When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

February 2, 2010

September 10, 2007 Journal Entry and Chapter 14

October 2006

September 10, 2007.  I lay awake wondering how long we’ll be able to keep Peter safely home with us.  My thoughts race in the quiet hours before dawn, when worries and fears amplify beyond ordinary bounds.  Our son lies and steals and sometimes destroys with an appetite that belies his tender age.  The latest is that after ten days he finally confessed to throwing Sophie’s prized birthday presents in the trash.  I bought replacements to surprise her but Peter wound up the more surprised.  Looking like he’d seen a ghost, and making what lawyers call a statement against interest, he stared at the toys and shouted, “But they gone away in the garbage!”  Sophie is too often the object of Peter’s resentments, and though I’m glad he was caught in this particular deceit, I worry that nothing will change.  He seems organically incapable of learning from his mistakes.  I’m mindful of the time he hurled a fist-sized stone at close range, striking her on the temple with deliberate aim.  He was restive and angry the remainder of that day, blaming Sophie, incredibly, for the injury he caused as he watched me ice the swelling knot on her head.  He has a fantastical ability, when ensnared, to recast himself as the victim, the misunderstood innocent who should never bear blame.  I’m tired of the lecturing, the picture drawing, the social stories, the role-playing, the disciplining, the resort to yelling and the cycle that begins anew when none of the latter works.  To a large extent, Peter is right.  He is a victim.  How can he be held accountable if his brain won’t allow him to learn from his mistakes?  Who did this to him?  Was his biological mother a teenage binge drinker or had she graduated to a more steady intoxication?  What other wrongs has Peter suffered, wrongs so horrible that his psyche is imbedded, indelibly, with feelings of mistrust, contempt, and at times, unchecked rage?  Alcohol exposure alone can’t account for all that’s skewed inside his brain.  My damaged child holds me hostage, just as Russia itself holds him in the iron-fisted, immutable bonds of alcohol damage and institutional neglect.  Escape isn’t possible.  I belong to Peter and he to me.  And so I continue to love him, knowing full well that love alone may not be enough.  For my daughter’s sake, I must remember that Peter acts on uncensored impulses, some of which can be meant to harm.  Lest I forget, Sophie gives me her unicorn to sleep with tonight, assuring me as we kiss sweet dreams that its magic horn will keep me safe.

Chapter 14:  Adoption Day

My parents were married on October 25, 1948, in St. Petersburg, Florida.  They remained for the most part happy and in love for the next 46 years.  On October 25, 1994, the first time my mother spent her anniversary as a widow, my niece Haley was born.  A day destined to aggravate an open, grieving wound transformed into a celebration of family and possibility restored.  The fact this squawking baby resembled my mother and would later become the apple of her eye was another blessing that with time would joyfully reveal itself.   On October 25, 2004, three and a half years after my mother’s death, Pat and I began our family in a colorless courtroom in Birobidzhan, Russia.  For my family, this date has always resonated with hope, celebration and new beginnings.  I never doubted it would be different for Pat and me, and so despite our being halfway around the world, I awoke that morning feeling the enveloping presence of family, their warmth, comfort and companionship a welcoming contrast to the bleakness of our surroundings.

Birobidzhan (Oct. 2004)

My greatest hope, both then and now, was that we could in turn bestow this gift, this sense of belonging and place in line, to Peter and Sophie.  So as I dressed that morning, rehearsing answers in my mind to questions about my suitability or desire to parent, a sense of calm emerged.  I realized that Peter and Sophie were already a part of our family and just waiting to go home.  They felt as much a part of me as the memories of my brother singing White Wedding at our reception, or the churning sensation of riding in the backward-facing seat of my mother’s station wagon, even the autumn afternoon in Tallahassee that I learned my father had terminal lung cancer.  These children were already woven into the fabric of who I was, and who I might one day become.

