story. They’d fallen face-first into a tree, or grown up in Russia”.[xix]

But on balance, this note from Marion Crook in Thicker Than Blood: adoptive parenting in the modern world:

Once I was dealing with quite a stupid prank one of my sons had managed to engineer, and my neighbour sympathized, “Well, it’s not your fault; he’s adopted.” 

I snapped, “And all four parents are thoroughly ashamed of him at the moment!”  How dare he imply my son’s heritage was inferior![xx]

While not denying the rich culture of Russia, a quickie googling will corroborate that ‘growing up in Russia’ is growing up in a country that slipped from super power in the early 90s, just as Yasik was being born, to the designation ‘developing country’ which by a Google definition means ‘low living standards, low per capita income, widespread poverty, and having underdeveloped industry and outdated infrastructure’. I will add a comment from Born For Love which is focusing on the conditions in Russia as they impact children raised in orphanages in Russia. Examining the period of Russian history from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, Richard Hellie, a professor of history, ties that period of darkness to the present day as having “replicated itself as each generation continued to traumatize the next and build brains for reaction, not thought”.[xxi] Offering us some cultural preparation for our trip to Russia, our adoption facilitator, shrugged while warning us against smiling in public for “We [Russians] have unsolvable problems”.  Then again, Susan Wheeler says the non-smiling face is a mask, a street face.[xxii]

Coming into the world with a ‘traumatized brain’ is an existential concern for an orphanage-nurtured child and his or her adoptive parents. If a sense of hopelessness in the face of difficulty saturates a society, that hopelessness like smoke from a fire will find its way through the cracks in a child’s life, covering the child’s outlook on life in soot-black.  If the perception of life is based on insecurity and fear rather than love and hope, care-givers are not equipped to nurture in love, leaving the child with emotions regulated by fear, which continues the cycle begun so many centuries before.[xxiii]  We know that one care-giver at the orphanage shed tears as staff and children stood on the porch waving good-bye to Yasik.  Perhaps she gave him some consistent nurture. But was there enough consistent love to produce the oxytocin needed to develop a strong sense of safety and security in Yasik’s being?  Was he able to know a sense of calm when in a stressful situation? Time, with consistent care, is needed to build a strong awareness that is all is well in his world.  Studies have shown that even after three years in the adoptive home, children do not always show sufficient calmness via oxytocin and vasopressin to give them an adequate sense of security, even though the need for a consistent caregiver is by then being met.  And to repeat, the need is for consistent nurture, not, as studies have shown, necessarily only from the bio-mom. The infant only asks for consistency in nurture. When a baby cries and then cries some more but does not get a helpful response, the child, the baby becomes, simply shuts down.[xxiv]

Referencing Bruce Perry in What Happened to You: “… early in life, the brain needs consistent, patterned experience to develop some key systems.”  Perry uses the example of exposing an infant to a language for 6 weeks, then changing the exposure to another language for six weeks and then on to another.  Then he says

This poor child will not speak any language at all…. [for] there were never sufficient repetitions with anyone language to properly organize the child’s full speech and language capability…. It’s the same with relationships.  [If the infant’s caregivers change often the] infant brain hasn’t sufficient repetitions with any single person to create the architecture that allows [the infant] to develop healthy relational neurobiology.

The key to having many healthy relationships [in a person’s] life is having only a few safe, stable, and nurturing relationships in [the person’s] first year.[xxv]

Perry also makes the following point: Even if it’s a really nice, respectful person entering the child’s life, it takes a long time for the child to make sense of the shift and get back to a calm, regulated state.[xxvi]

Considering that Yasik was given over to us with not one item he might have called his own, we can assume that he was living below the poverty line.  His parents had left him nothing; the orphanage would not let him take anything.  He was comfortable with that for he gave the toys we brought to the other children the night before, they said.  It is possible to wonder if Yasik was heartily encouraged to share the toys as others have noted that toys were well-monitored.  Again we also know that Yasik was a kind of ‘oldest child’, helping to dress and care for other children, particularly the little Down’s girl.

Adopting older children: a practical guide to adopting and parenting children over age four reminds adoptors:  “Remember your child has gone through many losses; the loss of their biological family, the loss of caretakers and friends, the loss of culture, foods, familiar smells, sights etc. They are sometimes overwhelmed when they come to their new family and home…”[xxvii]

We flew back to Canada, and within two weeks, Yasik began life as a member of a family in the nineties whom economists define as “…families who had at least one-third of their income left after paying for necessities such as shelter, food, and clothing. This money is called discretionary income, or money that families can choose how to spend”.[xxviii]  So we were some where on the middle-class spectrum. Whether we actually had appreciable ‘discretionary income’ or not, we had enough to be free to choose to enjoy many of life’s good things.

But did that necessarily mean that Yasik had a sense of deprivation in the orphanage? Perhaps with nothing to compare and three squares a day, he was unconcerned about his economic state.  Yet as we packed for the return trip to Canada, we found he had been hiding his toys, a kind of hoarding common among institutionalized children, and it is safe to assume that he was not the only ‘social orphan’ (children placed in orphanages who are not orphans) in his orphanage. From time to time, Yasik may have witnessed children with material goods or some connection to money he may have understood was outside his hopes.  Could this also be some of why he was so willing to join himself to two strangers after less than 24 hours acquaintance? We do know this. As Daniel Gilbert reminds his readers in Stumbling On Happiness that while moving farther up the money scale doesn’t make a lot of happiness difference, coming out of desperate poverty increases a sense of happiness.[xxix]

Yasik defined his economic state this way: he said he got all he wanted one Christmas and then wished we were rich so he could get everything he wanted. What was that about I thought at the time.

And yeah, yeah, I know, all the adoption guides say don’t swamp him with stuff.

*End Notes at the bottom of Entry 12D

Entry #12C   Set and Setting

Entry #12C   Set and Setting

The Physical Environment: Yasik began life in an apartment in a small village, moving to a hospital around his first birthday.

By the time he was two he was living in an orphanage for young children.  Yaroslavl is an ancient town with a beautiful river running through, paved streets, and wonderful old buildings though the shops looked a bit like they were part of the scenery for an old time Western.  The orphanage seemed to be off a dirt road, back a bit of beyond. There was a piece at the side of the house that looked worn enough to likely have been a playground, reminding me of how Tony describes the playground of his orphanage in 1930s Saskatoon (A Canadian Story of Adoption in the 1930s).

A plane ride and he entered our 50s era home with a backyard smaller and not yet particularly kid enticing given that neither Dave nor I had yet given much thought to the yard.  But now we had Yasik; we had a yard; we need to see what we could do.  Or Yasik very quickly, very naturally rearranged our thinking and awareness of what might please him.  Or we fell back on what our parents did with us. Whatever… the environment our house and yard offered became kid oriented.  We attempted some gardening, built igloos the odd year we had sufficient snowfall and played itsy-bitsy soccer. The house was tucked in among a string of streets trying to be a suburb but so infused with businesses and institutions that there was little point in denying it was part of a much larger urban setting, with cars everywhere. Nonetheless Yasik learned to ride a bike in the alley between our house and the Chevron station and biked on sidewalks running alongside a street that boasted 40,000 cars a day.

At the bottom of our little tree-lined street, on the other side of the river of traffic, the elementary school had the word ‘Community’ in its title and across from the school was a park with baseball diamonds, a swimming pool and even a creek bordered by trees and picnic tables. An hour or two out of town our bodies and minds could ‘heed the call of the wild’ with hiking or swimming in rain forested provincial parks.

When the city began to feel just that, a city, we moved ‘out to the country’, the bedroom city of Maple Ridge, settling into a half-acre piece bordered by muskeg, bush, trees that fringed the coastal range circling the Fraser Valley.

The physical body Yasik inhabited: This is where it gets tricky between mindset and setting.  Yasik‘s genes are part of his mindset. They also contribute to his setting.

As our doctor surmised, Yasik came into our family physically fit, perhaps, the doctor suggested, because he’d built up a strong immunity to childhood diseases in his orphanage. Yasik was growing, pink cheeked and fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which member of the family you asked, unable to miss much school time due to illness.  Yasik, with his button nose and soft blond hair, also came into the family with personal cuteness and physical and spatial skills – prowess in sports.

Both Yasik’s cuteness and physical skill are shared by his sister, giving us some sense of the genetic offering of his Slavic parents and grandparents.  Whatever the combination is for cuteness, it can come in handy.

Cuteness is the signal nature sends to us that says that a creature is young, vulnerable and needs nurturing.  Seeing cuteness is usually pleasurable and cues us to interact positively with children and young animals.  Because cuteness can be such a great source of pleasure – hence the popularity of internet kittens and puppies – it can be used to help children (and adults) manage stress and soothe themselves.[xxx]

Yasik was cute enough that on a pumpkin patch trip he so mesmerized the staff they end up leaving another child in the field, but they certainly had lots of pictures of Yasik and the pumpkins which in this case did not ‘manage stress’ or ‘soothe’ the other child’s mother.

Maurice Mierau and his wife were told something similar by one of the women at the boys’ Ukrainian nursery: “Your boys are so good-looking, and that’s an asset in life, you know”.[xxxi] Mierau felt encouraged by the comment.  It seems we adoptors also feel some comfort when it is suggested that our adopted child bears some resemblance to us.  John Brooks and his wife wanted their girl to think she looked like Brook’s mother as a young girl.[xxxii] Dave and I preened a bit too when our adoption facilitator noted that Yasik looked him and that Yasik had my eyes.  Did she really see resemblance or was that a tool in an adoption facilitator’s kit?  One of the tools to help normalize adoption as family.

But put bluntly, for Yasik, cuteness was not enough to draw his biological father and mother to dote on him. Nor was the fact that he had been put together with genes from their parents’ and themselves.  Much of the recipe that produced his genes will likely never be known, but from the bit of report we have had access to and the way his face is mirrored in his siblings, there can be no doubt he was their biological child. Yet we know that he was found in a bed, unattended as an infant. Our child carried their genes and experienced their lack of nurture. The early, caring nurture that helps a child develop resistance to stress and encouragement of the growth hormone was lacking for Yasik. We would be parenting a child bearing the expression of genes that were developed over generations of oppression and whose infancy was soaking in that atmosphere.

I see no reason to do other than leave this section with the following two paragraphs.

…[I]f stressful events occurred during certain trigger periods in a child’s life, they would leave an epigenetic imprint on that child’s genes.  These trigger periods, though consistent, were not cut and dried across the entire population of the study.  Rather, they were highly dependent on the gender of both the affect child and his or her parent.  The parent’s gender determined the time at which their stressful experience had the most bearing on the methylation patterns present in their children.  For mothers, the period was during their child’ infancy.  Mothers who reported experiencing a great deal of stress when their children were just babies – be it from losing a job, relationship trouble, or grieving the loss of a loved one – had children who displayed a distinct and unconventional pattern of methylation in certain target genes.  Fathers produced a different but no less distinct methylation pattern, but only when stress during their children’s preschool years, and only in their daughters. Sons showed no abnormal patterns of methylation regardless of their father’s stress patterns.  Mothers, on the other hand, impacted the methyl patterns of their sons and daughter equally.[xxxiii]

…For instance, early brain growth depends in part on diet, with the consumption of high-quality proteins having a significant effect.  Brain growth slows and complexity advances less if an infant or toddler is deprived of protein. The poorly nourished child’s head circumference is abnormally small, compared with other, better-fed children of the same chronological age. During the first three years or so, the problematic development of the malnourished child can be corrected to some extent if the child is given a better diet, with milk, meat, eggs, or other good protein sources included. Catch-up growth can then help bring the brain closer to normal size, although the child’s stature may always be short. However, delaying the improved diet until the child is 6 years old will not have the same effect.  Although formerly malnourished child will have better general health with more protein in the diet, brain size will remain small, and poor intellectual functions will be apparent.[xxxiv]

Cultural: Culture is about social organization: our language, symbols or codes and behaviours and institutions, values, ideas or beliefs and artifacts demonstrated by religion, food, clothing, marriage arrangements, music, literature and art, customs, ceremonies or rituals we choose to incorporate into our lives for cohesion in a group.

We never gave it any conscious thought, but we were going to be actively turning Yasik into a little Canadian.  If you had asked us point blank, we would have assured you that we were going to honour Yasik’s Russian culture, I guess by going to Russian meet-ups and by eating piroshkies, but in reality – likely again because we gave no conscious thought to what retaining Russian culture might mean – we were going to be turning Yasik into a Canadian with little pretense of retaining his Russian culture.

Language: adopting older children: a practical guide to adopting and parenting children over age four may be practical in its advice on many issues relating to adopting older children, but slipping in a little suggestion like “Also, perhaps learn his native language before you bring him home…[xxxv] might be a bit over the top. To learn the child’s native language requires some serious investment preparatory to getting an invitation that may only arrive 6 weeks before the adoptors are expected to fly over to another country to adopt a child. Yasik, thanks to Forest Gump (and yes, other sources), was operating in English within months.  Dave and I, with at best 10 Russian words between us, only remember having fun with his renditions of words, ‘sillyphone’ for telephone.  We did not look for a school offering weekend lessons in Russian.   And yes, long term and for that matter even short term, that was/is a loss for Yasik.  If at some point in his life he has the opportunity to spend time with his half-brother and half-sister in Russia, any connection of depth will be hampered by the need for a translator.

Much adoption literature, perhaps more ‘practical’ in this regard, notes that most adoptees will become comfortable with the language of their adoption within months of arrival. The time also came when he was quite certain he did not remember any Russian, although my brother-in-law maintains a fantasy that he heard teenage Yasik talking up some visiting, and very pretty, Russian girls at a hockey game.

