Svalyava, Ukraine, July 13, 1998—We are taking the obligatory cup of tea in the orphanage director’s tiny office. On the highly polished table between us are sheets of cardboard-colored newsprint with irregularly inked carbon-copy typescript. Hard to read because the impressions are faint. And because the typescript is in the Cyrillic alphabet. These are the one-page records of the ten little boys the Ukrainian government has permitted us to visit. Each page is dog-eared, each awkwardly weighted with a two-year-old passport-sized photo of a two-year-old boy stapled to the upper left-hand corner. The little face in one of those photos reminds me of my brother as a tyke. The boy in the photo is alive to me. I dreamt about him on the overnight train from Kyiv.
“If you could take one of the children home with you, who would it be?” my husband, Bill, asks the orphanage director.
He replies, “Let me introduce you to the first child whose name I learned when I came here last year.” He calls out something to the nurse in the hall.
The door opens. In walks the boy of my dreams with a big, big smile. I’m smiling too. He marches to me, pumps my hand firmly and chirps, “Dobre den!” Good day! I can’t take my eyes off of him. I watch him march around the table, his little head bobbing with purpose, to introduce himself to Bill. I feel numb and breathless. I’m smiling so hard it hurts, but I can’t stop. At the same time, tears start to roll down my cheeks. Here he is. Our son.
And what is going through that little boy’s mind? “They told me I was going to met these people, and I should be on my best behavior and introduce myself. The doctor called me in. I introduced myself. I thought you would go away, and the next day I would meet someone else,” he says to his mother, because after all, it’s his mother, and he feels obligated to answer.
On Nov. 27, 2012 Adam Pupchek, 17, returned to the Baby House where he spent the first four years of his life. The last time her was here he was five years old. It was one year after he became a Pupchek, when he accompanied us on our trip to find his brother, Zachary. Now Zachary, Bill and I escorted Adam back to Svalyava on the train from L’viv.
The first part of the four-hour trip covered flat countryside. A little more than an hour in, we started to climb into the Carpathian Mountains. Adam was tense and pensive the whole time. Very uncharacteristic.
A Baby House in Ukraine is where children stay until they are four. Adam arrived as an infant, directly from the hospital where he was born. Everyone who turns four years old by the end of any given summer goes on to another orphanage where they will start school and probably stay until they are 16. That’s when they would be turned out onto the street. We met Adam in the orphanage director’s office one week after he turned four. He was one of 10 children who were going to age out of the Baby House that summer.
It has been Adam’s dream for years to come back here, and our year in L’viv has made the visit possible; however, it has been hard to sit him down to get him to share his feelings about the experience. To prompt him a bit, I shared with him what I said in a 100-word-or-less FaceBook post last week as part of the Canada Writes 24-hour Name-Dropping Challenge. I wrote:
Adam stood at the gate of his orphanage for quite some time. When the security guard let us in and then let us upstairs, we were thrilled. (He is the first one to come back,” he said.” Then we opened the door.) “DADDY,” one of the four-year-olds cried as he stood in the doorway. The others fluttered to him, pulling at his pants legs and coat sleeves. His face opened into the widest smile I had ever seen. And his tears would not stop. I remembered the day when I carried him from this room. I cried too.
That’s what I saw. In the next post, Adam shares what he felt.