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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 Scarlet “A”: Adoption

To tell, or not to tell, that is the question.  And when you’re adopted at an older age, oftentimes, you are “outed”.  It happened to our kids at day camp.

“Sashenka,” another girl gushed to our youngest.  “What a beautiful name!  Where are you from?”

“Raaah’sha,” she responded proudly.

“And where is your mother from?” continued the quizzing.

“She is from Raaah’sha, too.  She came here as a child,” my daughter explained, somehow her history becoming my own, lol.

Once home, the girls reported all of the questions directed at them.  What was Mama’s name?  What was Papa’s name?  Where were we from?  What did we do for a living?

“They sound like Spy Kids to me,” I laughed.  “Why so many questions?  What makes us so fascinating?”

“I don’t know…” they puzzled.

“Do they ask about anyone else’s family-?” I wondered.

“No,” the girls replied.

“Nobody asks me anything,” Petya shrugged.

“It’s because you’re a boy, and boys are men-in-the-making, and men don’t talk,” I shrugged back.

“People ask me stuff, but I tell them, ‘I don’t understand, ask my mother,’” Pasha reported, out of it, as usual.

“Girls, I’ve got it, I’ll bet you I know what’s going on,” I tell them.


“They’re trying to figure out if you’re adopted or not.”

The kids sat there in stunned silence and stared at me.  Finally, they summoned up the strength to ask, “But why?”

“Because they’re snoopy, that’s why.  It’s none of their business,” I inform them.  “What you say when someone asks you a personal question is, ‘Why do you ask?’  Or, you turn around the question and ask from where are their parents, or why do they ask so many questions?  But remember, you never have to answer nosy questions.  Just say, ‘Why do you ask?’”

“Okay, Mama.”

We had discussed numerous times that it was their decision to tell, or not to tell, whether they were adopted.  Among all of our family and friends, naturally, everyone knew.  It was nothing to be ashamed about, after all.  Our kids lived a much more exciting life than their usual American counterparts:  international travel, dual passports, speaking several languages.   But it perplexed small minds.

From an outsider’s point of view, their speech had accents, and their names were typically Russian.  As usual, we had the snooping paparazzi hot on our trail.  And the tone turned from admiring to ominous today after camp.

“Mama, a girl asked if I was adopted,” Sashenka said sadly.  “She said she had been adopted from Russia, even though she had an American name and did not speak any Russian.  She said we had something in common.  THEN SHE WENT AROUND AND TOLD EVERYONE ELSE-!!!”

“Now nobody vant to be our friend,” Mashenka filled in the blanks.

“How do you know?” I probed.

“They look on us.  Everyting is changed.”

“Welcome to America,” I sighed.  It took two years of the girls being home before they felt the sting of juvenile judgment—the who’s in, and who’s out, on that great playground of life.

“That’s why we didn’t want to put you into a regular school right away.  Children sometimes want to make newcomers feel like they don’t fit in.  Ignore them.  Their parents got stuck with them, whereas we came halfway around the world and CHOSE you!” my pep talk sounded a little flat, mainly because the siblings were irritated with Sashenka.

“Don’t say anything,” Petya was perturbed with his younger sister.

He was a Joe Cool kind of guy, Mr. Personality Plus, who had told lots of folks over the years that he was adopted, but he was also older and had good judgment.  “Everyone calls me ‘the Russian dude’, but they don’t need to know any of my business.  Everybody likes me, no matter what.”

“That’s true, and we have to think about this,” I told them.  “Sashenka, you thought you were telling one girl, but in a school, or in a camp, if you tell one piece of information to one person, by lunchtime, hundreds of other children will have heard it.  When you speak for yourself, you also expose your siblings, and maybe they don’t want their story public.”

They thought for a few minutes and came up with many implausible and ridiculous comebacks for even more ridiculous questions.  My goals were for them to be polite, and honest, without revealing anything that they deemed to be personal.

“So how do you want to handle it in the future?” I try to bring this character-building day to a conclusion.   “Obviously, you’re from somewhere else, and it’s okay to say you’re from Russia and that your names are Russian.  If they ask about Mama, you can say that I speak Russian, too.  If they ask, ‘Are you adopted?’, you can always say, ‘Why would you say that?’ or ‘Why do you ask?’”