Religion:  Yasik may have had some experience with the Russian Orthodox church. Dave and I, like many Canadians of our generation, had moved away from organized religion into an undefined belief in God.  Some of this generation move back into religion for a stable social world for their children but we could not see any viable reason to make such a choice.  We played together on Sundays.

Food and Clothing: We did try here for a while, at least until macaroni and wieners and MacDonald’s got a hold of his tummy.  Our friend, Tony, directed us to some sausage shops and a store that made great piroshkies.  Clothing was pretty much jeans, T-shirts and hoodies across the globe so that was never an issue.

Music, Art, Literature: Dave worked on art with a motorcycle focus; I read where ever my current interests took me.  Neither Dave nor I have the sense of holiness that Europeans seem to have for art and literature. It should also be noted that we had no idea what stories, fairy tales had been told or read to Yasik in the orphanage though my orphanage interview notes say he liked to be read to and learned poems by heart.  Someone was taking time with him.  Yasik was given a Pushkin story before we left Russia; we were scarcely aware of who Pushkin was to Russia.  Because we had little idea of these aspects of Russian culture, beyond a beginner’s understanding of art and literature, and did not sign Yasik up for weekend classes, he had almost no exposure to things Russian. Acknowledging this, we may be coming off as intransigent boors with our lack of engagement in Yasik’s culture. Still with maybe a slight shrug, I can comfortably note that soon Yasik was collecting Pokemon cards, not more Pushkin.  Besides which Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents[xxxvi] notes that Russian children have been told things like: ‘Close your eyes at night or the witches will come to peck them out’.  Not so different from our ‘the boogie man will get you’.

We were told he was attuned to music, but the orphanage staff did not elaborate other than to encourage us to put him in music classes.  We did that.  As these classes advanced, they were more and more directed to classical piano.  By the age of 12, Yasik was pleading to be freed of them although it could be argued that he started to give strong hints almost from the start as he flopped his head down on the piano keys and moaned.  He wanted music but whatever the radio gave him of top 40 to bounce and chant along in sounds perhaps between Russian and English. Maurice Mierau’s youngest did the same, making “tuneless word-sounds that were neither English nor Ukrainian”.[xxxvii] Be that as it may, Dave and Yasik were listening to a CD while driving somewhere.  Dave noticed Yasik in tears and parked, pulling Yasik into his arms.  Yasik broke into serious sobs even though Dave assured him it was only a song.  That was the power of music for him.

Traditions, Customs, Ceremonies, Rituals: adopting older children: a practical guide to adopting and parenting children over age four[xxxviii] provides a list of suggestions for how adoptive parents might encourage a child’s cultural heritage.  I am including the list as different strokes for different folks. I know I would have loved to have been able to take Yasik to visit Russia.  And we always encouraged friendships with people from Russia whenever we encountered them.  Russian food was just fine with us but that was about the extent of our encouragement of a maintenance of Yasik’s origin culture.

The suggestions:

  • Send your child to a culture camp where he can meet other children adopted from his birth country
  • Participate in a homeland tour arranged by some adoption agencies or visit your child’s home country
  • Spend time in a part of your city where there is a large population of people who share your child’s cultural background
  • Connect your child with a friend or friend or mentor who shares his cultural heritage
  • Reserve one night of the week for cooking and ordering ethnic food your child enjoys
  • Learn your child’s language while he learns yours
  • Decorate your room child’s room with items, designs and pictures from his native country
  • Do cultural arts and crafts projects
  • Go to museums that feature art or artifacts from your child’s native country or that focus on your child’s ethnic or cultural history
  • Attend cultural parades or events
  • Listen to culturally relevant music
  • Celebrate holidays native to your child’s culture or that focus on a historical event important to his community of origin
  • Buy him culturally relevant toys, story books, music, cookbooks, clothes, literature and other age-appropriate items
  • Attend salons or barbershops that cater to your child’s race or culture of origin
  • Expose your child to different faiths or attend religious services at a house of worship with which your child is comfortable
  • Speak frankly about historical and present discrimination and prejudice
  • Create a cultural life book with your child that explores his cultural and family history

We celebrated Christmas on December 25, not January 7, the Russian Christmas, and had fun or slept in on most of the rest of Canada’s statutory holidays. We did not at the time go out of our way to learn about the cultural world we had taken Yasik from.  The organization we adopted with offered continued Russian connection, but other than one or two visits, we did not maintain this connection.  Yasik showed little interest and Dave and I are not extroverted enough to seek out those kinds of social events.

And we were not particularly unusual in our casual attitude to Yasik’s heritage.  John Brooks in The Girl Behind the Door:

Casey never showed much curiosity during [conversations about her origin story].  She never asked about her birth mother, whether she had siblings or who her birth father could have -been.  Much to [her Polish-origin adoptive mother’s] dismay, she had little interest in Polish culture, never watched the hours of video [her adoptive parents] shot during [their] trip [to adopt her in Poland], and when asked if she wanted to meet her birth mother someday waved [them] off, annoyed…. As time passed, the orphanage became a distant memory.  [The adoptive father] hoped it had been completely erased from Casey’s consciousness.  She was a member of [their] family now – no different from a biological child in [their] minds …. [They] even tried to convince her she looked just like [the adoptive father’s] mother as a young girl…. But in truth, [they] had no idea how [their] words resonated in her sharp little mind.[xxxix]

We cannot be certain we are making the best long-term decisions when we don’t offer more access to our child’s first culture. Maurice Mierau, in Detachment: an adoption memoir writes that he and his wife enrolled their children in a Ukrainian language nursery school for a few of months and took them to a Ukrainian store for goodies.[xl] But quickly the couple were introducing birthday parties, celebrated with their Ukrainian speaking babysitter and several Ukrainian friends and buying goofy outfits for Halloween.[xli]   “The only religion in [their] house since the boys arrived was Star Wars”.[xlii]  Within a year of their adoption, the younger son thought of Ukraine as part of a long distant babyhood and the older son said he wanted to be a Canadian.[xliii]

Nonetheless Mierau’s older son, who was adopted at 5, had no memories from before his life in an orphanage yet “he’d told [his adoptive parents] about a dream that seemed to go further back”.[xliv] In the dream an image approaches the child whom he believes is his mother but this image vanishes when the child tries to come closer to it. Would more connection to the culture of origin have helped the boy gain a sense of contact with the past?

End Notes at the bottom of Entry #12D

 

Entry #12D  Set and Setting

Entry #12D   Set and Setting

Social: If this refers to our community or relationships with others, Yasik as a school-aged child, led us into most of our social engagement outside of family. We three were Caucasian, each with at least some eastern European genes; Dave and Yasik are males and I am a female; Dave and I are Canadian born and Yasik is naturalized.  Yasik and I have a large age difference but Dave and Yasik are fairly appropriately spaced.   Dave and I, with some post-secondary education, were working to hold on to a yet tenuous grasp of the middle class. These parts of each of us fit us into certain societal slots. We would want to find a social setting that would accommodate our comfort levels. Or so you would think.  Yet we were almost irrevocably part of a community based mostly on the decision to buy a house within our means found for us by a realtor who was the son of a friend of our friend. He showed us two houses: this one looked cuter than the other. Decision made.  Let the impacts of social interaction begin.

Yasik’s community school was a block away and most of his classmates lived within walking distance of the school.  Day upon day, walking him to school we came to know the other mothers, fathers and caregivers walking his classmates to school.  First a tentative nod, then a ‘Hi.” And then “Hey, can Yasik come over to play?” and the doors were swung wide open to our little community. We signed him up for the T-ball and soccer clubs.  Some of his classmates were on his team. Quite naturally, these kids became his playmates and standing on the sidelines or waiting for the kids after school, the kids’ parents became our playmates.  The thing about these social relationships is that they are most often ad hoc.  There is little to no opportunity to review resumes, ensure that we are leaving our child in the best of hands, filtering out characters or the impacts of characters who may not share all of our values.

Relationships: Dave and I thought of ourselves as partners, rather than in a hierarchical relationship, forming a nuclear family which Google calls ‘a group of people who are united by ties of partnership and parenthood and consisting of a pair of adults and their socially (not sure what that means) recognized children’.  Yasik chinked into that assumption when almost from Day 2, he assigned us the traditional roles, taking ‘Nyet’ from Dave, cuddling into me.  We wondered if such a role assignment was wise – but for whatever reason, in the journal – as a 3rd day parent- I write “we want to argue roles but they are still there; why did he assign roles that way? We may believe we have a more liberal or sophisticated view of Ma and Pa in parenting but it would appear we are building on ancient structures that remain part of our thinking”. Did Yasik want us to maintain some image he had of a papa and mama? Or maybe it is simply some personality vibe we gave off and he responded to for, though I cannot be certain, from two years old to life with us, his caregivers were likely all female, allowing for little opportunity to see how the male role played out.  What does this mean for single parents or same sex parents? Do they too have to work through some pre-conceived image the child has of parental roles? (I have just begun to read Lesbian and Gay Foster Care and Adoption 2nd ed. by Stephen Hicks and Janet McDermott which almost from the start begins to consider this question).

Via school and neighbourhood, Yasik made buddies. For parents this can be a two-edged sword.   Yasik loved to play with the kids, free time for us. I suppose a ‘Yipppee!’ here and ‘Goodie!’ as friends begin to tip the scale in their favour over time with parents. One year in a DIY bid, Dave bought a pair of clippers and gave Yasik a buzz cut – I think the one and only, but visions of dollars saved were dancing in Dave’s head. Yasik looked like a miniature Dave, but big whoop.  After the cut, Dave told Yasik to go look in the mirror.  Yasik looked and let out a mighty wail.  “Dad, nobody will know my name”. Sooner than an adoptor of an older child might want, attachments were expanding and shifting.

Meaning there are negotiations to be made.  It could be said interacting in your community is learning to swim in life’s community pool.  Mostly it was fun to be with the kids, but it meant struggles too.  Each of us parents benefit by the de facto babysitting but we are uncomfortable with our child being watched over in play over by another parent who may have no problem with yelling at the kid or smoking around them, or with seeing our child bested by another.  We may want to helicopter parent when letting well enough alone leads to growth in confidence.  It is a gamble between stepping in to fight our children’s battles or holding our breath and allowing them to work it out on their own.   For the most part we let Yasik work it out, checking on him after the fact.

At Yasik’s eighth birthday I noticed him laughing that covering, defensive, too loud laugh he used when his two main buddies bugged him and he got upset and rightly so.  One of the two would needle just to get a rise (in fairness the little needler was dealing with family issues too). I asked Yasik how he felt about it and he said it got him, so I said, “Just laugh.” (Duh, that is what he was doing) and he said, “It gets in my head” – meaning it made him angry before he could stop it.  I was impressed with his self-awareness.

And while these encounters may have started a learning process in relationships, I do think for Yasik, already aware as an adoptee that he perceived himself and was perceived by those around him as different, a kind of lessness was also being developed.  (I am currently reading Hidden Daughter-Secret Sister by Kim Mooney -see P.23., Bitterroot: a Salish memoir of transracial adoption by Susan Devan Harness and Monstrous: a transracial adoption story by Sarah Myer, all of which speak to the sense of differentness and lessness.  If that is not enough, then my page on Books I have read will offer a good number more books with this message).

I took Yasik and his buddies to Lazer Tag one evening and Yasik – though no one expected it when they should have as he often did so – got the highest scores. He shot people well. In a group including adults he came in second and the young braggarts in his group came quite last.  He was that way in baseball too – consistently doing well – not in fits and spurts of glory. At the end of one season in soccer Yasik got carried off the field like a somewhat shocked but very happy hero.   Yet the myth of his lessness persisted.

While playing lacrosse after school with The Two, Yasik’s primary buddies, the ‘who-gets-to-be-on-which-team’, a learning hurdle so many children have to face, became the lesson of the day. Number One as usual took the lead in choosing whom he saw as the better players, first inserting himself in the important position. Yasik would not contend the setup, slipping immediately into second place but mentally focusing on his anger or hurt or revenge and seeking to get even.  In this case, checking in frustration, not Number One, but Number Two in an unfair way. I made Yasik stop immediately and took them all home. Number One ran to tell his dad with Number Two following.  I assured the father I was dealing with it but before I had begun meting out punishment, Yasik stepped forward to apologize to Number Two of his own volition. Number Two, always a peace maker, returned the apology, maybe realizing that because Number One had to head to hockey practice now, they would only have each other to play with.

The ‘who-gets-to-be-on-which-team’ lesson surfaced again for Yasik the next week at school.  Yasik was faced with the ignominy of once again not being chosen for the favoured team.  Whatever revenge Yasik sought to enact, when Dave came to pick him up at school, he was told Yasik had been made to ‘stay after school’.  We all know what that phrase means. Dave went to the classroom to get Yasik. Upon seeing him, Yasik started crying hysterically. The school authorities figured he had been punished enough. Talking it over later that evening, Dave and I decided he had too much competitive tension and wanted the school to redirect him from Mr. Number One, Mr. Number Two and Mr. Number Three triangles.  He was handling his pressures with explosions, and we were hoping to show him alternatives. In a social circle of great importance to a school-aged child, one that encompasses after-school playtime, soccer teams and social interaction between the adults attached, it is difficult to find other options, factoring in that these kids see each other as each other’s best options for great times together.

The idea of lessness (it is tempting to suggest the term ‘marginalized’) was also fertilized by adult opinion.  Yasik had listened in on enough conversations to know he was different in his birth narrative, in his shortness, in his struggles with learning.  And at times it got capped off by adults like his soccer coach who, Yasik’s skill to the side, wouldn’t let him be goalie because of his height, again letting him know he was coming up short (I couldn’t let that one go).

