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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…!

Where are Our Kids Headed?

The future of our children moves ever toward them in slow-motion, suspended animation. We wonder what exactly that future will be, and when exactly it will happen. At a time when they need to be moving rapidly ahead, they are moving at a snail’s pace, dilly-dallying as all children do, particularly those who had their childhoods taken from them.

Problem is, I’m not sure we can afford such time in the lives of children who were adopted “older”.

It’s a counterintuitive thought, but post-institutionalized kids often need to rewind before they can fast-forward. That’s not exactly what most adoptive parents want to hear–I mean, our goal is generally the exact opposite:  help them get to where they need to be, sooner, rather than later.

So, I force myself back to refrain from punching a button as one would on a DVD and speeding to the next life episode track on their behalf. Whenever I try that, things start skipping, like a scratched disk, and there are disappointing results with the story line blurring.

One day our family passed an historic area that we see about twice a year, and I decided to quiz the children about their future.

“Kids, remember when I talk with you about your future? Where do we say that you will end up?” I prompt the younger three.

“Um… jail?” asks Sashenka the youngest.

(You think I’m making this up. I’m not.)

“Jail?!” I attempt to recover my composure without laughing or crying. “Entirely possible, but that’s where you go when you don’t study and don’t obey. I’m speaking about where you go when you do well in school. You go to college,”  I say slowly, and with a smile, probably overdone.

They look at me suspiciously. If it’s a choice between jail or college, perhaps the two are close in pain or purpose.

I rehearse for them for the umpteenth time that university may be in their futures, and that this particular college was one of the first in our nation’s history. We review the majors that the college offers and why it could be a good school for them to attend.

I might as well be speaking Urdu.

I figure that by breaking down their futures into small and manageable parts, they will be able to process the idea more and more that they have a future.

At the lunch table upon another occasion, I delve deeper and ask each child, “What are your dreams for the future?”  Again, I am smiling and relaxed, which they by now know is suspicious enough, if Mama is not ranting and raving. They go into their avoidance techniques, sure that there is a trick question or hidden meaning that will lead them into “Do Not Pass Go” and “Head Directly to Jail”.

Number One, Petya, is game enough. He likes to outsmart me. He rattles off a list of heady goals, never at a loss for grandiose plans.

Number Two sits there blankly, with a troubled expression.

Number Three, after repeated coaxing, sullenly states, “I no have no dreams.”

Number Four envisions herself living with us. Forever.

Well, there you have it. One big family fun activity sure to ruin any lunchtime in five minutes or less.

What most of us would imagine to be a footloose and fancy-free exercise dreaming of the future, instead sends them into a tailspin when they sense we were asking them for something more. They prefer to be ordered around and told what to do. Why were we putting these unreasonable demands on them to Think-?!

I give it time, time that I don’t feel we possess, but what else can we do? We dole out small bites of the future that we feel are not too difficult to swallow. Still, they gag, as their life’s story continues to grind on, with or without them, sputtering like a flapping tape on an old film projector, when the frames turn to white-blank and everyone goes for an intermission. The Russian institutionalism has replaced the normal vibrancy of a childhood full of bright colors and happy sounds with fuzzy, white-grey, silent snow. There are no images, for there is no imagination. There are no sounds, for the music is long gone from their lives. In many ways, these children are very old and resigned. In other ways, they are infantile and unimaginative.

I wonder if a theater or art class would do them well, to broaden their abilities to project and create. In the meantime, I plod on with my one-woman, inspirational monologue. The audience is similar to a prison gig–happy to have some entertainment thrown their way, but wary. I mix up the time of day, the day of the week, the month of the year, hoping that eventually, the message will make sense to them.

“Professions… jobs…” I raise the topic gingerly one week. “Let’s think of some of the people we observe working around us every day and what they do.”

We’ve tried this approach before and I always hope for a different outcome. Without any crystal ball, I know what they will recite in terms of profession: scientist (#1), trash collector (#2), policeman (#3), and cheffer (#4– for the one who can’t remember how to say chef or cook no matter how many times we tell her).

It’s the same every time. We can review 500 professions and other than the occasional “librarian” answer, these jobs are indelibly ingrained in their psyches. I know not why.

“Okay,” I take a different tack in a different month. We’re driving in the car and I sense that they might feel less threatened since I’m not looking directly at them.

“Let’s discuss skills. What skills do you have right now that would help you in a future job or career? A skill is something that you do well,” I explain.

“I like to play outside!” Little One pipes up.

“I can draw,” offers Pasha, who was never mistaken for a young Picasso.

“I play wif dolls,” says Mashenka, usually forgetting that there is a “th” sound in English.

Great:  check, check, and check. All marketable skills present and accounted for.

Silly me, I continue this plunge off the cliff, elaborating on skills, chatting about the ability to get along with people, knowing how to type or use a computer, speaking different languages, or being able to analyze information.

“Even if we don’t have these skills naturally, they may be taught,” I suggest.

“I can sing!” Sashenka brightens, totally missing the point.

Yeah, and I can juggle and do circus tricks, myself.

Benedetto tells me of a study he heard cited. Undertaken by Georgetown University Hospital, the research showed that, in 100% of the test subjects, their I.Q.s increased in direct proportion to their vocabulary increasing.

“Wonderful,” I wryly respond, understanding our kids’ aversion to touching anything resembling a dictionary. Inwardly, I rationalize to myself that trash collecting is, at least, an honest trade. I ponder whether or not these genius children simply lack the lofty vocabulary to articulate the greatness found within each one.

For now, these discussions about their future may be more frustrating for me than for them. It’s probably smartest to just let. it. go. and pray that they’re up for the task when the time comes.

Currently, the present is challenging enough. We’ll just have to take it one frame at a time.


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