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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…!

Older Adopted Children and Identity: Who Am I?


I had a no-nonsense type of mother who came from rugged Russian immigrant stock and worked at a university where many youth of the 70s had the luxury of “identity crises”.

“You ever want to know ‘who you are’?” she would tell me, “I’ll show you your birth certificate.”

Case closed, simple as that.

Yet, for my older children adopted from Russia, identity has many facets. The adjusted birth certificates are as plain as the long Russian nose on my face: I was in Krasny Krai twice in 1996, and in Sweaty Starii Krai in 1998 and 2000 pushing out four babies. Their birth certificates tell very little of their actual stories, their real life history that most kids are eventually hungry to hear.

There are many labels we could slap on them to make sense of a chaotic past. Like mounting butterflies, stick them through the middle and pin them to the board for all to see. Apply label, big and bold.

No, thanks. I would rather they spread their wings, show their innate grace and beauty while flying–or at least flapping for all they’re worth.

Every day, I engage in the delicate art of brainwash, a cathartic cleansing, a despicable destiny detoured by design. They were once convinced that they were unwanted, stupid, cast off, forsaken. They felt undeserving of kindness, love, and unconditional acceptance. Mix that up with a false sense of bravado, and daily drama ensues.

I match their post-traumatic hyper-vigiliance tit for tat with heightened vigilance of my own. When they huff and bluff, resorting to put-downs, comedic clowning, or the sure-fire, zombie-like shut-down, I try to curb my own anger or disappointment. Instead, I swoop in to reassure, regroup, and redirect.

“You are somebody. You’re smart. Look at you,” I encourage. “There’s a great future ahead of you. Use every minute. Years were wasted in the orphanage, but that was preparing you to be able to run today. Don’t sit still or fall back. Don’t waste time by getting upset or feeling less-than. Get going. Be your best. You don’t want to act like this. Come on, what should we do? Do you need to apologize? Do you need help with your schoolwork?”

Naturally, it helps to tag-team with Benedetto. If they have been disrespectful or uncooperative with him, I come to clean-up and deal with the situation, and vice-versa. We feel fresh, rather than furious. It allows us to clear the air.

Slowly, slowly, like waves lapping away at an immovable shoreline, change happens. The children are reshaped and renewed. Their self-images and impressions of the world around them are transformed.

Mashenka seeks me out after a rough day.

“Mama, no one has ever treated me like you and Papa,” she hangs her head, remorseful. “Sometimes I don’t know how to act.”

“I know, Sweetie, I know.” I draw her close to me and hold her tight. The stress seeps away as she sheds her cocoon, her mask, and becomes authentic and adequate in her own right.

No one will be able to pin down these butterflies experiencing their own mighty metamorphosis. Semantics serve little purpose. Call it a Monarch, call it a Viceroy, give them every alphabet-soup diagnosis. The point is, they’re flying and free for the very first time. The struggle that brought them out of their confining cocoons gives strength to their wings to take them higher than once imagined.



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