After a difficult second day visting the Baby Home, Viktor, our facilitator and translator, arranged for us to observe Tigger in his group. We were concerned about his complete lack of eye contact and wanted to see know he got on with the other children and the caretakers of his group. The plan was for us to sit unobtrusively in the back of the room and watch.
As honored as I was by this opportunity,* I was also terrified. What if I fell in love with a different child in his group? Would we try to adopt both of them? Would I have to choose between them? Would the other child even be available for adoption?
Armed with snacks for T (giving your child food is part of the bonding process) in our duffel, we were ushered into the little room that served as their dining room, and classroom. It looked like any preschool classroom, tiny tables and chairs, shelves full of "developmental" toys, primary colors. Unobtrusive wasn't going to work. In preparation for our visit, his caretakers had gotten him off the potty first and he was alone in the classroom when we walked in. He stopped what he was doing and stared at us. At first I thought he recognized us, but then other children came in. One by one, they came zipping into the room, saw us, stopped and stared. Even as they moved into their activities (the caretakers do what they can to help the children develop motor skills and on this day it was sorting blocks and stringing beads), the children would steal glances at us.
Developmental work carried on for about 20 minutes until T's caretakers, seeing that he wasn't doing much of anything, moved all the children to the larger playroom where they could run around. They formed a train and danced around the room. We may have wanted to see T in his regular surroundings, but his caretakers wanted him to make a good impression. Piper and I moved to the playroom and several of the children approached us looking for attention. "Can we play with them?" I asked? Yes.
T was very deliberately hanging out on the other side of the room, away from us. The smallest child in the group came up and fussed at me. I picked him up and held him for a while. Every time I tried to put him down, he would cry. So I held him until something else attracted his attention and he wriggled down. At some point I realized that he had extra thumbs.
A truck lumbered by the orphanage and many of the children ran to the window. I helped some of the kids up to the windowsill where they could stand. The baby home's nearest neighbor was some kind of junkyard and the trucks going by all day provided the children with some entertainment. T pushed up a large foam block and stood on it to see out the window on the far side of the room. Eventually one of the children spotted a bird and a caretaker and several of the kids started making bird noises. In an effort to protect them from illness, the children had not been outside for several months so this was literally their window to the world.
The children (except T) were clearly thrilled with the extra adult company and would come over to show us something they were playing with or to play with my rings. One little girl with short, sandy, hair did make an impression on me, the most outgoing of the group, but I decided it was time to interact with my son.
I walked across the room to get him, sat down with him, and tried the only thing that had gotten him to smile the day before - a couple of rounds of Trot, Trot to Boston. Thankfully, it worked because Viktor came up and told me we were being "observed" by someone from one of the Ministries who would testify for us in court as to how we interacted with our child.
A few moments later I told Viktor that he would have to get someone to explain T's daily routine to us, so we could make him as comfortable as possible when he came home.
The caretakers told the children it was time to clean up. T joined his group in putting away the toys (we'd have to remember those words in Russian). When it was time to eat he was the first to scoot back into the classroom for his bowl of red cabbage soup and cup of tepid tea.
Back in the car Viktor asked us formally if were were ready to accept the referral for the child.
At the hotel, I realized how utterly exhausted I was after that visit. I had no idea how emotionally draining the whole experience would be. All those other children, what would happen to them? Most were in very good health in spite of their small size. How many would find homes, and what would become of the ones who didn't?
By many estimates, there are some 600,000 children in orphanages across Russia. It's a number almost impossible to fathom. Many of them are not orphans at all, but have living parents who cannot afford to care for them. And that's just Russia, it's not counting the children in China and India, Africa and Latin America, or the thousands in the foster care system here in the States. Whose children are they?
Sometimes I think I started this blog less for the two children who came into our home and family and more for the ones who didn't.
*I don't know how common this is. Our social worker expressed some surprise that we were allowed to do this, but I have also spoken with other parents who have been given tours of their child's living and sleeping quarters.