Much has been happening as I have taken a short blog hiatus, and I have decided now is the time to share it so that we can have your continued prayers. I needed time of silence and reflection, and might need that often over the coming days. But we also feel it is unfair to shut out all of you when you have so kindly offered such incredibly encouragement and support for so long. When I last wrote, we were heartbroken but at peace with all that had transpired. But we made it through and were trying hard to push our grief aside and move forward so that we might be in a position to accept the referral of another child or children.
Throughout Tuesday morning and afternoon, phone calls were exchanged back and forth with Irina and us as the Ministry of Education office was busy but trying to ascertain if there were children available who might be suitable for our family. Frankly, it is appearing that we will be going home as a family of 5 rather than adding any other child, as the children suggested are basically truly delayed in many ways and we don’t feel we have the resources near us to handle that well. While we are finding it hard to believe that 4 orphanages are in the surrounding vicinity and there are no children available who are healthy and legally freed, it may be that they simply don’t want to let go of children who might do well here. We aren’t sure at all what is going on.
Late Tuesday afternoon we received a call again from Irina, who Dominick said sounded very upset. She had received a call from Angela at the orphanage and Angela was crying and very upset. She was asking if we were looking at other children yet and when told we were she started sobbing. She said she knew we were their only chance at ever having a family and evidently sort of expressed how she knew she “blew it”, saying she had been surprised when we arrived and was very scared and didn’t know how to handle it. She also said she knew this was their single change for a family, that no one else would ever come again for them and they knew that. She asked if we could come visit them on Wednesday. We agreed to do so alone without the boys. Later we learned the Assistant Director also called Irina and shared with her that the girls both had been sobbing all day long, had made several attempts to get her to call us even going so far as to get a cell phone from someone an hand it to the Assistant Director to make her call us. She revealed the girls were terrified we would change our minds and find other children to adopt.
Dominick got off the phone with Irina, and was sitting in the dark in the living room (we only have a little over 7 hours of daylight here which probably contributed to our glum mood at moments) and said “Only our life...” and heaved a big sigh. Here we are, trying to wrap our minds around the pain of the previous 24 hours and move our heads into a new place to possibly open up to other children, and then we are thrown this loop. To say we were confused is the biggest understatement of the century. Quite honestly, part of me wanted to turn tail and run. It was settled, wasn’t it? How can we do this??? And suddenly, all peace went out the window.
We explained to the boys what was happening, and were so thankful to have the Oborns who kindly agreed to watch the boys for us. These wonderful people who are truly sent by God to be with us through this ordeal also told Irina not to worry about their visitation the day before as she was working on referrals for us. Not many would be so giving in these circumstances and we are incredibly blessed to have them here. Not to mention that their apartment is incredibly tiny, and adding 3 extra busy bodies is not as easy as it would be back home.
That night I emailed some of those nearest and dearest, whose opinions I trust and whose honesty is something we can lean on. I was surprised as I realized looking at those friends listed on the email who are so close to my heart just how much experience in these issues is represented there. I seem to somehow have unwittingly surrounded myself with those whose lives have walked them through deep and dark places as they reached out to children and others. They are realistic, they are practical, they are knowledgeable . I am so fortunate to have such wisdom in our lives.
The next morning we arrived at the orphanage uncertain of what to expect, hearts extremely guarded, but willing to listen and observe. We were greeted by the Assistant Director who had been so kind the one night we dropped the girls off. Her name we learned was Zhazeera (I know I am spelling this wrong but it is phonetic for you, sort of like “Al Jazeera” with a ZH sound at the beginning). She is a warm Kazakh woman with a great deal of experience herself, working with kids in this setting for a few years and having been a teacher for over 20 years prior to arriving at the RBS (The official name of the orphanage is Regional Boarding School as it serves children in villages who live there for an education as well). She also had been Angela’s teacher for 2 years and knew her very well.
We didn’t get to chat much as the girls arrived fairly quickly, looking as if they had been through the ringer. Olesya’s eyes were red rimmed as if she had been crying for the past two days, which might very well have been true. Angela also looked washed out, exhausted and as if she had been crying a lot in the past 24 hours as well. They greeted us each with warm hugs and then sat directly across from us less than a foot away in this tiny office.
