When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

March 2, 2010

September 20, 2007 Journal Entry and Chapter 18


Late Summer (2007)

September 20, 2007.  Peter raided our bathroom in the middle of the night.  Pat found loose pills and open bottles.  Somehow he figured a way to bypass our safety precautions.  In the past, his midnight adventures revolved around smearing the walls with lotion or shampoo and pouring Pat’s aftershave down the drain.  This morning he tearfully admits the mischief, which I take as a good sign because like most kids his age, his strong inclination is to lie.  He is still upset when I pick him up from school.  His sister is also having a hard day though I nearly miss learning why.  Sophie wanted to share the adoption book we made last summer with her class but felt too shy when the time came.  I try listening to her on the drive home but get distracted when Peter throws a soccer ball into the front seat.  It grazes my head before bouncing to the floor.  I pull over immediately to address the behavior and start to reprimand Sophie for interrupting.  Then I realize what she’s saying.  She’s trying to tell me she didn’t show the book because she was afraid the other kids would tease her for being adopted.  I’m so angry with Peter that I nearly miss the confused, timid tone in her voice.  My daughter, who until now has soared through her short life with us with enviable confidence, is becoming aware of differences.  We have always celebrated the difference in how our family was formed but at five, Sophie for the first time is venturing beyond the protective confines of home, where other perspectives abound, and where differences aren’t always celebrated.  I spend so much time searching for a solution or even a temporary salve that might soothe Peter’s tortured soul that I’m failing to focus sufficiently on my other child’s entirely rational fears and needs.  Sophie can be helped, really helped, and yet concern for Peter, a concern bordering at times on terror, preempts all else.  This has to change.  Although it would be wrong to give up on Peter, the real crime would be surrendering Sophie’s chance at emotional wellness in furtherance of his.  As part of this family she’ll always be more than just a bystander when it comes to Peter’s troubles, but I have to minimize the collateral damage.  I must learn to listen to Sophie even with soccer balls whirling overhead.

Chapter 18:  Is That You, Santa Claus?

I never think back to our first six months home without feeling flooded by memories of ambivalence, confusion, joy, and relief, a mixed bag of feelings that don’t typically complement each other.  On the one hand, the children were home, they were ours, and we were a family whose members were learning to adjust to the cadences and demands of one another.  I was quickly becoming a competent parent and Pat was re-discovering some tricks of the fatherhood trade he had shelved more than a decade earlier.  We were on the path toward becoming a whole, healthy family and should have been content and satiated with the bounty of our blessings.

Our Adoption Announcement & Christmas Card (2004)

And there were blessings.  When Sophie first got home her legs were so spindly and weak she couldn’t climb the stairs or pull herself onto the couch.  If she tried walking without assistance on a path with even a slight slope, she’d wobble and fall, exhibiting what Dr. Aronson called “poor motor planning.”  Pat and I called it “poor bruise prevention,” often joking that Sophie’s skin tone, especially during those first months home, was a mottled black and blue.  All elbows and knees, our precious bundle of occupational hazard doled out as many bruises as she suffered.

Dr. Aronson strongly encouraged us to have her evaluated through our county’s Early Intervention program, reminding us that institutionalized children lose one month of development for every three months they spend in an orphanage.  Sophie’s motor skills were so delayed, and her rickets so severe, that she didn’t think we should risk waiting.  However, in the three weeks it took to arrange for the Early Intervention therapists to come to our home, her health and ambulation improved tenfold.  In fact, she’d caught up.  She didn’t qualify for occupational or physical therapy services, and astonishingly, her English language skills, both in terms of what she was able to speak and understand, were age appropriate.

