Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reading the Road Signs

I am a fairly well-seasoned traveler, as I think I have mentioned before.  When I add it all up, I think I have spent more than 3 years of my life in places other than the US.  It can be a disorienting thing.  Some things are small and fun -- learning British slang for example.  (Though my little brother might argue with the harmlessness of the slang-change, having once had a conversation with his schoolmates about his "pants."  Oh well).  Other things are more jarring -- like trying to make sense of an Austrian fourth-grade classroom where the gym locker rooms were co-ed.  (I admit, this one kinda scarred me...)

 It took me longer than I want to admit to be able to consistently read the street signs in Athens.  I didn't even try in Egypt.  I am inordinately proud of being able to at least sound out most of the Russian ones.

I mention all of this simply to say that I viscerally remember what it is like to be completely outside my American comfort zone.  And I also mention this to point out that it takes a LONG TIME to be fully comfortable in a new place.  I think that's just natural.

And I admit it, when I looked down at the Verrazano Bridge from my airplane last week, I let out a huge sigh of contentment.

This all relates back to Max, and something that has been on my mind for the last several days. I've been trying to figure out how to get these ideas out in words, and I'm not sure if it will make sense or not, but here goes...

We had three visits with him last week.  He started out every single visit with a a several minutes of nervous whimpering (and real crying on the last day).  It was generally easy to jolly him into a better mood, but it was perfectly clear to us that he was outside his comfort zone. More to the point: WE are outside his comfort zone. We don't speak correctly.  For Pete's sake, we don't even make ANIMAL NOISES correctly!  We probably smell weird.  He is fairly easygoing about it, and is happy to look at books with us or put together puzzles with us, but there is a clear divide in his mind -- his people are the ones on the other side of the door.  Whenever there was a noise outside the room -- a crying child, familiar voices, even a pair of footsteps -- he would turn expectantly to the door.

This breaks my heart just a little. Not for me, but for him.  He is comfortable where he is.  It is familiar.  We have become so accustomed to thinking of orphanages as these horrible, lonely places (and by the way, this perception is not universally true!) that it takes a bit of effort to remember that for him -- this is home.  It's all he knows.  He feels a sense of belonging to the world on the other side of the door.  And I know -- I know -- that this sense of belonging is a temporary thing, that in another two years if not sooner he would have all new caregivers, and once more his world will tilt on its axis.  And yet it breaks my heart to see that he will be taken away from all this.  In another month, he will leave his comfort zone and be forced to to go home with this funny-sounding, funny-smelling, (and let's face it!) funny-looking couple who spent a few hours playing with him a few weeks back.

I am preparing myself for a very upset toddler in a few weeks.  And let's face it, upset toddlers can give upset teenagers a run for their money.  All I can do is pray for compassion -- the ability to say to myself while he's having a temper tantrum on the floor, "It's OK.  Remember, he hasn't a chance in the world of being able to read the road signs yet."


  1. Hi Cat- got to your blog through a HAPS Russia email from Kathy. I love reading your story as my husband and I are starting our Russian adoption journey! It is wonderful to get an inside perspective on what the travel process is like. I think your son is so blessed to have a mom who is so empathetic to what he is going through and the loss is is experiencing. I will be praying for the three of you!

  2. That's a good way of looking at - great perspective

  3. And, this is exactly what will make you a fabulous mom! Seriously, you love and care for him enough to want him to feel safe and comfortable, even to the point of recognizing the hard truth that at the beginning the he might not see you that way. It *will* come but what a wonderful loving mom he has that you are trying to see the world through his eyes and not yours. We are right there with you and I have vowed to do everything we possibly can to ease the transition for the twins....I love this post, you are speaking to my heart today...

  4. So absolutely true! We kept saying Vi must be so confused why all the other Mama's who visit speak Russian and she got this crazy Mama and Papa who speak some crazy language! But, seeing it from hi perspective IS part of what will make you a great Mom. He will be an upset toddler, but at least he will have a Mom and Dad to be upset WITH, which is more than most of his friends at the orphanage may ever have :(
    We can't wait to meet Max!