From my Journal: vignettes and questions

Entry #1

I have kept a diary since my 20s.  When I finally obtained a satisfactory level of cool, I started calling it a journal. Now when I am wanting to understand more about becoming and being a family via adoption, turning to my journals is like cautiously pulling the thread Isabel Allende imagines in Of Love and Shadows (140) to unravel the conflict her story narrates. Allende may have used the metaphor to suggest that pulling on a thread would start a dangerous or damaging domino effect but it struck me personally as a way to see what my experiences were made of. This is not an unusual curiosity.  I have read a library shelf worth of studies and memoirs written by people who, because they themselves were parents, both birth and adoptive, or children of an adoption, turned to the study of adoption. They wrote to pull on the thread of their stories, to unravel the parts of their lives that helped them to see the knots and hopefully work them out. I think most of these writers, or artists, or musicians or film makers were compelled from within to do so.  I know this is why I read, watch movies or documentaries, sometimes get directed to music by my husband, sift through my journals- to seek some understanding of our family’s experiences as they have come through adoption.

A couple of years after I began writing from my journal the update noted on the home page changed the perspective my journal held for over 20 years.   I am, therefore, reviewing these early posts with the update in mind.  Should my husband and son decide to read these posts, these entries may be in for further updating or editing.

I start with an entry from June 24, 1997.  Yasik was about 4 ½ and living in an orphanage in Yaroslavl, a city about 250 kilometres from Moscow. Because he was considered cute enough to still have potential for adoption, even at the advanced age of 4 + years, he had been allowed to remain in an orphanage for younger children and on a roster of adoptable children.  This information now tells me two things: he was in a ‘home’ in which all the children were under 5, which gives little opportunity to learn from older children and that he would have soon been transferred to a new ‘home’, adding to the lack of consistency of care-givers (Muhamedrahimov R.J., Arintcina I.A., Solodunova M. Y., Anikina V. O., Vasilyeva M. J., Chernego D. I., Tsvetkova L. A., Grigorenko E. L. (2016). Structural characteristics of the institutional environment for young children. Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, 9(3), 103-112).

He had three older siblings in other orphanages.  His full name was Yaroslav Guerin Nicolavich; someone told us that Yaroslav is a name he was probably given more as representative of the region he was born into than because his parents saw their new born son as ‘fierce and glorious’, the meaning the name has in Slavic regions.

Dave and I had been trying to adopt for about two years; this was the average time in the mid 90s for those not determined to adopt a newborn. Those two years were about learning what the process involved and then standing before the doors labelled: Domestic Adoption, Open Adoption, Friend of a Friend Adoption, International Adoption, guessing behind which door we would find our child. We chose the door labelled International Adoption. Dave’s hand was firmly on the door handle.  My fingers were a bit twitchy.  I have boxes scattered all over the floor and shoes well broken in before I walk out of the shoe shop with a new pair of shoes. And there is much, much more to consider when looking for a child than a pair of shoes. Yeah, really.   In the midst of laying down money to the society facilitating our international adoption, I would find myself still toying with other possibilities.  Having a biological baby is a desire that is woven into our beings by biology, tradition, culture, religion, and societal expectations. Thus a desire considered quite normal. I was 47, living in a body beyond the age of reproduction, and could no longer give my husband his own child, even though I personally had never wanted to do anything but adopt.  But Dave, how was he feeling about never having a little David or Darlene growing into a remarkable likeness of himself?  Dave stopped me up by asking how he could make a big deal of having a child that came from his DNA when he was adopted himself.  That settled my twitchy fingers.  We were on the same page about adopting.

www. familyhelper.net says, “The typical applicant is: married, 31 to 35, caucasian, Protestant, has a fertility problem, no parenting experience, and at least high school education (those applying for independent adoptions tend to be older and better educated)”.

The first child we were offered when we started to apply to Russia was a 7-month-old boy.  The woman who was facilitating our adoption, Julia Ivanova, told Dave to be considered for this baby he should shave his beard because it had grey in it. I was already well dyed.  But it didn’t help because Russia came back with a policy that said we had to be less than 40 years old to adopt an infant and we weren’t, I being more years beyond 40 than grey-bearded Dave.

We looked at our options: a biological or adopted infant was out for us.  When I told a friend who was on maternity leave with a toddler, her less than sympathetic response was, “Good, you will not have to deal with diapers.”  The child was going to be an older child.  I was teaching adult education classes, Dave was working on his art degree, and he was meeting mortgage payments with a week-end job.  We each tucked in minor surgeries; mine left me with a pee bag sloshing around on my thigh while I was stopping in at various offices to get signatures, and sign away lumps of money. The pee bag would rock and roll as I rushed about and sometimes surprised me enough that I would jump or yell for what looked to others like no particular reason. So, did we stop to check out what it meant to adopt an older child?  No.  What would adoption mean to this kid never entered our heads; he was just lucky, right?  We knew little about the state of affairs in Russia – about Russia, period.  Would the KGB be following us around? What would the weather be like in August?  At this point all we knew was our adoption process and a bit about the stories most common at the time regarding adoption, the miracle of a god-given ‘forever child’, chosen by us for our family.  I am not sure if the term ‘forever child’ had yet begun to trend, but when I later began to study adoption, I found a decent and broad body of research on adoption beginning well back in the twentieth century.  No one hinted to us that we might consider even a visit to the Simon Fraser University (SFU) library where a study of Romanian adoptions was into its fourth year. We were simply running through a domestic ‘to do’ list.

Angelina Jolie once compared having a baby to adopting a baby, noting the big difference to be the amount of paperwork. We were working through pages about our home, our finances, our jobs, our families, our health, our values and what experiences might make us empathetic to struggles our child might face.  Our home study noted that my experiences in foreign cultures and Dave’s facial scars from an automobile accident gave us some sense of an adoptee’s possible feelings of being an ‘outsider’.

A cute but revealing piece in Lost & Found: the adoption experience by Betty Jean Lifton offers tips to would-be adoptors (184-185).

Use the pronoun “we” instead of “I” for it means you are a team; say you get on well with parents and relatives, but not so well that you arouse [the social worker’s] suspicions; speak of a happy childhood, but not too happy; an active social life but not too active; be reconciled to your infertility, but regret it a  little; admit to intercourse twice a week, a wholesome amount but not excessive; do not indicate too much  preference for a boy or girl, nor any desperate need for a child.  And this above all –be “relaxed, self-searching, and unguarded.”

A big ‘Furthermore’ coming: we had started to put down money to pay our way through the process of adoption.  If we backed out now, we would have to do all that over for another child.  Money always has a loud voice.  So, we asked what was available to us if we were not going to be allowed a baby. Julia told us about a 3-year-old boy, wheel-chair bound with cerebral palsy and a 4 1/2 year old boy.  We were not open to the 3-year-old because we worked as caregivers for challenged people for many years. We thought we might have a hard time distinguishing between a sense of being at work and being in a family.  We wanted family, not more job. This was not the pursuit of altruism.

Yes, I was pursuing the dream that refused to fade which I write about on the Home page.  But even my dream of adopting a little blond boy was not about saving his sorry little butt; it was because in my dream I had been given him, presumably by God.  Magical thinking or not, that was the narrative informing my desire.  And I know what flags pop up on the landscape with that admission.  The adoptee could wonder on hearing that narrative, ‘Why didn’t God just help my bio’ parents care for me? (Lost & Found 21,22).  And here is another admission found in this entry: Dave liked that the 4 year old would allow him to keep going on his studies because the 4 year old would go to school part of the day.  Doesn’t that sound convenient?  Neither Dave nor I had altruistic ideals fuelling our desire to adopt.  We wanted a child and if we found one who would fit our finances and work demands, nice.   We were two people stretching our necks to be counted as middle class, yet about to pack our lives with some serious financial demands. Factor into these constraints an odd little piece: my school had managed to get us unionized in negotiations that decided maternity leave for adoptors could be dispensed with because those at the meeting knew of next to no one planning to adopt at the time.

BUT… hear a very firm ‘however’ here: being near to aging out as prospective parents, and being low on discretionary funds, we had little leeway to be choosy. Nor as the narrative continued to unfold were any of these considerations anything but moot: the bottom line always was as the piece in Lost and Found goes on to ask: [We] had to take the child [we] were offered, rather than choose one, and [we] had to accept the limited family background [we] were given, rather than all the facts we may have wanted ….  Those who were too curious were in danger of being considered “anxious, narcissistic and unconsciously sadistic, …. ” 

My sister’s comment after reading the above paragraphs: “It’s sounds more like a business transaction than looking for someone to love.”

Then again, Elizabeth Bartholet in Family Bond: adoption and politics of parenting, would say, No. While bio parents usually choose to make a child, adoptors always choose; all magical thinking must be brushed aside for the child is a ‘chosen child'(184).

Julia gave us the first picture of Yasik: blond- just like my dream, chubby- well, pictures add 10 pounds, one definitely crossed eye, and as someone at my school pointed out, a very cute nose.

 

I was looking at this picture of Yasik while calling Julia to tell her we had chosen to go ahead with adopting Yasik.  The little fellow in that picture was drawing me in.  As I wrote in ‘From Dream to Reality’, a question I considered that day was: How do you hold back dreams?   We went shopping – always a nice way to put a dream in action.  We went shopping for a 4-year-old boy. Dave slipped a book of paper airplanes into the basket.

