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.
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.”
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.