Friday, March 18, 2011

Dipping into the Past

By Fran Cronin for Adopt-a-Tude

The author is planning to return to Russia with her adopted son the summer of 2012. It will be the family's first trip back to Russia since his adoption in 1998.

We are in southern Russia on the banks of the Volga River. My three-year old daughter stands at my side hugging my leg. The smell of cheap cleaning products is still in our nostrils and the sound of our shoes scuffing along on scrubbed floors echoes in our ears. We have just left the orphan ward where my son has lived for the past five months.

Behind us, the sun is low in the sky as we dip our hot, tired feet into the rippling shoreline. In the distance, a high bridge stretches for a mile over the river as it plods along in search of bigger water.

It is late evening in New Jersey where my mother lives, but she has been anticipating my call. "Your beautiful new grandson" I tell her, "is in my arms. Welcome him to the family."

After three and a half anxious months, my son is at last ours. I cradle him tightly in my arms, breathing in again and again his longed for scent: His new clothes, his clean skin, and the soft down of his hair. In contrast to his pale skin and frail form, the river is massive and overwhelming. I want to smother him with my love.

That was 13 years ago.

Next summer we plan to return to Russia. It will be our first trip back since leaving Moscow in 1998. My son, Nick, will have his Bar Mitzvah next June followed by our first pilgrimage back to Russia. From Moscow we will take a boat down the Volga River to Saratov, where Nick was born.

We will return not only because Nick wants to see where he was born and where we became a family. It was also the last time he had a father. My husband died three months after we adopted Nick.

Returning will be bitter sweet. Moscow is where we were living when my husband died. It is also the epicenter of our family formation. During our four and a half years there, my daughter was conceived and we adopted our son. I arrived a bride and left a single mother of two.

In Saratov, Nick's biological mother birthed him and set him on his fateful odyssey from her womb into my arms.

Still in my possession is the hand written letter she wrote three days after Nick was born. It bears her name, an address, and her acknowledgement of her actions. It's just a thin sheet of paper, yet it wraps around me like bondage.
It is the only evidence that links my son to her.

Up until several weeks ago, Nick had never broached the subject of his biological mother with me. But driving home in the car with him one afternoon, he did. Although a healthy and inevitable question to ask, I tried not to reveal my panic.

I told Nick about the letter.

On the cusp of puberty, his hormonal growth will pulsate with questions. Although I have all the love he asks for, I don't know if I have the right answers to give. Yet a sheet of paper with very few words flutters in front of him, leading him perhaps to answers and a place I cannot go.

Next summer when we return to the banks of the Volga and see the high bridge that spans its distant shores, I will hold the hands of my children and together we will wade into the waters of our past and perhaps a new future.


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