Entry #2

I have a snapshot in my mind of Dave and I driving through the intersection at Lougheed and Gaglardi Way in Burnaby testing out names for Yasik.   His birth name was Gurin, Yaroslav Nikolayevich –the surname, his given name and the patronymic.  Yaroslav as I said was possibly homage to the region of his birth. In respect to impressions we picked up somehow in the pre-adoption phase, we felt Yaroslav should be included in his name.  We cannot say that we did so in full-hearted desire to respect his culture.  I thought Russia was a country with mysteries I might like to explore but I wanted my son to become as deeply Canadian as I was.  I think Dave felt the same.  Including Yaroslav as one of his names was a requisite nod to approved behaviour for adoptors.

This moment in the van testing out names was our, emphasis on ‘our’, naming ceremony for our son-to-be.  We may not have called in the relatives or secured a reservation at the local place for religious ceremonies but the moment stays with me.  Naming a child has always seemed to me something held to be a precious privilege for parents, whether the recipient child would agree or not.   And with good reason sometimes. Case in point, a couple have just named their new born twins, Corona and Covid, as a way to provide a more positive message in a time of stress.  They were wobbling along the right track though, for most of us want to find a name that is a positive message to the child or a way to acknowledge those we love or is a name that sounds cool to us because it is a name trending in the particular decade we inhabit.  We were no different: we registered our son-to-be with a given a name we liked and then were happy to find had meaning that we thought appropriate, and we tucked in a second name to honour three relatives in one. The end result was, with the inclusion of Yaroslav, our son’s full name is so long it never fully fits in the allotted space given for names in online documents.

The name we use in these journal entries is Yasik, a diminutive of Yaroslav which we were unaware of until we met our son. Had we known we might have retained it for him; he was used to it; we liked it, and in fact, we used it in the early days, mixed in with our given name.  A Google scan shows the questions around naming an adoptee are common among adopters, even though adopting older children: a practical guide to adopting and parenting children over age four does not mention the issue of appropriate names while asking adopters to consider ways to become aware of their child-to-be’s culture.  But then turn to Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness (268) written by Betty Jean Lifton, which has been considered ‘The Bible’ for adoptees.  Lifton devotes a page to the question of naming and her words carry a potency I do not wish to water down with paraphrase.

As an adopted child, my birth name had been taken from me, and, therefore, according to the beliefs of many old cultures, I was vulnerable to all kinds of dangers.  A name was considered a vital part of you, like your eyes or your teeth, and had to be kept secret so that an enemy could not harm you ….  By taking possession of my birth name, by sealing it away [in sealed adoption files] with the names of all adoptees, society took away my power and the power of all the adopted.

It is impossible to describe how adoptees feel when they learn that first or last name given them at birth.  The birth name is a confirmation that an individual was born and exists.  It is as integral a part of a person today as it was in ancient times.  As the poet Stanley Kunitz tells us: “Nothing is mine except my name/ I only borrowed this dust.”

Even when they cannot have a relationship with their birth parents, adoptees may reclaim their names as a way of reclaiming their original identities ….  Sometimes adoptees will use both their adoptive and their birth names, as if not sure which is the real one and which the imposter.

My husband would be one of the latter.  He has included his birth surname in his public name.  Does its inclusion suggest a question of identity?

A follow up to Lifton can be found online. Robyn Chittister put up a piece on adoption.com to say a name doesn’t reflect a child’s personality, and it is easy [not sure about that point] to change although adopters do need to think about what impact a name change will have on the child’s world as best they can know at the time.  Jennifer Kadwell put up a piece on adoption.com to say there are no parental manuals to confirm the rightness or wrongness of their choice, but again, Lifton’s observation cannot be ignored. In our global village no name is too ethnic to be considered an albatross.  Jodi Meltzer wrote in cafemom,It is not about erasing what happened in the past.  You build on their foundation” which is the point Fraser McAlpine wanted to make in a Guardian piece, agreeing, “[I]t should never be about making the child ashamed of his [or her] birth world”.  In fact, Google has shown us how common our son’s name is in Russia, even attached to some illustrious persons in the Yaroslavl region.

With paper work done, passport prepared for Yasik in the chosen name, some child-sized clothing bought, airplane tickets in hand, the night before the flight we opened one of the bottles of wine we had packed as gifts meant to smooth our way into Russian offices; we had crossed off every note on our naive checklist preparing for an adoption. We dusted off the peeling paint and sat on the cement steps of our front porch under what stars we could see through all the street lights and passing cars, and dreamed about our coming life with him.  We saw ourselves as very lucky people.

In the morning we dressed for the nine hour flight.  We had to get new American dollars to pay for the items on our Russia trip checklist, the one that would secure our adoption proceedings in Russia.  To be sure those American dollars looked crisp, Dave ironed them.  I had sewn a pocket in my bra for half of them and I had sewn a pocket in Dave’s shorts.  When we stuffed the pockets with the money – $5,000, I looked like I had three breasts but Dave was sporting a male fantasy, packing around enhanced boys.  Many of our extended family saw us off at the airport and then it was a nine hour flight to Frankfurt.  We were on our way to the next level of a partnership – up to then we were more like friends helping each other through life, now we were evolving into a unit – a family- with a life bigger than just us.  The trip was cramped, but hey, they gave us each a small hand towel, maybe for the morning shower in the tiny toilet.  And on to Moscow.

When we arrived, we were told we would need to declare our money.  I went into hysterical giggles wondering if we would have to be strip searched to declare, but no, so maybe it was all on paper; I don’t remember.  Our driver and hostess showed up to rescue us though they didn’t speak English. Driving through Moscow we kept seeing signs that read Mockba (in Russian letters) 850.  Having done no research before we left, we thought it must be a popular radio station.  It was the 850-year anniversary of a city with a long and rich history of which we were ignorant.  The driver, Alexi, took us to a Soviet-era apartment to our eyes in serious need of ‘renos’ – an ancient elevator, heavy, steel, double front doors, a tiny deck with ¼ inch steel siding.  You could see where bullet had dented it –a design built out of fear.  The furnishings in the interior may have had the touch of a little old lady’s place from the 50s and may not have been Ikea branded, but a sense of art remained evident, complete with an old piano and beautiful wood furniture.    We turned on the TV, which had not left the 50s too far in the dust either, to see little men dressed in what we did not know were the traditional dress of Georgians declaring their proud determination to emphasize their independence from Russia, Papakha, not Cossak, hats and Choka coats.  We knew so little of Russia that we were not aware this program had to do with the worsening relations between Russia and Georgia.  Books encouraging an attempt at cultural awareness should be given heed.

Entry #3

After playing tourist for a couple of days in Moscow, we were taken about 250 km. north-east of Moscow to the city of Yaroslavl.  It appeared more attractive than Moscow and full of the look of things ancient – over 1000 years old.  Yasik has very old blood in his veins.

City of Yaroslavl in relationship to Russia's capital, Moscow
City of Yaroslavl in relationship to Russia’s capital, Moscow

Although we had been driving for several hours we were taken to a variety of offices before heading to the orphanage. In each office, we were left to wait while our facilitator conducted the business required in each office.  Our only contribution was to offer the gifts we had brought from Canada to whomever was handling the issue at hand, basically the removal of Yasik from the files of Russia. Otherwise we sat to the side while each transaction took place. In one office where we waited in the outer office on wooden benches while the interpreter talked to the staff in an inner office, we watched an inch worm work its way across the floor.  Dave tried to help the little thing and it freaked in terror.

Once we had stopped at several registries to begin the process of removing Yasik’s Russian footprint, our driver turned the van in the direction of the orphanage for our introduction to our son-to-be. Perhaps knowing her time with us was limited, the interpreter suggested we use this short drive to write down questions we might have for the orphanage staff but that turned out to be a bit useless.  When I pulled out my questions later, translator or no translator, I got blank but respectful stares.  I would have loved to know why.    Subtext: careful control of the flow of information?

While I was naively writing down some questions, the translator, a school teacher possibly conversant in several different languages, came up with an even better way to use five or ten minutes.  She began to teach us some phrases she thought would be helpful in communicating with Yasik.  Monolingual Dave started mimicking her without hesitation.  I have worked in a couple of foreign languages and know what a nightmare language learning can be so just wanted to throw up — I was going to one of the truly important moments of my life and being pushed on the way there into doing something which has given me some of the most stressful experiences of my life.  I get it, if books written to guide people through the adoption process are merely suggesting adoptors primed to prove how perfect they will be as parents learn a few tourist-level phrases, but some of these books sound like they are suggesting adopters learn their child-to-be-‘s language by ordering an app from Amazon. Do they have any idea what that means? It is doubtful though even they would dare to suggest language learning be all wrapped in a few minutes. I thank Yasik for learning English so quickly.

The amazing expectations of those few minutes did not end there.  The translator also managed to tuck in some information about Yasik’s history.  Yasik’s mother visited him in the hospital where he lived for the first two years but “she moved around a lot”, whatever that meant. I did not question the comment at the time.  Did Elvira expect a show of concern or some awareness of that oblique FYI?  Now I wonder if my blasé reaction was because my mind was pre-set to an assumption against this mother’s care of her children. I have since learned much more about how many Russians saw adoption at the time. Somewhere I cannot currently validate, I was either told or read parents left their children at a state-run orphanage or what was also called a boarding school (often a more literal label than the boarding school as private school) while they attended to commitments like education or work away from home.  One source I did manage to secure is Russian Babies, Russian Babes: Economic and Demographic Implications of International Adoption and International Trafficking for Russia written by J.R. McKinney.  She writes of how the Soviets in the early years of their regime decided the raising of children would best be done by the state.  In time the costs to the state measured against desired results of producing the ideal Soviet citizen led to backtracking to the tradition of the family-raised child.  The children being raised by the state were generally weaker intellectually, physically and socially than family-raised children. Moving away from the Soviet aspiration to the tried and true was likely done with as little fanfare as possible, leaving Russian society with a stronger acceptance of placing a child in state care than would have been true in other cultures. If Yasik’s mother “moved around a lot” then state care may have been an obvious choice not only for someone struggling with drugs or alcohol but perhaps someone struggling with other pressures of poverty.  Yasik was, after all, born in the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I have no journal entries referring to the role of the father in Yasik’s life because it appears no one told us anything about him. Was this because only recently has research begun to look at the impact of the father on prenatal and infant development?  J.R. McKinney in Lone mothers in Russia: Soviet and Post-Soviet policy  notes in Post-Soviet Russia, 70% of Russian children lived in households where needs exceeded income.  The article points to the demographic called ‘Lone Mothers’ as very specifically mothers who never married and therefore could look to no one else for support of any kind.