Again the question: Is it such a big deal?  Jennifer Traig cites a study that found that siblings argue 3.5 times per hour, 80% of the time over toys.  (Incidentally, and likely part of being in Phase VI – joining in and finding my place- see my psych section) on child development registers, parents get to be the issue only 9% of the time).[xlv] But then, if it becomes a worm embedding in a child’s already weak sense of self?  

I am going to look at the adoption narrative more specifically here as a mindset or perception factor. My earliest journal entries note that Yasik’s explanation of his story showed that almost from the beginning he was working on his story. He told us that there are kids who come from mom’s tummy and kids who are picked kids. But at the same time, because he knew I could not have any more kids and we have to assume he was hoping for a sibling, he suggested that maybe Dad could have a girl. At other times he said he liked being an only child.   The one certainty is that we cannot deny he had family narratives for relationships on his mind from almost the beginning.

Being four and half at the time of his adoption, he knew he was different, that parts of him belonged to someplace else.  The other kids in his class had narratives of life with their parents before kindergarten.  No surprise then when that one question belonging only to non-biological families, the “real” parent issue, came up rather early as well, so we talked.

One day he made it clear that he was aware of his differences from his buddies with the blunt and direct, “You aren’t my real parents.” Another time he asked where some part of his being (whatever it was, I didn’t record) came from in him and then said, in a tentative manner as though uncertain whether to say it or not, that whatever it was must have come from his real parents.

There were no blatant physical differences between Yasik, Dave and I as Susanne Antonetta has experienced with her Korean born son, but the baseline experiences of the “real” parent issue are the same. Because it appears I will encounter copyright issues I will paraphrase some of her experience with ‘The Question’ and then encourage you to read make me a mother.[xlvi]

Around the same age that Yasik was beginning to piece a narrative of his story together, Antonetta’s son, Jin, was also working out how he came to be. It was hard for Jin to accept the story, though true, but given to him in an age-appropriate narrative: “For him, it’s hard to understand being flown somewhere to be given to two strangers, however good everyone’s intentions.” But for the most part Jin did not seem to be giving too much thought to his adoption says Antonetta although she wondered if he “struggled with something I could not put my hands on to fix.”

Antonetta and her husband did follow one of the top ten guidelines for adoptors: Be open about the adoption; answer your child’s questions. She adds something interesting to this advice: Because her son had heard that babies come from mommies’ tummies, she thought her son likely “heard the story with the coda of the tummy belonging to another woman”. When Jin was eight, he began to ask about his bio-mom, telling Antonetta that thinking of her made him feel sad. He told her he thought it was unfair that he didn’t even know what she looked like.

Antonetta’s response was likely the response of most caring adoptors: “I hadn’t expected it all to be so hopelessly confusing”. She sought to draw him closer but sensed his uncertainty, however vague.

One particular instance of the awareness of difference that tends to call up the sense of lessness came when she and Jin were playing together at a park. Antonetta had gone for her bag and returned to where Jin was playing to find him being questioned and taunted by some young boys.  Seeing her ‘Caucasianness’ and his ‘Asianness’ they asked why Jin was with her and then asked if he was an orphan, following the question by then throwing the word “Orphan!” at him. She says of the experience:

I’d always imagined a moment like this and understood it would be painful, but I pictured us talking about it, Jin accepting my comfort, as he could at that age, perhaps even appreciating my care for him. I turned to find Jin huddled over, sobbing.

“Get away from me!” he screamed. His face scrunched; lower lip folded in half. “Get away! If they didn’t see you they wouldn’t have said anything.

He was in a rage at me.  He couldn’t forgive me for having been with him, for being who I was. He cried and repeated that I should have just stayed away from him, all the way home. I hurt for him. I hurt in a way that ripped me apart….

Dave told Yasik of his own adoption and then told Yasik he has a bio-brother, bio-sisters and a bio-parent set. Dave explained that probably money problems are why his bio-mother left him in the orphanage. Dave then reaffirmed that Yasik was all ours and we were his now. We also talked about the orphanage, telling him all of the scant story as we knew it then. About all we could do at the time was to be sure that the questions were answered as satisfactorily as possible hoping that he still felt secure.  At the time I wrote: “some [of that sense of security] can’t happen – he is divided but may it never destroy his spirit”.  And when you think of what I have just recorded from Susanne Antonetta’s book, you have to wonder how Yasik was receiving the narrative we were presenting to him.

Of course, being a kid, he used the narrative too at times.  Dave had a shift and was juggling, just once I might add, getting a babysitter for Yasik. He responded by becoming frustrated and obstinate, saying to me, “Why is it parents are meaner to kids who have a different beginning and come from a different place?” Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents suggests feelings like this may come from the fear of losing another parent and advises against too much daycare until the child has a sense of security within the family.[xlvii]   So let me repeat in our defense, our memory is that we called in a babysitter once for our disgruntled son.

Others in the community pool of life that Yasik was learning to swim in: teachers, coaches, music teachers, parents of buddies, friend of ours, each was impacting his environment, influencing his spirit, mind and body in not only big ways, but often in almost imperceptible ways. Yasik and I were watching a video sent home with him from school about a snowman who takes a little boy and flies away with him to a snow land.  Yasik said, “Mom I didn’t know snow persons could fly”.  I almost corrected it to ‘snowman’ and then realized he’d been taught to be politically correct.

Psychological: Psychology has to do with theories about how our actions communicate with our thinking and feeling.  Very specifically, for our adoptive family, whether we were aware of it yet or not, we were living the realities of Attachment Theory (which I will save for a dedicated post).

We were doing so, not with an infant, but with a child who was chronologically at a stage of development where normally separation from caregivers is less stressful as children begin to look beyond the home to their community, school life and group activities with peers[xlviii].  Deborah Gray, a clinical social worker widely respected in adoption counselling and writer of Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents calls this phase in childhood development, ‘Phase VI – joining in and finding my place’.[xlix] Children whose early years were well-nurtured, she says, now between the ages of six and eleven in this part of their journey toward personal identity, are interested in being part of a team or group, all the experiences Yasik, as noted in the Social section, was becoming part of.

A child raised in an orphanage, positively or otherwise, may move into this stage much earlier for the expectation of support from the child’s adult caregivers would too often have been thwarted. Peers as parents in early childhood is dealt with often in writing about institutionalized children.  Bruce Perry, in The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog provides an example in the story of Peter who spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage. The orphanage is described as a “baby warehouse”.  In eight-hour shifts children received about 15 minutes of individual care.

With no one but each other to turn to, the children would reach their tiny hands through the bars in to the next crib, holding hands, babbling and playing patty-cake.  In the absence of adults, they became parents to each other.  Their interaction, as impoverished as it was, probably helped to mitigate some of damage such severe deprivation can cause.[l]

But then again, having only minutes with adults perhaps is why Yasik, like Maurice Mierau’s children, liked taking medicine or going to the doctor the few times he needed to go.  Neither of Mierau’s children in Detachment: an adoption memoir resisted taking medications. “[Peter] and Bohdan both enjoyed taking medicine of any kind. In the orphanage, visits by the doctor had been one of the few times they got sustained individual attention from an adult. Both of them hugged and kissed me and Betsy when we administered routine cold remedies or children’s aspirin”.[li]

That little inserted bit is, of course, tongue in cheek. In harsh reality, lacking peers or unresponsive caregivers, what does the child do?  Like many, many manuals state, we all find coping strategies for homeostasis. The first I noticed Yasik using adaptations was with his school work but later I realized he had adaptations from well before he came into our family. An unnurtured child will find ways to take care of his or her own nurture.  Yasik would hum along to music or rock himself. Because he continued to rock himself for most of his first year in our family, we assume he developed rocking, as did many children in orphanage care for their early years, to self soothe.

These interactions become their expression of their understanding of parenting, developing out of whatever they can hobble together to cope with their emotions and desires.  The adults are on the periphery like overseeing, but emotionally detached butlers to their needs.

The question then is to what extent does such parenting ‘mitigate some of the damage such severe deprivation can cause’?

Yasik was denied nurturing bonding with a special and consistent someone or someones in his infancy within his biological family’s home, in the hospital, as well as, in his orphanage. It is safe to assume, that Yasik too was prematurely turning to peers in the absence of adult interaction. Deborah Gray, in Attaching in Adoption, goes on to focus on what Phase VI may also mean for adoptees given that now children in general are seeking to fit in.  In this phase they may want to separate themselves from the aspects of their person that make them different from their group. But what does that mean if a child has entered Phase VI prematurely as he or she has learned to turn for support to other children when looking to satisfy emotional needs and perceptions of the world? The child knows peer parenting or self-parenting or peripheral parenting that may have changed often as staff and children come and go from institutions. What understanding and expectations does the child now have for family and friends as he or she begins to branch out or widen his or her social circle?

Yasik, placed in kindergarten just weeks after becoming part of our family, soon made it known that he no longer wanted to look at pictures of his orphanage playmates, nor did he want to attend any more ‘Russian adoptee meet-ups’ arranged to continue contact with his first culture and identity.  He did not want to be different. He wanted to fit in with the kids in his neighbourhood, school and on his sports’ teams as would fit right in with his age on a chart of child development.

According to the chart he should be, at the age of six, more interested in his peers, authority figures at school and on his teams than he is with his parents.  Yasik seemed to be keeping in step with the stages of childhood development.  Yet there he was, turning to his dad to be lifted into his arms and cry into his shoulder when struck by a ball while up at bat in T-ball. There he was, using soothing techniques like rocking himself to self soothe, and there he was, as his teachers informed us, more often playing at recess with younger children than those of his chronological age.  Born for Love: why empathy is essential – and endangered notes, “…previously institutionalized or otherwise neglected children tend to bond better with younger boys and girls.  Even though they can catch up surprisingly quickly in loving homes, they tend to seem younger than their chronological age”.[lii]

Spiritual: Dave and I each had religious backgrounds that left us at this stage in our lives with a belief in a vaguely defined higher power.  We encouraged a firm belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. At five Yasik and I were out sledding and saw a man dressed as Santa sneaking around the side of a house.  We hurried home to get ready for when Santa got down to our block. But as the years went by Yasik began testing Santa’s telepathy by keeping his wants from us.  We went to great lengths to outsmart him at that point.  But the time came when magic and reality started to argue for Santa got a Gameboy mixed up.  And we forgot to replace a tooth with money.  That one last time, we put 46 cents under his pillow the next night and told him the tooth fairy went cheap because it was irritated with his lack of faith.  We prayed but we did not observe religious dictates.  We encouraged Yasik to pray to ‘Dear God’ until likely he let us know he no longer wanted to pray with us.

Thus far, it seems to me the biggest take-away is the search for homeostasis.  Yasik’s perception of his setting, with the assistance of his genetics, was directed, as is true of each human being, however positively or otherwise, toward homeostasis. Yasik’s adaptations to his environment was making use of cuteness, hoarding, peer parenting, singing, rocking, choosing the interests of his peers in his neighbourhood over those of the peers he left behind in Russia, Pokémon over Pushkin, finding both appropriate and inappropriate ways to contain his frustrations and hurts, making sure he got the right haircut, building a birth narrative, all to keep himself feeling O.K. according to the mindset he had at the time.

End Notes

[i] Traig, Jennifer. Act Natural: a cultural history of misadventures in parenting. 2019, Pxii.

[ii] “Defense.gov News Transcript: DoD News Briefing – Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, United States Department of Defense (defense. gov). February 12, 2002. Archived from the original on March 20, 2018.

[iii] Saturday Night Live. Oct. 06, 2007 hosted by Seth Rogan. The opening skit was a spoof of Kevin Federline, a Britanny Spears’ ex after gaining custody of his kids.

[iv] Belsky, Jay, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt, and Richie Poulton.  The Origins of You: how childhood shapes later life. 2020, P.95.

[v] Lachman, Gary. The Return of Holy Russia: apocalyptic history, mystical awakening, and the struggle for the soul of the world. 2020.

[vi] Mate, Gabor with Daniel Mate.  The Myth of Normal: trauma, illness & healing in a toxic culture. 2022, P.164.

[vii] Perry, Bruce D. Md, PhD and Maia Szalavitz.  The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook. 2017, P.89.

[viii] Hurst, Kiley, Dana Bragg, Shannon Greenwood, Chris Baronavski and Micheal Keegan.  How Today’s Parents Say Their Approach to Parenting Does – or Doesn’t- Match Their Own Upbringing https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/01/24/how-today’s parents-say-their-approach-to-parenting-does-or-doesn’t-match-their-own-upbringing/

[ix] Lancaster, Kathy, PhD. Parenting An Adopted Child,2nd ed. 2009, p.6

[x] Simon, Scott. Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: in praise of adoption. 2010, P.45

[xi] Peterson, Jordan B. Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos. 2018

[xii] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2050324516683325

[xiii] Letourneau, Dr. Nicole with Justin Joschko. Scientific Parenting: what science revels about parental influence. 2013, P.56,57,70,34,35.

[xiv] Heat Moon, William Least. Blue Highways. Eine Reise in Amerika. https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1383812-blue-highwasy-a-journey-into-america

[xv] Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: an intimate history. 2016, P. 368-9.

[xvi] Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: an intimate history. 2016, P. 481.

[xvii] Mate, Gabor with Daniel Mate. The Myth of Normal: trauma, illness & healing in a toxic culture. 2022, P.241-243.

[xviii] Lancaster, Kathy, PhD. Parenting an Adopted Child, 2nd ed. 2009, P.37.

[xix] Traig, Jennifer. Well Enough Alone: a cultural history of my hypochondria. 2008, P.163.

[xx] Crook, Marion. Thicker than Blood: adoptive parenting in the modern world. 2016, P.131.

[xxi] Szalavitz, Maia & Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD. Born For Love: why empathy is essential – and endangered. 2010, P. 119.

[xxii] Wheeler, Susan. Mud and Stars: travels in Russia with Pushkin, Tolstoy, and other geniuses of the Golden Age.  2019, P.59.

