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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…!

The Announcement

Carefully considering when and where to let the kids know of their impending getaway to Russian camp, I lighted upon the idea of the dinner table about a week ago.  Once fed a delicious Russian dinner, their minds would be open to new adventures.

At least we hoped so.

Our four children were adopted pretty much all as preteens.  We had kept up their Russian language skills since they had been home, the youngest ones arriving home three years ago.  This was the first year that they had all enjoyed a sleepaway camp for one week earlier in the summer.  We felt it would be a natural progression to perhaps make a few Russian-American friends at a camp of that persuasion.

Sounded good.  Yet, I knew that we had some kids that, if we announced we were going to Disney World or to Paris, they would find it within themselves to conjure up some sort of problem to worry about for the days and weeks preceding the event.  Hence, my two-week countdown notification:  not so much time for obsessing.

I had built it up for a couple of weeks before that, telling them that there would be an end-of-summer adventure.  Everyone had to guess what it might be, which was challenging enough.  A couple of them had the creative powers of a crayfish.

“And we’re thinking, thinking, thinking,” I closed my eyes and swirled my arms toward me, symbolically welcoming new ideas.  “We’re imagining five things that we might enjoy doing toward the end of the summer.”

“Fly to the moon,” said Mashenka, trying to deep-six the exercise before it even began.

“Don’t worry,” I soothed her.  “This is not for a grade, we’re simply thinking of activities that we would like to do….”

All together?  Here in this country?  Far away?  A sport?  Go out to eat?  came the questions designed to get me to tell them, in order that they wouldn’t have to strain their brains.

“Just write down five things, and then I will reveal the big surprise.”

Pasha came to me early that morning.

“You can tell me, Mama.  Whisper what we will be doing today,” he giggled at his craftiness.

“Okay,” I beckoned his tall ear to come down to my level.  “School-!”


“That’s what we’re doing today.  Our adventure won’t be for another couple of weeks.”

At last the time approached, and I mentioned how much they all enjoyed the earlier camp and how this camp would be very similar… but in the Russian language. The camp had a spiritual side to it, so they would be studying the Bible and having fireside talks, as well.

“In Russian?” said one, as though they never heard of the language ever before in their life.

“All week?” moaned another.

“I’ll just speak English.  They understand English, right?” summed up the third.

“This is so exciting!” Petya singularly enthused.

My sweetie, I knew I could count on him.

We watched a video about the camp, and they slowly acknowleged that Russian food, Russian language, and Russian friends might not be all that bad.  Canoeing, horseback riding, swimming, crafts, kids raving about the food.  The price was quite affordable since all of the counselors were Russian-American volunteers, young couples who would spend a week in the country, having fun with the kids.

When planning this months ago, we were concerned that Petya might not have facilities to play tennis.  I e-mailed the directors and learned that there was a court there, he was free to bring his racquet, and that the camp director was himself… a professional tennis coach-!

God works in mysterious ways.

Once they started warming to the idea, I brought out the cherry on the top.

“And, when they heard a little bit more about you guys, it turns out that they’re taking a big group to a teen conference just before that.  This is not a camp, but a Bible conference for a couple of days… and they invited you, so you could get to know some of the teens who will be at camp!”

Again, we poured over hundreds of online photos, my kids sufficiently impressed by attractive and conservatively-dressed Russian teens sitting in a conference, a number playing musical instruments ranging from piano, to electric guitar, to violin, to garmoshka (accordion)-!  The huge congregation where it was hosted made mounds of food and several teens acted as the servers behind long buffet tables, all wearing the American requisite rubber gloves, and the Russian requisite fancy aprons.  It appeared to be winter time, lots of leather jackets or shirts and ties on the guys, long hair, modest skirts and high heels on the girls.  My girls would have to make do with their semi-flats.

“It’s a two-day conference, so you’re away only one night.  Then you come home for one night, and then off to camp the next afternoon.  The conference is absolutely free, but you must study the first four chapters of Proverbs before you go.  And local families will bring you home to stay with them for that one overnight,” I added.

“Stay with a Russian family?  No,” Sashenka shook her head.  “Russians are no good.”

“How can you say that?  We’re all Russians,” I try to reason with her.

“Papa’s not.”

“He’s an honorary Russian at this point,” I dismiss.  “Look, would Mama and Papa suggest anything that might be harmful to you?  These are not alcoholics who are going to beat you.  These are good Russians.  But because we don’t know them, yet, we’ve asked for you two girls to stay together in a home, and you two boys to stay together.”

“The four of us won’t be together?!” Sashenka is in disbelief.

“These are homes, not hotels.  We can’t guarantee that someone will have a house big enough to take in four children….  You’ll still see each other all the time.  It’s not like you won’t see your siblings for two days, more like for overnight.  Remember, you don’t have to go.  This is supposed to be fun, an adventure, new people, new friends.  I realize that it’s  something new for all of you,” I reassure them, tossing in a caveat.  “We could always stay at home and get some school done….”

And with that, it was decided.  The camp and the conference would not be so bad after all, and actually, pretty exciting, compared to school.  I gave them new messenger bags, big enough to hold a change of clothes, some pajamas, and a few toiletries, enough for overnight.  That seemed to sweeten the deal, too.  The rest of the day, they chattered in Russian, reminding each other how to ask for seconds, and other very important phrases they might have forgotten over time.

What they didn’t know was that we were probably every bit as nervous for them, for us, for what this experience might mean.  The kids were used to visiting their grandfather, speaking Russian there, eating Russian food, going to a Russian congregation.  Not a problem.

However, on a daily basis, they kind of liked being different from the kids around them (even though they complained about it if ever they were singled out). Now would that bubble burst when they realized the extent of Russian-American communities, not only in California and New York, but in our own backyard?  These camp and conference attendees  were going to be kids with Russian babushkas and dyedushkas, food and furnishings with hints of the Old Country, foreign books and DVDs. Just like us.  Yet, most likely, none of them were adopted.

Were our kids ready to come full circle to wholeness and normalcy, or would it still be a sore spot that regular, loving, productive Russian families existed in the world?  I played a video clip of a young man sharing his story in Russian, at a conference just like the one they would be attending, and his story was very, very similar to theirs.  Some of them had silent tears welling up while images of street children flashed before them.

Would this conference and camp be part of some healing that was yet to happen, maybe a piece of the puzzle as to who they really were, and why they had suffered through terrible  experiences?

We could only hope and pray.


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2 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Shelley says:

    From what I understand, you had the camp planned for a while. This could be perfect timing with their grandfather’s passing that they would attend such a camp now. I hope it comforts them and all of you.

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