Added to the difficulties Russian parents faced in those years was the negative attitude in Russian society toward domestic adoption, seemingly still prevalent but actively countered for Russians were concerned about the population drain, even though, again at that time, Russia was open to the money foreign adoptions brought to the country. These ‘on the one hand’ but then ‘on the other hand’ considerations demand that we understand we cannot simply assume a child in state care arrived there because someone else was wilfully negligent or no longer living.

Things changed dramatically a few years later as adoption got dragged into Russian-American politics, but this was the environment in which we were adopting.  Children who had either been dropped off or placed in care were designated ‘social orphans’ when they had living biological parents who had the right to return for their children.  Numbers from 70% to 90% are offered to account for ‘social orphans’ in the state system at the time.  Yasik was a ‘social orphan’ .  Adoption was not on the table if Russians had just dropped kids off at the boarding school-cum-orphanage while other issues are being worked out.

While I walk our dog, Brodie, on the Log Train trail I listen to books. Listening to From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle, about when he and his brothers were taken from their addicted father by Children’s Aid Society, I am struck by some similarities with the time he spent there in early childhood. As the brothers settle into a housing situation that sounds fairly institutional but is clean and provides regular meals, the oldest brother explains to other kids residing there that their “‘dad was away and that we’d be going home as soon as the police found him.  “I used to think that, too,” one kid said. “But we’re orphans now – don’t cha know?  I didn’t know what that meant.” This young boy thought that his parents dropped him off at the Children’s Aid Society because he wanted Cheerios and they had none.  He saw it as his fault that he was now an orphan.  Jesse Thistle thought that his parents too were gone from his life because he had “asked for food too often“.

Kids were questioned, checked over for infections and parasites and some afterwards “never came back.  That was the scariest. It was like they had been eaten by monsters. No one knew what happpened to them, but the older kids said they were the lucky ones because someone wanted them.  I didn’t understand that; our mom and dad wanted us, why didn’t theirs want them, too?” A few weeks later a foster home that would take all three of them was found.  They were told they were lucky.  They were “cleaned up” … and … “packed up“(39-42). So wouldn’t this too be a Canadian version of ‘social orphan’ with a family somewhere, government intervention and children confused and frightened.

However, as we later found out, while Yasik would have been labelled a ‘social orphan’ with living family, a copy of the court papers given to Yasik’s sister and adoptive family show that the state took away Yasik’s biological parents’ rights.  Yasik was not boarding at the orphanage while his parents were working away from home.  He was in process of becoming available for adoption though the actual court decision came a year later.  Yet because at the time of our adoption, Dave and I were given no assurances that the parents had either relinquished or had their rights removed, when I came across articles of illegal adoptions a few years later, I did worry.   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 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? LUMOS makes the contention that orphanages can be big business.  The desire to help solve a problem can sometimes be turned by others into something hurtful to society. It is an aspect of adoption I only wanted to turn away from as too sickening to contemplate before we read the copy of the court decision.

In balance to the generally negative perspective the West has toward the care provided by Russian orphanages I would insert this research article: Structural characteristics of the institutional environment for young children ( Muhamedrahimov R.J., Arintcina I.A., Solodunova M. Y., Anikina V. O., Vasilyeva M. J., Chernego D. I., Tsvetkova L. A., Grigorenko E. L. (2016). Structural characteristics of the institutional environment for young children. Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, 9(3), 103-112).  Two orphanages in St.Petersburg are studied making it evident that not all orphanages were damaging to children in their care.  Although because we are ultimately talking about human beings with as much love as any the world around, it should be a given and unnecessary to say again here that there are in Russia as anywhere people working in orphanges who actively seek to do their best for the children in their care given the need to be pragmatic in difficult circumstances.  The care-givers at the first orphanage were working on changes that show these Russian people were as aware as Dr. Bruce Perry who writes,

Now, of course, we know that an infant’s early attachment to a small number of consistent caregivers is critical to emotional health and even to physical development….While we don’t know whether there is a fixed “sensitive period” for the devlopment of normal attachment the way there appears to be for language and sight, research does suggest that …[when] children are not allowed the change to develop permanent relationships with one or two primary caregivers during their first three years of life, [they will] have lasting effects on people’ ability to relate normally and affectionately to each other. 
Children who don’t get consistent, physical affection or the chance to build loving bonds simply don’t receive the patterned, repetitve stimulation necessary to properly build the systems in the brain that connect reward, pleasure, and human-to-human interactions (The Boy who Was Raised as a Dog 90, 92, 93).

And in our particular adoption, whether we were on our game or not, our adoption agency was doing due diligence. They were adhering to The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption which came into force in Canada on April 1, 1997.  As the Fact Sheet handout given to us says, “The convention is an international law created to prevent abuses from occurring in intercountry adoptions“.   The Fact sheet does go on to say, “The adoptive family is responsible to ensure that the child they plan to adopt is legally free for adoption and that all legal requirements of both countries have been met, including adoption consents, validity of adoption order and immigration requirements”.  Ooh, with a squeegied up face, I might admit that I don’t remember doing that sort of due diligence personally.

Yet here is a very recent article showing these concerns remain:

Former WA Rep. Matt Shea, accused of domestic terrorism, working to secure adoptions for Ukrainian children in Poland   March 16, 2022 at 6:00 am Updated March 16, 2022 at 7:55 am   By David Gutman Seattle Times staff reporter

Former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, the far-right Republican who was found by a House-commissioned investigation to have planned and participated in domestic terrorism, is in a small town in Poland with more than 60 Ukrainian children, trying to facilitate their adoption in America.

Shea has said his group helped rescue 62 children and their two adult caregivers from an orphanage in Mariupol, the city in southeastern Ukraine that has been bombarded by Russian forces. “It is a hosting organization that hosts Ukrainian orphans in America with Ukrainian families with the intent that ultimately that ends in adoption,” Shea said on the show. “It’s been doing this hosting program for several years.”

Loving Families and Homes for Orphans appears to have a website, but it is non-functional.  The group, based in Fort Worth, registered with the Texas secretary of state in 2018. No such group is registered as an adoption agency with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. The group is also not registered with the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, the group that oversees American agencies involved in international adoption.  A non-profit group called Loving Families and Homes for Orphans was registered in Florida just one month ago. It lists its purpose as: “To provide loving and caring homes and families for the orphans from other countries for a short time period.”  The group was registered by Irina N. Sipko of Palm Coast, Florida. Sipko did not return requests for comment.

Artur Pomianowski, the mayor of Kazimierz Dolny, said in a post on Facebook that he’d visited the children and they are safe and being well cared-for. He also said the “case is being investigated and clarified by the relevant authorities” and that the kids would not leave Kazimierz Dolny without consent of the authorities.

But international agencies say, with the chaos and confusion of war, now is not an appropriate time for international adoptions from Ukraine. And Shea’s presence, and the lack of information surrounding the American group he’s with, has raised concerns among some residents of Kazimierz Dolny, the small Polish town where the children are staying at a hotel-guesthouse.  “I asked him many times, ‘What are you going to do with these children?’ and he told me that it’s not my business,’” Weronika Ziarnicka, an aide to the mayor of Kazimierz Dolny, said of Shea. “I got the feeling in my gut that something’s wrong with this guy; he didn’t want to tell me his last name.”

Shea, who rarely speaks to mainstream media, did not respond to requests for comment.  Speaking on a Polish television show, “Idź Pod Prąd,” Shea said he was working with a Texas group called Loving Families and Homes for Orphans (he also called the group Loving Homes and Families for Orphans).

“I do not know what Matt Shea and his friends are doing here around children,” Pomianowski said in an email. “Mr. Shea and his friends have given us some contradictory information and, for that reason, it is difficult for us to trust them.”

In a statement posted to Facebook by Dom Dziennikarza, the journalists’ guesthouse where the children are staying, Loving Families and Homes for Orphans says it is a Christian organization based in Texas and that Sipko is the director.  “We are in direct contact with the governments of Ukraine and the United States, supported by the highest levels of politicians, international and local church leaders as well as dozens of companies from Ukraine, the USA and Poland,” the statement says.

The U.S. State Department did not directly respond when asked if they’d been in contact with Loving Families, but a spokesperson warned: “Only accredited Adoption Service Providers are authorized to facilitate inter-country adoptions of children to the United States.” It can be extremely difficult in wartime to determine whether children who appear to be orphans truly are eligible for adoption, the State Department said.  “It is not uncommon in dangerous situations for parents to send their children out of the area, for safety reasons, or for families to become separated during an emergency,” the State Department spokesperson said. “Even when a child’s parents have died, children are often cared for by other relatives.  Also, many children living in orphanages in Ukraine are not orphans.”

The National Council for Adoption said this is not the time for U.S. citizens to be considering adoption from Ukraine, as many families fleeing the war become separated.  “It is paramount that the identities of these children and their families be clearly established, and their social, legal, and familial status is fully verified by governmental authorities,” the council said. “For most of these children, we cannot do that at this time.”