[xxiii] Gray, Deborah D. Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents. 2002, P.275.

[xxiv] Szalavitz, Maia & Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD. Born For Love: why empathy is essential – and endangered. 2010, P.65-66, 127.

[xxv] Winfrey, Oprah, Bruce D. Perry. What Happened to You: conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing. 2021, P.164.

[xxvi] Winfrey, Oprah, Bruce D. Perry. What Happened to You: conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing. 2021, P.36.

[xxvii] Bosco-Ruggiero, MA, Gloria Russo Wassell, MS, LLMHC and Victor Groza, PhD. Adopting older children: a practical guide to adopting and parenting children er age four. 2014, P.65.

[xxviii] “What defines Middle Class these Days in Canada?” Published by Captain Cash/Financial/https://captaincash.ca/blog/the-canadian-middle-class-where-do-you-fit-in/

[xxix] Gilbert, Daniel. Stumbling on HAPPINESS. 2006, P.239.

[xxx] Perry, Bruce MD, PhD. and Maia Szalavitz. The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: what traumatized children can teach us about loss, love and healing. 2017, P.369-370.

[xxxi] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P. 103.

[xxxii] Brooks, John. The Girl Behind the Door: a father’s quest to understand his daughter’s suicide. 2016, P.56.

[xxxiii]Letourneau, Dr. Nicole with Justin Joschko. Scientific Parenting: what science revels about parental influence. 2013, P.173.

[xxxiv] Mercer, Jean. Thinking Critically About CHILD DEVELOPMENT: examining myths & misunderstandings, 3rd ed. 2016, P.156.

[xxxv] Bosco-Ruggiero, MA, Gloria Russo Wassell, MS, LLMHC and Victor Groza, PhD. Adopting older children: a practical guide to adopting and parenting children er age four. 2014, P.64.

[xxxvi] Gray, Deborah D. Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents. 2002, P.151.

[xxxvii] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P. 102,103.

[xxxviii] Bosco-Ruggiero, MA, Gloria Russo Wassell, MS, LLMHC and Victor Groza, PhD. Adopting older children: a practical guide to adopting and parenting children er age four. 2014, P.82.

[xxxix] Brooks, John. The Girl Behind the Door: a father’s quest to understand his daughter’s suicide. 2016, P.55,56.

[xl] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P.103.

[xli] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P.131.

[xlii] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P.161.

[xliii] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P.133.

[xliv] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P.176.

[xlv] Traig, Jennifer. Act Natural: a cultural history of misadventures in parenting. 2019, P.180.

[xlvi] Antonetta, Susanne. make me a mother: a memoir. 2014, 135-142.

[xlvii] Gray, Deborah D. Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents. 2002, P.34.

[xlviii] Mercer, Jean. Thinking Critically About CHILD DEVELOPMENT: examining myths & misunderstandings, 3rd ed. 2016, P.170.

[xlix] Gray, Deborah D. Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents. 2002, P.246-247.

[l] Perry, Bruce MD, PhD. and Maia Szalavitz. The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: what traumatized children can teach us about loss, love and healing. 2017, P.244-245.

[li] Mierau, Maurice. Detachment: an adoption memoir. 2014, P. 120 – 121.

[lii] Szalavitz, Maia & Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD. Born For Love: why empathy is essential – and endangered. 2010, P. 57,70.

 

Entry #11 Our Son is a Person

Entry # 11  Our Son is a Person

I know we tend to pickle memories in a brine that renders them more rosy than blood-red.   Nonetheless my journal is a record of how I viewed my world at the time, a primary source with hopefully less cherry-picking than my mind might remember now.  Still, reading those journal pages 25 years later, it seems they might have been wrapped in pink cellophane, oh yes, the  ‘honeymoon period’.  And we were not alone, at least as far as we could tell from the one or two books we came across in those early years.  Well actually I only remember one book, written by a woman a year or two after adopting her ‘forever child’. The book was rosy from cover to cover.  We would have written the same and if Kisses from Katie[i] is anything to go by, people still are.  No grey clouds looming. We got a phone call one night from a fellow in the eastern US who was wondering if we too were experiencing serious acting out with our child, our response was “No, our child is a sweetheart.”  Offering words of sympathy, we shrugged and hung up, privately questioning his parenting skills.

This post and the next several to come will offer vignettes of that good time from the perspective of getting to know our child to try to understand his perception of himself and our place in his life via the journal and other information I have garnered.  I hope to come to some understanding of how his perception was developed.  But let me first establish something that may seem obvious but at perhaps a less than conscious level is not always established. Yasik is person.

To establish this is not as straight forward as it would usually be in a bio-family. The Origins of You: how childhood shapes later life looks at the maxim, ‘The child is the father of the man’, with caveats noting that research cannot support that this thought is an absolute for all children given that the blessings and vagaries of life must also be factored in.[ii]  In the particular environment of the orphanage it has become expected that

…the majority of institutionalized children miss a number of critical milestones in development…. In addition, adopted from abroad/post-institutionalized children have to go through a tremendous set of changes, beginning with leaving their home country, leaving the familiar surrounding of the orphanage…. and facing completely unfamiliar surroundings, learning a different language, and getting accustomed to a new culture, a new family, and a new school…. Children’s lack of emotional self-regulation at the level expected at a certain stage of a person’s development is a distinct marker of a post institutionalized child …. School presents difficult challenges for these children, especially many older adoptees. Typically developing children are able to digest new material because they use their previous knowledge, vocabulary, and culture. This is not the case for post institutionalized children who have already been delayed in the learning process and now have difficulty assimilating the fast pace of learning expected of them….

However, a study

found that approximately one third of the families reported no significant problems; one third mentioned one to three kinds of problems, such as eating problems, medical problems, and stereotypical behavior problems; and years after the adoption roughly one third reported serious and sometimes worsening cognitive and behavioral/emotional problems such as physical, emotional, developmental and cognitive delays, self-stimulation and self-soothing behaviors, and extreme fears of separation and abandonment. A general theme is that the longer the child spends in an orphanage, the more severe the subsequent problem.[iii]

But hey, you can hear that mumbled meme, ‘Data is Not Destiny’, right?

Good old Google.  I was wondering how to approach understanding what the journal entries were telling me about who Yasik was showing himself to be in his first year as our son and how that might help to reveal his perception of himself and his new world.  I searched with the words that came to mind: personality traits, that sort of thing.  Google led me to philosophical sites of all things: the idea of personhood.[iv]

It appears we as persons are physical and mental beings who develop networks of beliefs that impact how we calculate and think about our environment and social relationships, using reflection and language to make autonomous choices and engage in actions, with the right to be accountable for our choices. My journal entries allow me to work backwards from Yasik’s actions to uncover the person he was/is.

But why examine such abstract philosophical and psychological concepts?  I had been considering sharing some bits from the journal that I later recognized were best kept private to the family. Yet I am also currently reading a book, the CHILD CATCHERS: rescue, trafficking, and the new gospel of adoption[v] by Kathryn Joyce.  The book deals with a variety of movements that have led to bartering in orphans for their souls, for money, for prestige, or to fill some personal hole in their lives.  Christians rescuing heathen, governments looking for financial gain or political pawns, couples looking to place a family portrait on the mantle.  John Brooks in The Girl Behind the Door[vi] says, “We treated Casey as if she were our new pet”. Dave, when reading this post, observed much the same, saying we put as much effort into life with our pets as we do our children.  Are we seeing our child as a distinct and individual person or as another piece to finish a look we imagine completes our image of ourselves and our lifestyle?

Does the personhood of the orphan factor in?  Perhaps we can hone an awareness of the orphan as a person in his or her or their own right by thinking very specifically about what makes each of them a person. Perhaps then we will recognize each child caught in the liminal (a word new to me but I like its eeriness) state of orphan as an individual whose personhood must be valued.

Numbers-wise there was not much of the ‘physical being’ about Yasik: essentially 40 inches by 40 lbs.  But whatever little there was, it was packed into a well-proportioned body, capped with soft blond hair.    We had a cherry tree in the front yard with branches like big arms about four feet off the ground.  Dave tucked into the arms one evening to hide in a game of Hide and Seek but those 40 inches of bursting energy were just not up to the hunt. Dave sat right in front of Yasik in the cherry tree, but 20 inches short of the tree’s arms, he could not see Dave.

Seriously, where it mattered, and especially with the adjustment a pair of glasses made, Yasik could see just fine.  We watched a video about where kids come from. It made the observation that a woman has breasts, showing a cartoon woman with straight out breasts and nipples.  Later I said to Yasik, “See, I have breast too”.  He said, “No, your’s don’t stand up.”  Yasik could hear (he loved listening to music with earphones) which was later confirmed as hearing issues are usually checked as part of an assessment of learning difficulties; Yasik could smell (well we assume so for I have no concrete examples recorded); Yasik could taste (at first only familiar foods – which shows discrimination, right?); Yasik knew the message of touch (holding our hands and cuddling); and that sixth one, proprioception, appeared to be working just fine as his very effective motor skills demonstrated despite Orphanage Risk Factors’ mention that often institutionalized kids are clumsy.  From leaping around on the park dragon to hitting the T-ball to biking, he showed skill and prowess.  Even the over-sized baseball helmet merely got a nonchalant flick when it slipped into his face.  Of course, there was that one time just after Yasik got comfortable on his bike, we biked around the block. On Braid St. he biked into a telephone/ lamp post. He got a bit disgusted and said, “Tomorrow they have to move it over there” – meaning across the street. But clumsiness or awkwardness of movement have never been evident.  He knows where his arms and legs are and where they are headed – exactly where he wants them to go.

And as for that one bug-a-boo, size, the material on Orphanage Risk Factors notes that institutionalized kids make size gains within months of adoption. I noted sometime after Christmas of that first year that “he keeps growing.   He wants to be measured a lot to check if he’s grown and usually he has – he is growing steadily but he is still the littlest kid in the school”.   Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents takes concern for size seriously, saying children can feel embarrassed about being short.  They may see it as mocking their drive for independence from being needy[vii].  Getting glasses centered his right eye but being little was an on-going concern.

Notes from our short ‘getting to know Yasik’ meeting with orphanage staff say Yasik had dealt with rickets, poor nutrition and a lack of Vitamin D due to little exposure to a world beyond his crib. He also had an infant allergy or intolerance to sweets.  The staff assured us the rickets and allergy and their after effects were now gone, as is most often the case once diet and exercise needs are met.

He did have a secret power though – when chicken pox banged at the door, the doctor thinks the resistance to infection spawned in the orphanage made him quite invincible to many childhood illnesses. Other than a mild diarrhea, he was free to play in the park for the week he was quarantined from school. His body was also well adjusted to the rhythms of life for he slept well, ate well, especially sausages, piroshkies and fruit in the early months. The fruit kept things humming so well that we would occasionally ban apples. Loving fruit, Yasik would have us check to see if his poop was firm enough to lift the apple ban.

And the ‘mental being’?  A Google definition says it is about perception, pain experience, belief, desire, intention, emotion, and memory. I would like to add as a separate concept, the gift of curiosity we are given.

For whatever emotional, psychological or neurological reason, Yasik says he has no memory of his life before the flight to Canada. Yet…..while we waited for our pre-dawn flight home in the Moscow airport, facing out into flat river valley, a harvest moon arose.  It was huge.  One evening, a few months into his first year with us, he and Dave were on the computer.  Dave was making supper and Yasik was playing on the computer. A large moon came up on the screen.  Yasik called Dave over and pointed to it, “Papa that is where Yasik is from”.  He explained that “they pulled the string” (like maybe a bus stop string?) and he came down on an airplane.  His memory system was doing what memories are to do – providing him with a narrative. He came from the moon.

It is the only memory he shared other than recognizing the little kids pictured waving good bye to him from the orphanage front porch.  Sadly, or simply the by-product of embracing a new life, there came a day when he no longer wanted to look at their pictures before bed.  John Brooks talks of the same with his daughter, Casey.   John and his wife Erika had created a “scripted fantasy story” about Casey’s bio mom loving her but wanting her to have a better life and so the Brooks “went all the way the way to Poland to find” Casey. (I bet they dragged that word ‘all’ out).  But Casey showed little curiosity about her bio family or the orphanage, or Poland [viii].  And yes, more could be said re: the fantasy story and magical thinking as per the Child Catchers: rescue, trafficking, and the new gospel of adoption [ix].

We could not deny he had emotions either, from robust anger to sweeping happiness.  Angry that he must obey, laughing so freely when happy, yelling, “Yee Haw” while biking, excited and giggling playing Hide and Seek. He had us outside, having one of us hiding while he had the other counting and helping him hunt, but it was all his when the hunted one was spotted as he broke into a determined run to kick the can; he burst with pride at handling bumper cars with Kyle; he entered into T-ball games wholeheartedly – no standing on the sides, no matter who played. Yet come the evening, he slipped into cuddly mode.

Yasik fell from a stand at his last T-ball game and he was leaning against the fence trying not to cry. Dave went over and picked him up from behind. He turned into Dave’s neck and cried his heart out. But again, all in the same day, he might punch your bum and leap on you. He would leap on my back while I was crouched at the fridge and get me in a strangle hold.

