RULES AND EXCEPTIONS
Sasha does not remember her parents. She only remembers her granny, and how she and granny cried when some people woke them up and took her, Sasha, away from her home. She was taken to an orphanage with a strange language; Kazakh in the region of Kazakhstan. As time passed, a family began to visit her. Those people spoke another strange language. Those visitors were her future family from America.
To meet adopted Russian children in America has been a major personal goal for me since I moved to the US. To learn their individual and common stories is explicable, because in Russia, international adoptions are spoken about badly or not acknowledged at all. I wanted to see for myself, rather than to hear from others, the true American experience of adopted children from my homeland. I did not have to look far to see these children; there are many young Americans with Slavic faces here. If Russians are still holding themselves on a pedestal as the most literate nation, Americans seem to be the most active nation for adopting children from every nation in the world. It catches your eye immediately. First, it is normal for Americans to have several children. Second, people here do not necessarily expect children to be the same color as their parents. White couples with African or Asian born children are not a rarity at all. When these parents are asked the question, why not to adopt local orphans, adoptive families respond almost the same: orphans in economically weak countries have less chance for the future. After the recent earthquake in Haiti, I remember a “line” of those who wanted to adopt children which lost their parents. I expected opinions like “If we lived like Americans we would adopt too”. I dare to object, not all adoptive parents here have Angelina Joli’s income; far from that. And yet this is not what matters. As raising a child is more than a financial commitment, it is an expression of a family’s will and determination to devote their emotional energy and love into the life of a new child brought into the family.
I came to meet these adopted children and their families at a traditional festival of the FRUA INC organization. The goal of FRUA INC is to support adoptive parents with advice, exchange experiences, and celebrate the cultures of the adopted children. Russian, Ukranian, and other Slavic holidays are shared in order to introduce and enhance Slavic culture for these adopted children who now reside so far from their homelands that many left as young school age children, toddlers, and even younger. At the entrance to hallroom of the event, guests were greeted by “baba Martha”, an American mother roleplaying in a Bulgarian dress. Next to her, a young girl in a Russian folk costume greeted me with bread-and-salt. My attention was drawn to Russian music and a long table line of Russian and Slavic foods arranged in buffet line for the guests. Along two long walls of this large hall were lines of connected tables with standing posters, books, national costumes, and regional symbols with writing done in the languages of those countries from which the children had been adopted.
My wish to be there and write about
the event was not approved at once: Sharon Kiddle, the president of
the organization passed on my request to the crowd of familes,
addressing the room with a microphone. Families were encouraged to
share their stories with me as they desired. As I visited and
interviewed people sitting family style at round tables in the hall,
I was openly accepted and parents were glad to share their
experiences. There was not one objection. Interestingly, this
openness did not mean that all of the stories were simple, happy
tales. I was touched by the genuine care these parents had for all
of their children which included many special needs related learning
disabilities, as well as even more serious issues related to
biological and psychological effects incurred via compromised health
in pregnancy and diminished initial care leading to problems like
abandonment syndrome and other emerging dilemmas. In spite of these
difficulties, I was impressed at the consistent care and resolve by
these parents to effect development in their children and families
including the use of professional assessments and therapies to
promote wellness in the growing lives of their adopted children.
In the USA, as well as in many other
countries, single people are not allowed to adopt local orphans,
therefore I went to Russia to get a daughter”, says Shauna McGuinn,
hugging her eight year-old Madigan.
Michael and Molly Foster do not have biological children. A Buryat boy, Dima, has been brought by them from Russia. They have also adopted a daughter from China. Looking at them, I thought that adoption of foreign children must have its peculiarities. When I asked the Fosters for their opinion, Michael answered, “When you take a resposibility for a child from a different culture, you get interested in the nation the child comes from. I think we would never learn as much about Russia and China if it was not for our kids”. Molly Foster went on to say, “Dima was sick when we arrived to meet him at the orphanage. He had dysentery and a bad cold. In fact, Dima’s life began in an orphanage and he didn’t get as much care as he could get in a family. After getting in the family he recovered.” Dima has some problems with learning, but the Fosters understand that any child can have this kind of problems.
The Langhans had two children of their own when they decided to adopt a child from Russia. But it turned out to be impossible, because Svetlana Langhans was not an American citizen. She told me, “We wanted to adopt a child from St.Petersburg where I am from originally. But when we were refused, we had to head for Kiev. In the Ukraine, adoption is allowed by American parents if one parent is a US citizen. Thus, my husband’s American citizenship allowed us to proceed. By that time we realized that it didn’t matter where the child was from. There are so many orphans in both Russia and the Ukraine, and we were glad to make at least one of them happy in our family,” says Svetlana. Their mission continued. After they had brought their adopted daughter home Svetlana became pregnant. The Langhans now have four children and they plan to adopt one more.
“Your Mummy is beautiful, isn’t she?” I asked Benjamin who was sitting on the lap of Susan, his mother. “Which Mummy do you mean? I don’t remember my other Mummy”, replied the four-year old whose answer took me by surprise. Susan Carollo told me about how her husband had been adopted by Italians as a young boy. His grandmother was Russian, thus the Carollos looked for a Russian boy and adopted Benjamin from Moscow.
While the children were playing on the stage the parents got acquainted and shared their stories. Then a piano music was heard and an older American, who was a large and jovial grandfather kind of man, reviewed a simple children’s song naming the parts of the body in Russisan language and text. Song sheets were shared and the children sang and laughed through the lyrics in broken Russian. Those who didn’t know the words glanced up and down at the songsheets. I watched one child writing on her paper in English and there appeared “I love Russia.”
I watched the children and thought, if a
military conflict happens between Russia and America, these children
will not participate because both countries are their homelands. I hope
that they will never have to make a choice of this kind.
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