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees and UNICEF put out a joint statement calling for temporary and foster care for children but saying “Adoption should not occur during or immediately after emergencies.”

So yes concern re: adoption remains viable.  Marion Crook in Thicker Than Blood says this about the urge to adopt based on the need to ‘save the children’:

In the early 2000s, evangelical groups began to advocate for a Christian mission to rescue orphans by adoption.  They cited scripture to support the notion that Christians were called to bring orphans into their homes as a way of both advancing the role of Christianity in the work and ensuring their own salvation….  Some adoptive parents were grateful for the additon to their family and truly had wanted to adopt.  Others paraded their mixed-race children as proof of their Christian faith…. If God willed that a family must adopt, then any obstales to that adoption — laws, agency oversight, the best interests of the adoptee, and consideration for birth parents — were against God’s will …. the underlying philosophy of the Orphan Crisis Movement…(53).

Yasik didn’t become available for adoption until just before we applied presumably because the court case was by then being considered.  A short time before we left for Russia, we were given the heads up that a Russian family or two were considering adopting Yasik and that another packet of money would secure our position in first place.   We laid the money down immediately. And whiff of a money grab aside, it may well be some Russian families were interested for the UN publication Child Adoption: Trends and Policies provides a graph showing 75% of adoptions were domestic in the early 2000s, and somewhere I cannot locate at this writing, I saw the same breakdown for the year 1997. As noted above, Russians, for all the writing about their antipathy to domestic adoption because they do not want a child not of family blood, did process far more domestic adoptions than international at that time.

Yasik was moved to the orphanage before his second birthday the translator told us. We were given to understand the orphanage did not know when he was taken to the hospital. For many years I told Yasik and myself that a small window was opened onto the care Yasik’s mother had for him for as the translator told us, his mother came to visit him at the hospital a number of times.  Connecting with Yasik’s older sister disabused me of that romantic notion.  Yasik’s bio mother apparently came only to see if she could get a hold of the money the state provided for Yasik’s care. Even at the time, the translator’s mention that Yasik had rickets in those first two years should have ignited some reflection either on the care his mother gave him or the care and attention he got during his time at the hospital. He had rickets and he could not walk until the orphanage took over his care.  Now we have to assume that his parents were responsible for his rickets.  Did she not care? Did she feel too cowed by authority and her own inability to care for him? What about the father’s responsibility?  The six-year-old brother did not want to return to the home because of Yasik’s father’s brutal abuse.  Yasik caught up physically in the orphanage to the extent that when our doctor gave him a medical just after we brought him to Canada, he surmised Yasik had built up a strong immune system in the orphanage.  We adopted a child who simply weathered every illness common to kids with barely a sneeze. Even when it was his turn to get chicken pox, he and his little buddies spent their “sick” week playing in the park across from their school.

Entry #4

Google tells us that orphanages were fazed out by the 1930s in Canada. Google also showed me that in Russia the number of orphanages continues to grow.  For the city and region/oblast of Yaroslavl with a population of a million plus in the 1990s, I found a  fairly current online list of 26 orphanages. The site is copyright from 2006 to the present.  Many were simply called “Baby House No.–”   which is a “state residential institution for orphans and children without parental care, age 4 and under”.  But others got specific. There were a couple of ‘Music and Artistic Education Baby’ houses. Then there were a couple of ‘Social and Rehabilitation Center for Minors’ orphanages.  One was for children 3 to 18. There were a couple of ‘Sanatory [sic] Orphanages for Tuberculosis Children’. Others were for hard-of-hearing or deaf children.  One was labelled ‘Agrarian Special Orphanage’.  Other orphanages were labelled according the word ‘Type’. There is no explanation for the ones labelled ‘of the Type 7’ but those labelled ‘of the Type 8’ come with this piece, ‘for Mentally Defective Children’. Ten of the 26 orphanages in Yaroslavl carried the ‘of type 8’ plus ‘for Mentally Defective Children’ designation.  If, as several articles I have found suggest, a high percentage of children in Russian orphanages are considered, at birth, or after time in an orphanage setting, to be ‘mentally defective’, what does the label refer to?  Chapter Three (45-71) of Born For Love written by Maia Szalavitz and Dr. Bruce Perry offers a general picture of what to expect when a child spends his or her early childhood in an orphanage, for reasons generational, prenatal, environmental.  There are always exceptions and progress is always being made but what I have read from a variety of sources would corroborate this chapter.  Most children will have developmental delays mentally, physically, emotionally and socially as the Soviets came to realize (Entry#3).

OK, but who listens to that when starting a family unless consciously deciding to adopt a ‘special needs’ child? Parents can not shut down at least a little bit of magical thinking.  How many times have parents wondered at the evident genius in their child, all the while wondering how it was possible for “he or she certainly didn’t get it from me?”   So maybe there is a way to hope that the label doesn’t actually apply to our child. And when adopting in countries such as Russia there maybe be slivers of hope that we have sidestepped developmental problems.  Several articles and policy papers talk of the attitude among more traditional doctors that a baby with a birth ‘defect’ is going to be a problem for the mother so she is advised to turn her baby over to the state just after birth and sometimes without even seeing or holding the newborn.  A Human Rights Watch paper noted, “Many parents face pressure from healthcare workers to relinquish children with disabilities to state care, including at birth. Human Rights Watch documented a number of cases in which medical staff claimed, falsely, that children with certain types of disabilities had no potential to develop intellectually or emotionally and would pose a burden with which parents will be unable to cope”.   Maybe this is true, for Will Englund wrote a piece in the Washington Post called “Russia’s orphans: government takes custody of children when parents can’t cope”.  His report on the issue of children in Russian orphanages:

The children are almost certain to have at least one disability. The disabilities can be congenital or related to alcohol consumption by the mother during pregnancy — or they have arisen because of the loss of emotional contact that comes with life in a state orphanage. “Every month in an institutional setting has a physical impact on the brain,” said Chuck Johnson, head of the National Council for Adoption, in an interview in Alexandria. “Every child will come with some developmental delays”.

But then, in a Human Rights Watch paper,

The experts reported that Russian psychological norms are based on very strict criteria. Apart from these norms, however, factors that in the West are considered as being simple medical risks, will, in Russia, be labelled as illnesses:

*Babies born to alcoholic parents or whose mothers suffered depression during pregnancy will be labelled encephalopathic and remain so until they come of age.  (And then they are deemed cured?)

*Orphans will be classed as being mentally deficient.

*Children with a single physical malformation (a harelip or speech defect…) become subnormal in the eyes of Russian doctors.

Human Rights Watch also found that these early diagnostic practices interfere with a child’s right to full development and in certain cases, to life itself. Moreover, abundant information gathered in Russia indicated several crucial incentives behind ‘over-diagnosing’ that suggest violations of basic medical ethics.

According to a former charity worker who distributed assistance to impoverished baby houses and has travelled widely in Russia since 1991, one legacy of the Soviet medical bureaucracy encourages hospital staff to avoid any risk of sanctions for errors detected under their care.

For example, she recalled the case of a child she knew well who had a medical chart with a catalogue of conditions including oligophrenia and encephalopathy.

A doctor told me that they have to cover their butts. They could lose their job, so they write many diagnoses. And you know the penal system here. It’s a “better safe than sorry” system.

A second factor that encourages exaggerated diagnoses is the Russian law which, until recently, prohibited international adoption of “healthy” children. “The doctors in the system wanted the kids adopted, so they’d say that this child has a tumour and then “wink” at you”.

Finally, a widely cited incentive for over-diagnosing is the extra financial subsidy and salary increment that the state grants to institutions that care for children with disabilities. The entitlement to these subsidies was confirmed by children’s rights activists as well as by staff of state institutions.

One volunteer who worked in a Moscow baby house for a year and a half recalled to Human Rights Watch,

Once, in a rare honest moment with the acting director, she told me, “We are considered as a medical facility because more than half our children are considered to have medical defects”.  So they could finagle more money for the place.

Another baby house director told Human Rights Watch, however, that the subsidy does represent the greater burden shouldered by the staff in dealing with disabled children, even though the salary levels remain very low and do not attract specially trained personnel:

A pedagogue in a baby house who works here, for the Ministry of Health, will get a 20 percent higher salary than from another ministry. Yet what should we be talking about if the salary of a doctor is only $100 a month? Of course, all these places with “problematic kids” get higher pay because we have to deal with all the kids….”  The name on the byline is Kathleen Hunt, who I assume was the reporter. The chapter is “The “Gilded Cage of the Dom Rebenka: infancy to four years”, (116) taken from Abandoned to the State: Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanage written by Human Rights Watch.

These kids will enter adulthood, work their way through life with a host of papers labelling them mentally defective like a life long albatross around their necks.  And we come back to the question, aside from the aura of being globally respected diagnoses, what do the labels really mean?  And even with an appropriate diagnosis, what concrete prognosis does the label offer?

With no verification to the contrary, we assume that Yasik was still in a ‘Baby House’ though he had turned four because, I think it was Julia who told us, he was still adoptable.   The largest number of children adopted out are from the ‘Baby” houses.  I guess there is no surprise there – it seems to me, we humans deeply believe in the wonder of having a baby as the picture-perfect way to establish a family and we just as deeply believe that we have the best chance of moulding the little bitty baby into our likeness if the little bit comes to us ‘tabula rasa’.  This belief system resists challenges to other options in ways that may be well below our conscious level of dealing with our lives.