I stifled my urge to instruct them to say, “Where I come from, that’s considered a RUDE question….”

All agreed that this might be an approach that could work, but we all knew that our youngest motor-mouth might not remember, “Why do you ask?” when push came to shove.

“Tomorrow’s your last day at camp,” I reminded.  “You’ll probably never see these kids again.  Hold your heads up high.”

And use those lacrosse sticks to your advantage, my evil twin thought inwardly.



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9 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Connie says:

    Oh yes, my girls have faced this problem before. Both have English names and no longer speak Russian. You might remember them from the swimming lessons your boys took.
    DD#1 started kindergarten four months after coming home. While she understood English, she still had a Russian accent, so of course, the kids were interested. When they started asking her what happened to her “real parents”, she asked me what she should say and like you I told her it wasn’t their business. Apparently that answer didn’t stop the questions so DD handled it. She lied. She told them her parents were killed in a car accident. I was shocked when I found out, but she explained that they kids could understand that and it stopped all questions concerning her history. DD#2 really doesn’t want people to know but has a Russian accent and phrasing, so they know she’s not home grown. Most kids that just meet her think she has an English accent. I had to explain to her what that was because DD#2 could not figure out what they were talking about.
    Maybe instead telling the kids it none of their business, your DD could answer that she just moved here with her family and that before that she/they lived in Russia. She doesn’t have to go into the adoption part. Russian names are becoming more common. My kids were in camp with two girls named Anya. DD#1 wanted to ask them if they were adopted but both girls were six years old and she didn’t want to upset them. Both my kids think its super cool to find other Russian kids.

    • avatar admin says:

      Hey, Connie, great to hear from you! I know, I always keep my ears up when I hear a “Russian-sounding” name among other kids. Our children would be delighted (and have been) to find other Russian children here or there, I think it was the blabbing it all around that got them, lol. (One of the directors said she heard it, and the girl sounded genuinely excited that these cool kids had a similar background to hers, and wanted everyone to know… No harm done, good lesson learned.) Naturally, it doesn’t help if my kids are chattering back and forth in Russian upon occasion, and I try to tell them to knock it off, that it’s rude to say things in public when others can’t understand you….

      I like that idea about moving here from Russia-! That’s info enough. Thank you for the Plan B. 🙂

  2. avatar admin says:

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  3. avatar Gwendolyn says:

    EVERYONE (and I mean EVERYONE) knows our kids are adopted. There are multiple reasons for this, ranging from older DD’s continuing difficulty with English, to living mostly in a world (even camp) that is small enough that they were seen and heard when they arrived speaking only Russian, but with English-speaking parents in tow, to the need to forewarn teachers and counselors that these kids come with some trauma in their histories that may show itself at any moment.

    They question no child with living biological parents is able to answer so that it makes sense to most other children is, “What happened to your [biological] parents?” [The idea that one could lose one’s living biological parents is just terrifying!] Even adults are shocked to learn that our kids’ parents are alive and that they have 3 younger siblings and an older half-brother.

    I have come around to the kids’ view (and Igor’s, BTW) that our kids WERE half-stolen from their bio mother, which makes it worse.

    They are struggling with what all this family means to them. Older DD wants nothing to do with her bio parents, beyond being relieved to learn that her bio mother is alive and well. Younger DD wants a big family reunion, preferably at a motel in Florida!

    The kids do understand that it was very difficult, almost impossible, for their bio mother to care for them as they needed… so I think they may tell people that, that she was very poor, had five children, and needed help to take care of them.

    OTOH they really do consider us their parents. At least their parents-in-America.

    There is one point that I want my children to avoid: their relative social status in Russia. I just don’t want them saddled with the idea that they (the girls) are anything but the bright, beautiful, lovely kids they so obviously ARE.

    Another point about this adoption thing: it is a FACT. It is a fact like having blue or brown eyes. It’s a little more private than that, but much less private than the fact of having been a breach birth! The more matter-of-fact the kids’ approach to this, not only (I think) the better for them, but for all of society. There’s no secret — and there’s no need for secrecy.