At the time, Dr. Aronson suggested we have Peter evaluated too, but because his motor skills were more developed than Sophie’s, she thought giving him time to adjust was the greater priority.  She felt the bed soiling incidents likely were attributable to stress, including stress that was possibly derived from fear over leaving his room to use the bathroom.  She suggested we put a potty near his bed and let the issue resolve on its own, without giving the unwanted behavior negative attention.  This was important, she advised, because orphanage children, even those as young as Peter, quickly learn that certain unacceptable behaviors will cause even the most immune and indifferent caregiver to perk up and pay attention.  In adoption speak, these are called maladaptive behaviors, maladaptive because they may help a child survive in an institutional environment, but they interfere with bonding and general integration into normal family life.

Her line of reasoning made sense to us, and it helped assuage our worries over what we considered disturbing behavior.  Plus, as pleased as we were with Sophie’s progress, we were also encouraged by the positive changes in Peter.  To begin, he grew so quickly I had to replace clothes and shoes every month.  By the end of our first year home, he had grown ten inches and gained twelve pounds.  During a checkup, I remember the nurse apologizing for the “mistake” in his chart when she wrote his new measurements down.  After listening to me explain that he really had grown that much, that it was “catch-up growth” and not an error in transcription, she just stared at me, mouth agape.

During this time he learned how to pedal his tricycle like a champ, discovered the simplistic beauty of Thomas the Tank Engine, experienced the joy of sledding, and poured with devotion through endless picture books.  He used the potty (peesit!) regularly and never had any accidents, although we still struggled with the bed soiling trick.  The bald patches and wispy hair began to thicken and grow with regular haircuts and plenty of healthy food.   Physically, he was thriving.

Peter playing the "Crashing, Screaming, Falling Game" (Dec. 2004)

But in other ways, he wasn’t.  Week after endless week Pat and I waited for Peter’s personality to emerge, for the memory of the adoption trauma to subside enough so he could show us who he was.  That’s what we thought, and what we told ourselves for a very long time: that he was traumatized, shell-shocked, but with enough patience, love, and understanding, he would learn to trust and become less guarded, less inhibited.

As weeks turned into months though, our largely unspoken fears failed to subside while the nervous glances Pat and I exchanged over breakfast began to increase.  We could never quite put our finger on it, but there’s no doubt we felt the oddity, the inherent lack of synchronicity, settling like fog over our new young son.  We kept waiting for the boy hidden inside the boy to emerge, but he hadn’t, at least not yet.  There was a distant, detached, almost hollow quality about his demeanor, as though the boy we saw, the one we called Peter, was shielding someone else entirely; a child who was darker, more complicated, and definitely hurt.

And there were more than just the uneasy, hard to define feelings.  His overt behaviors were odd too.  For example, he wouldn’t look us directly in the eye, though he happily smiled for the camera.  Whenever he sat, he kept his legs straight out in front, just as he had in Russia, and he had this way of stomping his way across the floor, knees locked.  He was as rigid and inflexible as the action figures we encouraged him to play with – he only seemed to bend in a few key places.  He also wasn’t speaking much, though this was lower on our list of concerns because I’d read online that international adoptees must first lose their native language before their brain can acclimatize to learning a new language.

Play was another area of concern.  Peter could occupy himself for hours with a solitary car or wooden block.  At first this seemed like a good thing because I could get all kinds of chores done around the house, but it wasn’t.  He wasn’t exploring his environment, the way Sophie was, or interacting with his toys in any purposeful way.  Early on, Pat dubbed the phrase “the crashing, screaming, falling” game to describe Peter’s favorite activity, then and now.  No matter what’s at hand, whether car, penny or cereal bowl, he’ll lift it over his head, look at the object with growing trepidation, then lower it quickly in a simulated crash, all the while screaming “awwwwwgh.”  Although there’s nothing unusual about a boy amusing himself this way, Peter will do it all day long until someone interrupts the ritual and makes him stop.  That’s the unusual part.

