The other day, we called our friend Volodomyra in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine to tell her to expect us to drop by in a couple of weeks. Mirka (the childish diminuitive name for Volodomyra) translated and facilitated for us when we adopted Adam in 1998. She also hosted us in her home for four weeks and gave us our first parenting lessons. She teaches English at the local high school and still lives in the house in which she grew up with her sister, Viktoria. In fact, few things have changed in her town since we last visited more than ten years ago. So you can imagine her surprise hearing Adam’s fine tenor voice.
Adam has been more excited than anyone about the opportunity to return to Ukraine. For one thing, he is outgoing by nature. For another, we have encouraged his traveler’s curiosity. Then, too, he wants to know if there’s an Abercrombie & Fitch in L’viv where he could work or an H&M where he could shop. T him, life in L’viv will take the form of an even better social life than he knows here, enhanced by the fact of living in a big city. So it was my turn to be surprised when he seemed almost reluctant to take the telephone to say hello to Mirka.
Something snuck up on Adam when he heard Mirka’s voice. But it took a moment to register. After the phone call, we talked about visiting her and visiting the orphanage where he spent his first four years. We had talked about the visit earlier in our planning, and he had seemed enthusiastic. According to Mirka, some of the ladies who took care of him were still there. They would surely want to see him. But this time he said no, he didn’t want to visit. He looked down at his feet for a moment. And when he looked up again, tears were rolling down his cheeks. He couldn’t say a thing. I hugged him for a good long time.
Adam was as blindsided by his own reaction as I was. Nevertheless, it was about time.
Even though Zachary’s in-your-face eruptions of fear of the trip have taken me a long time to interpret, at least he has been obvious about sending signals. He has avoided preparations, playing video games like an addict and trying to distract us from discussing the future in any way by diverting our attention with singing and dancing and blurting out raps! Thank goodness he began to talk to me about his fears when we were alone at the Atlanta passport office last week.
On the other hand, I guess Adam and I have denied his emotions completely. He happily has barreled full-steam ahead until slamming into the emotional wall that “apparated” during the telephone call. And everything stopped completely. Still, his response comes from the same place as Zachary’s. They are manifesting their sensitivity to our trip to Ukraine. I think we will see a good bit of emotional ambiguity in the coming months as we prepare for L’viv and settle in. I hope we will also see the resolution of some deeply buried issues. I hope that I can interpret them, no matter how difficult they are for the boys to articulate.
To prepare for the emotional side of our adventure, I have been reading the book From home to homeland: What adoptive families need to know before making a return trip to China, edited by Debra Jacobs, Iris Chin Ponte & Leslie Kim Wang. In it, many of the collected authors describe that when they are taken back on a post-adoption trip, many children adopted in China fear that they will have to stay behind for some reason when their parents return home, that they will be given back some how, or that the government will not let them go, or that, as in Zachary’s case, they will get lost and not find anyone who speaks English well enough to reunite them with mom and dad. They will become lost and never be found. This is not an irrational fear for children whose parents often are more familiar with their homelands than they are.
I told Zachary that, while he would be learning Ukrainian and be able to communicate better and better the longer we stayed, he would be able to carry a card with his name, address and telephone number so that he could show that to officials who could get him home if he got lost.
This is just one of the ways that we will resolve Zachary’s fears and Adams sensitivities. I thank Jacobs et al. especially for their help. We are making progress.