Erik H. Erikson, student of life, according to Daniel Levinson[x], and person who never knew his bio father and never felt fully accepted by his step-father, designed a theory of human life rather like a train on a railway line with 8 stations along the way.  Yasik should have, at this point, passed the stop of Trust vs. Mistrust (infant) and Autonomy/Independence vs Shame and Doubt (toddler) and if all was going well, was in the stage of Initiative vs Guilt (pre-school).  Orphanage Risk Factors suggest that often children who begin life in an orphanage are emotionally delayed.  So, was the train of life carrying Yasik getting to each stop on time and leaving on time?  Can adoptive parents even tell this early in an adoption? Were we going to see Yasik trusting us as his parents? Is he confident enough to take up challenges?  Was he becoming more and more skillful and able to make decisions that show a growing control of his impulses?[xi]

Maybe the mental being marker of intention will provide some answers. Dave’s birthday came along in March.  Yasik and I went shopping for a gift for him.  He got Dave a plastic foldable set of swords – for lots of sword fights with himself. On another day, Dave suggested Yasik pick flowers for me.  The next day Yasik was mad at Dave for a reprimand.   On the way to school I told Yasik that Dad did so because he loves him.  Yasik goes “Oh”, stopped and picked a buttercup, saying, “This is for my daddy”.  As an afterthought, he picked one for me so I picked one for him and again he said. “Ooh” – both ‘Ohs’ in awe. (I kept that little flower in the journal for many, many years).

Any organism, if it is alive, demonstrates desire, so it can be no surprise that desire burbled in Yasik’s breast.   Right from the start we could tell he was into long-haired girls.

We were visiting friends in Chilliwack whose only child was a beautiful, long-haired girl. Yasik fell in love with her, not reciprocated of course, for she was several years old than him, but she played with him and that was good enough.

I have read here and there that curiosity is a special gift tucked into the bundle of personality traits of the lucky. I am not so sure; it seems to me that whether it is slipping into a shop to see an item you are dreaming of or questions you have about the connection between nature and nurture which leads you to Nobel prize honours, we likely each have some measure of curiosity.  Even our dog shows curiosity most days, sticking his nose in here and there on our walks.  Yasik too, has always poked his nose into things around him: how to drive the car, checking out what might be hidden in dense bush, even if it meant getting dirty to find out, figuring out how to help some fish get upstream.

It is harder to pin point his experience of pain for he rarely seemed bothered by confrontations with pain. Much of what would have others cry out seemed to bounce off him. Or maybe his physical dexterity came to his aid, allowing to him slip past most potential accidents.

Not to gloss over the Orphanage Risk Factors I have noted here and there, I might add that we did watch Yasik self-soothe by rocking on the couch while watching TV or listening to music and when in the car.  I’d also say there was some self-parenting when he could get a bit bossy, telling us to stop doing something that irritated him or becoming indignant when disciplined.  But he did not come to us cowed by orphanage punishment though he would show initial hesitancy when encouraged to try new things like rides at the playground or learning to ride his bike. Nonetheless, there was no evidence of a ‘learned helplessness’ for with encouragement, he tried whatever challenge was offered.   Was he indiscriminately friendly? I don’t think so though it took little for him to be willing to make friends.  He definitely was not delayed in fine or gross motor skills nor was he having obvious problems with impulse control.  And if you watched him watching ‘Forrest, Forrest Gunk’ you could rest assured he was able to hold a concentration or focus. He was acting like a happy little boy. He seemed to have enough trust and independence to beetle on into anything.

Perception it seems is the expression of the physical and genetic attributes as they entwine with the mental attributes which together lead to a way of regarding, understanding or interpreting something.  Or better yet, we as persons are physical and mental beings who develop networks of beliefs that impact how we calculate and think about our environment and social relationships, using reflection and language to make autonomous choices and engage in actions, with the right to be accountable for our choices.

I think Belief, in a narrow definition (except in such specifics as religion perhaps,) is imperceptibly different from perception so will check it off the list as essentially being dealt with as perception.

I hope to discover Yasik’s attribute of perception as I work through the next few posts.  Other than that the bases are covered.

So yeah, he is a person.

And because I cannot keep my greedy fingers off the keys that lead me to more and more, I am going to tuck in one other way to look at Yasik.  This is a personality type theory called ‘The Big-Five Personality Traits’ broken up into the following traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion/extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.  Researchers have found this set of traits to be “remarkably universal”, that “both nature and nurture play a role” and that the traits of the individual “tend to be relatively stable over the course of adulthood”, even factoring in “adverse life events” though “maturation may have an impact”.[xii]  I add this way to look at a person because of some questions I came across in Heartbreak: a personal and scientific journey by Florence Williams, 2022. She asks “So why are some of us more resilient in the face of something like a breakup? Do personality traits matter? Early life trauma? The short answer is yes and yes[xiii]

Openness

Openness (also referred to as openness to experience) emphasizes imagination and insight the most out of all five personality traits. People who are high in openness tend to have a broad range of interests. They are curious about the world and other people and are eager to learn new things and enjoy new experiences.

People who are high in this personality trait also tend to be more adventurous and creative. Conversely, people low in this personality trait are often much more traditional and may struggle with abstract thinking.

High

  • Very creative
  • Open to trying new things
  • Focused on tackling new challenges
  • Happy to think about abstract concepts

Low

  • Dislikes change
  • Does not enjoy new things
  • Resists new ideas
  • Not very imaginative
  • Dislikes abstract or theoretical concepts

Conscientiousness

Among each of the personality traits, conscientiousness is one defined by high levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviors. Highly conscientious people tend to be organized and mindful of details. They plan ahead, think about how their behavior affects others, and are mindful of deadlines.

Someone scoring lower in this primary personality trait is less structured and less organized. They may procrastinate to get things done, sometimes missing deadlines completely.

High

  • Spends time preparing
  • Finishes important tasks right away
  • Pays attention to detail
  • Enjoys having a set schedule

Low

  • Dislikes structure and schedules
  • Makes messes and doesn’t take care of things
  • Fails to return things or put them back where they belong
  • Procrastinates important tasks
  • Fails to complete necessary or assigned tasks

Extraversion

Extraversion (or extroversion) is a personality trait characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness. People high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. Being around others helps them feel energized and excited.

People who are low in this personality trait or introverted tend to be more reserved. They have less energy to expend in social settings and social events can feel draining. Introverts often require a period of solitude and quiet in order to “recharge.”

High

  • Enjoys being the center of attention
  • Likes to start conversations
  • Enjoys meeting new people
  • Has a wide social circle of friends and acquaintances
  • Finds it easy to make new friends
  • Feels energized when around other people
  • Say things before thinking about them

Low

  • Prefers solitude
  • Feels exhausted when having to socialize a lot
  • Finds it difficult to start conversations
  • Dislikes making small talk
  • Carefully thinks things through before speaking
  • Dislikes being the center of attention

Agreeableness

This personality trait includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other prosocial behaviors.  People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this personality trait tend to be more competitive and sometimes even manipulative.

High

  • Has a great deal of interest in other people
  • Cares about others
  • Feels empathy and concern for other people
  • Enjoys helping and contributing to the happiness of other people
  • Assists others who are in need of help

Low

  • Takes little interest in others
  • Doesn’t care about how other people feel
  • Has little interest in other people’s problems
  • Insults and belittles others
  • Manipulates others to get what they want

Neuroticism

Neuroticism is a personality trait characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability. Individuals who are high in neuroticism tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and sadness. Those low in this personality trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient.

High

  • Experiences a lot of stress
  • Worries about many different things
  • Gets upset easily
  • Experiences dramatic shifts in mood
  • Feels anxious
  • Struggles to bounce back after stressful events

Low

  • Emotionally stable
  • Deals well with stress
  • Rarely feels sad or depressed
  • Doesn’t worry much
  • Is very relaxed

Footnotes

[i] Davis, Katie with Beth Clark   Kisses For Katie: a story of relentless love and redemption
Gale Cengage Learning, 2011

[ii] Belsky, Jay et al  The Origins of You: how childhood shapes later life  Harvard UP, June 2020. p.40-54

[iii] Jankowska, Anna   The Transition of Adopted From Abroad/ Postinstitutionalized Children to Life in the United States   McGill University, 28 October, 2015.

[iv]Camilleri, Adrian. “What are the Characteristics of Personhood?”  Philosphymthttps://philosophymt.com/what-are-the-characteristics-of-personhood/.  January 7, 2022.

[v]Joyce, Kathryn    the Child Catchers: rescue, trafficking, and the new gospel of adoption   Public Affairs,2013 p.67

[vi] Brooks, John   The Girl Behind The Door: a father’s quest to understand his daughter’s suicide Scribner, 2016.

[vii]Gray, Deborah D.  Attaching in Adoption: practical tools for today’s parents Perspectives Press, Inc.,2002  p. 37-39

[viii] T Brooks, John   The Girl Behind The Door: a father’s quest to understand his daughter’s suicide Scribner, 2016.  p. 55-56

[ix] Joyce, Kathryn    the Child Catchers: rescue, trafficking, and the new gospel of adoption   Public Affairs, 2013   p. 75 – 127

[x] Levinson, Daniel J. (1979). The Seasons of a Man’s Life.  New York: Harper & Row

[xi] Wade, Carol et al.  Psychology: custom edition for Thompson Rivers University.  Pearson, 2007.

[xii] Cherry, Kendra   “What Are the Big 5 Personality Traits?”  Very well Mind   March 11,2023 https://www.verywellmind.com/the-big-five-personality-dimensions-2795422

[xiii] Williams, Florence   Heartbreak: a personal and scientific journey   W.W. Norton & Co.2022 p.51

[xiv] Cherry, Kendra   “What Are the Big 5 Personality Traits?”  Very well Mind   March 11,2023 https://www.verywellmind.com/the-big-five-personality-dimensions-2795422

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption in the News

Adoption in the News

Thousands offer to adopt Syrian newborn girl pulled from the earthquake rubble   Staff and Wire report

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2023/02/10/syrian-baby-born-earthquake-adoption/11227621002/

Thousands have offered to adopt a newborn girl whose mother gave birth under the rubble of a five-story collapsed apartment building in Syria following Monday’s earthquake.

Baby Aya — meaning miracle in Arabic — was found buried under concrete more than 10 hours after the quake struck with her umbilical cord still connected to her deceased mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya. Her father and all four of her siblings also died after the devastating earthquake hit the northwest Syrian town of Jindayris, next to the Turkish border.

After a female neighbor cut Aya’s cord, she was rushed to a nearby children’s hospital and placed in an incubator. The physician treating the baby, Dr. Hani Maarouf at Cihan Hospital in Afrin, said Aya’s condition is improving by the day and there was no damage to her spine, as initially feared.

Footage of a man sprinting from the collapsed debris of a building, holding Aya covered in dust, went viral on social media. Maarouf said the baby’s lowered body temperature indicated she had been born about three hours before being found.

Since Aya’s rescue, hospital manager Khalid Attiah says he’s fielded dozens of calls from people worldwide wanting to adopt baby Aya. Additionally, thousands of people are asking for adoption details on social media.

For now, Attiah’s wife, who has a daughter just four months older than her, will breastfeed Aya alongside their own child.

 

Entry #10 Emigre to Immigrant

Entry #10   Emigre to Immigrant

Taking Yasik through immigration, Dave was asked, “Is your wife landed?”  Dave assured him, “Yes, yes, she is just over there, waiting by the luggage”.  The customs officer tried again, “No, is she landed?” And Dave proudly repeated, “Yes, we both went to get our son and she is waiting by the window.”  Did the officer’s training finally kick in?  He clarified, “No. Is she a citizen?”

And we were back in Canada.  My parents, brother and his family, sister and her husband were there to pick us up and hustle our son into his new family, taking pictures, hugging and talking.  We felt so full at this moment, with love, family, satisfying occupations and interests, sufficient money coming in to keep the roof over our head and the bills paid.  We drove home to find my sister, Barb, had streamers, balloons, welcome signs, new toys, clothes, a car seat, and a big meal ready ……  Book after expert advice book on adoption cautions against overstimulating a new adoptee with people, parties and presents, just so you know.

After eating we gave the wrapped toys to Yasik to open.  He picked up a gift but the wrapping stumped him.  Goggle told me only recently that generally Russian gift giving etiquette says that cheaper gifts are not expected to be wrapped in paper, only expensive ones. It is safe to say that any gift he may have received up to that point came unwrapped.

For most of my twenties and thirties I lived in other cultures.  At work I talked about the impact of culture shock on our mostly foreign-born students.  I was not a stranger to culture shock.  Yet it did not occur to me or any of the other adults in the room, half of whom had dealt with as much culture shock as I, that Yasik, now in Canada for roughly three hours might be dealing with this phenomenon as well. It was merely cute that he needed his 3-year-old cousin, Kyle, to show him what to do with gift wrapping. Were Dave and I given any heads up about an international adoptee’s perspective on a new culture?  Not likely as our adoption prep seminars focused on adopting locally.  And remember, we had little time to prepare for an international adoption.  Does that hold up as an excuse?  Adoptors today appear to have much more information to prepare them.    Try a quick Google search for sites dealing with international adoptees and culture shock. You will find advice giving adoption sites and journals providing research of the issue.

Yasik studiously set about practicing the gift unwrapping lesson Kyle offered. Any diffidence at being the center of attention in an unfamiliar social setting disappeared. The little gift-wrapping hiccup turned out so positively for him, he moved on to giving his new Aunt Rena Russian language lessons, laughing at her pronunciation.  Some of our family’s first observations were that the orphanage must have taught him manners for he was polite.

After the meal as everyone prepared to leave, Dave scooped Yasik up, thinking he might have fun helping Dave move our vehicle out of the way.  Yasik burst into tears.  Given the lack of sleep and jet lag it shouldn’t have been a surprise but I noted the outburst in the journal because the tears stopped as soon as Dave returned from the driveway.  This was one party he did not want to leave. Or could we dare to imagine it was an attachment hook we could put hopes on?