The AD (Assistant Director…I will abbreviate as it will get tiring to type it out the entire post) then prompted Angela gently to speak. She looked us in the eyes, took a deep breath, and her first words were an apology for the way she had acted, and explained she had been surprised at our arrival and had no time to think. She hung her head and then said something and Irina translated it saying “She says she is very ashamed of herself.”.
I did almost all the talking as Dominick sat beside me. And I didn’t treat her any differently than I would have the boys…I guess you could say I “Went Mom” on her. I immediately said “You should be ashamed of yourself. That is not the kind of girl you are and we know it. You were cruel, you were mean, and you treated us as if you hated us after we have done nothing but care for you and be kind to you for 5 years.” I then went on “In our family and in ANY good family, we treat each other with respect and you were extremely disrespectful to us. No good family would allow that kind of behavior. We don’t allow it to us, and we don’t allow our sons to treat each other that way either.”. I explained that they had not been the only ones crying, that all the boys had cried and that Matthew thought she (Angela) hated him. I then added in a gentler tone that we did understand how surprising it must have been to her, and that we felt it had been unfair and never would have done that to her ourselves.
Angela admitted she had turned a corner in her mind and heart, saying she had assumed we were never coming…that she had given up hope. She also said that she had our pictures for all those years that we had sent and she had thought about us a long time. (We later learned she has saved every single letter and wants to show them to us) I told her that we had started trying from the day I left her, that we had done everything humanly possible to get here sooner but it was the government’s fault for not doing paperwork faster. I then told her that it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t our fault…and that I was very sorry that we had all gone through this pain. I explained that she and Olesya were good kids and we were good parents, and I also opened up another wound by saying that really, the people who were at fault were not here, and they were her original parents who couldn’t take good care of them and protect them. That opened the flood gates and Angela started crying, we got up and held one another there, I cried a little and just whispered quietly in her ear that I love her and was so sorry. Irina translated for me when I said I was sorry she never got the chance to be the little girl she needed to be, that she had grown up way to fast and that I wanted her to have the chance go not have to be so responsible and to be a kid for as long as she could be with people who would love her and think she was precious. Lots of crying, the AD was crying, Irina somehow held it together but I think she had been rattled the day before as she had been so sad to see the girls and us in this situation. When I pull myself out of it all and am an observer, it must be awful to see people, all of whom are good and decent, who are struggling so hard to connect. Hard to watch, almost unbearable to be a part of.
We were honest, we told Angela we were very fearful of her now, of the fact that she was capable of treating others so coldly. We told her that our responsibility was to keep our family safe and we had to think of the boys in all of this, just as we would have to consider them lovingly in every thing we did id they had become our daughters.
Olesya was sitting there quietly, wiping her eyes as the tears continued to come unbidden. She must have felt so out of control of everything, seeing her future in front of her, torn apart by someone who has been all she has had for so long. I can’t begin to imagine the torment in that little girl’s heart.
We then got to the crux of the matter and talked about how Angela can not make this decisicon beause of Olesya’s heartbreak, that she has to want to go as badly as Olesya because she would have some very big challenges ahead of her and would need to lean on her loving family if she did go. We said that the decision was NOT hers to make at this stage, that we were the parents and we needed to think a lot about this. She seemed very worried that she would lose us, and more tears fell and I told her that we ALL had to be realistic about whether she could adjust to a new life, that we were the adults and had more experience and wisdom than she did…not because she was stupid but because we have already gone through this once before. We explained again that she had to want a family…not to come to America. She had to want US and she had to want us not for Olesya, but for herself as well.
I brought up that I was worried she had been the mom in some ways for so long for Olesya AND herself, that I was worried she might not be able to accept me as a mom or let me mother either one of them. That would not work at all and would destroy our family, and if she was doing this only for Olesya then Olesya would not be happy either living in a family that was torn apart.
I turned to Olesya and told her that I hoped she would not be mad at Angela over all of this, that Angela had been through things and remembered them that Olesya had not, and it was NOT Angela’s fault at all…that life had been very hard to both of them and though I would hate to leave her behind knowing how badly she wanted to come, she needed to know that the family she dreamed of would not exist if Angela’s heart was not in it. We even talked for a moment about the possibility of them being separated so they could each have what felt right for them, but made it clear we did not want that for them…that we had not come to hurt them and we also knew that despite Angela’s behavior last week we didn’t really think she wanted to hurt us either. We all quickly realized that splitting them up would not be wise, but were glad that idea had been put out there for them to think about, as regardless it reaffirms for them that THEY are indeed family for each other no matter what happens.