In any case, when I look at what paper work we have, the orphanage name is Yaroslavl Orphanage.  We do not know what ‘Type’ it was.  We do know there wasn’t enough land surrounding the building for it to be an ‘Agrarian Special’ orphanage.  With ‘scruffy grass and bare spots, not far from lots of other buildings’, it was hardly worthy of the potential a playground should offer children.  It puts me in mind of how Tony describes the playground at his orphanage in 1930s Saskatchewan ( Becoming Family). Inside, the orphanage looked quite small from what we could see in our very limited guided tour.  We were taken via the straightest route to a receiving room. Inside we passed through a play room with a child-size piano which he must have played, so ….. maybe this was a ‘Music and Artistic’ Baby house.  We were taken to a kind of receiving room, to meet a sweet looking, grandmotherly doctor.  There was another woman at a desk who never once looked up at us, at least when I noticed.  That is focus or loyalty to work or maybe we just weren’t the novelty we thought we might be.  Was she now immune to the emotional tableau about to unfold once again?  Yes, hindsight could suggest a wide range of possibilities; in the journal I was simply struck by her seeming lack of interest in the thrill of my lifetime.  Maybe she had a stiff neck.

Entry #5

There were two small couches in a corner of the receiving room, across from the woman at the desk.  I sat on the one by the door; I think Dave was left with no option but to stand. The doctor sat on the other one. The translator too was in the room but must have operated simply as a disembodied voice to me for while I can remember exactly where the doctor, Dave and I were, I only know that the translator said stuff to us, but from where I do not remember. And the woman sitting at the desk was still concentrating on her work, not looking up.  A woman brought Yasik to the door. I turned, and not a foot from me stood a little boy, looking a bit pale and scruffy.  Then for some reason the woman whisked him back out- a sneak preview? Dave said out loud, but probably to himself – “That’s it?”  It says in my journal our translator cooled his enthusiasm; “He’s not yours yet.”   Why did she say that?  We had been following her all day, asking few questions, and getting few answers, as much because we had little idea what to ask as the facilitators reluctance or inability to provide answers.  We had only a bare outline of the process.  Now each of us in that tiny room was part of a profound emotional moment.  This disembodied translator handled it with a tamp down. Cautioning us that there is more to the process than just, “Here is your son, you can take him now”? Looking at this journal note today, I can only say, I think she may have been trying to maintain some control as her role demanded, unable to sense all the role’s expectations in this very human exchange.  It is one of those things I notice flit across my mind in the years since when I have been a player in other moments of tense emotion.  The awkward, the mundane, the irrelevant all interact with the profound.

OK so we needed a warning not to grab the kid and run.  There were protocols yet to complete.  Relax.  He will be yours entirely in barely 24 more hours. We tucked our necks back in and mutely nodded, “Oh, OK.” And in truth, we wrapped the adoption all up in under two weeks, a plus for our budget and emotions in the moment.  We do not fully know what it was doing to the caregivers, the facilitators, the child. And it can be said it seems the process, perhaps because of tensions like in that moment, still not understood, led in the decades since to reflection, which in turn, led to a process for foreign adoptions showing more regard for the child, possibly for the bio-parents as well, than the adoptors and the facilitators.  Now, even if foreigners do get to adopt from Russia, I have read they come for a ‘meet and greet’ of three weeks and then return at a later date to remain again for weeks before the child is theirs and can return with them to their home country, at a cost double our expenses (Google sites in 2021 suggest it may currently not be possible for Canadians to adopt a child from Russia.  See the Government of Canada site:  https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/news/notices/important-notice-regarding-adoptions-russia.html.  In 2012 the U.S.A. passed the Magnitsky Act in response to the imprisonment and death of a whistle blower in Russia.  By 2017 Canada had passed a similar act, Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (quite specific) which Putin warned was participation in “very nonconstructive political games”, nice touch, but couched in anti-same sex righteousness: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-november-2-2017-1.4382427/how-russian-law-affects-canadians-trying-to-adopt-orphans-1.4382469). (Now 2022, ‘it may currently not be possible for Canadians to adopt a child from Russia’ probably drops the ‘may’).

Just as international adoptions were about to expand in the ’90s and criticism of adoption would, of course, follow, Elizabeth Bartholet’s Family Bond: adoption and the politics of parenting steps into the debate with the observation that one thing international adoptions do is make it harder for the countries with a burden of parent-less children to hide their lack of care or options for domestic adoptions (152), as would have been the case after the collapse of the Soviet Union (The Sunday Times, 28 December 1997, p 20).

It should also be noted that not all Russian accepted the government explanation of the stop on American/Canadian adoptions for ‘tens of thousands ‘ protested in a ‘March Against Scoundrels’, calling President Vladimir Putin a ‘child-killer’ for the trumped-up ban, using orphans as pawns who would be the ones to suffer (24 news, January 14, 2013 andHarper’s Magazine, October 2013).

Whatever our translator was saying to us, her message was floating on by somewhere just above us.  In our hearts, where for us in those 20 minutes, reality was grounded, Yasik became our son. Dave said later Yasik became his son the moment he picked him up and that has never changed.  Yasik has since August 18, 1997 always been his son. I am certain of this because a few minutes later Yasik was again brought in.  He was led to stand in the middle of us – the doctor, the translator and Dave and I.  We just stared at him at first which must have set him on edge a bit. He stood there with fine, sandy blond hair, hazel eyes, scratches on his nose, a band-aid on a finger, dressed in pink leotards, a faded pink sweat shirt and a pair of little girl’s leather shoes too small for him.  And a bit of a smudge under his eyes.  Yasik had just woken up.  Dave went to him with a gift, and I held back, starting to cry – my default response to emotional moments, right.  Yasik liked the plane Dave gave him, grabbed it and held on.  It was happening so quickly of course.  My next memory is of him in Dave’s arms and me seeing, not him, but Dave’s face for Yasik was turned into his shoulder.  Dave’s face sealed the deal for me.  Just like that I saw stamped on his face his love for his son of two or three minutes.  Yasik had become his son.  And my heart received our son then as well.  Later Dave told me he had never felt anything like what came over him in that first moment holding Yasik.  This is our becoming a family moment, however unconnected it might be to blood as our culture most ardently believes appropriate.

When we returned to the hotel later, I recorded the day. I marvelled at the immediate and complete arrival of such a love, but I did not doubt it.   For a while, just as euphoria floods the brain when we fall in love, we were apparently awash in oxytocin, because …adoptive parents also form lifelong attachments to children. Some evidence suggests that the presence of an infant releases oxytocin in adults, “persuading” its caretakers to love it. Oxytocin therefore might help to assure that parents and others will engage with and care for infants, to stabilize loving relationships (https://imperialbiosciencereview.com/2021/02/19/love-a-cocktail-of-chemicals/).  For myself and my husband, Yasik was our child that day. We loved him; ergo, he was our son.  A Russian woman had given birth to this child.  He had been taken from her home to a hospital and then to an orphanage.  He stood in the middle of the room parent-less and we had come to Russia to claim him.

But what does it mean to say, “Wow, he is our son”?  Because we fell in love with him and would the next day hear a gavel affirm our legal parentage?  Was that really all there was to it?   In both her books, Betty Jean Lifton comes down quite hard on the adopters’ narrative of ‘The Chosen Baby’, the story adoptors construct to tell the adoptee he or she is the lucky little devil given by God or carefully searched for and found by his or her new parents.  None of this willy-nilly result of a happy night of lusty sex stirring up a random mix of sperm with an available egg.  The search-and-choosing-of-the-‘right’-child-for-a-couple story works for the new parents but is seldom ultimately satisfying to a child, especially when the new parents are uncomfortable recognizing the identity given to this child from the bio parents.  Actually, with time the ‘Chosen Baby’ story is likely not all that deeply satisfying to the new parents either.

What about the mother who gave birth to him? The father? Or those who cared for him in the hospital and at the orphanage for several years?     Who we are, the love we feel and offer, the environment we provide does not allow us to assume we are the totality of our child’s attachment or whatever it is that comes wrapped in the concept of the adoptee’s family narrative.

The little blond boy, the third part of the triangle that was this new family, what was happening within him?  We, in those 20 or so minutes, believed we were bonded or the other word ‘attached’ to the little fellow.  But the neuro-transmitters flooding our brain with love … or oxytocin or vasopressin or dopamine or serotonin, were they flooding his in the same way or degree?

Here I provide another voice to address Betty Jean Lifton.  Elizabeth Bartholet, in Family Bond: adoption and the politics of parenting suggests the narrative of the importance of blood over legal attachment is soaked in myth and biased language.  Opening adoption records and searching for the adoptee’s family of origin is the stuff of stories, movies and news pieces. “But who are her real parents?”  or  “How wonderful that you have rescued this little one from a difficult life by taking her into your home”.  It is assumed that “[Some] aberrational and perhaps altruistic motive must be involved” (167).   Bartholet does not disparage this movement but does note how it can ‘throw shade’ on a family made by adoption.  Later in the book Bartholet provided empirical studies to show that adoption for the most part works well, shocking news articles aside, certainly better than alternatives such as leaving children in places with inadequate parenting options.(174-5).

We understand we are not the norm: we have to redefine ‘family’ to accommodate all the people assembled into the adoptive configuration as Marion Crook advocates.  The adopted child has not only one set of undisputed parents, but two or more.  In Thicker Than Blood: adoptive parenting in the modern world, Marion Crook caught my attention immediately for she starts out by saying, “We work hard at finding ways to support membership in their first family while firmly establishing them in our adoptive family” (27). I think the more we understand our child is a child whose Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey must always straddle two families, the more we ease the child’s burden, and likely our own. Accepting this reality, we massage the definition and then go on to the wonders of being family.  Elizabeth Bartholet ends a chapter on”Adoption and Stigma” in Family Bond: adoption and the politics of parenting with “Adoption creates a family that in important ways is not “nuclear.”  It creates a family that is connected to another family, the birth family, and often to different cultures and to different racial, ethnic and national groups as well.  Adoptive families might teach us something about the value for families of connection with the larger community” (186).

