When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

January 25, 2010

August 10, 2007 Journal Entry and Chapter 3


Impish Pete (Feb. 2007)

August 10, 2007.  We’re eating at a diner this morning because a realtor has brought clients from Woodstock to look at our house and we can’t be there.  We’ve been told that buyers won’t visualize a home as theirs if they see other people living in it.  Sophie and Peter are coloring at the table as we wait for breakfast.  The sight of Sophie’s big-headed person, with purple eyelashes and Tammy Faye Baker lipstick, brings crooked smiles to the row of construction workers sitting at the counter.  Peter is drawing a racetrack and racecars.  We know this because he tells us.  What he’s doing is running the crayon around and around the paper, as though the crayon itself is the racecar.  At six, he doesn’t understand that a drawing is representational and a form of communication.  His thinking is too concrete to maneuver such concepts.  He expects people to understand what he thinks and always seems surprised when they don’t. Breakfast arrives and the children put the crayons away and pull their now-decorated placemats up for safekeeping before the waitress sets the plates down.  Peter tells us that his pancakes taste like chicken.  Pat and I trade furtive glances.  Sophie’s fork hangs in the air in a pregnant pause.  Peter has sent the family a signal: from this moment forward, today will be a bad day.  I struggle not to let this pronouncement color my mood but the optimism for the day wanes all the same.  I eat my meal even though I’m no longer hungry.  We have long understood that Peter’s demeanor at breakfast is a fail-safe barometer of temperament and ability for the day ahead.  When he was younger he used to hum “da tee tee da da, da tee tee da da” to alert us that an inharmonious storm was gathering in his brain.  Sometimes when Pat’s feeling particularly evil, he’ll whisper that ditty in my ear, knowing it makes me crazy.  This usually brings on a tickling fest and a much-needed release of tension.  Thank God we can laugh.

Chapter 3:  The Adoption Agency

Pat and I would be put through an iron triathlon of adoption-related obstacles before a strange marriage of fate and circumstance led us first to Sophie, then Peter.  One of the first and most seminal decisions we made, the decision that put us on the eventual path toward our children, was picking an international adoption agency.

After months of interviewing, attending information meetings, reading every possible written word on the subject and otherwise losing our minds over the decision, we chose to adopt through Adopt Through Us, which is located in south Florida.  Before choosing our agency however, we had to first decide what color, age and sex we wanted our child or children to be, and therefore from what country.  Did we want to “pick” our own children in-country or did we want information referred to us ahead of time?  Did we want to travel to the child’s country or did we want the child escorted to us?  Did we want an infant or would we consider a toddler, or better yet, an older child?  The combinations seemed endless, like the logic questions I studied and answered twenty years ago to gain entrance to law school (if 34 people are seated at a round table, and blonde women cannot sit next to men under age 30, and if tall men over age 30 cannot sit next to short men of any age unless they are also bald, then . . .).

Some decisions were easier to make though difficult to admit.  More than Pat, for instance, I wanted Caucasian children.  I’m a little ashamed of this fact but the truth is I wanted to be able to walk down the street without advertising that we are a family formed by adoption.  I wanted a seamless blend and on some level I suppose I resented the idea of having to wear our adopted status like a curious tattoo.  I’m not sure why it mattered so much.  I’m open with people and my children about the way in which our family was created and I want Peter and Sophie to be proud of their Russian heritage.  Although our adopted status has never been a secret, I suppose I liked the idea of letting it be one, of being able to blend into the anonymity of typicality in case the urge grabbed hold.