My mom and dad gave Yasik a teddy bear almost as big as him.  Dave found him at 4:30 a.m. the next morning hugging and talking away to it.  Studies in Attachment began early in the twentieth century.  Dr. Rene Spitz a psychoanalyst studying hospitalized infants

[observed that] these babies [abandoned infants who received little individual attention in group care] developed odd reactions to strangers, .… the usual behaviour was replaced by something that could vary from extreme friendliness to any human partner combined with anxious avoidance of inanimate objects to a generalized anxiety expressed in blood-curdling screams which could go on indefinitely” 1.

But he liked his teddy….

Having only a few days left of ‘parental leave’, we slipped quickly into what most families in our neighbourhood seemed to do; we took him to the playground.  Other than a bit of experimenting with a play water pump on the periphery, he simply stood to the side holding our hands, watching other kids playing.  Getting him to actively engage took commandeering Kyle and climbing ourselves up the no-thrills slide the length of our own bodies.

A visit to the doctor was next.  The Hague Convention requires countries, of which Russia is one, to provide a translated medical report but adoption handbooks warn that this could be incomplete or possibly even inaccurate 2.   Our pre-adoption medical report listed convergent strabismus (fixable), adenoids enlarged, dermatitis, speech delay (normal), short for age.  Our doctor agreed that other than being small for his age, a common side effect of orphanage life, he was quite healthy.  It was the doctor’s opinion that he may have built up a strong immunity by more exposure to bacteria and whatever else did not have had to battle Purell.  And that seemed a good conclusion for he was never sick with any of the childhood plagues others battled with each year.  His motor skills were in line with his age as were his eating and sleeping habits. The one concern that is also fairly common but would involve specific correction, was convergent strabismus.  Initially it seemed surgery would be involved but glasses became enough.

Odd, isn’t it?  Impervious to bacteria yet not getting enough nourishment to meet standard growth charts.  And it isn’t merely a matter of a lack of veggies and salmon as the experiment conducted by the German king, Frederick II, demonstrated in the 13th century when his curiosity about the development of language led to his forbidding care-givers in an orphanage to speak to or hold the infants in their care.  The babies all died.

Born for Love gives Chapter Three to an examination of the repercussions of early life in an orphanage.  The focus in this chapter is a girl adopted from a Russian orphanage but some of the research behind her story is taken from studies of Romanian children who spent their early years in orphanages during the time and under the experiments of President Nicolae and Deputy Prime Minister Elena Ceausescu. One of the charges for which they were ‘summarily executed’ as the saying goes, was the claim of their ‘research’ “that children will develop just fine without individualized attention and affection” (53).

The 25-year study at SFU on the Romanian orphans provided a paper which says this under a heading titled Physical Growth:

While the malnutrition of institutionalized children contributes to their growth deficiency, another contributing factor may be the poor quality of interaction and stimulation offered by the low caretaker-to-child ratio in these institutions.  This type of growth deficit, known as psycho-social dwarfism, can be very serious.  However, upon removal from stressful or neglectful conditions, children suffering from psycho-social dwarfism tend to make tremendous gains in both height and weight…. Nevertheless, at three years postadoption, length of institutionalization was correlated with physical size, and of those children who had spent eight months or more in an orphanage, 31% remained below the 10th percentile in height…. 3.

I found current definition and study on psycho-social dwarfism, now called psycho-social short stature, at Front. Endocrinol., 07 October 2020 Sec. Pediatric Endocrinology

https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2020.5961443

This article and others in this search make the point that lack of nurture in infancy and early childhood compromise physical growth.  This can be mitigated once a child is placed in nurturing care.  At our first post–adoption interview it was noted that Yasik “appears to need much cuddling” but that over the course of the three years of post-adoption interviews he went from 39.5 inches to 47 inches.  Okay, so still not the class giraffe but also not the only one in the front row of the class photo.

The ‘Heads Up’ suggested by most adoption authorities or anyone really who might see themselves as authorities on adoption is on a separate page I am calling ‘The Standard List’.  That list includes the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) checklist.  Yasik’s ACE score was likely 6 or 7 when he came to us although the ACE was not published until 1998. Yasik had definitely experienced physical and emotional neglect, likely physical and emotional abuse, and had definitely been exposed to domestic violence and household substance abuse.

And those shoes Yasik wanted to put on the moment he awoke in Moscow. We bought him new runners and tried to make the shoes disappear for they were already cramping his toes.  That evening we got the shoes off him and set them by the door. He wailed.  He seemed to have the idea that taking off his shoes meant bed time, probably an orphanage routine. The wailing stopped when no one headed him off to bed. Taking his shoes off at the door like a good Canadian became a new routine he comfortably settled into.  Like a proud mother, I also note in the journal that he was happy to help with household chores.  And like a proud mother who believed in education I have noted that in those first few days we have taught him A and B.

Yasik has now moved from émigré to immigrant in less than a week.  He has moved from an orphanage setting to a residential home, no one but him in a large bedroom.  Routines have been dismantled and recreated; cultural changes have been made with absolutely no orientation; no one speaks the only language he knows other than about 10 words to cover the necessities of life; he is interacting with two strangers whom he has been told are his mama and poppa; little of the food is familiar other than macaroni and sausages, and what about jet lag? All this newness at every hand and he is handling it entirely alone.

Yasik is being given more stuff to call his than he has ever had access to.   Remember he left the orphanage with nothing. This stuff apparently comes with having a mama and poppa of your own. I have read here and there that for children in institutional care, the hope of having parents is the Holy Grail. We don’t know how much Yasik understood of his situation as a ‘social orphan’ for about those years Yasik continues to say he remembers nothing before the jet ride to Canada. Did stress or even trauma from the first four years shrink the memory center, the hippocampus, or put him in a dissociative state in order to cope with the lack of consistent nurture? 4.  Is it not possible to think that becoming a member of a family in a strange new world has added a further level of stress, however delightful the stress, to a young and still developing mind.  Stress, which separation from a caregiver and accustomed living conditions, abusive or otherwise, now heaped with the transition to an entirely new life may stymie memory.  These two strangers are what he perhaps came to understand he was to hope for.  All of these strangers’ attention is solely on him and any desire he manages to communicate, but everything is new and mostly impossible to explain when these two strangers have neither language or culture awareness to reach out to him.  Attaching in Adoption (p 149) cautions: “The comfort and competence that children feel in their own culture is lost as they enter a new surrounding”.

What was that doing to this young heart, mind and body?

Google presented research into the effects of trauma on early childhood development as well as articles written by therapists.  One article offered a good balance by suggesting while a child sometimes dissociates from memories of trauma, it is just as possible and much more common that, as emotions which re-enforce memories are still developing in a young brain, the memories are not retained 5.

As the first post-adoption report notes, initially Yasik “appeared reluctant to let [his parents] out of his sight”. Yet Yasik was quickly overcoming shyness around others.  One relationship that particularly warmed our hearts was with Tony who himself was raised in Canada’s early adoption and foster system, one that was very difficult for him (SeeA Canadian Story of Adoption in the 1930s’, Becoming Family). Tony showed Yasik his bee hives and he went home with a jar of fresh honey.

We also found a night time routine that worked for us: play, watch a video, bathe, read a bit 6, kiss a lot to which Born for Love (135) says, “Like an addict with a tolerance, it takes a higher “dose” to get the same effect”. Yasik initiated the kisses as easily as we did, taking our faces in his hands or blowing a kiss at us and beaming.

We did put together a photo album of the orphanage and the kids there.  He looked at it often in the early days.  I would end the evening with a little prayer to ‘Dear God’ with him and he was out.  We were not inclined to incorporate church-going into our life style but I wanted Yasik to have some awareness of a god. Praying was what I did and passed on to him.

Daily Routine at Ashley Down Orphanage
06:00 Rise, finish washing and dressing, older children helping
the younger
07:00 Girls knitting, boys reading
08:00 Breakfast
08:30 Morning service`
09:00 School (some older children first help to make beds etc.
to 09:30)
12:30 Playtime
13:00 Dinner
14:00 School
16:00 Playtime
17:30 Evening service
18:00 Tea
18:30 “useful work” – girls “at their needle”, boys in the garden
20:00 Younger children to bed
21:00 Older children to bedhttps://www.mullers.org/downloads/Teachers%20resources/Daily%20routine%20at%20Ashley%20Down%20Orphanage%20Poster.pdf

Institutions dress themselves in routines, but was the one at Yasik’s orphanage as airtight as the George Muller Orphanages begun in the middle of the 1800s and reaching into the middle of the 20th century? Human Rights articles acknowledge that Russian orphanages do offer education as well as meeting the physical need of the children.   Nonetheless, a study of two St. Petersburg orphanages reported a 2 care-giver to 4 child ratio. Staff at these orphanages worked 40-hour weeks.  Routine is implied, even if possibly weighted in favour of staff over children 7.  Update: I am currently doing some ‘gentle art of Swedish death cleansing’.  In cleaning out the ‘important papers’ box, I came across some notes that appear to be notes I took in the one meeting we had with staff before Yasik became ours. His schedule may have been: 7:30 up, wash, dress, exercise -it says he likes to swim in the pool; 8 to 8:30 breakfast, then lessons- that it says in the notes that he likes to do the following suggests these activities were offered: to draw or work with clay modelling, construct houses, play with cars, learns poems by heart, likes having stories read to him, walks, entertainment; 12:00 dinner; 1:30 to 3:10  toilet and nap; 3:30 snacks of cookies, buns, yogurt, fruit; 4:30 to 6:00 walk; 7:00 supper, games, cartoons, toilet; 8:30 bed. One note says he pees the bed sometimes – heavy sleeper or limited toileting options? Not so different from how George Muller managed the lives of the children in his care. And not so different from the way responsible parents manage the lives of their children.   There is no ‘Breaking News’ to the place of routine particularly in the early days transitioning from an orphanage environment to a family home.  Google will offer advise like

STICK TO A ROUTINE

Children crave structure and routines. It helps give them a sense of control and allows them to develop trust. Having set bedtime rituals for a younger child, or a weekly family movie night for an older child, are great ways to establish a connection. Routines establish a solid foundation to grow from. In turn, your child will bond with you more easily!  8

The Adoptive Parents’ Handbook (85-86) quotes a researcher:

Routines and rituals help children create expectations about the predictability of their external environment.  Young children rely on their primary caregiver to help them organize their experiences and to guide them in exploration and mastery of new skills through practice and repetition.  Children who have experienced complex trauma frequently have lived in an environment void of structure and routines.  They form a perception that the world is an unpredictable and dangerous place, and their capacity for developing competencies though self-exploration and mastery become inhibited by fear.  One of the key principles for restoring a sense of safety for a child is implementing predictable daily routines that establish safety, help children organize experience, and to develop mastery.

Here an index finger might stab the air: as noted above, we were (or I was) managing to tuck in some educational moments, working with Yasik on the alphabet. Well, we had bought this cute little easel to hold big paper.  Really ?!?

This was his first week with us and kindergarten had not yet become a consideration. So OK, begin to establish routines as soon as needed but the whole perfect parent moulding the perfect child plan might be spaced out a bitThe first post-adoption report put our early days with Yasik in social workese,”[Yasik] likes to have structure”.

The journal has reminded me that we also had another 10-day wait period before Yasik was truly, truly, truly our son.  The journal records that four days after we returned to Canada was the end of the ‘wait period’, perhaps part of the wait period begun in Russia.  But that was not the end of uncertainty. Yasik became our son in 1997 but not until September 2000, having completed 5 interviews, at a cost for the interviews with a social worker and the cost for translation to Russian, were we assured there would be no more post-placement interviews.  The BC Adoption Act and Financial Administration Act: Adoption Regulation, last amended March 30,2022, appears to request only one report.  Our first interview/report in November 1997 concluded with this statement: I recommend that this placement continue to proceed.  It appears to be an excellent match and all are enjoying forming a new family together.   What if it had not been recommended to proceed three months after Yasik came into our lives?  Little caveat here: actually release from yearly interviews came after Dave wrote to the adoption agency that we thought we had made sufficiently plain that Russia need no longer worry about Yasik’s rearing.  The BC adoption agency wrote back to say that the number of post-adoption reports came at the request of Russia which has experienced a few ‘rehoming’s or returning the adoptee to Russia.

Still, in this two-week parental leave, we began to get Yasik’s Canadian paper work together when we ran into one of the hiccups I had noticed at work particularly with Sri Lankan students.  At the top of his landing papers, the government had written Yasik’s name using the Cyrillic alphabet.  At the bottom of the paper his name was written in the letters we call the right ones.    The government was going to use the letters at the top on his citizenship card and his care card.  The person on the other end of the telephone would not budge, telling us that it would require a change by an office in Victoria and would cost $225.00.  Immigrants with limited financial resources and hesitancy to make waves regularly found themselves with names that were too long for computers to cope with for they included the tribal name as well, the part of their name these prospective new Canadians did not use even in their former countries.  But we were people much more secure in our rights as Canadians.  Dave called Victoria and told them quite firmly that there was no sense to using the Cyrillic alphabet in Canada.  The preferred spelling at the bottom of the page was as clearly written as the Cyrillic.  The voice on the other end of the phone acquiesced. I have not discovered if this remains a problem for the newly arrived.

The journal goes on to admit that both Dave and I did have an ‘adjustment’ moment wondering if we could really do this, even did we want to!?!  Yes, it warrants an exclamation mark accompanied by a question mark.  Note though it was a ‘feeling’, not anything we acted on for the next line goes on to reassure that the feeling petered out.  Yasik had the resolution “weighted unfairly in his favour”.  He beamed at us and it was game overBruce Perry tells us our brain reward system sinks us.