Entry #6

I regularly ask myself why I am writing in such detail about a ten-day adoption process long abandoned.  The adoption process in Russia and many other countries has improved.  John Brooks (The Girl Behind the Door 204) notes this as well about Poland’s treatment of orphans, “transitioning from institutional orphanages to foster homes“.  A shout out to organizations like LUMOS cannot go amiss here.

So why rake over long dead coals?  I keep saying it is for personal insight.  Was it relevant to a wider audience?  Out of curiosity I googled current adoption processes to see if any remain that process in a manner similar to our process and found the site, International Adoption.org, which points to several countries that continue to process adoptions almost as quickly and at roughly the same cost as our process in the 90s: Malawi, South Korea and India among the list. There is still some relevancy, beyond the personal, to my pursuit.  And now, as noted in Entry#3, crises around the world are leaving daily numbers of orphans. How will they be cared for?

And back to the journal where we are still in this tiny receiving room meeting Yasik.  I know most parents meet their child in the midst of hovering professionals; adoptive parents experience no more privacy. Nurses or doulas may be bending over a new mother learning to breast feed.  In the case of adoptive parents, orphanage staff are hovering around as these new parents are taking in their introduction to their about-to-be child. Taking him from Dave’s arms, I held him too.  But I could see he was becoming overwhelmed and then he cried.  My first real mommy moment and I scared the kid.  Good start.  The very solid book, Thicker Than Blood by Marion Crook, tucks in a healthy bit on page 65 to ease a new parent’s fear of bonding/attachment– sometimes it happens instantly, sometimes it takes a while, but either way it is going to happen she affirms.  However, … toward the end of the same page she does temporize with “Bonding can occur despite …”.  I who may have been in thrall to the wonder of my emotions for this child surrendered Yasik wordlessly to the sweet-faced doctor to whom he was bonded, to someone he knew was his protector, to someone who had far more well-honed mothering instincts.  She took Yasik from me and folded him into her lap. Now all the women were crying, maybe even the one who never looked up from her work.  Dave though appeared thrilled, beaming face and expanding chest.

Yasik consoled, we moved from this room to the doctor’s office and she elaborated on information we had earlier been given by the translator about Yasik’s time for the first two years in the hospital.  I am using the word ‘elaborated’ loosely. The questions I was encouraged to note as we drove to the orphanage, as I mentioned above, were mostly met with blank stares and dodges back into safer territory, translator or no translator, it seemed to me. When I think back on what we gleaned in that first meeting, the sum message was positive.  They were telling us Yasik was their little assistant with the younger children. I guess in an older brotherly sort of way.  He helped a two-year-old Down’s syndrome girl learn to walk.  They said he was their favourite – and we would see how that might be possible many times in the years ahead.  On a kindergarten outing a few months later another kid was left behind because the staff were focused on taking pictures of Yasik.  But maybe a sales pitch is given to all adoptors.  Who knows? We had no trouble believing it.  They also said he was an intelligent, beautiful and loving person.  We just kept saying ahh … ahh … ahh.

Here’s a heads-up: I hope that parents are now more informed.  I am currently reading  The Origins of You,  by Vienna Pharaon, which looks at William Wordsworth’s observation: the child is the father of the man.   Learning as much as possible about this child about to become your child may helpful in guiding the child into adulthood. We would have been well served if this orphanage had been prepared to provide more of the kind of awareness now available through research and experience.

A book/research article I found and foolishly did not adequately reference beyond the title, Eastern European Adoption, (written post 2005) ends with suggestions from adoptors: “(1) better preparation, guidance/coordination/communication; (2) more accurate/complete information about their child/children and their early history including life in the orphanage; and (3) more realistic/honest perspectives about adopting their child/children” (51).  These suggestions rise out of lack of understanding of the ‘social structure’ of orphanages with, as a pediatrician, Dana Johnson, notes “lack of stimulation and consistent caregivers, sub-optimal nutrition…. institutional children [tend to] fall behind in large and fine motor development, speech acquisition …. Many never find a single individual with whom to complete a cycle of attachment. Physical growth is impaired.  Children lose one month of linear growth for every three months in the orphanage“.   Johnson adds that most infectious illnesses are more common in an institutional setting.  And most importantly, the argument goes on to say that with inconsistent adult interaction, the children lack “an adult with whom children can connect emotionally and who will be there to hold and cuddle them and be counted on to fulfill their other needs” (28-29).   This will be a point I will likely make many more times: the hug factor.

In the past few years, I have begun to fill in some of the gaps they chose not to fill with my own reading. Any blanks I have filled in, as limited as they are, have come from Google searches or searches of studies I found at SFU and from the few books on my reading list about life in Russia, and of course, this past year from having connected with Yasik’s sister and her family.

Yasik did not walk until he was moved to the orphanage.  Some of the orphanages in Russia have what is termed ‘lying down’ rooms. Was Yasik in a ‘lying down’ ward in the hospital?    In other words, did he not walk because he was not given opportunities to get out of bed to walk?  Was he left to lie in bed for much of the time he spent in the hospital?   Did he have rickets because of the lack of proper diet and exposure to sunshine while he stayed in the hospital?  Or did he come into the hospital with rickets due to the lack of care he received from his biological parents? No appropriate judgment can be made.  And concerns about rickets? Childhood rickets do not have lifetime impact if treatment catches the problem before disabling deformities develop (lots of downer ‘D’ words there which did not come to pass for Yasik).  To be fair, I actually could not at the time have fathomed asking why he had rickets or why he could not walk until the age of two.  My questions were more mundane: “What does he like to eat?”  Not mundane enough though.  I received no answer to that one either.  And maybe it was pointless from their perspective to waste time answering that sort of question, given they may have assumed if we could come all this way to adopt a child, we would be providing a different diet than orphanage fare. (I say this, aware of a potential stereotyping profile and the gossip monger’s love of scratching around in the dirt). At any rate, Yasik took over responsibility for teaching us his likes and dislikes the moment the van left the orphanage the next day.

The negatives brushed over, the conversation skipped on to positive notes.  Perhaps even allowing us to know about the rickets and slow start to walking was to suggest that though the parents and/or hospital provided poor care we could be assured the orphanage rescued Yasik and gave him the vitamin D he needed to deal with rickets and the stimuli to encourage him to walk.  And we have never doubted that his bones and coordination were not hampered by the lack of care previous to his move to the orphanage.  As I write this, I have to conclude this sweet looking doctor was doing what she had likely done over and over, focusing on the positives unless it was necessary for the future of the child to bring up the negative.  Yasik learned to walk.   Notching the positives up, the doctor went on to say Yasik had musical interests and liked to draw and within a split second, Dave whipped out his ever-present sketch book and crayons.  He drew a circle on the page and Yasik got right into it, drawing lines to connect the circle.  Then he carefully returned the crayons to their right place.

We saw no males in our brief time in the orphanage but I didn’t question why when Yasik needed to go to the toilet, he chose Dave to take him, a male he knew only as a hugger, circle-drawer and gift-giver.  He said to Dave, “Kakas” (I doubt I need to offer translation), and taking Dave’s hand, led him to the toilet.  Dave helped him do his job and pull up, Yasik stopping first to point out his deposit.

Before this one opportunity to learn about the first four years of Yasik’s life was brought to a close, we measured his feet and took him with us in the van to buy a pair of shoes and get his passport picture taken.  Can you imagine that? This four-year-old child had barely known us for one hour, yet my notes say he went with no hesitation, allowing Dave to carry him out to the van in the company of four strangers: Dave, me, the driver and the translator.  In the van, he held my hand, and as Dave talked to him, he started to talk back with shy little words.  When we arrived at the store, all shyness slammed to a halt as Yasik and Dave spied a motorcycle. Yasik squealed out the Russian word for motorcycle,мотоцикл, as something that sounded like ‘matikli’ to us. We have three pictures of the thing; it could have been a fly caught in a scraggly bush to me but to the two of them, it was awe-inspiring.

The store we went to was a set piece for an early twentieth century western movie, the shoes were a little boy’s oxfords from the middle of the century but the clerk was the first retail person who smiled and treated us with genuine friendliness – likely responding to Yasik’s charm.  This little shopping trip ended taking Yasik to a passport office for a picture before returning him to the orphanage.

I was 47 in ’97 and had dreamed of being a mother to an adoptee for nearly half my life, yet until that afternoon I merely stood to the side looking on at mothering.  That was lots of time to develop either a sense that like any other job I had handled to that point, hopefully I would learn sufficient competence, or as in my case, a deep insecurity about how to do it right.  In Thicker Than Blood (70,71), Marion Crook writes, “…[M]otherhood wasn’t a professional job or a test for which you got a grade.  It was a living situation that changed constantly, and I was expected to simply do as well as possible”. She concludes when she came to terms with how her mothering was going to play out that she was “happier with myself when I accepted that I wouldn’t be perfect”.   So far, I had managed to make Yasik cry when I first held him and when we needed to make Yasik a bit more presentable for his passport picture, I was at a loss taming his hair.  Three other women in the passport office, more maternal than I perhaps, jumped in to help me out or at least to comb his hair in what looked right to them as Russian women of the 90s.

I tripped over a new label recently though apparently it has been identified since the late 70s: ‘Imposter Mother Syndrome’: feeling you really aren’t the best mother for the child who is yours. It could be massaged to include adoptor parents for I am unlikely the only new adoptor who has felt “a fear that at any moment you might be exposed as a fraud“(https://theeverymom.com/imposter-syndrome-as-a-mom-how-to-overcome-it/.