We understand that now but at the time we gave this strange fixation, along with all the other odd behaviors, the benefit of the doubt.  Peter didn’t know how to play, he was living in the shadow of Sophie’s big personality, he was a naturally wistful child, or maybe he was reacting negatively to the potent mix of medications he took on a daily basis.  Both Sophie and Peter had to take Isoniazid (INH) for nine months to kill their latent TB infections as well as multiple rounds of medication to eradicate giardia from their intestinal tracts.  Perhaps, we told ourselves, the combination of these powerful drugs was causing side effects that impacted his behavior and mood.

When we began confessing some of our concerns to Peter’s pediatrician, at least the more objective ones, he suggested we enroll him in preschool.  “He needs socialization,” he told us.  “He doesn’t know how to interact in a normal environment – he’s going to have to be taught.”   So that’s what we did.  After a week or two spent researching our options, we enrolled him in a wonderful little nursery school whose teachers and administrators were thrilled to have him.  Peter wasn’t their first internationally adopted preschooler, but he was their “freshest” in the sense that he hadn’t been home very long.  He would start in January, right after the holidays.  As for Sophie, I enrolled us in a Mommy and Me class that met at the same school every Tuesday morning.  She would get to meet and socialize with other two-year-olds and I would get to know their moms.

What's that big thing in the sky? (Nov. 2004)

Having made that decision, Pat and I did our best to shelve our worries and resume the business of becoming a family as well as adjusting to our new relationship as married parents.  Pat had an easier time with this than I because my list of worries rose as high as a mountain where his resembled more of a hill.  But I tried, and in large part, I succeeded.  Bringing home two toddlers at once from an orphanage in Russia is a formidable undertaking, one we clearly hadn’t appreciated sufficiently at the time but that was becoming abundantly clear with each new day.  Pat and I were exhausted.  As in dead tired, asleep on our feet, is today Tuesday or could it be Friday, and how many years before they leave for college tired.

But when the units were nearly up, the children bathed and cozy in their fleece pajamas and perched on our bed watching Corduroy or listening to Goodnight Moon, I allowed my thoughts to drift toward Pat.  Childless for many years, we had long ago discovered a beautiful rhythm to our relationship that could be sustained indefinitely with love, attention, humor, and respect.  Although becoming parents to Sophie and Peter hasn’t challenged the depth of our commitment, it has altered the composition somewhat.  For instance, patience, a quality rarely called upon before the kids, has become a key player in our successful alliance, as has perseverance and humility.

Once we recovered from the first exhausting month or two, when we’d fall into bed, flat on our backs and still fully clothed, approximately three minutes after we kissed the children goodnight, Pat and I in earnest began reclaiming ourselves and our marriage, at least somewhat.  By three months into the adoptions, we were capable of staying awake long enough, at least on most nights, to watch a movie or participate in a conversation lasting more than five minutes.  Little by little we became less like deer in the headlight and more like the human beings we once resembled.

Although our waistlines suffered, our grammar deteriorated, our love life cooled, my cooking abilities declined, and we both sloughed a good ten points off our IQs, we were adjusting.  Our first Thanksgiving came and went without much fanfare because we opted not to travel to the mountain house in North Carolina, where my siblings meet for the holiday.  We had a quiet dinner at home, just the four of us, but with all the usual trimmings.  Afterwards we watched the geese practice their landings on the fallow cornfield across the road.  Sophie and Peter had no real sense of the holiday, but like every other day, they absorbed the experience eagerly, each in their own way.  Sophie made a place for her Cabbage Patch doll at the table, carefully removing a booster seat in the kitchen to help prop her up while Peter greedily inhaled the luxurious smells of Thanksgiving dinner, making sure to stay nearby so as not to miss out.

