Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The truth about adoption

My adoption agency put out an open invitation for all its families to blog about our adoptions in response to the widely spread news story of the Tennessee woman who tried to return her son to Russia by putting him on a plane by himself.

Here's an excerpt:

Russia threatened to suspend all child adoptions by U.S. families Friday after a 7-year-old boy adopted by a woman from Tennessee was sent alone on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.

The boy, Artyom Savelyev, was put on a plane by his adopted grandmother, Nancy Hansen of Shelbyville.

"He drew a picture of our house burning down and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."

So... who better to blog about positive adoption stories than us?

I guess we're the very picture of a dream-perfect adoption. Well, maybe. It depends on what you're dreaming of. Our son has adapted remarkably well. He's been part of our family for almost 7 months and he fits right in. He giggles, makes eye contact, shies away from strangers just enough, and thrives in the familiarity of our home. His behavior is right on track for his age, by normal Western birth-child standards. He's lagging behind in certain skills - language, gross motor, etc. - but he's catching up fast. We're already passing the point of blaming all his quirks and difficulties on the trauma of adoption. Sure, his trauma still lingers somewhere in his brain, but it's not defining everything about him anymore.

There are some marked differences between our story and the Hansens'.

1) AwesomeCloud was much younger when we adopted him. Older children may struggle more, and differently.

2) He's an only child with a stay-at-home mom who lavishes attention on him throughout most of the day.

3) He's an eternal optimist. He's just wired to be happy.

4) I am led to believe his orphanage was actually pretty good, and he does not seem to have been abused or neglected. No orphanage is as good as a real home, but China is making efforts to provide greater care for their orphans, and I think they prepped Cloud pretty well for attaching to his new family.

5) It's only been 7 months. Maybe when he learns to talk he'll say awful things too.

However, until he's actually playing with matches and sloshing gasoline around the house, I can't imagine taking such extreme measures as Torry Hansen and her mother did. I'd exhaust every other option first. I'd be banging down the door of every social worker in my area, tolerating all the condescending criticism of my parenting skills. I'm not really an "ask for help" kind of person (anymore) but I'd get over myself and ask like crazy. I might, maybe, even try medication (as a last resort, though it'd break my heart).

I'm not saying I'd never, ever give up. I may be a great parent for AwesomeCloud, but I might find it impossible for me to parent children with certain other behaviors. If all my best efforts fail a child... maybe I'd give up, I suppose.

I'd like to think that if I don't give up on a difficult cat (Trixie), I wouldn't give up on a child. But I might.

What I am saying is that I totally, completely, can't relate to the course of events that led to Torry Ann's abandonment of Artyom. Their story feels so, so foreign and ugly and wrong. The worst I've done is put my kid in his crib screaming and sobbing and then walk away for a while. I'm not proud, and it's not something I want the adoption agents to find out about. But I bet if you'd watched the clock while I did it, you'd notice it didn't take long for guilt and regret to get the better of me and make me scoop him back up and hug him and apologize.

He has been known to cry inconsolably, of course, especially in the beginning. He left his dad and me feeling largely helpless. But a bumpy beginning was part of our dream. An unhappy hospital stay (or two or three) was within our expectations. You just chant to yourself, "This too shall pass." And it passes.

To be fair, he can't voice threats to kill us when he's nonverbal. He can't draw frightening pictures if he keeps throwing his crayons. He won't be dousing the perimeter with gasoline until he builds up those muscles.

But he's not like that. Not at all. Today he helped me sweep. He held the middle of the broom, and I held the top, and we dragged that broom across the kitchen floor yelling, "Sweep sweep sweep!" And then we laughed.

THAT'S who AwesomeCloud is. He laughs. And that's who I am - I let him try things out, and then I laugh too. That's our life, moment to moment, once you allow for the unpleasant things like changing bandages and pushing an IV alongside his stroller.

And, y'know, even in the hospital stroller he found a way to cope. He memorized the location of the snack room and the elevator. He ate a lot of pudding and went downstairs to play the jukebox.

Every adoption is different. Some kids are eternally miserable and some are persistently sunny. Then again, some parents are, too. There's a good chance that when we adopt again, we won't have another child with AwesomeCloud's demeanor. But if he keeps his demeanor, and we stay positive too, maybe she'll come around to the sunny side. (It's funny I'm saying this, because I've had my dark periods. Maybe I just ran out of darkness. It resurfaces every now and then, but in innocuous ways - I'm familiar and comfortable with my dark side and it doesn't block out the Big Picture anymore. My husband, however, is genuinely sunny through and through.)

Or maybe she'll be eternally difficult too. I admit the possibility scares me. Having just gotten through AwesomeCloud's hospital ordeal, I'm in the mood for some really easy, effortless parenting. But we have to believe we'll manage. And we'll have to remember how to ask for help if we need it.


  1. It took us a little over three years. The Tongginator had a tough transition. But she? Is totally worth it. I can't imagine not knowing and loving my wonderful little gal.

    But I'm also hoping for an easier time of it this next go around.

  2. Our Bing-Bing is quite amazingly adaptive and generally happy. As she's gotten older a bit of a troll has emerged, but it's a normal developmental thing - I think, and it passes. I, too, have had similar thoughts about adoptions/ children and commitment. I can't say what I would do in another's shoes and when mine are so easy, I really can't compare. Yet, there is something nagging at me, pointing out that adoptive families seem to be more comfortable with the temporary if things get tough. And this eats at me. I think, no, it's forever. Family is forever, no matter how formed. Noticed you in a Tonggu Momma comment and thought we have some things in common (adoptive family, not religious), so I thought I'd say hi.

  3. Hi back! It's good to hear about the similarities we share. The easy kids do exist! (And I'm glad you don't share my religious experiences - the backstory isn't something everyone needs to go through.)