The news yesterday exploded with the images of a thin, pale 7 year old boy who had been unceremoniously dumped on a flight to Moscow, returned like an ill fitting garment to his birth country by his single adoptive mother. A brief letter tucked in his backpack explained that the mother thought she had been duped by officials, that the child she adopted was violent and serious psychological problems. As the story unfolded and more details were brought to light, I mulled over my own thoughts about this situation.
I have no doubt that what this mother said might very well be true. Funny I would say that, isn't it, considering I have a houseful of lovely, amazing children from the same background. Perhaps it is precisely because of that fact coupled with the tens of thousands of hours of research and real life experience that I can not immediately jump to saying "How awful! That woman is horrible!". I recognize what might just lay beneath those curt statements, I can easily imagine the specifics that might not have been articulated.
Without facts or a diagnosis, I do say this knowing what I don't know, but post-institutionalized children can be damaged beyond repair through no fault of their own. While there may be no blame to place in the lap of the child, that still doesn't negate the anger, the distorted thinking, the inability to attach to a loving parental figure...or the violence they can sometimes be capable of. A child with reactive attachment disorder, affected by fetal alchol syndrome, or who is simply so institutionalized they will never be "normal" is not the pot of parenting gold at the end of the proverbial adoption rainbow. They are a nightmare, they can be terrifying, they are so very, very sadly a product of a loveless life and remind us of the impact of alcohol and lack of human connection on the formation of a little soul.
However, regardless of what little Artyom may struggle with for the rest of his life, his adoptive mother proved to be all that a "real" mother should never be. It is hard for me to even type the word "mother" in association with this woman.
I usually try to see things from all sides, I try to never condemn anyone recognizing I have never walked in their shoes. This is one case I will not hesitate.
The way she handled this was the equivalent of tying up a bag of garbage, hauling it to the curb, plopping it there and walking away while disdainfully brushing the residue off her hands.
A child, no matter how damaged, is not garbage.
There were a million and one more mature options. None would have been pleasant, all would have inflicted yet another wound on little Artyom, but there were other more compassionate ways to handle this sad situation.
Instead she chose to get rid of the garbage.
There ARE times when relinquishment is the best option for the safety of the family. There ARE times when a child is unsalvageable, damaged beyond all possibility of repair. There ARE times when the most steadfast and caring adoptive parents simply come the end of their rope and have no alternative. I, of all people, understand what we have been fortunate enough not to face with the adoption of our own children.
What were her alternatives? Many...actually. She could have contacted her local social services department and had him placed in foster care and worked with the department to develop a thoughtful relinquishment plan. She could have searched privately herself for another more suitable therapeutic adoptive home...I know someone who has taken other Kazakhstani adopted children and readopted them after others initially adopted and were unable to successfully integrate them into the family. She could have contacted her placement agency and asked for assistance to relinquish. She could have looked into alternatives to relinquishment with therapeutic living environments such as The Ranch for Kids which was specifically designed to handle such cases of adoptees from the former USSR.
Instead, she chose the chicken way out, the immature way, the cruel way. She didn't even put him on the plane herself, the adoptive grandmother did...which calls into question the heart of yet another adult involved with this little boy.
I have to wonder, as I am sure many are right now, how this woman who went through the arduous process of pre-adoption homestudies and mountains of paperwork, didn't raise a red flag somewhere for someone as being unsuitable for adoption. Was there not a single sign to anyone that she might not be able to handle the stress of adopting an older child? And is there a social worker somewhere who is willing to be uncomfortable for 10 minutes and stare a prospective parent in the eye and say "I am sorry, I can not approve you to adopt" rather than put a child through a lifetime of self-loathing because they couldn't meet the needs of an unsuitable adoptive parent?
Artyom, I am so sorry about the hand life has dealt you. I am sorry that your childhood has been one of repeated abandonment and neglect. Sweetheart, I wish I had been there. I might not have been able to stop the events that unfolded yesterday and in fact might have determined myself you were a child who was so badly broken that any parent might have been incapable of "fixing you", but I would have done what your adoptive "mom" could not make herself do...I would have held your hand in mine with tears in my eyes. I would have let my heart break for you, for all that was not to be. I would have explained the best way I could why all of this was happening to you, and would have been sure you knew that it was really more the failure of adults and had nothing at all to do with you. I would have sat next to you on that long 10 hour flight and no doubt spent the entire time with thoughts rolling around in my mind of what the future might hold for you, wishing it could be different. I would have walked you off that plane, and back through the doors of the orphanage hand in hand, even if it was the hardest thing I would ever do.
Because real moms do the hard stuff. That's our job. Even moms who find themselves in the position of having no alternative to relinquish a severely damaged child who is a danger to everyone around them do the hard stuff. They do it with aching hearts, they do it with as much grace as they can muster under gut wrenchingly emotional circumstances, they sometimes do it with much regret and still wondering what else they could have done to help their child. Sometimes, real moms are blessed enough to make it through and help a child heal.
But a real mom does not tie up the Glad bag, and have her mother haul it off to the airport for her. A real mom does not feel her job has been done by typing up a brief letter to shove in a backpack.
People are human, people make mistakes...sometimes big ones. Torry Hansen made a big mistake. While I am filled with compassion for the fear that she might have felt once she brought a possibly very disturbed child into her home, I simply can not fathom her decision to handle this in the way she did. If we pulled out the adoption component and looked solely at placing a 7 year old alone on a plane to Moscow and having paid $200 to some unknown person who was hopefully going to be there when he arrived to escort him to the authorities, it is still child abandonment and ought to be prosecuted as such.
There is no happy ending here, none whatsoever. There, but for the grace of God, go my children. Thank you God for being present every step of the way. Thanks for healing, for wholeness, for comfort, for guidance. Be there, as I know you are, for Artyom. Be there for Torry Hansen. Help her see the value in human life and touch her heart deeply with compassion and lift her to a new level of maturity through this experience. Amen.