Returning Yasik to the orphanage, we hugged and kissed him – was it a natural or expected response?  He followed us out of the room and then the journal says “I was last to leave and he peeked through the banister to smile and wave.  The image I was left with at the end of the day – a happy smile”.

In the evening, writing in the journal, I concluded, “He was beautiful in every way.  His ears are big! He looks directly and openly, and intelligently and he has such a sweet smile”.  (And now as I read this, I wonder what the big deal was with noting – both by the staff and myself- that he showed intelligence. I mean he was cute as a bug’s ear and certainly seemed happy and comfortable with us.  What more was needed?)

Our first day with our child-to-be before he became legally our child less than 24 hours later.

Entry #7

I left the last entry hugging and kissing a child after knowing him three hours, aware tomorrow he would be our child. Whether the words ‘bonding’ or ‘attachment’ were in wide use at the time, or whether the pre-adoption seminars at the time used these words, I do not remember.  Scanning my journal again, I don’t see the words on any of the pages I am now writing from.  Yet as we left, Yasik peeked through the banister to smile and wave.  And we floated away into the evening on a happy cloud.  I remember Dave and I going for a walk along the Volga in the evening still wrapped in this happy cloud. The journal says we felt Yasik was so much more than we could ever have hoped for.

This is why I ask:  do people ‘bond’ or ‘attach’ in three hours? Bonding’ is the word most people use rather than attachment’ to describe the feeling they have as they fall in love with their children.  Few would be surprised at my use of it as well.  However, and yes here comes a big ‘But’, asking this question I have begun to discover stuff that may exclude Dave and me from the circle encompassing only those who fit the scientific definition of the word.  And whether it sounds like fluffy semantic nonsense or not, I want to respect the work of science because I want to follow an explanation built on empirically accessed information to know if my understanding is as concrete as possible.  To choose to use the word simply because of a feeling is not a stable explanation.  Thus far my readings no longer allow me to use the word ‘bonding’, drawing a distinct line between it and attachment which is where researchers want to go to explain those feelings, even though attachment has a more clinical sound than the more passionate ‘bonding’ to explain the feelings Dave and I were sure were ours, and were just as certain cemented a love within us.  So what is ‘bonding? Why am I directed to use the word ‘attachment’ rather than ‘bonding’? Are the feelings we had that day merely the squirt of emotion needed to encourage the growth of attachment? Were they really sufficient to leave us with sense of commitment to Yasik as our son that has refused to wane right to the present? We have never questioned Yasik took his rightful place in our hearts then and there and has never been ousted.

With a question like this, I will start with a definition or two to deal with the distinction between these two words.

Attachment and Bonding: From Ethological to Representational and Societal Perspectives,  Inge Bretherton, University of Wisconsin says:

The word bonding was originally used to refer to a father or mother’s sudden development of positive, protective feelings toward a baby born to them or a very young adopted infant.  When people spoke of bonding in that sense, they usually meant to imply certain ideas: (1) that bonding involved the feelings and behaviour of adults toward babies, not of babies towards adults; (2) that bonding involved a dramatic, irreversible shift in the adult’s emotional life; and that bonding was needed for the child’s sake because it enabled the adult to do the hard work involved in early parenthood.  So far, other than the infant aspect, we can be included in the feelings, behaviour and irreversible shift in our emotional lives.

But bonding’, suggests Jean Mercer in Understanding Attachment: parenting, child care, and emotional development (6), became a bit of a loosy-goosy term, referring to whatever sweet emotional moment one person shared with usually another person, animal, or even, thing.  The science world was forced to abandon it, though it was supposed to be a word specific to what began to develop in utero via hormone changes and the head start the biological mother gets while her child is in the womb. Yet Mercer returns to the word on pages 70 to 75 as a needed identifier, including fathers and parents of adopted infants who have no hormonal changes, nonetheless, “show bonding to the same degree as biological mothers”.  Not even the belief about breast-feeding being essential to bonding holds weight for Mercer.    She relegates that idea to persistent myth.  In Thinking Critically About CHILD DEVELOPMENT: Examining Myths & Misunderstandings (82), Jean Mercer talks about research looking at levels of oxytocin when asking if adoptive mothers bond with their adoptee.  The research found mothers who produced more oxytocin when cuddling with their children showed more delight in their children but then concludes it is not easy to measure how bonding or loving occurs for it is still not clear how important early contact is.  But there is no denial here that ‘bonding’ can be acknowledged for adoptive mothers (and fathers?) of infants.

There is, however, denial in Inside Transracial Adoption: strength-based, culture-sensitizing parenting strategies for inter-country or domestic adoptive families that don’t “Match”? (128) by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall for they write,

By strict definition, adoptive parents can’t bond with their children. Bonding is a one-way process that begins in the birth mother during pregnancy and continues through the first few days of life. It is her instinctive desire to protect her baby.

On page 75 of Understanding Attachment: parenting, child care, and emotional development, Mercer adds this: “Adoptive mothers…ordinarily experience bonding…if [their children] … have been adopted early in their lives.” And with that seven-word caveat, Dave and I presumably were pushed outside the realm of the word bonding”.  

But Yasik looked me directly in the eyes and smiled.  Connection of some sort was made and emotions were exploding like a fireworks display within.

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 like nature’s provision of twigs and grass, stray threads can do just fine in nest building.

Attachment as a relationship 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 organizing the court appearance, made us realize what a large operation one adoption is.

At the meal Elvira gave us a heads up that Dave would be expected to give a little speech about how we felt about this opportunity to adopt Yasik and to request that our paper work be expedited.   We also learned we would likely be in Moscow longer than we had initially understood to complete Yasik’s paper work. More time to play tourist and shed dollars.  The three sharing this meal with us also noted that Yasik looked a fair bit like Dave and had 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 (https://doi.org/10.1177/030857591203600309).

And again here is Elizabeth Bartholet: Most of the world “sees blood as central to kinship….the term family implies a group linked by blood ties: a married couple are not really a family until they produce the children who provide the blood link tying them all together;….  Only our blood relationships are permanent….  Kinship is the blood relationship, the fact of shared bio-genetic substance “(169).  When an adoptee does not reflect the adoptors in physical appearance, personality or habits, the relationship is somehow not quite measuring up to the definition of family.  “[F]ears [are] rooted in an assumption that parent-child relationships are likely to work only to the degree that parent and child are significantly alike” (174). Bartholet wants her readers to know, “We should come to understand adoption as a uniquely positive form of  family– not necessarily better than the biologic family, but not inherently inferior, either“(183).

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 day-dreamy 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 lost on two naive tourists.  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 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 acceptance of the option of dropping off children at an orphanage while parents deal with other life stresses.

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 defence 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.  The first seal on our adoption.  Tanya and Elvira hugged and kissed us, wishing us “Good Luck”.

There were still details, details, details.  As I intimate in Entry # 3, one detail that was given absolutely no thought by either Dave or I in our naive happiness concerned the question of the legal status of parental rights belonging to Yasik’s bio parents.  Further to Entry #3, I add the following:

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.  As I wrote in Entry #3, for many years I tried to assure Yasik that his bio mother’s 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, in more a sense of betrayal than a sense of loss or separation, Yasik he let me know he didn’t buy that story (taken out of context for the sentiment from Thinking Critically About Child Development:examining myths & misunderstandings, 62,246).    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.

Finding Yasik’s bio sister two years ago, we learned 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. A year after we adopted Yasik, the Gurins made another 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 housing three of their children.  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 back roads 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?

Yasik’s bio family consisted of a mother, four children over a six-year span, a father of the first two and a father of the second two.  Their care for the children was so poor, the children were removed by the state. At about the same time that we were adopting, new impetus had been given to the study of epigenetics. In posts to come, I will look more closely at epigenetics when dealing with the impact of the biological parents ‘lack of care’.  For now, their ‘lack of care’ was the reason Yasik was offered to us.

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 did.

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

Again, Yasik was brought into the doctor’s office, this time carrying what little remained of the gifts we gave 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 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.

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 does 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 ‘baby-led’ or ‘demand breast’ or ‘bottle feeding’ were options, 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.

Entry# 9

At first Yasik sat quietly 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 playfully 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. Yasik 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 Yasik 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 leapt up.  He 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.  Was 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, is there not?  So why not enjoy the happy surprises that come with this new venture?  I say that because those days were a honeymoon for us, but I also recognize that Brooks is making the point that in doing so we may have been detrimentally oblivious to other, less obvious needs our child had. Brooks goes on to say that later on their first night with their baby, they wanted to sleep so parked the infant in front of a TV which likely was not her orphanage night time routine.  They might have more deeply met their child’s needs by simply holding her until she fell asleep (183).

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

Larissa, the landlady, was inundating us with food.  When we couldn’t eat it all (the bread was amazing) I threw it down the toilet, the only way no one would know we didn’t eat it because the garbage would be gone through.  Not wanting to offend can lead to questionable actions. She did see some food in the garbage one day and left a note 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 naive, 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 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.  Another stamp of certainty that Yasik was now 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.  One of those last days in Moscow, in the midst of these happy little family moments, 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. 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.  Had she suggested to him that as an adoptee he was a lucky little fellow who better not screw up for then he would be sent back to the orphanage, losing his mama and poppa?

