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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Adopted Kids Choking on Choices

It might be a cake flavor, an ice cream, a sauce to top berries. It could be any other question or choice on the face of the earth. Fact is, our kids were raised in an atmosphere where there were no choices, no freedom, no decision-making skills needed.

“Chocolate or vanilla?” I repeat.

Like teaching a toddler to walk, we’ve had many opportunities to teach our older children adopted from Russia.

A simple question such as “Would you like chocolate or vanilla?” stumps some of them beyond a normal several seconds, and can take several minutes of prompting on our part.

Petya has long since gotten over any choice-o-phobia, having been adopted long before the others.

“Chocolate,” he declares swiftly. Then we go into the pregnant pondering pause for the three other children, followed by the path of least resistance in rapid-fire succession… when they finally get around to it.




In China, they would probably all be wearing Mao jackets, rather than the multitude of knock-off designer fashions so readily available. They were born too late to don the red kerchief of the Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union, but they continue to march in step and tow the party-line mentality of sameness. For a post-institutionalized child, sameness often equalled security.

With many of our internationally-adopted children, we and other adoptive parents learned that making choices was frequently scary for our kids. No one had ever asked them an everyday question in the dyetsky dom (orphanage), much less their opinion or preference.

“How old are you?” a businessman at breakfast asked Petya during our first days together. He took great delight in making his way around the hotel dining room, shaking hands with the men assembled, a budding entrepreneur who instinctively knew his colleagues-to-be.

“Menyeh shest s’poloveenoy” (I’m six-and-a-half), he said.

“Shest? Syehm s’poloveenoy” (seven-and-a-half), I informed him, the businessman gazing at him quizzically, the boy who did not know his own age.

It was then that the light bulb went off about nobody asking them everyday life questions.

Nobody had cared.

In the orphanage, they all knew how old he was, no need to ask. And so it was at mealtime, when getting dressed, when scheduling the day’s activities: naturally, the children were not consulted, nor given the opportunity for any input.

In their early days of coming home, we dared not ask Petya or Pasha, Mashenka or Sashenka, their preferences about anything.

“Mama,” the girls would ask, “What should we wear tomorrow?”

“Well, we don’t have a lot planned. How about you choose something for once?” I suggested. By now, they knew that orange didn’t go with purple, and winter woolens were best left for… winter.

At the very thought of venturing into a decision of their own making, the girls froze. Deer in headlights.

“Mama, maybe you decide…” they finally hedged.

It was the same in school. Anything to avoid thinking. They preferred rote repetition to reading comprehension.

“How do you feel the story will end?” they read with a shudder at the sight of such a question. “Which character do you identify with most? Could the protagonist have reacted in a different manner?”

“Yah nee znahyoo,” (I don’t know) they shook their heads, giving up before they ever began.

If left unchecked, I did not relish the idea of them moving any further into their teen years with others deciding their destiny: “Cocaine or heroin? Party with me, or with my friend?”

“I don’t know. Whatever.”

That was NOT going to happen on my watch. We started our daily desensitization drills, armed with the understanding that some of our kids would prefer avoiding making any decisions from here to eternity. Follow the Leader did not work after the age of five or six.

I guess the birthmothers in Russia did not have the same kind of fireside chats with their kids that we routinely received growing up: “If everyone else jumped off of a cliff, would you jump off the cliff, too?”

“Do you like yellow or red?” I asked Petya at lunch.

“Red!” he immediately exclaimed between bits of borsch and black bread.

“Blue or green?” I quizzed Pasha.

Choking on his bread slightly and buying some time, he finally croaked, “Red,” repeating Petya’s selection.

“There is no red,” I sighed.

Another pause.

“Uh, vhat vas qvestion?” he puzzled.

And so it went in the car, on the plane, in the park. We refrained from carrying out these exercises in the supermarket, or any store for that matter, where they liked anything and everything indiscriminately. No problem with choices there.

“I vant dat, and dat, and dat!” the newer ones enthused, perfectly suited to Capitalism.

“Yeah, me, too. Keep moving,” I herded them along.

We definitely did not desire to create overbearing, over-opinionated children. Right now, they were blank slates, for all intents and purposes. Our prayer was that they would come to discover within themselves their own unique desires and designs, and choose to make the decisions necessary to take them in that direction.

“Chocolate or vanilla?” I asked, trying to keep the questions simple and straightforward. Tutti-frutti would have to wait for later.



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