Putin Is Wrong About My Kids
Our adopted children escaped the misery of Russian orphanages. Others won’t be as lucky.
We were taking our son away, but there would be no reprieve for the others. Our gut reaction was to forget our fears—about fetal alcohol syndrome and deprivation, about developmental delay and emotional scarring—and take as many children home with us as we could. Anything, we felt, was better than this misery.
Back in the United States, our pediatrician would warn us that every month spent in an orphanage could mean one month of developmental delay and one month of physical delay for a child. The emotional-development delay is impossible to measure. Nonetheless, our son blossomed over the ensuing 12 months, and two years later we returned to Russia to adopt our daughter, Alex, from an orphanage in Moscow.
We were new parents and didn’t realize how different our babies were from children born in the United States. They seemed happy; they loved to eat; they were not afraid of strangers. But we could put them in their cribs for nap time, and unlike our friends’ kids who would protest and cry, Victor and Alex would sit quietly until they fell asleep. We never suffered a sleepless night and didn’t realize how strange this was until we talked to other parents. Quickly our children learned that we responded to their demands and their tears. And they got louder and louder.
At first, we imagined that our kids would always be identified by the place where they were born. But that association quickly fades. Children don’t belong to countries; they belong to the people who raise them.
We have raised our children in the same Jewish community where my husband was raised. Our children will attend the same high school as their grandmother, a great number of their cousins, and most of their aunts and uncles. They attend a Jewish Day School where some of their classmates are the children of Russian emigrants who came to the United States from the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. The parents find it amusing that my son and daughter who were born in Russia don’t speak Russian while their children born in Pittsburgh are bilingual.
Our children are learning Hebrew and struggling with Torah portions for their bar/bat mitzvahs. The house is filled with the sounds of their squabbling, their singing, and their steadfast belief that, no matter what happens, they will be heard.
Our daughter was 4 years old when we were in the car and out of nowhere she announced to us that her mother in Russia had to send her away because she was too poor to take care of her. She knew she was adopted, but we had never discussed the economic reason for her being in the orphanage. We pulled over, primed to have “the talk” with her. But in a matter of seconds, she had moved on and told us with much glee: “A cute boy kissed me on the lips yesterday.” And that was that.
Both of our children are curious about their birth country and talk about Russia with a sense of pride. We are very good friends with two families who also have children adopted from Russia, and Victor once asked, in all seriousness, if that was where all kids came from.
Victor, now 14, loves musical theater and relishes being the center of attention. Next year, he will attend the Performing Arts High School. My 12-year-old daughter Alex, madly in love with Justin Bieber and addicted to Facebook, will now brag to her friends; “I am too adopted! Ask my mom.”
Apparently all this has been too much for Putin. The American families who had hoped to adopt children—and especially those who were in the process of adopting them—are suffering. They will have to search for other options, and I don’t dismiss their misery. But the greater loss is the thousands of Russian orphans who have no other options and are being used as political pawns by the Kremlin. These are children who most likely will never become a member of anyone’s family, Russian or otherwise.
We fear that these children living in this misery will simply be forgotten. The children from the baby homes will be moved to the toddler homes, and then to adolescent homes and eventually, when they are 18, they will be released as orphans into the world. The heartbreaking pall that hangs over Russia’s orphanages will grow and ultimately be forgotten, because the problem with silence is that no one can hear it.
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