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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…!


Newly-adopted kids know nothing. They will argue this point to the death, waxing eloquent on topics great and small.

“Elena Grigore’evna had this hairstyle in the orphanage. She was our favorite vaspitatel and told me I looked good like this, too,” she models with enthusiasm the most awful hairstyle you could imagine, no doubt all the rage in some remote Russian hamlet where mullets are probably just coming into their own. I gag and try to make a quick recovery to a neutral facial expression, using the famous Judge Judy parenting technique said to work with the most unusual and vexing situations.

“That’s nice, dear.”

They like to debate everything, while in essence, knowing nothing. You may say that the same happens with pre-pubescent biological kids, but in this case, being a know-it-all can be very dangerous.

“I want to cook for you, Mama,” Mashenka offers at our Moscow apartment.

Open flames and knives that she barely knows how to handle, make me noticeably nervous. She says she’s going to fry an egg, or something along those lines. I set the burner for her and leave her to her task, against my better judgment. Twenty minutes later, she still has not emerged. I knock on the kitchen door, and she presents me with perhaps an omelette is not quite the right term… there are mixed eggs, onions, and tomatoes, swimming in about three inches of butter. The creation is scorched on the bottom, and blackened and stuck to the ancient frying pan. Now I know why “Blackened Eggs” is not a feature of most fine dining menus.

The eggs wouldn’t stop sticking!” she exclaims.

“Well, you need to use a spatula, and keep scraping the bottom of the pan before they start to stick–.”

“Nyet, Mamoola. That would never work,” she shakes her head. Of all the crazy ideas.

I focus on her heart and praise her efforts. We choke down the blackened breakfast. It’s not until the next day that I discover she’s ditched the worst half of the horrible fare down the sink that has no disposal. It starts stinking up a storm.

But this is the delicate dance between older adopted children and their new parents. Rather than ask for help, they would prefer to wing it and wreak havoc. If something breaks, burns, or blows up:  “Oh well….” It wasn’t their fault. They are used to communal property, and never taking responsibility for anything.

Sashenka runs the water for five or ten minutes at full force just to brush her teeth. You would think we owned the Hoover Dam. I explain to the girls that we actually pay for the water that we use. Flushing the toilet ten times in a row does nothing but waste water; instead, they should wait for the toilet tank to refill and then flush.

But it falls on deaf ears. They know better.

I show them the on and off switch of the shower.

“Kloochee. Vwee’kloochee,” I demonstrate. Yet, after thirty minutes, I still hear water running. I knock on the bathroom door and enter the steaming sauna, fog and mist everywhere, shower pouring hot and heavy.

Mashenka stands there, outside the shower, towel wrapped around her as though in her right mind, combing her hair.

“Mashenka–the shower!” I shout, pointing out the obvious. She looks at me blankly. “Turn it off!”

“Mama, it would not turn off. I tried,” she shrugs. Not her problem.

I reach in, turn it off and show her again how this magical wonder works. I come to a critical conclusion: they are brain dead, pure and simple.

When enjoying a soft drink or juice in the car, inevitably they leave the packet or straw behind, usually both. The car is littered with debris that the dogs chew on and choke. This is all amusing until the girls glimpse my Look of Death gaze bearing down upon them, and then they see the errors of their ways.

Until the next time.

They eat like pigs. They refuse to blow their noses and keep snorting, instead. Their nails were long and filthy, encrusted with dirt and at least twenty layers of nail polish, if not paint, before I intervened. They giggle at bathroom humor, and scream for us like fishwives. The older applies her lipgloss and then wipes her soiled fingers down her clothes, or across the counter of the bathroom, pink glittery streaks declaring, “I was here.”

They try to stay up late and sleep in late. Both insist that they need not buckle any seatbelts, and that the police would never give us a fine for such a silly thing. They toss water bottles on the floor like an alcoholic’s den, while hoarding new clothing tags in hopes that they might be winning lottery tickets. They talk over the top of us, trying to drown out the voice of authority.

These are our daughters and they are not bad at all. Actually, they want very much to please. But for now they know better. They must know better because adults have always proven to be very unreliable.

The know-it-all mentality is a defense mechanism, a way to protect themselves, a show of bravado against a black backdrop. And so I smile, and pat their backs, and hug them, and tell them that all will be well.

It will be. They just have a lot to learn, and a lot to let go of. Much like the first days of school, they want to see if we’re substitute teachers that can be snowed and replaced, or whether we’re in it for the long haul.

Only with time will they understand that we’re here to stay and so are they.


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