When I joined Dave and Yasik in the bedroom again, Yasik began to quiet, though we too were by now emotionally swamped.  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 one 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.  An article in Harper’s Magazine, October 2013, titled “Cold War Kids” is about the ranch in Montana for adoptees who have difficulty adjusting in their adoptive families.  The article points to the need for accountability and self-reliance that comes with doing chores. As the ranch owner, Joyce Sterkel, sees it, “‘ These kids have not had a good upbringing, …. They’ve never really seen people work.”‘  I am not sure how she came to this conclusion but it is likely institutions run more smoothly for staff if kids are kept out of the chore loop.

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 to hold on to it would be to hide it from the other kids. Here’s an odd bit on the problem with ‘hoarding’: a Scottish contestant on America’s Got Talent (June 2, 2015) gave a performance as a ‘regurgitation artist’.  He had learned to swallow things to hide them from other kids at the orphanage. Apparently it has led to a “busy touring schedule” Wikipedia says. Yet, 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 impact-ful fathering of all.  His mother, coming into a 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 full time, working a weekend shift with a challenged client and practising his interests in art and motorcycles in his spare time at home.

He was about to start the third year of study and part-time 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.

Ahhh ….. and a Canadian government site for prospective adopters offered a summary of the average adoptors: over 30, generally financially stable and with no parenting experience.  Sounds like we were pretty normal and ready to go.

But maybe the African proverb “tell me who you love and and I’ll tell you who you are” is enough info.

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

 

This is Why I Open my Journal

THE ORIGIN OF STORIES     [Told by Henry Jacob]

“This happened long ago, in the time of our forefathers.”

In a Seneca village lived a boy whose father and mother died when he was only a few weeks old. The little boy was cared for by a woman, who had known his parents, She gave him the name of Poyeshaon (Orphan).

The boy grew to be a healthy, active little fellow. When he was old enough, his foster mother gave him a bow and arrows, and said “It is time for you to learn to hunt. To-morrow morning go to the woods and kill all the birds you can find.”

Taking cobs of dry corn the woman shelled off the kernels and parched them in hot ashes; and the next morning she gave the boy some of the corn for his breakfast and rolled up some in a piece of buckskin and told him to take it with him, for he would be gone all day and would get hungry.

Poyeshaon started off and was very successful. At noon he sat down and rested and ate some of the parched corn, then he hunted till the middle of the afternoon. When he began to walk toward home he had a good string of birds.

The next morning Poyeshaon’s foster mother gave him parched corn for breakfast and while he was eating she told him that he must do his best when hunting, for if he became a good hunter he would always be prosperous.

The boy took his bow and arrows and little bundle of parched corn and went to the woods; again he found plenty of birds. At midday he ate his corn and thought over what his foster mother had told him. In his mind he said, “I’ll do just as my mother tells me, then some time I’ll be able to hunt big game.”

Poyeshaon hunted till toward evening, then went home with a larger string of birds than he had the previous day. His foster mother thanked him, and said, “Now you have begun to help me get food.”

Early the next morning the boy’s breakfast was ready and as soon as he had eaten it he took his little bundle of parched corn and started off. He went farther into the woods and at night came home with a larger string of birds than he had the second day. His foster mother praised and thanked him.

Each day the boy brought home more birds than the previous day. On the ninth day he killed so many that he brought them home on his back. His foster mother tied the birds in little bundles of three or four and distributed them among her neighbors.

The tenth day the boy started off, as usual, and as each day he had gone farther for game than on the preceding day, so now he went deeper into the woods than ever. About midday the sinew that held the feathers to his arrow loosened. Looking around for a place where he could sit down while he took the sinew off and wound it on again, he saw a small opening and near the center of the opening a high, smooth, flat-topped, round stone. He went to the stone, sprang up on to it and sat down. He unwound the sinew and put it in his mouth to soften, then he arranged the arrow feathers and was about to fasten them to the arrow when a voice, right there near him, asked, “Shall I tell you stories?”

Poyeshaon looked up expecting to see a man, not seeing any one he looked behind the stone and around it, then he again began to tie the feathers to his arrow.

“Shall I tell you stories?” asked a voice right there by him.

The boy looked in every direction, but saw no one. Then he made up his mind to watch and find out who was trying to fool him. He stopped work and listened and when the voice again asked, “Shall I tell you stories?” He found that it came from the stone; then he asked, “What is that? What does it mean to tell stories?” “It is telling what happened a long time ago. If you will give me your birds, I’ll tell you stories.”

“You may have the birds.”

As soon as the boy promised to give the birds, the Stone began telling what happened long ago. When one story was told, another was begun. The boy sat, with his head down, and listened. Toward night the Stone said, “We will rest now. Come again to-morrow. If anyone asks about your birds, say that you have killed so many that they are getting scarce and you have to go a long way to find one.”

While going home the boy killed five or six birds. When his foster mother asked why he had so few birds, he said that they were scarce; he had to go far for them.

The next morning Poyeshaon started off with his bow and arrows and little bundle of parched corn, but he forgot to hunt for birds. He was thinking of the stories the Stone had told him. When a bird lighted near him he shot it, but he kept straight on toward the opening in the woods. When he got there he put his birds on the Stone, and called out, “I’ve come! Here are birds. Now tell me stories.”

The Stone told story after story. Toward night it said “Now we must rest till to-morrow.”

On the way home the boy looked for birds, but it was late and he found only a few.

That night the foster mother told her neighbors that when Poyeshaon first began to hunt he had brought home a great many birds, but now he brought only four or five after being in the woods from morning till night. She said there was something strange about it, either he threw the birds away or gave them to some animal, or maybe he idled time away, didn’t hunt. She hired a boy to follow Poyeshaon and find out what he was doing.

The next morning the boy took his bow and arrows and followed Poyeshaon, keeping out of his sight and sometimes shooting a bird. Poyeshaon killed a good many birds; then, about the middle of the forenoon, he suddenly started off toward the East, running as fast as he could. The boy followed till he came to an opening in the woods and saw Poyeshaon climb up and sit down on a large round stone; he crept nearer and heard talking. When he couldn’t see the person to whom Poyeshaon was talking he went up to the boy, and asked, “What are you doing here?

“Hearing stories.”

“What are stories?”

“Telling about things that happened long ago. Put your birds on this stone, and say, ‘I’ve come to hear stories.'”

The boy did as he was told and straightway the Stone began. The boys listened till the sun went down; then the Stone said, “We will rest now. Come again to-morrow.”

On the way home Poyeshaon killed three or four birds.

When the woman asked the boy she had sent why Poyeshaon killed so few birds, he said, “I followed him for a while, then I spoke to him, and after that we hunted together till it was time to come home. We couldn’t find many birds.”

The next morning the elder boy said, “I’m going with Poyshoan to hunt. It’s sport.” The two started off together. By the middle of the forenoon each boy had a long string of birds. They hurried to the opening, put the birds on the stone, and said, “We have come! Here are the birds! Tell us stories.”

They sat on the stone and listened to stories till late in the afternoon; then the stone said, “We’ll rest now till to-morrow.

On the way home the boys shot every bird they could find, but it was late and they didn’t find many.

Several days went by in this way, then the foster mother said, “Those boys kill more birds than they bring home,” and she hired two men to follow them.

The next morning, when Poyeshaon and his friend started for the woods the two men followed. When the boys had a large number of birds they stopped hunting and hurried to the opening. The men followed, and hiding behind trees, saw them put the birds on a large round stone, then jump up and sit there, with their heads down, listening to a man’s voice; every little while they said, “Oh!”

“Let’s go there and find out who is talking to those boys,” said one man to the other. They walked quickly to the stone, and asked, “What are you doing, boys?”

The boys were startled, but Poyeshaon said, “You must promise not to tell anyone.”

They promised; then Poyeshaon said, “Jump up and sit on the stone.”

The men seated themselves on the stone; then the boy said, “Go on with the story, we are listening.”

The four sat with their heads down and the Stone began to tell stories. When it was almost night the Stone said, “To-morrow all the people in your village must come and listen to my stories. Tell the chief to send every man, and have each man bring something to eat. You must clean the brush away so the people can sit on the ground near me.”

That night Poyeshaon told the chief about the story of the telling stone, and gave him the stone’s message. The chief sent a runner to give the message to each family in the village.

Early the next morning every one in the village was ready to start. Poyeshaon went ahead and the crowd followed. When they came to the opening each man put what he had brought, meat or bread, on the stone; the brush was cleared away, and every one sat down.

When all was quiet the Stone said, “Now I will tell you stories of what happened long ago. There was a world before this. The things that I am going to tell about happened in that world. Some of you will remember every word that I say, some will remember a part of the words, and some will forget them all. I think this will be the way, but each man must do the best he can. Hereafter you must tell these stories to one another–now listen.”

Each man bent his head and listened to every word the Stone said. Once in a while the boys said “Oh!” When the sun was almost down the stone said, “We’ll rest now. Come to-morrow and bring meat and bread.”

The next morning when the people gathered around the stone they found that the meat and bread they had left there the day before was gone. They put the food they had brought on the stone, then sat in a circle and waited.  When all was quiet the Stone began. Again it told stories till the sun was almost down, then it said, “Come tomorrow. To-morrow I will finish the stories of what happened long ago”.

Early in the morning the people of the village gathered around the stone and, when all was quiet, the Stone began to tell stories, and it told till late in the afternoon; then it said, “I have finished! You must keep these stories as long as the world lasts; tell them to your children and grandchildren generation after generation. One person will remember them better than another. When you go to a man or a woman to ask for one of these stories carry something to pay for it, bread or meat, or whatever you have. I know all that happened in the world before this; I have told it to you. When you visit one another, you must tell these things, and keep them up always. I have finished.”

And so it has been. From the Stone came all the knowledge the Senecas have of the world before this.

https://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/iro/sim/sim14.htm