    In my kids’ classes at school — a normal, white-bread middle class school — there are always a couple of kids who are adopted, often from foreign countries. The other kids are matter-of-fact about it, and that helps our kids.

    OTOH, despite what I said in the first line, THIS YEAR I did not feel I had to warn the counselors at the overnight camp where the kids are right now! Our kids have come a LONG way since last year! YEE HA!

    • avatar admin says:

      I know what you mean, Gwendolyn. Our kids have always been very obviously foreign, but now, they are at last feeling comfortable. I no longer have to run ahead to silently mouth to coaches, “They don’t speak EEEENGLISH….” It never even dawned on me to give the kids’ a heads-up on any campers’ questions about them, other than the tip-off of all of the inquiries. I don’t think I’d ask any gory details about anyone else’s birth process, either, lol-!

      For all of us, it was really a good week. One of our loudest commented about the other kids, “They’re really loud and noisy, Mama!” I said, “Welcome to my world….” All of the counselors repeatedly said–to us and to the children– what a joy it was to have such well-behaved kids. To hear it from someone else means a lot. You work and work and try to instill certain things in them, and some days think you may never get there… and then they win all sorts of “awards”. As a helicopter (alright, make that aircraft carrier) parent, I think it was healthy for all of us to let go… for a few minutes… hah….

      The thing that I try not to consider too much is the idea that, for many of the really severe EE families, alcoholism (leading to no education, poverty, abuse, neglect, early demise, etc.) is not the only issue. It may be self-medication for mental health issues which could be genetic in nature.

      Did you say overnight camp-?! Oh, now that’s something to think about…. No more of this sandwich-making….

  4. avatar Ivanka says:

    It is hard to recall how valuable fitting-in can be? I think it so “Klass” to be able to speak other languages and have a Klass accent, that I cannot imagine it is a problem for the children. I wonder what Alexandria will want? To tell or not to tell? She looks so like Iveta, but she sure will not sound like her…

  5. avatar Sybil says:

    I think this particular subject has different answers for different situations and different ages that our children and the other children involved are at. Also, boys in this situation are different than girls. For boys it’s sort of like, “Oh, your adopted from Russia? Let’s go play basketball.” For most girls, it’s more like, “Oh, your adopted from Russia? I don’t know how to react to that, so probably I will stay away”. This is part of what we have to find a way to help our children with, even if we didn’t realize it when we all became families together. And it is going to happen more than once or twice to each of them. No matter their answer at the time, what is most important is that they don’t get hurt by it. They have to know that for some children who ask them, it is their first introduction to the world of adoption. Also, it can be scary to non-adopted children in that if it can happen to another child, then maybe it is possible for them to lose their parents. Our children might be able to understand how other children who are not adopted could think that. Much of the time the burden of being “different” to other children is on our children. Although we don’t want them to feel that, the truth there is sometimes no way that it can be avoided.
    I recall when our daughter was in 5th grade and a huge project involving every child was “where did your family emigrate from when they came to America”. My daughter started the speech part of her project with, “My great-grandparents did not emigrate to America, my grandparents did not emigrate to America, my parents did not emigrate to America, I am the immigrant”. It was enlightening to the other children who mostly did know she was adopted but didn’t understand a thing about Russia. Her talk was on her country, her trip to America, and the different ways of living (not orphanage life however). I had several parents say something to me the next time they saw me about not knowing and how touched their children were.
    Something positive about other children finding out our children are adopted is that it might plant a seed for them for later in their lives. Their impression of what and who an adopted child is might lead them to not be afraid to adopt.

    • avatar admin says:

      You’re right, Sybil, in that there are so many layers to these “simple questions”. Identity is an issue that most adolescents face, and ours will face it even more so. Plus, some natural xeonophobic tendencies may be surfacing from young peers who are nervous about things “foreign”. But, like it or not, our kids are the poster children for adoption and that’s an awesome opportunity.

      That’s an excellent point that other children might think that they may lose their parents, too. I’m going to speak with our kids about that, and help them understand another perspective. Thanks!

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