We shared more about our life and made it clear we were not wealthy and if they were wanting to come because they thought they would get anything in the world they had ever wanted, that was not going to happen. Many of the kids, including Kenny, are told this when being adopted by their caretakers and other kids as all American’s are seen as “rich”, which by comparison to families here we are…at least materially. Not every family is as rich in the ways the LaJoy’s are. We told them clearly they would have probably a little more than they had here, would get a few “wants” once in awhile, and would have everything they needed…but that the boys had often had to do without things they wished they could have.
In closing with them, we told them we had a lot to think about, and that as the parents we had to think of all 5 of our kids…for they would be our daughters forever even if we made the ultimate decision that they would not be coming home with us. We made it clear that WE are in charge at this stage, for we feel Angela needs that limit established clearly right now. We also have no idea if we will actually adopt them and don’t want to raise hopes only to have them where we were on Monday night. We told them if we decided not to invite them to be part of our family, they should never ever think they were not good girls, in fact we thought the opposite and that is why we were here in the first place! But that we had to be realistic and if it was felt it was not going to work or would be worse for Angela or anyone else, we could not do it…because good parents love all their kids equally but would not harm one on purpose…and it just might be that taking Angela to America would harm her OR the other kids. We explained it had to be a good fit for every single person, and we loved them very much and walk think about it but would come back to visit them tomorrow with them understanding it might take some time for us to come to any decision.
Angela had to leave for a soccer game …yes, can you believe they play soccer outside in this weather??...and Zhazeera told them to go ahead and we would talk. They left giving us cautious looks and solid hugs.
Then, how did Zhazeera and I talk! Over an hour of mom-to-mom talk, of hearts being shared and wide smiles exchanged. I learned about her adult children and she learned about mine. She wanted to know about our experiences with all 3 of them, how they were adjusting, whether I thought that adopted kids would love their parents when they were adults (they seem to think it is sort of babysitting for 18 years). She was so obviously trying to remain neutral and help us better understand things. She explained that many of the kids here were actually “bad” kids, essentially already lost the world. She said she totally understood our concerns and respected our love for our sons who were obviously very good boys (and she added very cute!). She said she thought we were “hero” parents, much to my chagrin, and we told her we thought she was a hero for doing this work with these kids day in and day out. I asked how hard it was to do this job and she revealed that once she had tried to adopt a child from the RBS but an American couple came along who adopted the girl and her sister and she was happy that God had answered her prayers for a family for that little girl even if it wasn’t to be her.
She shared what she knew honestly of Angela, and she affirmed our thoughts that Olesya would be totally ready and was nicknamed “the doll” around there for her happy and easy personality. She knew Angela very well and she said that gave her an unfair advantage in evaluating her, and she realized we had to make a decision while not knowing her very well and having had a bad experience with her. She said she was a terrific student and worked hard at everything she did. She said she was not a “mean girl” as some can be there (and every where!). Quite to the contrary, she and Olesya both always shared everything they ever got with friends, teachers, group mamas. She said she had never physically harmed anyone (knowing this would be a fear we would have) and that was not at all in her nature. When I asked if Angela was respectful towards adults she quickly said “Oh yes…she was never disrespectful to me or any other adult I have met. Like any kid anywhere she might complain a little about doing something she doesn’t like to do but she always ends up doing it.”.
According to Zhazeera, whom I quickly trusted for her honesty and non-pushy attitude, Angela is not sneaky and you can take her at face value. In this too, she said she is unlike many of the other girls there. That she does not do things behind anyone’s back. She said she is not as warm and fuzzy as Olesya is but that might change when she felt safe to love someone…or it might just be part of her personality. She called her a very strong girl…strong of character and knowing what she wants. She sounds like Kenny in this sort of strength, a good kid who has had to be the guiding force in her own life.
