When we left the orphanage the last time, I felt pretty good. "Two weeks," we kept saying to each other. "That's nothing."
When we flew back, we told our Dutch flight attendant what we were doing. As it turns out, she was adopted too and she told us this great story about how when she first came to her family's home, she kept secreting away pieces of bread into her pockets and her mother smiled at her and said, "No matter how much bread you take, I'll always give you more." I loved that story so much. And I loved how happy our flight attendant was for us. It gave us so much hope for the future. Here was this happy young woman who told us these stories that were beyond her memory, but which nevertheless exemplified her relationship to her own adoption. We saw how good it could be.
We got to Chicago and got ready.
Our friends threw us this wonderful shower. We had so many things for Laney! This little girl who'd never had anything of her own.
So we waited. And waited and waited and waited. There was nothing anyone could say to us that would sound good. More to the point: there was nothing anyone could say to us that wouldn't piss us off. It was impossible for anyone to understand what we were going through and that (understandably, if not reasonably) pissed us off.
We waited and waited and waited. And waited and waited some more. And heard nothing.
It took 10 weeks. Two and a half months. Not two weeks. With no word, no acknowledgment that anything was in the works. Nothing.
I survived on a steady diet of nicotine, alcohol and spite. I'm not sure how Don survived. I was just barely getting by on my own.
But then, one day, I got an email from Larina. "When are you coming?" she said. "We've got a really good judge."
So I called the agency and told them about the email. They concurred and told us we were going back to Russia.
When we got back to Blagoveshensck it was spring. When we were there in February, the whole city looked like his kind of dystopic Narnia, all white frozen sidewalks, with bullet-like puncture wounds from the stiletto heels that the Russian ladies wore all the time. When we got there in May, it was green and beautiful.
This time when we visited the orphanage, they let us take her outside. And they didn't time our visits. We could hang out with her as much as we wanted. And so we took her outside and walked her around and played. The other kids in the orphanage got to go out with the aides. You know how there's that warning on strollers to not put kids in the basket? They'd have two kids in the seat, one in the basket and, sometimes, one on the top. Once, Don was walking Laney around and found himself surrounded by about 15 three year olds. They all pointed at him and said "Dadya! Dadya!" which we think is Russian for Uncle. They all wanted him to play with them, pay attention to them, pick them up. It would have broken your heart into a million pieces, if you'd been there. It might be breaking it now to hear that.
A quick aside about the people who work at the orphanage. These were wonderful women. These were women who cared deeply about these kids. But they were operating under such a tremendous load. There were 500 kids in Laney's orphanage, and not nearly enough resources for them. We knew Laney was hungry, but we also knew that the people there were looking out for her. Most of those kids would languish away there, but that the doctor (remember her? from the green room?) was doing everything in her power to get this sickly little girl adopted. I believe that the doctor at the orphanage thought that Laney would die if she weren't adopted. This is a hard thing for me to write down. But I'm pretty sure I'm right. The kids in the orphanage who were healthier? Ironically, they weren't so lucky.
On Thursday, May 26, 2005 we had our court date. We found out that the day before officials had gone to Laney's birth mother and asked "Are you sure you want to to this?"
I have nothing but good feelings about Laney's birth mother. When I talk about her to Laney, I always describe her as the beautiful Russian lady who was very sad. She gave us this enormous gift. She gave us our life. But it pisses me off that the government officials did that. They had almost two years to establish her certainty. They didn't approach her when Laney was sick and hungry in that orphanage. They waited until she was going to leave Russia. In the end. it didn't matter. She was sure. And I love her (really, love her) for being sure.
At court, the representative from the Ministry of Education (they're in charge of adoption in Russia) did her damnedest to block our adoption. She insisted in court that we wouldn't be able to afford to raise Laney. She did everything she could to convince the judge to stop the adoption. Not for the faint of heart, remember? We had her nonsense translated into our ears as she spoke and didn't have the words or the opportunity to object. Luckily, Sveta, our lawyer, did.
I stood up to speak. And, me being who I am, said most of what I wanted to say through tears. "Please, your honor," I said. "We are so in love with Lena. We promise to take such good care of her."
And then the judge said "I see no reason to interfere with this adoption."
And that was it! Larina told us through this massive grin. Don and I hugged each other and everyone else.
We went to file the last paperwork in the region. It was giddy and exciting. Sveta and Slava and Larina were so happy for us. They encouraged us to stop and buy flowers for the women in the orphanage. We could have lit up Blagoveshensk with our smiles. Don bought a huge bouquet.
As we were driving up to the orphanage in the rickety old van, driven by the wonderfully sweet Slava who'd picked flowers with Laney earlier in the week, I thought "This is it. This is the last time we'll have to come to this place." I'd say it was bittersweet, but I don't want to lie. It was just sweet.
We walked in and had to wait for a long while. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to say goodbye to Laney. I don't know what happened while we waited, but I imagine tiny little Lena was showered with kisses and tears.
When a kid leaves an orphanage, they leave with nothing from it. The clothes they're wearing are necessary. She was our daughter now. We'd have to dress her. They gave us exactly one diaper. I'd bought this blue plaid dress with a little hat and a blue coat. Don and I were such rookies. You should have seen us try to diaper her and get her tights on. It was a joyful comedy of errors. She looked so sweet in her little dress and her giant hat.
Larina was very proud to tell us that in Russia, children can't sit in the front seat. Laney sat on my lap in the back of the van. We'd brought a can of those toddler puffs, and she sat on my lap, just looking around popping puffs into her mouth. She was so chill. It was awesome.
We spent the weekend in the hotel in Blagoveschensk. We'd take walks along the Amur River and play in the room. The room had a couch and a double bed. At night, we'd pull the couch up to the bed to make a secure place for her to sleep. She'd fall asleep and Don and I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my laptop.
Laney never cried when we visited her in the orphanage. She'd always been very even tempered. But when we pulled out the food in the hotel room, she went just about feral. She'd eat and eat and eat. And if she saw food, she had to have it. And if we didn't give it to her, she'd throw herself on the ground and scream. We worried she'd get sick, she ate so much. So we hid food from her. But we remembered the flight attendant's story and let her have as much as she could eat.
The diapers were epic.
Flying from Blagoveshensk to Moscow was ... well, you know the worst flight you've ever had? This was worse. This was like Oceanic 815 bad. Without the crashing. It started off OK. But then the food cart came around. She ate all of her dinner, all of mine and the lion's share of Don's. Laney weighed 19 pounds at this point. But when our three meals were gone and she realized that she wasn't going to get any of the food from the other 200 people on the plane? Well, that pissed her off. And she cried. And then she pooped. I changed her ginormous diaper in the bathroom, while she wailed in anger.
She cried for seven straight hours. It never waned into whimpers. She wailed the wail of righteous fury. It was so bad that Don divided the trip up into 15 minute intervals. There were 28 fifteen minute intervals. Don counted them down. 22 intervals to go, he'd say. 17 intervals to go. It helped.
So, here's what we learned on that flight: Failure to thrive, my ass. That kid was thriving right in front of our faces. She was thriving with extreme prejudice. All she needed was enough to eat, and someone to love her best of all, and that kid was mighty.
She still is. She's a mighty girl. She's our mighty girl.