March 28th, 2007
You would think, that on the day we had our court hearing, the greatest moment would have been the one where they read the decision to register Tanya and myself as the parents of Dascha and Nikolai. And to be sure, as it was the climax of a process that started in November of 2005, it was a glorious moment. It was not however, the greatest moment of that day.
To understand that moment, you must first put your selves behind the eyes of our daughter and travel back with her to January of 2005 when she was first transferred from her original household to the hospital with her brother. She was 18 months old at the time, and it was a confusing time. She felt lost. To get a sense of her feelings, you need only look at her referral picture which was taken 5 months later as she and her brother were transferred to Baby House #5.
Though the caretakers at Baby House #5 treated her with love and great caring, she was one child among 110. And though the skill and hearts of the staff of the baby house were great, there are simply not enough of them to provide the nurturing required for each and every child.
Over the next 17 months, 5 couples visited Dascha. By that 5th and final visit, what Dascha learned was two things. First, that a Papa and a Mama was something she desperately needed and wanted. And second, that no matter how much she might have liked the Papa and Mama, no matter how much she may have wanted to go with them, Papas and Mamas don’t come back after the first visit.
So when we arrived as that 5th couple, she was excited to be sure. It had been a long time since anyone has come to see her as a Papa and a Mama. She also had a great fear in her because she was always disappointed. Dascha sensed our visit was different from the others. It was longer. We also included her brother – no one had done that before. She told the others that of all the Papas and Mamas, she liked us best. But then the first trip came to an end, and she was told that Papa and Mama would have to leave for a while. She was told that they would be back, and Mama and Papa told her, promised her, that they would be back, but she didn’t believe them.
She withdrew into herself and put her hopes and fears and all the other emotions behind a wall. She did this as a little girl of 3.5. Each day she would ask if Papa and Mama were returning. And each day it was “Not yet, Dascha.” Then the letters started coming. That was also different. No one had sent her letters before. There were pictures of her, her brother, and Papa and Mama. It gave her hope, but still, no one would tell her when she would see them again, when she was going to be able to go home. She kept asking the caretakers if they were sure Papa and Mama were returning, and though they said yes, she was not sure she believed it.
And then there was the day she saw Yana come fetch her from the playground. She was sure that was the day, but as she entered the music room, she did not see Papa and Mama – she saw a different Papa and Mama. For a moment, she though that the Papa and Mama she wanted had left her forever and that these were a new Papa and Mama for her. But then Yana explained that the people were friends of Papa and Mama and wanted to take pictures to take back to San Diego for her Papa and Mama.
The day came though, when Yana told her, finally, they had returned. They had returned to take her home. So great was her fear by this time, she kept asking Yana if she was sure that it was true. That if she was sure Papa and Mama wanted to take her home. Yana kept telling her yes, and she almost let herself believe it.
The well of emotion which overtook Dascha when she saw us was far beyond her capacity as a child of nearly 4 years of age to process. The walls that she built began to crumble. She has been hyperactive, joyous, stubborn, calm, affectionate – essentially just about every thing. And finally, she is crying again. Two days ago she cried in Tanya’s arms for 10 minutes. Though what triggered the episode was a trivial incident with a whistle necklace, it was clear that Dascha was releasing the tension, the sorrow, the fears she has accumulated over these many months.
We have had all of you to lift us through this process: our family, our friends, and our faith community. But our little girl has had only the caretakers. And though their compassion and skill is great, it is also not enough.
So the greatest moment of this day came not at court, but when Sasha (the speech therapist) told Dascha that we were leaving for the day so that we could sign the papers to be her Papa and Mama. Upon hearing that Dascha turned to me with a glowing smile and a look I had not yet seen: total and absolute trust. She leaped into my arms, hugged me tight, and smothered me with kisses. I put her on the ground, and she leaped up into my arms again to kiss me once more. She did this four times before we finally left.
Of all the things I remember in this process, the memory I will hold most precious is that one: the gift of trust she gave me and her expression of joy at finally being able to trust, to believe. And to you my sweet Dascha who will read this years from now, know that I have always held that trust you gave me that day as a sacred bond. No matter where I am, there is always a part of me with you, for you.