Sophie strapping in her doll for dinner (Dec. 2004)

Our first Christmas was memorable for all the reasons first Christmases are always memorable.  Sophie and Peter whizzed through the holidays with wide-eyed stares and disbelief, their innocent joy and unaffected sense of wonderment spreading like a contagion to anyone lucky enough to have mingled with them.  Everything they saw, everything they touched, heard or tasted was so new and captivating that they became wholly mesmerized: Christmas lights, the tree, jolly music, sparkly decorations, scores of sugary treats.  Nothing was too small or insignificant to explore and appreciate.  A bowl of candy canes at the Dry Cleaner’s produced the same level of enchanted euphoria as the grand spectacle of Santa and his Elves at the mall.  We made batch after messy batch of holiday cookies with overnight guests while dancing in a floury, sprinkle-strewn mess to Chipmunk Christmas music.

Between gifts and books we bought ourselves, we must have acquired 90% of the children’s holiday books ever written, from Corduroy’s Christmas and Madeleine’s Christmas to Father Frost and Twas the Night Before Christmas.  We read them religiously every night even though we knew the children couldn’t decipher most of what they were hearing.  But as Christmas drew near, Sophie could sing a good many of the words to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and was able to ask Santa, when the opportunity arose, for a brand new kukla (doll).

The mystery of the dancing Santa

Peter participated actively in most of the festivities and I smiled with relief to see his normally doleful eyes sparkle in a way I hadn’t imagined possible.  Pat, who was always willing to yield to the deceiving caress of Peter’s apparent wellness, was more convinced than ever that time and love would heal.  Christmas came and went that year without snow on the ground.  Pat gave me a Lladro figure of a little girl to match the figurine of the boy I’d bought in Moscow on the way home from our first trip.  He catches me by surprise sometimes, that husband of mine, and that Christmas morning I found myself crying, tears of joy and blessing mixed with fading melancholy for Ben, the baby I had begun allowing myself to forget.  But it was okay, and surely Pat knew that.  The Lladro figurine wasn’t Ben, it was Peter, and after I opened my present and felt the cool delicate porcelain against my skin, Pat lifted it gently and placed it next to the other on our shelf.  Our family was complete.

I look back on the thousands of photos I took of Sophie and Peter over the course of our first holiday season and wonder where that bright-eyed boy is now.  Peter was at his best then, as though he’d been granted a temporary reprieve from the demons and disasters that play havoc with his mind.  He loved the presents, adored the attention, and had his hand in a plate of cookies every time I turned around.   As Pat and I watched our sleepy children play in front of the crackling fire toward sundown, I began to trust, really trust, that Peter would emerge from whatever protective cloak he had constructed, and that one day soon, he would be okay.

Peter's 1st Christmas (Dec. 2004)

Slumped with Sophie against the nylon wall of their new play tent, talking on a toy phone, his new cowboy hat perched cockeyed over one brow, Peter seemed a beautifully typical 3-year-old boy.  As usual, Sophie controlled the scene, barking weary instructions to her new brother with what had become their secret, indecipherable language, some sort of scaled down Russian with a sprinkling of mispronounced English words.  Not only was he listening, he was interacting, and playing.  Not with Sophie’s characteristic display of complex thought and imagination, but he was holding his own.

Pat and I fell asleep that night watching an old Judy Garland Christmas Special aired on PBS.  Her voice gravelly and strained from years of alcohol abuse, we watched as she floated around her living room with Mel Torme and her three children singing carols and reminiscing in black and white about Christmases past.  As nutty as it seems, I found myself searching our television screen for glimpses of her children’s philtrums, including Liza Minelli’s.  Did she drink while she was pregnant?  Could her children be alcohol exposed?  I don’t know.  I never caught a good glimpse because the film was grainy and I was too tired to keep pursuing such a pointless line of thought.  But what I did notice was Judy Garland’s eyes, the ever searching, soulful way they could seduce you into believing even the gayest Christmas carol was meant to induce melancholy.

She had Peter’s eyes, our new son who was asleep down the hall and who had been momentarily distracted by the gaiety of Christmas.  I saw that instantly.  But unlike Judy Garland, whose life can be dissected and studied on the Internet, I knew nothing of Peter’s past, the little boy whose dark, plaintive stare can convey a life’s worth of sadness, hurt, and disappointment.


