When an American mother sent her 7 year old adopted son back to Russia, claiming he was mentally unstable, the incident prompted countless media stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to adopting children, especially older children, from orphanages in the former Soviet Union. Psychologists and adoptive parents were quoted liberally in the press, but few journalists seemed to be talking to the children themselves, so I decided to do just that. It wasn't hard - all I had to do was walk upstairs and talk to my 12 year old daughter, Maria; my husband and I adopted her four years ago from an orphanage in Ukraine.Very poignant words in light of Wo Ai Ni, Mommy.
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She seemed happy to be adopted and leave the orphanage....until it happened.
During our first night in a hotel in Ukraine, after she was officially "ours", she couldn't or wouldn't stop screaming. The only time she was quiet was when she sneaked out into the hallway and tried to run away. "I was so scared", she says now. "I didn't know what adoption was. I thought I was being kidnapped. "
Things didn't immediately get better when we got to America. . . . Once she even grabbed a kitchen knife and put it on her neck, as if she was going to slit her throat if I got any closer. "At that moment I wanted to die," she says. " I was angry at everybody, at you, at my first parents, at the world. I didn't know I would ever feel better."
But she did start to get better. . . . . When Maria had been home about six months, she began having rages and tantrums, and now I know why. She was losing her ability to speak Russian, which is typical for kids adopted into families that speak another language. The English was pushing out the Russian, but she still couldn't speak much English. "I had no language to think in," she says. "I thought I was going crazy. I was losing my mind."
The hardest part for my family, including my two biological children, was that Maria didn't love us, or even seem to like us much. So much for the dream of the sweet little girl entering the family fold. Since her biological parents had broken her heart, she assumed we would too, so she steeled herself to prevent it. As she later explained, "I put walls around my heart so it could never be broken again."
Outside our home, she behaved herself and charmed most everyone. She did take exception when adults told her she was "lucky". In her blossoming English she would unhesitatingly respond, "Did you lose your first brother and sister? Did you grow up cold and hungry? Did you live two lives, in two different countries? No? Then you must be the lucky one." I've yet to see anyone disagree with her.
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