When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

January 28, 2010

August 28, 2007 Journal Entry and Chapter 9

Summer 2007

August 28, 2007.  One of my more troublesome fears is that my son one day will hurt me.  Days like today remind me that such fears are not unfounded.  “He’s yours,” I call as Pat walks toward the car.  I have delivered Peter to his office.  I tell him what happened and leave, my heart banging widely with embittered surrender.  For the third time in as many days, Peter has launched himself like a grenade, this time charging me from behind, fists drawn and head down, poised for assault.  He was warned at breakfast that this would happen if he started hitting himself or came after me again.  His emotions continue to swing like a pendulum hyped on speed, making me worry whether the Risperdal Peter takes to control behavior is failing our family or whether his symptoms are on the rise.  He spends the morning cycling through several rounds of nonsensical laughter and unprovoked sobbing, crescendoing all the while toward a full-scale tantrum, the tones of which are evolving in a dangerous direction.  Today I can handle him physically, but in a few years he won’t be so easily subdued.  I turn on the “The Last Unicorn” for Sophie when we get home from running errands and I sit with her for a few minutes.  Both of us are relieved to be free from Peter’s demons, at least until dinnertime, when father and son return.  Later I surf the Internet for boarding schools that accept children with learning and behavioral difficulties.  I find a school in Connecticut that accepts students as young as third grade.  I lose myself in this shameful fantasy only to be catapulted back to reality: the tuition, I discover, is over $100,000 per year.  I kiss Sophie goodnight and watch as she rocks back and forth in her bed, upheld arms casting shadows on the wall in rhythmic exorcism of the day’s stress.   I walk over to Peter’s room next, thinking about the toll our family circumstances are taking on Sophie.  He smiles at me, happy and sleepy.  He has forgiven himself, or maybe just forgotten the day.  But what’s clear is he’s forgiven me.  He says I’m the best mommy ever.

Hello Sophie (Biro, Aug. 2004)

Chapter 9:  Russia Part I (Meeting Sophie)

Once I recovered my voice, the questions, along with a few colorful insults, flew like poisoned arrows from my mouth.  I was done with pleasantries. What do you mean he’s not here?  Where is he?  We came from New York, damnit.  New York.  Did you know that? It’s halfway around the world. Can I show you a map? Find our child.  Find him now!

The casual arrogance in the man’s voice, which I first mistook for politeness, infuriated me.  I became increasingly hysterical and wild-eyed.  The words spilling from my mouth were coming from someone I barely recognized.  Pat knew I was dangerously close to blowing my lid and so he put his hand on my shoulder to signal that he would take over the questioning.  When he did, his voice came ominously from the bottom of his register.

Whatever Pat said had some effect because we hastily were ushered into the man’s office, where we learned his title was orphanage Head Doctor.  We would meet other orphanage doctors throughout our trips but we never spoke to this man after that first fateful day.  Pat and I sat down in his computer-less office, both of us rifling through stacks of papers in desperate search for Ben’s paperwork.  A woman came in and wordlessly offered me bottled water and Kleenex, though I wasn’t crying.  I was too incensed and terrified for tears.  We had traveled halfway across the world and without hint of apology were being told that a mistake had been made.  I was coming unglued at the seams.

“You should call your agency about the boy,” the doctor said, skimming our documents.  “There is nothing I can do.  Come back at 3:30 when the children wake. You can meet the girl then.”

After that he made a brief phone call, barking orders of some kind or another in Russian, then stood up and escorted us outside.  Pat and I scanned our grim surroundings and wondered whether we were expected to walk back to the apartment.  All the buildings looked the same.  Without signage or even slight differences in architecture, there was no way to distinguish one from the other.  I wasn’t at all sure we could find the apartment.

Thankfully, the surly teenager and driver pulled into the circular driveway within a few minutes of our expulsion.   The Head Doctor must have called them.   They drove us back to the apartment where we found a small crowd of women standing just inside the door.  Heated discussion stopped as soon as we stepped inside.  After introductions and repeated apologies for the mix-up, as well as our frigid treatment by the girl with bi-colored hair, a woman named Tamara explained the genesis of the confusion.  Tamara, who would be our translator for the rest of our time in Russia, told us she had located the baby and would take us to him after we met Sophie.  The orphanage didn’t know who he was because he lived at the hospital, which was in a separate section of town and not part of the orphanage system.  The Head Doctor must have read this on Ben’s paperwork but obviously decided to let someone else break the news.  Tamara couldn’t tell us why or what was wrong with Ben but she did know he had been hospitalized since birth.

None of this, of course, had ever been mentioned to us.  Ben’s medical report did in fact state that he resided in the Baby Hospital, but when I asked what that meant, Penny at Adopt Through Us assured me that it was the name they used for the infant ward at the orphanage, end of story.  Even Dr. Aronson accepted this explanation.  But Penny was wrong.  I tried contacting Adopt Through Us using the rented cell phone as there were a number of urgent questions Pat and I needed to ask.  This time I managed to get through, but no one other than the receptionist was in the office.  After listening to my distressed voice and frantic plea for help, the woman assured me that someone would call back soon, either on the cell phone or Galina’s direct line.  Those were the first and last words we heard from Adopt Through Us until we were back in the States, 10 days later.

We left with Tamara, saying goodbye to the other two women who were “coordinators” of the process in Birobidzhan, just as Sergei was in Moscow.  Tamara was comfortable navigating around the orphanage unescorted and so she marched us straight into a large hall with brightly colored murals and sunlit floor-to-ceiling windows.  I recognized the room immediately from the referral photographs.  Birobidzhan can sizzle in the summer and I knew those windows would act like a heat lamp on blistering hot days.   In terms of weather, at least, we were lucky the entire trip.  The temperature never rose above the low eighties and the nights stayed comfortably cool.