She also revealed just how bad Angela’s life was in the beginning. Much of this history we already knew walking into this adoption so nothing at all surprised us but the extent of some of it was worse than we had thought. Angela and Olesya were preschoolers when their mother murdered their grandmother in front of them. Angela remembers, Olesya does not. They were about 4 and 2 we think or maybe 5 and 3. We knew this. What we did not know is that both the grandmother and the mother appear to have hated Angela and she feels this very strongly. We also learned that their life after that was more difficult than we thought, but not by much. Their dad had custody when mom went to jail. He essentially abandoned them and we were told at one time he was pimping prostitutes and dealing drugs. Not sure how much of that is true or not. What IS known is that they were found in an apartment with broken windows, no heat, no food, and no electricity. They lived in a shelter for a year or so after being found. Dad’s rights were terminated for neglect.
I asked Zhazeera for her honest opinion, if she thought the girls could make it in ANY family, if she would be scared to adopt them herself. She admitted that she was coming at this from a place of having been around Angela for 2 years and knowing her so well…and we did not have that ability or insight and she thought that was unfair. She looked us square in the eye and said “I think they can have very happy lives with your family…that it might be hard for awhile but that you are the kind of parents and they are the kind of kids who can make it and have a very bright future.”. But she also said she respected us very much even if we decided not to, that she would want to protect our sons as well if she were in our shoes. She said “I would not be afraid at all of Angela, they are BOTH very good girls, but you have not seen that in Angela…and there are no ways of knowing the future…but they can be in a family and do very well.”.
We hugged twice at the end of our meeting and she told us we were very special people. The mutual admiration society was firmly in place that day.
When we left, we came away feeling we had seen the true Angela for the first time, that she is a horrible actress (as Zhazeera also confirmed) and that she is fighting in inner battle but DOES want to give in to it.
And we are scared, very, very scared. Our own hearts are hardened now after our experience last week and I think we are both struggling with letting go and opening up again. We are also fearful that this is all for Olesya because the love between them is so strong. We aren’t sure that Angela can indeed make the transition well. We are not even hopeful at this stage, but we are not willing to leave without making certain that we are not walking away from blessings…even if they might be hard won.
We decided to visit the next day with the boys and see how things develop.
Having had so many ups and downs over the past 10 days, letting go, trying to quickly get our minds in a new place to open to other possibilities, then have to quickly move backwards and re-open again to girls has been mind-numbingly difficult. Before we left Montrose, I know I was distant and distracted with many close friends, and I couldn’t really explain why. Now I know why, God knew we had an incredibly difficult journey of the heart ahead of us that I was not prepared for but somehow instinctually knew to hunker down inside myself. While I hated being that way it seemed impossible for me to move out of that mode and I know it was God working in me.
I have no idea if we will be bringing the girls home. We have much to lose with a poor decision, and so do Angela and Olesya as well. The peace I felt for so long as we moved into this has departed and now I am assailed by doubts, plagued by questions, and uncertain of our future. I am having to re-envision what all of this means, try to ascertain what truth is ours, and lead our family in this as that is the roles we have always taken…I am the “heart” person for all of us. And right now, my heart is split in so many different directions I don’t know what to think. Their seeming willingness is only half the equation. What we have seen gives us great and reasonable cause for concern. But was it merely the also reasonable fears of an 11 year old girl? Was it the inability to connect with others and work through things in her heart that led to her actions? Would she fight us tooth and nail at home when it will be very hard? Will she change AGAIN once we leave here?
Or will her dependence on us back in America lead to connection? Will her having a warm and open family who talks things through show her the way? Will her being embraced and loved for the very first time allow her to become the child again that she missed out on being?
And do we willingly want to deal with any of this ourselves after what we saw last week? It is easy to be the armchair quarterback, which is one thing I have never tried to do when speaking with the thousands of adoptive parents I have talked with over the years. Every child and every family has its own resiliency level. It is also understandable to feel empathy for Angele and Olesya, and even to understand where this behavior stems from and its cause. But understanding the “why” of it does not change the end result which would have to be parented. And we have to be level headed and have the courage to go home with no one if necessary, if that is what we deem best…regardless of all the years of loving that brought ALL of us to this place.
So many angles to this all, so much to think about, so many questions.
God is still speaking, of this I AM certain…but I seem unable to hear right now.