Also, I reasoned, we still had not surrendered the idea of having a biological child.  Pat and I had tried for the usual amount of time with no success, but at 38, the occasional short-lived pregnancy allowed for lingering hope.  And if we were successful at reproducing, I told myself I didn’t want our adopted child to feel out of place because he or she “looked” different.  This was ridiculous, of course; my desire to have kids of the same race was not rooted in some kind of misplaced altruism toward our future adopted children.  Our new neighbors, who are Caucasian, have a biological son Peter’s age and a younger daughter adopted from China.  She is the most precious, happy, well-adjusted child I know.  She is a half Irish Catholic, half Jewish, Chinese American.  When her ethnicity and multicultural upbringing one day becomes a topic for self-exploration, I trust her parents will help guide her through it with grace and wisdom.  No, I wanted white children for myself.  I wanted to be able to raise the issue at a dinner party but not be badgered by questions at the mall.  I wanted to be able to take my children to the zoo without having to bear that approving nod from strangers that says, “we know you have adopted those kids and we think it’s wonderful!”  I wanted to feel like a “real” mother and was scared beyond distraction that I’d feel instead like a fake.  Crossing racial lines simply required more strength and character than I could muster.

Now I know how foolish I was, how much my own insecurities about what family means have caused so much of the heartache, exhaustion and desperation that Pat and I experience on a daily basis.  Peter and Sophie are Caucasians, true enough.  We “pass” in the mall, at the zoo, and anywhere else.  The world would never guess our children were adopted and we – Peter and Sophie included – have control over when, how and whether people should know.   People even say Peter looks like Pat and Sophie resembles me.  In fact, when Peter makes himself vomit in a restaurant or flails around the grocery store like a newly launched pinball, all eyes are on me, as if to implore, “you’re his mother, make him stop.”  But I can’t.  It seems I naively have traded the appearance of normalcy for actual normalcy.  Peter is permanently brain damaged from the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, his mind further compromised by neglect, abuse and the stark rigors of Russian institutionalization.  When he’s like that I can’t make him stop.  I’m not sure anyone can.

Early Fall 2007

But I didn’t know any of this at the time and felt only slight queasiness when I thought about the risks of adopting from Russia.  We were taking all the right precautions and proceeding in an orderly, even lawyerly, fashion.  We had a plan and felt empowered enough with knowledge gained from our adoptive parenting class to march ahead.  The first “to do” items on our list were to pick a country and then an agency.  We had already decided on Caucasian children, or at least I had decided and Pat was too gentle and kind to make me examine my motives, and this decision left us few options at the time.  We would either adopt from Russia or Kazakhstan.  Kazakhstan was quickly eliminated however, because all of the agencies we investigated sent parents blindly, without information of any kind.  When asked why, we were told they believed that adopting parents should pick out a child themselves, as if somehow these flocks of bewildered, untrained people so desperate to parent will know when they walk into an orphanage halfway across the globe which orphan is meant to be theirs.

Pat is a fiction editor, a hopeless romantic and dreamer, and I’m a tree-hugging lawyer and teacher, champion of lost causes and stranded pond guppies.  We both knew better than to put ourselves in that situation.  I still can remember the faces of the puppies in the litter I turned down 13 years ago in favor of the one I chose, a scrappy Jack Russell named Scout.

Scout

I can still see the faces of all the children in the Russian orphanage we met during our trips and if I close my eyes, I can feel their hands reaching up my legs, soundlessly imploring to be whisked away.  I would have taken them all had it been my decision to make.  Pat too.  At least we knew ourselves in that regard.  Kazakhstan was out of the running.

We were going to Russia and we decided that Adopt Through Us, doing business in my home state of Florida, would lead us there.  They promised photographs, accurate medical records, videotapes and clean, compassionate, well-staffed orphanages.  They only dealt with the best and their own staff had adopted children from the same orphanages from which we would be adopting.  They knew and respected Jane Aronson, the adoption pediatrician we had met in the city and whose expertise and insight had become important to us.