I clung to this realization like a rudder to help steady me through the next several hours.  At the appointed time, Tamara arrived and drove us a mile or two down the main road to the courthouse, which was distinguishable from any other building in Birobidzhan only in that it enjoyed a more official-looking façade and a clearly marked entryway.  As with other buildings we encountered, whether official or otherwise, the concrete on the stairs was disintegrating and the handrails offered a minefield of splinters just waiting for purchase.  Inside, a number of blown-out light bulbs created a dappled glow to the otherwise décor-less halls.  Tamara led us around two or three corners and then asked us to take a seat on a bench next to the courtroom door.  She was clearly not worried about the impending hear.  Despite what I had read and watched about the topsy-turvy nature of Russian adoption proceedings, how judge’s can and do make unexpected, even arbitrary and devastating decisions, the vibe that day was matter-of-fact and therefore strangely reassuring. We eventually were invited in and took our seats on either side of Tamara in the front of the courtroom.  Two female doctors wearing white coats and one other orphanage staff member sat directly behind us.  A stenographer was present too.  We recognized the one doctor because she was the woman who had taken us around to meet the three boys at the end of our first trip.  Through the whole torturous process, she had treated us with kindness and compassion.  It felt good to have her there.

October 2004

Unlike the rest of the building, the courtroom was sparkling clean and brightly lit.  Except for the peculiar jail cell that was located to the left of the judge’s bench, I found it completely ordinary.  Tamara explained that defendants must sit in locked cages during their trials.  In Russia, it seems the presumption of guilt is a difficult hurdle to overcome.  The lawyer in me was still contemplating the obvious differences in our legal systems when the bailiff walked in and directed us in Russian to stand for the judge as she walked in and took her seat behind the bench.  She was a plain and sturdily built woman in her fifties, and it was clear she orchestrate these proceedings in her sleep.  An unceremonious rap of her gavel and the hearing was underway.

The orphanage representative read into the record the case histories of first Sophie and then Peter: their birth histories, social circumstances and the reasons they became wards of the state and were unsuitable for domestic adoption.  Even though I knew this was part of the Russian adoption proceedings, the whispered translation of these dire reports, the extent of poverty and deprivation that our children had endured, the defects of mind or body officially alleged, was difficult to endure.  This was true even though I knew the sole reason the speaker was making the case, that Peter and Sophie were of no value to the Russian people, was so they might lead the kinds of lives she dared not wish even for her own children.

The judge then asked Pat to stand and approach the bench.  Pat answered soberly in response to a number of questions and then I stood and repeated the process.  How could we give two needy children the individual attention they each required?  What was the state of our finances, our views on education?  Did we have proper support to help us through what would undoubtedly be a difficult transition?

After that, the judge asked me to describe Sophie in my own words.  Amazing, inquisitive, beautiful, mischievous, headstrong, smart, funny and enthralling.  I said all these things and more.  “And Peter?” she asked.  I held my breath for a moment and stared at my shoes.  The moment of truth had arrived.  I didn’t know whether the judge was aware of the circumstances that brought us to Peter or was on board with the relaxation of procedures that was clearly occurring on our behalf, but I didn’t want to lie.  I didn’t want the start of our family to begin with fabrication and deceit.

“I don’t know him too well, yet,” I said.   “We came to Russia the first time to meet Sophie and another baby who turned out to be very ill.  We had to say no to him and after we got home, our agency told us about Peter.  I hope you already know this.”  My heart thumped inside my chest and I couldn’t bear to meet Pat’s gaze.  I could see the judge rifling through paperwork and I was afraid to keep on speaking.  After a torturous minute, the judge looked up, nodded gravely, and waved at me to continue.  “He won’t come near me unless I’m feeding him.  He seems to like my husband.  I think he’s afraid, which I understand.  He’ll come around.  He’s beautiful and we want him.  I want him.”

And then she asked me to sit down.  I was shaky but holding my own until I felt Pat’s physical presence, and then the tears began.  He has this profoundly kind way of absorbing my pain, taking it wordlessly as his own, without fanfare or complaint, so that my burden is lessened.  To this day I honestly don’t know whether those tears came from the enormity of the moment or the awareness of how precious my life with Pat is.

Tears of worry and relief soon turned into tears of genuine laughter when the three orphanage women stood up at the judge’s request and began describing Sophie’s personality.  “There is no one else like her,” Tamara translated.  “She is naughty, very naughty,” one of them said.  “The mama and papa must not be afraid to discipline her!”
And with that suppressed waves of giggles spilled forth from all three women, their hands reflexively and in unison rising to cover their mouths.  “We are sorry,” they sputtered in tandem.  “There is something special about this child.  She’s a good girl.  A very good girl.”

The hearing part of the proceedings ended on that note and the judge excused herself for deliberations.  The mood in the courtroom remained light.  I was curious about why the judge hadn’t asked the orphanage staff about Peter, but having already said more than what was probably prudent, I decided to keep my mouth shut.   Tamara kept us occupied during the ten minute or so wait by discussing our afternoon plans with the children and how we intended to celebrate.  Because Sophie and Peter were too young to participate in the adoption decision, they had stayed behind at the orphanage.  She knew we would be anxious to see them.