What could prompt parents to give up sleep, sex, friends, personal time, and virtually every other pleasure in life to meet the demands of a small, often irritatingly noisy, incontinent, needy being?  The secret is that caring for children is, in many ways, indescribably pleasurable.  Our brains reward us for interacting with our children, especially infants: their scent, the cooing sounds they make when they are calm, their smooth skin, and especially, their faces are designed to fill us with joy.  What we call “cuteness” is actually an evolutionary adaptation that helps ensure that parents will care for their children, that babies will get their needs met, and parents will take on this seemingly thankless task with pleasure…. In the case of responsive parenting, pleasure and human interactions become inextricably woven together.  This interconnection, the association of pleasure with human interaction, this is the important neurobiological “glue” that bonds and create healthy relationships 9.

And now it was the first week of September, 1997, the September week that Mother Theresa died, and even more absorbing for the globe, Princess Diana died. Over a decade later, we would share another eventful week with the royal family. School for Dave and me was days away.  We tucked in some picnics with family and Yasik’s first dental appointment.  He seemed to take lying in the dental chair in stride but he looked to me so defenseless that I found the experience more emotional that I had expected.  He did not have the language needed to understand what was happening or to express his thoughts about what was happening.  Heart strings were pulled and then snapped back a bit.

There were two disconcerting pieces to this otherwise week of honeymoon.  I noticed at the park how quickly other children noticed how small Yasik was, his inability to speak English and that he had one lazy eye.  With this, and too readily for Dave, Yasik would at times hit or try to bite at me in unacceptable excitement.  Where did the biting and hitting come from?  Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate in Hold On To Your Kids lead me to wonder if this was a learned behaviour in the orphanage environment where children would of necessity be more peer-oriented than parent-oriented in learning social behaviours. Attaching in Adoption (81-2) says, “Children who lived with busy orphanage workers or with depressed or drug-affected birthparents learned to get louder, more persistent, more irritating, or more charming, to get basic needs met”.  Attaching in Adoption (24): “The rule of thumb is that, when first placed, children will relate to new parents in much the same way that they related to former parents or orphanage workers”.

It does bring to mind Lord of The Flies.

Or it came from the trauma of the first four years.  “The aggression and impulsivity that the fight or flight response provokes can … appear as defiance or opposition, when in fact it is the remnants of a response to some prior traumatic situation ….10.  Our minds default to choices based on associations to memories.

This is important because all of our previously stored experience has laid down the neural networks, the memory “template”, that we now use to make sense out of any new incoming information. These templates are formed throughout the brain at many different levels, and because information comes in first to the lower, more primitive areas, many are not even accessible to conscious awareness …. This happens because our brain’s stress response systems carry information about potential threats and are primed to respond to them as quickly as possible, which often means before the cortex can consider what action to take …. What this also means is that early experience will necessarily have a far greater impact than later ones.  The brain tries to make sense of the world by looking for patterns.  When it links coherent, consistently connected patterns together again, it tags them as “normal” or “expected” and stops paying conscious attention 11.

Or was this anti-social behaviour a child’s way to express the separation/the strangeness of all the newness jumping up in front of him like goofy characters on a subterranean canal ride at a theme park, an inappropriate response but perhaps the only one he knew.

Or as Attaching in Adoption (173) offers, maybe hitting or biting were simply overload reaction to not having enough language to cope.

And about Yasik’s inappropriate response when things upset him?  At first when he hit out, kicked, spit, slapped or punched, we held him down, put him in bed and even spanked him once.  He would cry but then calm down and all would be fine again for our little newcomer with little language living in a world still very strange to him.  By the end of the first week, we hit on the ‘novel’ idea to put a chair in a corner and have him sit there to cool down.  Again, Born for Love (135) reminds parents, when your attachment is still insecure then

 … social punishments like a “Time-Out” [can be] less effective.  Being less loved – or having repeated early experience of loss … can also make loving itself harder and less satisfying.  Like an addict with a tolerance, it takes a higher “dose” to get the same effect…. neglected children or those with other attachment disruptions are much harder to soothe or to teach…. each little dose of affection has a smaller, less lasting effect….

Were we just plain lucky that one or two opportunities to explore a time out and a nod toward the chair led Yasik to cool it?

The Adoptive Parents Handbook (78) suggests that instead of ‘Time out’, parents have ‘Time In’ where a calm adult rather than putting the child away alone, removes a child from a situation but sits with the child, talking a bit about the problem perhaps but moving to re-directing.  This is not about the adult seeking revenge to calm him or herself.

Bruce Perry learned from a woman he called Mama P. the need for calming a child who chronologically should be more self – regulating but because of a disruptive or traumatic early life experience, needed cuddling rather than punishment, even if this seemed to be rewarding the misbehavior.  Perry came to understand that Mama P.’s cuddling worked because she was now nurturing a child’s development in areas neglected earlier, in hopes that the little person would then be able to catch up on the stimulation missed earlier. Perry explains:

These systems respond to rhythm and touch: the brainstem’s regulatory centers control heartbeat, the rise and fall of neurochemicals and hormones in the cycle of day and night, the beat one’s walk and other patterns that must maintain a rhythmic order to function properly.  Physical affection is needed to spur some of the region’s chemical activity. 12

John Brooks reflected on his and his wife’s first night with their daughter. They were tired after all the detail of the day of adoption and wanted some rest.  Their infant daughter was upset, trying to rock herself to sleep in this strange bed in a strange room with two strangers.  Brooks looks back at the night:

“… we should have taken her into bed with us, held her and soothed her.  If it were possible, we should have held her for our whole first month together without putting her down.  Maybe we would have had a different result.  What she needed then was lots of human touch13.

Attaching in Adoption (231) says “If children throw tantrums, hold them close…. to … comfort them”.  Bear in mind talking about hugging as comfort is NOT talking about what is called Attachment Therapy, Holding Therapy or Re-Birthing Therapy which is ignorant at best but essentially abusive. A child is held down and forced to make eye contact with the idea that fear of attachment will be reset.  The most such ‘therapists’ can hope for with this would be an obedience based on fear.  Such treatment still surfaces in 2022 as “breaking down a child’s defenses” with a diagnosis of R.A.D. or autism particularly 14. A quick google marks the therapy as controversial and even banned in some regions.

The other explanation often provided was the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).  Adoptive parents are warned against jumping on this bandwagon to quickly as it is now considered by many researchers to be rarer than first thought.  Initially, as adoptors sought to understand their adopted children who were not acting particularly perfectly, RAD was a handy blanket explanation. For us having to deal with a couple of tantrums would have made rushing to a diagnosis of RAD ridiculous.  As Dr. Perry’s Mama P. would see it, Yasik was still an emotional baby and needed to be treated as such to allow catch up for those areas of his psyche still underdeveloped 15.

Or as Attaching in Adoption (275) explains:

 Children who have experienced deprivation early in life tend to have brains that do not regulate emotions well.  They over-react and under-react in a way that is adaptive to their old environment.  When they are nurturing, comforting, and positively stimulating, parents give children experiences that form a new perceptual map. 

For as a mother adopting from China found

It had been so cold in the winter that the babies had quilts tied across their lined up cribs so that they stayed warm.  They were only picked up on a schedule, due to the demands of so many babies and the difficulty of keeping the quilts in place…. [the] anxiety and frustration [which] were supposed to have beginning development in ages three through six months [continued long after, not having been cared for at the appropriate developmental stage] (273).

Our two-week parental leave never really accessed my union’s allowed three days.  We had the last two weeks of August and then it was time for school.  Luckily I guess, that particular year I had evening classes so the first days of September gave me a schedule that allowed me to be at home with Yasik in the morning.  Dave dropped some of his course load, taking only morning classes three days a week.  Yasik’s needs were directing his art education. I stuffed Yasik into his car seat and worked against afternoon homeward bound traffic to Emily Carr University, picking Dave up. He took the driver’s seat and headed further into Vancouver to my school after which Dave and Yasik caught the bus home while I taught.  Two weeks into the school year with this schedule and we furrowed our brows. Perhaps we ought to just see about a possible kindergarten for Yasik.

And that day he got signed in.

The journal says “And childhood is over – the staff at the community school down the street urge starting kindergarten as best for him for socializing, school prep, and ESL(the Kindergarten teacher spoke some Russian).  And he has been watching the kids at the park – we feel he is ready”.  We would be keeping our promise to the Russian judge for this was not (God forbid) abandoning him to day care.

And what do the experts say about that:

The key problem is the lack of consideration we give attachment in making our child-care arrangements.  Perhaps the most obvious task of attachment is to keep the child close16.  The title, Hold On To Your Kids: why parents need to matter more than peers, lays out Gordon Neufeld’s focus on parents’ need to ensure strong orientation first to themselves as the child’s parent before encouraging a peer orientation.  Being raised in an orphanage, Yasik would be regarded as more peer-oriented in his choices than parent or responsible adult oriented.

Adopting Older Children (67) bluntly states:

As a new adoptive parent you should take time off from work after your child comes home. You will need time to get to know your child and your constant presence in the early days of her placement may help her adjust better…. In all cases, building trust is a process that cannot be rushed”.

Attaching in Adoption (22):

sometimes the building of attachment takes much more time than anticipated because children are younger emotionally than their chronological age.  When children are adopted at an older age, parents need ample time for bonding activities. A social dilemma already exists about the balance of career versus adequate time for infant attachment.  When older children are adopted, there is even less appreciation for the generous amount of time needed for parents and children to form attachment.

For us more specifically, the ‘social dilemma’ seems to have come down to bowing to the dollar over the hopes of the heart strings much the same as when we chose to adopt Yasik for we had to find a way to pay off the adoption debt and the mortgage and Dave’s education, and the life we promised to provide this child, but we did also believe we would be meeting Yasik’s language needs and the social needs we understood a child of his chronological age needed.  And once again we were working with our lack of awareness of the emotional impact of his past.

Bruce Perry says, “But it’s important to know that young children are extraordinarily susceptible to the spiraling consequences of the choices we – later they – make, for good and for ill17.

Adopting Older Children shrugs a bit (222), “You also need to give yourself permission to not be a perfect person or a perfect parent.  Sometimes you will just be a “good enough’ parent and that’s okay”.

We chose to send him to kindergarten.

 

Endnotes for Post 10

  1. Understanding Attachment 33-34
  2. Adopting Older Children 162
  3. Paediatrics & Child Health, 2006, Feb: 11(2) 85-91
  4. Born for Love 66-70, 255
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/why-cant-i-remember-my-childhood
  6. Born For Love 312
  7. Structural characteristics of the institutional environment for young children. Developmental Psychology, Volume #9, 2016
  8. https://www.adoptionchoices.org/bonding-with-your-adopted-child/
  9. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog 90-91
  10. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog 52
  11. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog 26
  12. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog 152, 153
  13. The Girl Behind The Door 183
  14. The Adoptive Parent’s Handbook 61
  15. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog 101-102
  16. Hold On To Your Kids 33 & 65
  17. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog 132

 

Entry #9 Parenting as Tourists

Entry #9   Parenting as Tourists

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.

Dave’s expression of waking to our first day with our son:

And I knew that we were not alone

when I put my arms around your waist

My heart, I felt would burst

As we kissed

In that cold room in Moscow

I felt we were more than two

And as the tears fall now

Running down my face

I hear his voice

and I can feel your

Body so close to mine

In that cold room in Moscow

And I love you.

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.

Aug 20’97

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.

 

 

 

Entry #8 Court Proceedings

Entry #8   Court Proceedings

Of course, fireworks were exploding, but not in celebration of a birthing bathed in mothering hormones.  It was becoming a family by adoption, I guess, exploding with happiness hormones.   I end Entry #7 suggesting that while writers I have read may use the words ‘bonding’ and ‘attachment’ somewhat interchangeably, I may as well stick with the one that sounds like a boat anchor rather than fireworks and happiness. Clunky or not, ‘attachment’ is the broad term that covers becoming a family whether via a birthing or by adoption. And both modes of becoming family can be celebrations. Stray threads caught and carried by a little bird to build a nest must be a joy to find.  Stray threads may be what adopters find to build their nests.  But just as nature’s provision of twigs and grass, stray threads can do just fine in nest building.

Attachment as a concept is most often associated with John Bowlby.  His findings focus on a “child’s tendency ‘to seek proximity to and contact with a specific figure’ when afraid, sick, or tired….” an inborn desire to seek closeness to protective adults.  That takes care of what the child sees attachment to be.  And adults? What does the term mean for them?   More broadly speaking, attachment may be defined as ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings’” (Fostering Changes: myth, meaning and magic bullets in attachment theory 5).  Understanding Attachment: parenting, child care, and emotional development by Jean Mercer settles on defining attachment as “emotional ties” and “beliefs and ways of thinking about relationships” to form an “internal working model of emotion and social relationships” (p2,3).

We had signed a file full of documents and in less than 24 hours would stand before a judge and upon the drop of her gavel, we would be a family.  Yasik would be told after we left that first afternoon that he now had a mama and papa.  What meaning did he attach to those words?

That evening he gave away the toys we brought for him. In celebration or because he had been nurtured in the orphanage setting to share? Had Yasik already been learning empathic social relationships in a place not usually known to encourage healthy social relationships?  Was the orphanage actually a caring, vibrant social network, a good environment for the nurturing of empathy (The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog 268)?

After that sweet little smile through the banister, we returned to the hotel to have supper with Alexi, the driver, Tanya the facilitator and the translator, Elvira, realizing that while they were shy about speaking English and therefore appeared to ignore us, were actually very kind, thoughtful and helpful. Putting all the parts of completing an adoption: the paperwork, arranging our flights, housing and Moscow interpreters, as well as organizing the court appearance, made us realize what a large operation one adoption is.

