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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…!

Overcoming Chaos & Confusion

The post-institutionalized child often arrives home with a complex network of confusing cobwebs cluttering his mind. This chaos was born through months or years of neglect and takes some time to turn around.

“What are you wearing-?!”  I gasp as Pasha glances at his outfit, unsure of the problem.

The ensemble shouts “Early Emigre’” black pinstriped jacket and too-small blue pinstriped pants hovering near the ankle.

“Vhat? Dis is my suit,” he protests.

“No, it is not. The pieces don’t match. Where did you get it?” we question him.

“I don’t know….”

That week, we search both houses, discovering that he has confused an old suit for a new suit, mixed the pieces, and put half of it in a pile for charity. He is now wearing half of the new, with half of the old, as well as donating the other mixed-up match.

We rescue the pieces, and try to monitor and verify as much as possible his “activities”. He’s 14.

I should really insist on physical inspections before we ever leave the house. Due to a fairly public lifestyle, it’s in our best interests to have them appearing “normal”. Yet, we frequently depart the house in the early morning hours when all is dark, and we are in a big rush, and a certain sleepiness adds to the dreamy daze.

Today, it was Sashenka’s turn to engage in a hodge-podge of haberdashery. I quiz her as we walk out into a public gathering.

“Did you comb your hair-?!”

“Yes, Mama,” she says sweetly, with no evidence of comb being set to hair within recent history.

To her way of chaotic thinking, the question is more like: Have I ever even once in my lifetime brushed my hair? To which the response would be:  yes, of course. She’s 10.

It’s too late to right this wrong, and my daughter will need to be presented with semi-unkempt hair. At least she’s wearing chapstick for once, and her big, over-sized, pouty lips are not cracked and bleeding. I look on the bright side.

It’s only until we’re seated on the front row, programs in hand, the girls’ dress clothes coordinating in the same fuschia and gray color families that I see she’s also wearing a big, limegreen frog wristwatch, anxiously and repeatedly consulting it for all to see. She flashes me a big smile.

No doubt she will turn out to be an eclectic and eccentric fashion designer a` la Betsey Johnson, wearing braids and a Pippi Longstocking look when she’s in her 60s.

The kids march to their own beat. And when the natives are restless, and that drumbeat reaches a fever pitch, they go faster and faster until:  ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

They had a teacher taking them for an hour recently. The three knew to go into the classroom where Petya would join them five minutes later, along with the tutor. Usually, other children were present, this time they didn’t show.

“How did it go?”  I asked the teacher afterwards.

“Oh, fine,” she smiled. “At first, I didn’t think anyone was there. The kids were hiding when I arrived, and then they jumped out at me.”

“What-?!”  came my usual calm, cool, and collected response.

“No, it was fine,” she assured me, “they didn’t mean any harm. It was fine.”

Fine, my foot. I was getting the distinct impression that, unless I was breathing down the necks of my model children, all chaos would ensue.

As apparently it had.

Petya, who was a true model child, knew nothing of the event. I gathered the other three.

“I understand that the three of you hid and jumped out at Miss T___ today?”

“We were just playing….”

“Exactly the point: were we there to play?”


And thus, three apology notes were dispatched post-haste, with a lot of discussions revolving around that illusive trait known as commonsense. It seemed to be present when I was present, and absent when I was absent. Which did them little good.

“If I told you to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’, to sit up straight, to inquire about others’ welfare, and to brush your teeth every day, but neglected to mention, ‘Don’t jump off the cliff!’  would you jump off the cliff???” I grilled the three perpetrators.

“Yes, Mama,” said Sashenka earnestly, obviously confused at the trick question.

“No, Mama,” said Mashenka.

“Umm, vhat vas question?” wondered profoundly-perplexed Pasha.

We had our work cut out for us.

Like a fly fisherman intent on his goal, we would need to let the line out and reel it back in, time and again, until we would finally see any results. The routine and repetitive verbal reinforcements would reboot the hard drive of their brains, replacing orderliness for chaos, and commonsense for confusion.

Probably that was why so many therapists working with PI children recommended even physically-repetitive exercises, whether rocking, or rhythmically clapping, or doing jumping jacks. The metronome of their minds required resetting, you could say. Then they would be ready to make some beautiful music, moving beyond the dissonance of the past, and into the harmony of the future.

That was the plan, anyway.


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