The three of us spoke in hushed tones, Pat and I instinctively assuming the quiet cadence of Tamara’s manner.  She reassured me that my honesty about Peter had not been a mistake and that all was well.  I took comfort in her words despite the fact that the emotion in her eyes betrayed her soothing tone.  Early during our first visit Pat and I had guessed there was a deep and penetrating sorrow inside Tamara that her eyes could never quite conceal and that had nothing to do with us.  Though I barely understood it, I came to recognize this melancholic trait in the faces and expressions of many Russians, Peter included.

Before long the bailiff reappeared and we were anxiously on our feet again, watching the judge as she briskly walked, head bowed, toward her place behind the bench.  The stenographer shuffled some papers and then gave a slight nod toward the judge, which must have been her cue to proceed.

“Mary Evelyn Greene and Patrick John LoBrutto,” she said, in halting but clear English. “The married couple residing in Kingston, New York, and who are citizens of the United States of America?  You are now the legal parents and guardians of the minors known as . . .”

And with that, the judge stood up, walked around the bench and over to where we were standing, and gave me what may be the most hearty, memorable, and unanticipated hug of my life.

Pat’s and my quest to adopt two orphaned children was finally over, but my journey toward becoming a mother had only just begun.

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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.


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.

Introductory Note

Baby Home, Birobidzhan, Russia (Oct. 2004)

When Rain Hurts is the story of how our Russian adopted son Peter came into our lives, the series of events that led us there, and my successful journey toward loving him, while accepting and adjusting to the fact that I will never completely heal him. Peter suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Mild Autism, Seizures, BiPolar Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attachment Disorder and suspected Mitochondrial Disease. He is also, on most days, our beautiful and loving boy.

Through journal entries, I attempt to demonstrate how love can flourish in the most hostile environments, if nourished with compassion, humor and humility.  These journal entries, and the narrative that accompanies them, aren’t a memoir so much as an exploration of the transcendence toward peace that one can experience in life-altering situations once hope is chosen above despair, and acceptance over resignation.  This project is about the growth that occurs through the examination of grief, the adjustment of dreams, and the acknowledgement of one’s own capacity.

I hope this blog has interest and relevance to readers who have adopted or are considering adoption, as well as those who have suffered loss through illness, trauma, death or disappointment.

I begin by posting journal entries starting in the summer of 2007, when our son was turning 6.  Each journal entry is followed by a chapter, which tells the narrative story of our adoption journey.  I am also including more recent journal entries, which can be found under “pages”, on the right-hand column of this blog.  I haven’t yet determined how they’ll fit into the overall book concept; they may end up replacing the earlier entries. I hope to be finished with the entire manuscript, which is 3/4s complete, by well, who knows?  Sooner rather than later, I hope.

I undertook this project because I felt demoralized after reading the plethora of adoption- and autism-related books on the market. Most if not all portray a family who struggles with their child’s difficulty at first, but who ultimately learns to embrace the problem and become enriched because of it.  Reading these accounts made me feel inadequate, as a mother and as a human being.  I love my child, fiercely in fact, but hate the disabilities that plague his future and pepper our daily lives with genuine chaos.  I want my child to be whole but I will love him every day of my life no matter how damaged or battered he remains or becomes.  This project seeks to explore these feelings. Adoption isn’t always easy and adopting an alcohol exposed child carries with it inherent booby traps that simply cannot be overcome by love, faith, medication or any other kind of intervention.  I know because I’ve tried.  What works is blood, sweat, and tears, a healthy dose of humor, a barrel full of patience, and the wisdom to know when the zenith’s been reached; when its time to let go and let be.

Thank you in advance for taking this journey with my family and me.  I came to this occupation  of “part-time writer” out of what I felt was necessity.  By training and passion, I’m also an attorney who has spent 13 years with the USEPA enforcing environmental laws that help ensure clean water, air, and land, and more recently, I’ve begun teaching environmental law and policy at the undergraduate, graduate, and law school levels.  I’m 40-something, married to the most wonderful man on the planet, have more pets than I care to divulge, and together we do our best to raise our two children, whom we love and adore but who definitely give us a run for our money.

Mary Greene

Mills Mansion, Staatsburg, NY (Jan 2010)

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