At the meal Elvira gave us a heads up that Dave would be expected to give a little speech about how we felt about this opportunity to adopt Yasik and to request that our paper work be expedited.   We also learned we would likely be in Moscow longer than we had initially understood to complete Yasik’s paper work. More time to play tourist and shed dollars.  The three sharing this meal with us also noted that Yasik looked a fair bit like Dave and shared his interests in vehicles, music and art. Nice.  I was later assured Yasik had eyes the same colour as mine.  It is worth wondering about: this interest we have in family looking like us or fitting the proverbial ‘like father, like son’. I have wondered about the need to find resemblance to family as a kind of reassurance of our personal identity.  Yet it took only a picture emailed to us of Yasik’s biological siblings to determine they were indeed his siblings.  For those who do not share similarities with their adoptive families this is often a primary issue in their search for personal identity. “As Swedish as Anybody Else’ or ‘Swedish, but Also Something Else’?”  speaks to this issue for the non-white adoptee, nicely encapsulated in the title alone (https://doi.org/10.1177/030857591203600309).

After a stroll along side the Volga, we went to bed.  Well, actually after Dave prepared what he understood he was expected to say in court.  That done, we flopped onto our separate single beds, maybe a bit high and free to daydream. Yasik was almost ours and he was more than we had hoped for.  The journal also notes that we each took a Sudafed tablet.  Did the Sudafed stimulate that daydreamy feeling?  Or was this a peek at what the early days of attachment/honeymoon period feels like?  A kind of falling in love.

Adoption day was a beautiful early fall day, August 19, 1997.  We were driven directly to the court for the region of Yaroslavl.  The marble steps up to the court were worn to uneven dips.  A very old building. Dave was still muttering the phrases he needed to say; Elvira, the translator, was building up to a nervousness that I began to pick up.  This may have been a building that spoke power to Elvira but it lacked the power to gain a fearful respect from naïve tourists.  We would more likely have picked up Elvira’s vibe had it been a Canadian court.  A traffic jam had delayed proceedings, the prosecutor looked bored, most in the room were women. When the judge was heralded and appeared, she was hardly more substantial than the wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Still… she managed to feed Elvira’s fears and spook Dave and I somewhat when Elvira relayed to us that the she had been admonished to tell the truth or be prosecuted.

Dave was called first.  He was asked how long we had been married, what our jobs were, after which he recited his memorized speech to request an early dispatch of paperwork.  The judge smiled at his earnest tension.  I stood next to give my name and affirm I was a Canadian.  I sat back down and Dave was asked to rise again.  “If you both work,” the judge asked, “how do you plan to care for Yasik?”  Dave told her we had a plan to reorganize his classes and that between our schedules, Yasik would never be left alone.  And other than one afternoon when we left him at the after-school care which did not please him, he was always with one or the other of us, or with extended family or friends.  Although I am sure the question is part of the suggested adoption interview questions, there is a bit of irony in this young judge’s question.  It was being asked by someone whose cultural attitude to adoption leans toward dropping off children at an orphanage while parents deal with other life stresses, a trend particularly encouraged in the Soviet period.

Dave sat down and I was asked to pop up again. The judge asked what we thought of Yasik. I choked and only managed to respond with “Wonderful”. Elvira misted over and Dave caught a smile on the judge’s face. There may be vitriol at the highest political levels over adoptions but person to person, however much suspicion has been whispered in our ears, we found Russian people are as human as any Canadian — a little ‘duh’ here. Too often, unquestioningly we do drink the Kool-Aid because somewhere in our psyche we have the impression that Russians are not too be trusted nor respected as we might our own good people, something to be further tested by current political tensions.

The judge turned from us, giving the floor to the prosecution and defense who each offered their conclusion that all appeared in order to them. Writing this now I wonder who procured the defense. I remember no discussion about the need for a lawyer, again a nod to the detail involved in a single adoption. The judge rose just as he or she would do in a Canadian court, telling all that she would consider and left for a few minutes. My journal says that Tanya was passing out chocolates and flowers while we waited on the judge’s deliberations. The judge returned and declared that we were Yasik’s parents. The first seal on our adoption. Tanya and Elvira hugged and kissed us, wishing us “Good Luck”.

There were still details, details, details.  One detail that was given absolutely no thought by either Dave or I in our naïve happiness concerned the question of the legal status of parental rights belonging to Yasik’s bio parents.  No one denied that Yasik’s bio parents were still among the living.   Yasik was in the orphanage under the designation ‘social orphan’, someone who has at least one living bio parent.  Had his  bio parents actually given up their rights?

A fair few years later, I read that a number of Russian adoptions involved illegally obtained children, lacking parental surrender.  I googled this issue and found articles that say yes Russia is as haunted by trafficking in children as many, many other countries. And Russia’s response is not to turn a blind eye, being faced with the ever-decreasing population, shorter life expectancy and distaste for the idea that Russians are being taken from Mother Russia. In fact, “In 2008, an amendment to the Russian law on human trafficking re-established that the activity of buying and/or selling a person constituted trafficking regardless of whether it was done for an exploitative purpose” (Transaction Costs: Prosecuting child trafficking for illegal adoption in Russia Lauren A. McCarthy). One article questioned the money laid out by people from wealthier countries in the quest of adopting a child even for the most wonderful of reasons, family making.  This money alone likely out weighed the cost of raising that child in his or her social setting.  Does this constitute “regardless of whether it was done for exploitative purpose” with the phrase ‘or not’ left unsaid?

We were told, at the time, that Yasik’s mom didn’t come back to the hospital after a visit or two so the government took over guardianship.  For many years I tried to assure Yasik that her visits suggested she did care for him and placed him in government care because it was best for him, a narrative that works for adoptors.  In his teens, Yasik he let me know he didn’t buy that story.  Only two years ago did we learn that Yasik’s bio mother, Gurina, went to the hospital to try to get social services money for Yasik which she was denied so she quit on him.  We adopted Yasik in August 1997.  Our legal standing in adoption was based solely on the Family Code of the Russian Federation, signed by Boris Yelstsin in 1995.  All that applied to Yasik was one line, the final point in Article 130 of the Family Code, “for reason recognized by a court as not live with the child and shirk duties involved in his/her upbringing and maintenance, for over six months”.

At least this verifies that the adoption was legal, small comfort, but that is as good as the surrender of parental rights were in his case.  Yasik, that young judge proclaimed, was our son from now on.

As I mentioned above, we found out two years ago why Gurina actually came to visit Yasik at the hospital to seek money designated for his care. She stopped coming to visit her youngest son when she was denied this money. A year after we adopted Yasik, the Gurins made an attempt to gain access to money for her children’s care through the court.  Following is a summary of a copy of the actual court documents of this couple’s complaint before the court, given to the adoptive parents of Yasik’s sister at her adoption:

March 11, 1998 re: the case brought by Gurina L V (age 28) and Gurin NG (age 36) for depriving them of parental rights and exacting alimony for the children’s maintenance.

The court findings:

Gurina is a single mother of the two older children.  She married and has two children with Gurin.  At the time of this court hearing the girl born in 1991 was still living with the Gurins.  The other three had been placed in care. The report says, “The son Yaroslav was adopted without his parents consent due to Article 130 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation.”  The response to the Gurin’s complaint was to detail “the parent’s neglect their children, do not care for their lives, do not support them”.   Yasik had been taken to the town hospital “due to social reasons”.  The Gurins “have deprived themselves of the parental rights”.   “The son Gurin Yaroslav was adopted without the parents consent as they [Gurins] refused to take him home from the hospital”. Yet Gurina continued to ask for financial support after which she said she would care for her children.  Their argument was lack of money though a court investigation found that the Gurins worked at a factory which paid them in food and china to sell for money. To sell the china they needed to travel past the care homes three of their children were in.  Not once did they stop to check in on their children.

A sister of Gurina’s testified to the Gurins lack of care for their children.  Because the couple could give “no good reason’ for their lack of care the court hearing recommended that the parents be deprived of their parental rights and be ordered to hand over a portion of their wages to the children’s care until the children came of age…. According to articles 69, 81, 84 of the Family
Code of Russia, articles 191 – 197 HAS DECIDED: satisfy the claim by the Education and Youth Affairs Department. Deprive Gurina LV of the parental rights to [both her and their] minor children…. the children should be placed under the care of Guardianship and Care body
”.  The Gurins were given the option to appeal in 10 days.

As we exited the court house after our hearing, a radio interviewer waiting outside approached us to ask, via Elvira, what we thought of our experience, what we planned to do and why had we chosen to adopt in Russia. She asked us if Yasik would know about Russia.  Since reading about how to help a transnational adoption go more smoothly for the child and about the Magnitsky Law and the Canadian counterpart, Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the question about retaining ties to Russia carries more weight.   At the time we probably responded with only vague assurances and little understanding of our new child’s need for support as he began to discard one concept of himself, his language and culture, to build a new one.

We drove with our team or should I say darted about ‘as the crow flies’ on dirt backroads to stand by as Tanya saw to the signing out of Yasik’s life in Russia: the passport office, adoption center, and …? Sometimes we were asked for our signature, more often Dave’s, because it was written on everything that ‘the boy is travelling with his father’.  Between stops and while waiting for business to be completed, we talked with Elvira; her English was very strong. We compared teaching experiences, the biggest difference being that she was not merely the teacher but also her classroom’s maintenance person.  She fixed her own roof. At noon we returned to the hotel for lunch.  We talked perestroika and President Yeltsin’s attempted coup, the dissolution of the USSR, the gulag and the New Russia.  No, we didn’t really talk these things for Dave and I could only listen and become increasingly aware of how little we knew of the world our son had been part of for almost 5 years, five potent years as far as his own development was concerned.  How Russian was/is he? And how deeply will all these components that make him Yasik impact all that he is and will be through out his life?

There were more destinations after lunch for even more signatures and paper wrap – ups. Sort of wish I now knew what all these stops were for.  Finally, around 6 pm Alexis and Tanya were done and returned for us.  We were about to step from bystanders to parents. OK, let’s see how we do.

The orphanage was down a back drive off an alley, fenced in and fronted by unkempt flower beds.  Inside though everything was tidy and warm, if institutional. We were not invited to view any rooms.  We do not know where Yasik slept.  Did he share a bed? Was he in an army barracks-like room of cots? This would have been helpful as we had a bedroom waiting at home just for him.  It is notable to me that when Julia inspected our home before giving the OK for us to proceed with adoption, the one concern she had was if the bedroom we had prepared for Yasik was big enough.  It was the master bedroom in our 1950s era suburban home.  The document we presented as an application to adopt Yasik started with his full Russian name and birth date, and then records both Dave and my full names, and affirms that our birth dates have not changed.  We promised to provide semi-annual reports on Yasik for a three year period. Then we declared that we own a three bedroom home and promised “Our child will be living in Love and Care.  His room will be: 5 meters x 4 meters”.  The dimensions are underlined.  This we declared before the City of Vancouver and had witnessed by a notary.  It seemed, at the time, an over-the-top expectation.  How would Yasik handle waking in the night completely alone in a very big room?  It wasn’t long after we returned home that he would wake in the night to crawl into our bed.

Again, Yasik was brought into the doctor’s office, this time carrying what little remained of the gifts we given him at our first meeting the day before.  The rather expensive drawing book Dave had given him was now filled with scribbles, the crayon set bedraggled.  Dave wanting the best for his son and this new little son happily accepting.  We dressed Yasik in the new clothes we had brought for him.  I think they mostly fit.  He liked the shoes we purchased the day before.  We still have them in a memory basket, very proper, sensible little things. I might put the word NOTHING in caps to stress that Yasik took not one personal item from his first five years of life with him as he left to become a little Canadian in the Vincent family.  John Brooks in his memoir of his and his wife’s adoption memoir, The Girl Behind the Door, wonders if it might not have been a comfort to their newly adopted baby had they thought to ask for some item the baby had to comfort herself.   Yasik was shy and quiet during this initiation.  And then came the good-byes. The doctor kissed and hugged us.  I would love to have the opportunity to talk with her now.

A pretty young nurse had tears in her eyes.  Had she been a staff member who had a special relationship with Yasik? Bruce Perry in The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, along with other more recent writers, points to research that acknowledges a childhood in the care of more than one caregiver does not have to be disastrous to a child’s emotional development but do assert that the number of caregivers needs to be small, and above all, consistent.  From the time Yasik was taken to the hospital at around the age of one, how many caregivers did he encounter with shift changes in the hospital? Would there have been the remotest validity in asking whether or not the option for ‘baby-led or demand breast or bottle feeding’ was an option, among other considerations that contrast nurturing a baby in an institution versus a family home?  How many were part of his daily experience for the approximately two years he lived in the orphanage? What was the impact of the severing of these relationships?

Yasik had two big, crystal-clear tears holding on the edge of his eyes but he was smiling all the same. Dave and I came into the adoption with months of preparation. Yasik was expected to un-attach from all he knew as family and willingly embrace a whole new attachment within a 24-hour span.  Lost & Found (41) asks about the impact no opportunity to mourn the lost life has on the adoptee. In fact, you the reader can not help but note that everything written thus far is about Yasik joining our dream, nothing about this process from his perspective, leaving behind a biological family with a mama and papa, a brother and two sisters, and then those he engaged with in the hospital and those he had human bonds with in the orphanage.

About five children, one being the little Down’s Syndrome girl Yasik had big brothered, were on the front porch to see him off, calling “Das Vadanya.” Wasn’t it the protagonist in Cider House Rules who watched child after child leave the orphanage, each time wondering why not him this time?  Did any of these children left behind wonder if they too had a waiting mama or papa coming for them?

We climbed into the back of our get-away van.  Alexi had sad music playing on the car radio. Just a little over 24 hours from a couple to a family.

We haven’t tied up the concept of attachment and moved off into nuclear family bliss. As good ole’ Arnie says, “We’ll be Baaaack…” for as adopting older children (p140) reminds adoptors in the centre of the book, “adoption is a process and not an event.”  Stating the obvious of course but a centering  reminder all the same.