Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Desperate to be Wanted

Monday morning the train arrives with the kids, and my nerves don’t allow me breakfast. The host families and I take the metro to meet them, ending at a station commemorating the contributions of the Communist Youth League. We are early.

The arrival of our kids is at once the most exhilarating and stressful event of the trip. While it is unspeakably awkward, meeting the kids is the culmination of several months’ labor, and it’s a thrill to finally see those for whom I’ve passionately advocated. Pacing aimlessly, I worry about the hosts. They’ve committed themselves, both financially and in effort, to travel halfway round the world based on my promotion. While they banter, experiencing emotions mysterious to me, I’m praying they’ll be happy with the kids, and not disappointed they came.

Seeing the light of the approaching train, we hurry down the platform. Russian trains seem interminable, and the kids are near the back. As the train grinds to a halt, passengers begin to disembark, crowding the platform. Still too far off to recognize by face, I know it’s our group when I spot several kids walking with just two adults, since a Russian family with more than one child is a rarity. Even in this bustling depot, it’s a telltale sign. Closer, I see two kids from the March trip, and then recognize Irina, the lady who translated in court when we adopted our kids. Faith, our long-time Lighthouse Project translator, is not here this trip, an unnerving first.

The children are small, and they mass when they see us. While I am still wondering if anticipation or fear prevails in their internal tug-of-war, Ekaterina remembers me from her interview months ago and tackles me with a constricting embrace (Aching for the Right Soul, 12/10/09). Alexander is back from last time to spend more time with Trevor, his dad-to-be. Alexandra stands tentative, and I’m transported back to meeting her, so demure in her orphanage room. She’ll always hold an oddly sentimental place in my heart as the first child I met on my first orphanage visit (Mission: Never Accomplished, 2/10/10). Zulya and Lora are here, too, and I feel an immediate connection. I’d never promoted kids as fervently as I did them, or cared as deeply if a child found a family. As Zulya sweetly counters my smile with a grin that makes her look Asian, I know I failed them, even if she doesn’t. No one here came to meet them, and she’ll never know the prayers and care that went into the effort (Her Lora, 4/9/10).

Our Russian coordinator, beloved by all our adoptive families, is with us. She leads us to the metro, which feels abandoned compared to usual, and rides with us for our return to the hotel. The kids adore her, taking turns hugging her. Sergei, winsome in freckles and dimples, sinks into a corner, and ignoring the din around him, falls asleep. He is difficult to rouse when we approach our station.

Back at the hotel, we scare up lunch from leftovers, then leave for a Moscow River boat trip. After temperatures above 90° my first two days in town, it’s now a struggle to reach 60°. The chill is exacerbated on the water, and we have the boat almost to ourselves. The kids ride in the back and pose for incessant pictures as pounding music thwarts conversation. It’s my first trip outside winter so I’ve never cruised here, and I am surprised at the proximity of all my favorite Moscow architecture to the river. The Kremlin, St. Basil’s, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and a few of Stalin’s seven skyscrapers form the changing backdrop for the on-board photo shoot. Simon, one of the host dads, attracts kids like the Pied Piper his wife claims he is, and he ends up in most of my pictures. When the cold finally forces me inside, the boat’s bobbing promptly lulls me to sleep. The cruise is a stellar first outing, as it keeps the kids corralled before they’ve really paired off with the families.

When we disembark, I suggest McDonald’s. The kids don’t understand until I pronounce the ubiquitous chain’s name “Mac-dough-nald’s”, garnering a chorus of animated da’s. At the restaurant, wildly popular in Moscow, I’m delighted we can finagle sufficient tables on the second floor without going through heroics. This is crucial because our present translator lacks any of Faith’s legendary brass. While the kids hold our places, I order twenty cheeseburgers, ten fries, and a combination of drinks and milkshakes. The cashier thinks he misunderstood my Russian, but eventually realizes I want as much food as I ordered.  It tastes like any other McDonald’s, but the kids are overjoyed with the fare. Though they’re all older, several eat only one sandwich, spiriting the other away as a treasure to be savored later.

After dinner we attend the Nikulin Circus. Passing through the distracting gauntlet of plastic trinkets vying for the kids’ attention makes us late. Groping in the dark toward our seats, we merit the disapproval of several spectators whose views we obstruct. The show is the same as in March; a few times, I catch myself just before playing the spoiler. Overall, the circus is a hit, with the tigers especially favored, though their act feels demeaning, which depresses me. When it’s over, the children helpfully point out the toys again, hoping in vain we’ll buy some.

Zulya and Lora, for whom I had worked so hard, are precious. Lora has an independent streak, but hovers around Simon, showing him things as she chews an omnipresent wad of gum. She is cute, smart, and funny. Meanwhile, Zulya circulates, walking arm in arm with several of us in turn. After traipsing around the city in new sandals my first two days alone here, my feet are blistered and burning, hardly appreciative of the added weight as Zulya literally hangs from me. On the metro, she fingers my bracelet and watch and rubs my hands. Her desperation is palpable, and equals the fervor with which I promoted them at home. I fear, though, that as this truly needy girl smothers everyone with her abject desire to be wanted, she is pushing us away. It will take someone with deep emotional reserves to parent her, and there is so little time left to find them. Her anguished hopelessness makes my heart ache.

If only I knew what more I could do.