"Mama, will you draw my Russia?" asks the Pumpkin.
He and his father are the real artists in the family, but he insists and so I take the crayon and do my best attempt at something resembling St. Basil's or St. Petersburg's Church of the Spilled Blood. My attempts are always too asymmetrical, the onion domes too disturbingly phallic. But Pumpkin doesn't really know this, and is pleased.
His teacher told me a story of an international chamber music quartet that came to visit the school and play for the students. The musicians were from everywhere from Wyoming to Japan and they played music of all different cultures. When they announced a piece from Russia, Pumpkin once again said "My Russia!" and sat up with a smile. A boy from another classroom turned and said to him "I'm from Russia too." The two boys listened to the piece with rapt attention, happy to have connected with their heritage, and each other, in some small way.
It's hard to know what he remembers. He will often repeat the phrase "I was a baby in Russia," but the truth is that he didn't come to us until he was three years old. I think he knows more than he can really communicate.
Russia remains important to him, but he has crossed a threshhold. He no longer wants to be addressed by his Russian nickname. "I'm not __________, " he will say. "I'm __________!" The songs he sings now are all in English.
For both boys, Russia is a place of fancy buildings and stories. Most of their memories are wrapped up in the photos they've seen a million times. But a place you have lived in inevitably touches you and lives on inside of you ever after. Russia is a multi-dimensional study in contrasts; opulence and dilapidation; opportunity and struggle; democracy and dictatorship. It is the coldness of the climate, and the gruffness of the people, broken open by the warm smile the director gives you when you say "Da. Yes, I will take this child, about whom I know so little, and make him my own. He will have a home with us."
Like their birthplace, the boys have struggled with transitions, clinging to the old, while trying to find their places in the new. Their challenges have brought me to the breaking point more than a few times. But more and more these days I can look at their little heads bent over their "work," or talk with their teachers about the difficulty they are having and the support they are getting, or watch the sheer joy they express when visiting with their grandparents, and I can think --
Thank God they're here.