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12 Comments »

  1. I love your blog! It’s very interesting and the kids are so cute!

    Comment by Mike — March 2, 2010 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  2. Hi, I am overwhelmed by the similarity of our girls. We adopted 2 children from Kaliningrad, Russia in October 2004. We had similar thoughts of, “Oh, how tiny…but she’s smart!” Our Gabby is currently 7 years old, in first grade and beginning to read & do math. Her younger brother, Duncan, just turned 6 on Valentine’s Day. He’s in kindergarten & smart as a whip. It grieves me to know Duncan will soon pass Gabby in acedemic pursuits, but Gabby is the SWEETEST, most loving child I’ve ever met.

    I would write more, but I am tearing up after reading thru your blog…my own memories merging with your writing. Thank you–I’ll continue to follow your story. I’m on FASlink too. Thanks so much for writing your memories & experiences. Laurel

    Comment by Laurel — March 2, 2010 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Laurel – I look forward to hearing more of your story. Getting in touch with other moms (and dads) like you has been one of the
      great side benefits of this project. I do think we all deserve a voice . . .

      Comment by whenrainhurts — March 2, 2010 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

  3. Thank you for continuing to share these. I look forward to reading them and know they are off huge help to so many adoptive parents.

    Comment by Amy FitzGerald — March 2, 2010 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

  4. I just wanted to let you know that your post have help me. I am considering adoption. Was not sure if it is right for me. If I do not conceive this time I think you have help me make up my mind. I will continue to follow this site.

    Comment by Kim143 — March 2, 2010 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  5. WOW! Just found your blog through LFCA and I am in awe. You, lady, can WRITE!

    In addition to my humble personal blog, I write once a month for http://www.hopefulparents.org, a group blog and budding community for parents of children with special needs. You might want to check it out some time (in all of that spare time I’m sure you’re knee-deep in).

    I added you to my feed reader and, having exhausted your archives, look forward to reading what comes next 🙂

    Comment by MFA Mama — March 3, 2010 @ 9:17 am | Reply

    • Thanks for your kind kind words – and I will check out your personal and group blogs – but right now, I’m going to the hair
      salon – which I haven’t had time to do since Thanksgiving – such a small treat, but I need it!!!! Thanks again 🙂

      Comment by whenrainhurts — March 3, 2010 @ 9:22 am | Reply

  6. Hi, I found your blog through lost and found. You are amazing writer. Your journey is incredible. You have been through so much. I will be following you and cheering on your whole family and sending you hope.

    Comment by Claire — March 3, 2010 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  7. Okay, now I have read the whole beautiful blog. Wow. When’s the next section coming out? I am hooked. You and Pat sound like you have such an amazing bond and your stamina amazes me. I know it’s got to be hard – really hard. Your children are beautiful. Thank you again. Keep writing:)

    Comment by Claire — March 5, 2010 @ 12:13 am | Reply

  8. I love the blog too. The pictures brought a smile to my face. You hav a story that many can relate to. Good luck.

    Comment by Sharon Powell — March 6, 2010 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

  9. Wow…. how can one read that without feeling and/or wanting to comment and yet, I am at a loss for words! Excellent writing and conveying of a difficult, trying and exhausting situation made more beautiful by the gift of you and Pat!
    Blessings

    Comment by Kimberly E. Lepins — March 7, 2010 @ 11:09 am | Reply

  10. Hi! I just found your blog and spent a loooong while reading about your family and your beautiful children – you are such a talented writer! We submitted our dossier to Russia in 2004 only to have it stalled in Kursk bc of the reaccrediation debacle. We decided to change to domestic adoption and were blessed with our son, born in Aug 2005. We just welcomed our baby girl in September of 2009, and finally, our little family is complete… through the miracle of adoption.
    Thank you for sharing your story, looking forward to the following chapter!

    Comment by ani — March 10, 2010 @ 8:17 am | Reply


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