A Letter Arrives
Yes, it was a letter from Russia. In Cyrillic, with a sticker that I had sent to somebody once upon a time with our last name and post office box address. My husband was by himself with the three younger kids and I was alone with the eldest in another city. He wasn’t sure what it said on the outside, and whether or not he should pass it along to anyone.
Benedetto took a picture of the envelope and sent it to me from his phone. Then I called him after gleaning from the photo all of the information that I could.
“It’s written to Mashenka,” I revealed, “but there’s a different last name.”
“Her former last name?” he asked.
“No, that I would understand. And it’s not her oh’chestvoh (patronymic), either,” I shook my head. “It may be a case of mistaken identity. Maybe someone thought to write to another Mashenka, adopted to the US-?”
“Should I give it to her?” my husband wondered.
Eyeing the return address, I told him no, not just yet. I recognized the address of their old orphanage, yet I didn’t recognize the name of possibly a vaspita’telnitsah (caregiver). Maybe it really was a case of mistaken identity. I didn’t want Mashenka, 14.5, to read through a letter which might be destined for someone else, particularly with me not there.
A day later, they arrive at the dacha. My husband hands me the letter and I do the sensible thing, ripping it open. There are two letters, and one photo.
I examine the photo, still wondering if my daughter is the right recipient. Two girls and one boy are in the picture, none of whom I recognize as friends of hers. Her closest companions were Lena, a girl, and Kolya, a boy. The photo depicts Tanya and Andrei, and one other girl, unnamed. Hmmm….
Nothing. No signature? Just “hugs and kisses”.
I move on to the second letter, very primitively written and signed by this “Andrei”. He has drawn a picture in pencil of a heart cracked down the middle with “you” and “I” written on either side. Oh yuck. Skimming his missive, he professes his undying love for our daughter, throughout demanding, “Do you remember me? Dah or nyet? Do you love me? Dah or nyet? Do you miss me? Dah or nyet?”
Double yuck. Nee kooltur’nee (uncultured). He looked in the photo to be all of ten or so. I decide then and there that I will not be his postal delivery service.
Now I know a lot of adoptive parents who throw away letters, e-mails, or phone messages addressed to their kids from former friends. With a lot of the older kids, the thinking goes, additional contact only raises bad feelings and conflicted emotions on both sides of the ocean.
I would tend to agree. Yet, some tiny kindness in the depth of my being says that this is their life, and these were friends that meant something to them before our arrival on the scene. If they were decent individuals, how could I deny them contact?
Emphasis on decent, which eliminates a whole number of people, including Andrei.
So, here I was, calling my teen daughter to my bedroom. I waited a day after their travel day, to make sure that she was well-rested and in a good mood. I told her of the letter that arrived and our desire to ensure that she was the right Mashenka.
I didn’t tell her that in my skimming of the letter, it mentioned thanking us for sending presents for this girl’s birthday, as well as asking about Mashenka’s younger sister by name. I believed that they had the right Mashenka, but who had written the letter?
“Lena!” Mashenka said, pointing to the photo. Her once-brunette friend of petite frame and bubbly smile now sported light brown hair and was overweight with a tight-fitting sweater.
“No,” I replied. “Read the back of the photo: Tanya and Andrei.”
Well, long story short, I gave her the packet with one letter, photo, and envelope, telling her to keep it away from her younger sister’s prying eyes until she had read it, lol. She was so proud and announced at lunch her letter’s arrival that day.
“Mama! Mama!” she came running to me after lunch. “I was reading a bit of it (she was supposed to be brushing her teeth and keeping it until after school to read, but how much suspense and waiting can a young girl take?), and I realized: it IS from Lena! She thanks us for the gifts we sent her!”
“Three years ago?” I ask incredulously. “Almost four?”
We peer again at the photo and decide that yes, it’s possible that this is her friend Lena. We’ve all changed since four years ago, after all….
“She didn’t have an envelope, but wanted to write, and misses me terribly, and wants me to visit, and says how I’m the only one who ever understood her–.”
And so it went all day. Excitement, happiness, maybe a touch of sadness. But her friend had written and validated that she had indeed once lived another life, and that all was not bad about her past.
The girl’s birthday is coming up, she’s a year older than Mashenka, and thus, will be turning 16. This was the girl that Mashenka wanted us to adopt, and who almost threw off our whole adoption because they wanted it to be a package deal. I immediately said no, because our second son was just one year home, and now we would have the two girls, as well, and no, we would not be turning that into two sisters and another friend.
But she was cute and sweet. I really liked her. And now she would be aging out. –Sigh.- I helped Mashenka sort out the info that Lena did not have an envelope for four years, but she did have a cell phone.
However, she wrote of visiting her mother last summer, and how she had a new baby sister. Oh boy. Some things never change. The fact that she had a family somewhere, whether ideal or not, cheered us in a small fashion. We also knew that at her internat (orphanage boarding school), the kids stayed until they finished high school, and that would be some time for her.
Meanwhile, we would gather a handful of photos, and small gifts, and write a newsy letter back to her. Lena would not be forgotten.
God forgive me, but Andrei, you won’t be hearing back from Mashenka. We’ve had enough excitement to last quite a while.
————-Tags: a case of mistaken identity?, a letter from orphanage friends, do you read your children's mail?, EE older child adoption blog, post-adoption issues with older children, post-orphanage correspondence with Russia, Russian letter arrives, Russian older child adoption issues, Russian orphans speak