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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…!

Turning Around Abandonment and Abuse

Mashenka squirmed in her seat as young Sashenka recounted some story about their birth grandmother and the cow that was killed. The elder rolled her eyes and tried to tell her sister to be quiet. It happened every time their past came up:  whether sky-high empty bottles from alcohol, or dangerous persons coming and going from their hovel, or wandering the streets never knowing where a parent was, or why they didn’t go to school like others. I thought it was finally time we addressed one sister’s need to talk, and one’s need to keep secrets.

It all started benignly enough with a date night for myself and Benedetto. We had not been doing much alone as a couple, as often happens when parents first adopt. Everything is so new to the child, often he or she cannot communicate with a non-Russian-speaking babysitter, and there are fears of abandonment. But now, a year had passed since our last adoptions, and we felt like making a few more forays out, without the kids.

The next day, I asked the kids, “Do you ever think Mama or Papa won’t come back when we’re out for a while?”

“Sometimes,” said Sashenka.

“I think that maybe you vill be in car wreck,” said Pasha.

“Maybe you no vant to be around us any more,” said Mashenka. “So you go away.”

“Okay, first of all let me say that it’s normal for a mama and a papa to want to be by themselves every once in a while. It’s not because we don’t like you, but because we need time to ourselves, adult time, when we can hear each other without screaming in the background.”

They all looked sheepish and grinned.

“And besides, this is my house. I’m not about to leave my house. If I ever get tired of you, I’m not the one who’s leaving,” I narrowed my eyes at them, knowing that three out of four claimed that they would be living with Mama and Papa at home forever and ever.

To which Benedetto constantly replied, “You will not!” while tickling them all.

“Let me ask you this,” I proposed, knowing that there were significant people in their lives in the past who would disappear for days on end. “In the length of time that you’ve been home–one year for the girls, two years for Pasha, six years for Petya–have we ever not come home once?”

“No,” they acknowledged in unison.

“And out of three meals a day, has there ever been a meal that we forgot about, that we did not cook for you?”


“Has there ever been a place where we forgot you, and left you behind at an event?”

Again a negative response. (I dared not let them know how many times I had witnessed just such an event among larger families, where they simply forgot one of the kids. Best not to stir the pot.)

These were older Russian adopted kids from trauma and abuse backgrounds. In their minds, given their pasts, there was nothing that was really outside the realm of possibility when it came to that unknown and unreliable person known as a “parent”. Chaos and uncertainty still very much swam beneath the surface of our life, like a shark ready to gobble and devour. No matter that the waters appeared placid from my perspective. They lived in whirlpool of nagging and obsessive thoughts from their past that could rear up and rage at any time.

I shared with our four teens and preteens the story of Thomas Edison’s early life in Michigan, how he had been running to meet a train, with a bundle of newspapers to sell in his arms. The train was already departing the station, and, as he ran alongside, a man pulled him aboard by his ears, damaging them forever. It was due to Edison’s destroyed sense of hearing that he became interested in sound waves and what they could do. It was during his all-day train layovers in one city that he joined the public library and devoured, legend has it, every volume in the building. His own personal tragedy turned into inventions that blessed many in his generation and in those to come.

“Does God make mistakes?” I asked the children. “When you were born in Russia, did God say, ‘Oh no! I wanted them to born in America!’ as though it were a surprise for Him?”

They all giggled at the thought.

“Did God destroy Thomas Edison’s hearing?” I continued.

“No, it was that bad man who pulled him up!” Sashenka exclaimed.

“Right,” I nodded. “He was just trying to help, but did it in an odd way that hurt the young boy. Was God able to use that negative life experience to give Thomas Edison some goals and direction in life?”

They could see where this was headed.

“When God had you born into different families in Russia with many problems, those problems were not your problems. You didn’t do anything wrong,” I encouraged them, knowing that they could not hear this enough. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed of, Mashenka. Your past is not your future,” I stroked her arm.

“Say that someone had a bad drug addiction that they overcame,” I offered, “and they hoped to help others get free from drugs. If they told people, ‘I once had a problem, but I really don’t want to talk about it’, would many addicts find help?”


“So it is with your life stories. You can share enough of your history in order to help people who may need your insights without going into all of the personal details. Always remember that anything negative that your birth families did, or that the orphanages did, is no reflection upon you. They had a problem, period,” I said. “Ooh neeh bweelee problehmee.”

“You know what,” I laughed, “if Misha or Grisha came and pooped on the floor next to me, I would not think that something is wrong with me-! It would mean that THEY have a problem, not me!”

They liked the analogy. Anything poopy packed a punch with this age group. They had definitely experienced a lot of poopy things in life.

But God makes no mistakes. One animal’s poop was valuable fertilizer in someone else’s garden. If we could just get by the smell of the past, we could move into the beauty of the present and everything good that was growing now.


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