Like countless scores before us, we enlisted the aid of Dr. Aronson and arranged for her professional opinion to help inform our decision-making when the time arrived.  She was a large part of our plan and to me, a secret ace in the hole.  She would help us keep a rational, steady course and I was confident she had the chutzpah to shake me silly if I started acting like a crazed, child-deprived lunatic.  It’s not that I felt the lunacy brewing inside me so much as I had witnessed the effects first hand and knew I could benefit from a strong inoculation.  My year of fertility treatment, or more accurately, my year of watching and listening to other women in the fertility clinic waiting room, taught me that otherwise sane people can be rendered senseless when confronted with the prospect of a childless life.  Dr. Aronson was our insurance policy against emotion, want and biological need driving us toward foolhardy and tragic choices.

Once we had our country, our agency, and Dr. Aronson to guide us, all we had to do was comply with a daunting volume of procedural requirements and then wait for our referral, for the email that would bring us a picture of the child that had been chosen for us, along with a brief medical summary.  If the preliminary information looked good, then the agency would overnight the videotape and other records for a more intensive review.  For a remarkably modest fee, Dr. Aronson would then intercede, reviewing medical records, photographs and videos sent from the orphanage.  If her emails to us are any indication, she does this work mostly in the middle of the night, in the few quiet hours, I gather, when her two young sons, partner, and busy medical practice stop vying for her attention.

Dr. Aronson assigns levels of developmental and health risk based on a number of considerations, such as available growth measurements, facial features, muscle tone, and review of medical records.  She studies the child’s videotape, searching for neurological signs and other clues in the two-to-four-minute clips sent by the adoption agency that might indicate a problem.  For instance, a baby’s movements should be symmetrical, he should have a pincer with which to pick up Cheerios by ten months, and his fists should not be clenched beyond a certain age.  She checks to see whether the child responds to his name, whether weight is borne evenly by the legs and whether he appears to be nearing developmentally appropriate milestones.  Like a prosecutor seeking truth from a hostile witness, she digs without apology for truths obscured by scant information and hidden behind the alluring facades of infants and toddlers in desperate need of rescue.  She forces prospective parents to see the truth and counsels them when facts are murky and therefore potentially devastating.  She is a fiercely devoted advocate for children yet she knows and accepts that not every child can be saved and not all prospective parents are suited for all challenges.

With Dr. Aronson in our back pocket, we prepared to wait, smug with knowledge that we were in control of our adoption destiny.  Pat is significantly older than I and was married once before, a father of two boys and a girl.  Of the three children born from that marriage, only his daughter Jennifer, now grown and married, survives.  His two biological sons are dead.  A car struck Joseph on his bicycle when he was twelve and Vincent died from a hole in his heart four months after birth.  Pat was robbed of his right to see his sons grow up and I desperately wanted to give him one more chance.  We requested a referral of a baby boy, the younger the better.

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2 Comments »

  1. Very well written. I’m hooked, and want to read more !!!

    Comment by Joy Hardin — January 26, 2010 @ 1:26 am | Reply

  2. You are one of the most gifted writers I have ever had the pleasure to read. I read your story in one sitting, mesmerized by your honesty and eloquence. We brought home our one (and so far only) son from Russia in November 2008. The road to adoption was an extremely stressful roller-coaster, but we jumped in with both feet. From my own struggles, I can understand how you feel about failed fertility and broken dreams. Your comments about ethnicity were very well put and sincere. Because our child has Asian features, it is very apparent he was adopted (or could be I was promiscuous?) and so the “conversation” is always at the ready. My brother, whose ex-wife is Asian and daughter is therefore bi-racial gave me a great glimpse into what it would feel like to have a child who didn’t quite look like me. So through his example, I felt I was a somewhat prepared to live the life of a multi-cultural family. After we brought our child home, I remember taking him into a drug store one morning and, standing at the check out, this fellow looked at me, then looked at my 2 year old….then at me … and then him, and said, “he doesn’t look at all like you.” I said, “I know.” He said, “What’s the father?” I said, “he’s white.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” Funny world.

    Comment by Sara Houck — February 6, 2010 @ 1:06 pm | Reply


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