Entry #10

Entry #10

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 focussed 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 psychosocial dwarfism, can be very serious.  However, upon removal from stressful or neglectful conditions, children suffering from psychosocial 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 psychosocial dwarfism, now called psychosocial 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.

Our plan for the perfect family would not be quite so airtight nor narrow.  Yasik was neither into knitting or reading on his own. But a routine we did quickly slip into because 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] like 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 defences” 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

At first Yasik sat quiet in Dave’s arms. Dave bent to my ear to encourage me not to be shy while he and Yasik played это и то —– this and that.  Must have seemed odd to the two in front that I was holding back. Tatiana later played a hand slapping game with him and he warmed, losing his shyness, and surprising us by laughing out loud, talking and teasing; in a bit, we were too.  Soon he lost enough shyness to hit me; quickly we moved to overly rambunctious.  Added to that, at one point on the trip, Alexi stopped for a cigarette break and Yasik needed to pee.  With our help.  Pants pulled up, we climbed back into the van and Yasik yelled to the driver to get going again.  The driver shrugged, laughed and returned to the van and off we went again. He never settled to sleep and we were learning more Russian than we planned – don’t get excited we are talking more than 2 or 3 words.  The staff at the orphanage told us not to feed him for he would vomit yet Alexi and Tatiana gave him 3 bananas and a candy.  Dave worried that in mere hours we were undoing all the orphanage niceness and order.

The drive back to Moscow, as return trips often seem to do, passed much more quickly, pulling out all the sweet memory stops: a beautiful prairie sunset and a harvest moon. We got back to the apartment and Yasik ate only an apple and had some water, all the while talking and poking around, exploring the little apartment.  We showered him, got him pee-ed and into bed in a room adjacent to ours after covering the bed sheet with a ripped open plastic bag. We read to him but that was pointless for every few minutes Dave was flipping through the dictionary for words we couldn’t figure out how to pronounce right anyway.  Yasik just looked at us.  The barrier was bigger than we thought I write in the journal.

I gave him a flashlight with low batteries.  It began to waver so Dave put a new battery in and well he was off and playing shadow animals and faces and NOT slowing down.  He said something to Dave and Dave said ‘nyet’.  We left. Moments later we thought we heard him cry and both leaped up.  He seems to have had us on a marionette string. I went through the living room and into his room to turn the flashlight off and only succeeded in showing him how to turn it on which he did and I started laughing and left.   Later we turned it off and I stayed and held his hand. When I checked on him in the middle of the night, he appeared to sleep well.  6:30 am and Dave couldn’t wait so brought him in with us. We had breakfast only after he got his shoes on, with his PJs.  Is he, as John Brooks suggests in The Girl Behind the Door, our new pet (182)?  Maybe.  There must be some of that for every parent, biological or adoptive, in the honeymoon period.  But whatever adults invest in, there are a few moments of honeymoon, are there not?  Initially though most go into an investment in life with some understanding that there is more to it than that, so why not enjoy the happy surprises that come with each new venture?  I say that because those days were a honeymoon for us, but I also recognize that Brooks is making the point that in doing so we may have been detrimentally oblivious to other, less obvious needs our child had. Brooks goes on to say that later on their first night with their baby, they wanted to sleep so parked the infant in front of a TV which likely was not her orphanage night time routine.  They might have more deeply met their child’s needs by simply holding her until she fell asleep (183).

It also strikes me here how much I mention him talking when later we will deal with questions of the use of language for communication.

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

Entry #8

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 these three in place, arranging our flights, housing and Moscow interpreters, as well as organising 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.  Now 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.

Now the prosecution and defense had their opportunities to conclude that all appeared in order to them.  Writing this now I wonder who procured the defence. 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.  That sealed 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.  I remember seeing a children’s playroom as we passed through to the doctor’s office.  We were not invited to view any rooms.  We do not know where Yasik slept.  Did he share a bed? Was he in room of cots looking like army barracks? 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.  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.