Sophie walked in right after we did, shoulders back and leaning forward, eyes locked onto ours.  One of her caregivers followed and after saying hello, took a seat next to Tamara and began talking in Russian.  Although this was a once in a lifetime moment for us, albeit with a strange Russian twist, for Tamara and the caregiver the scene was simply part of their daily routine.  A chance to sit down, catch up or maybe gossip.

Our translator Tamara, with Sophie & Michael (Biro, Aug. 2004)

Pat and I smiled at Sophie and began saying ridiculous things like “what a pretty girl you are,” or “come show me your dress,” in over-enthusiastic English, which we knew she couldn’t understand.  She wrinkled her nose and narrowed her eyes, confirming that we really were making fools of ourselves.  She looked like a baby much younger than two except for her eyes and facial expressions, which were those of a much older soul.  The keen intelligence so evident in her eyes made Sophie stand out from the rest of the orphanage children like a freckle-faced redhead in the middle of a bustling Beijing market.  The other children consistently ran up to us and wrapped their skinny arms around our legs, plaintively calling “Mama”, “Papa”.  There is nothing more heart wrenching than being the object of an orphan’s unattainable desire and Pat and I choked back tears nearly every time one of their little bodies clamored to grab hold.  Sophie, however, was not of that ilk.  She was a cool cat who kept a watchful distance.  By the end of our trip she would claim us with possessive entitlement, but not just then.  We had yet to earn the honor.

Instead, she studied us with the intensity of a scientist puzzling over a newly discovered organism, careful not to express any opinion until all the facts were gathered and analyzed.  She had gumption galore.  We made a game of scrutinizing her with the same curious vigor with which she approached us.  I poured over every aspect of her, instantly memorizing the hue of her skin, the shape of her ears, the deep, perfect groove of her philtrum, even the clumsy, comical way she motored around the room.  But in truth this was no game.  Despite the plaguing worry over Ben, the moment was pure bliss and has become indelibly stamped into my memory.  For the first time I was meeting our daughter.  I felt the way a new mother must feel in the moments after birth, when she first lays eyes on the miracle of her child.

Unlike newborns however, Sophie appeared in a pale pink cotton dress, tight enough across the chest to make the seams stretch, and a worn pair of boy’s sandals.  Her full face and fiery eyes belied the fact that she was significantly underweight.  The little bit of hair she had was light golden blonde, with a swirling cowlick prominent at the center above her brow.  Her thinly stretched skin was speckled with angry bruises and she was covered with mosquito bites.

She was also beautiful.  The way she circled around us, studying Pat and me like laboratory animals, inching slightly closer with every lap, enthralled us beyond expectation.  Though hopelessly hooked, we weren’t sure how to approach her.  What do you say to a two-year old child you’ve just met and who’s never heard the English language?  Our initial attempts failed miserably.  As though reading our minds, Tamara broke off her conversation with the caregiver, took Sophie by the hand and explained that we were her new Mama and Papa.  The talk did not have the intended eureka effect.  So in desperation I pulled a Fischer Price cell phone out of my bag, hoping it would entice her toward us.  The flashing buttons and shiny colors did the trick.  She darted over, grabbed the phone and retreated hastily to a safer distance.  We watched and smiled broadly as she pushed the buttons.  Then she began to “ouhh” and “ah”, the expression in her eyes softening from frank mistrust to unabashed joy.  The phone had become a prized possession.

My digital camera was another source of fascination.  She examined the lens with an analytical expression befitting a Wall Street banker.  When the flash went off, she blinked with surprise, lost her balance, and plunked heavily onto her bottom.  This made her laugh lustily.  I smiled at Pat, confirming what he already knew.  The chinks in Sophie’s amour were already showing, her guard was slipping away.

The next thing she did was truly amazing.  Grabbing the camera, she turned it over and stared at her image.  “Katya,” she said, matter-of-factly.  Her Russian name was Ekaterina Shumilova.  At barely two, and despite having spent the majority of her life in an institution, she recognized herself on the LCD monitor and implicitly understood the concept of photography. We would give her a new name, Sophia Katherine, but it wasn’t until the next trip that we started the transition, calling her Katya-Sophie at first, then Sophie-Katya, and then finally just Sophie.  Our precious Sophie.

Come to Papa (Aug. 2004)

We would have more time with her in the two days that followed, time to take walks and play and get a more complete sense of her mischievous personality, but we didn’t stay long that first day.  We were promised an opportunity to see Ben in the hospital and we didn’t want to be late.  Kissing Sophie goodbye, to the extent she would permit, we left her with a small Winnie the Pooh photo album that showed pictures of Pat and me, our house, her room, and our child-loathing dog, Scout.  We promised, with the help of Tamara’s translation, to return the next morning.  We also give her a little pink gingham pillow with a photo of us I had slipped into the sewn-on plastic sleeve.  Three years later, she is still sleeping with it.



  1. Dearest Mary,
    Both you and Pat have done a miraculous job of becoming a family. It is difficult for most to create family without any of the roadblocks put before you…you have done a wonderful and difficult thing. I know that this is just the beginning and I hope to know all of you through the unfolding of your journey.

    Comment by Merle — January 28, 2010 @ 10:25 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Merle for your encouraging and lovely words. You’ve known us from the very beginning, really, through our wonderful outings to your restaurant. Thanks for reading! Mary

      Comment by whenrainhurts — January 29, 2010 @ 8:47 pm | Reply

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