These days, the daily flight from Moscow to New York City carries a few American families with Russian children — some cross-eyed or hare lipped, but all with pasty complexions and brand new, ill fitting American clothing.
Russian law allows foreign nationals to adopt Russian orphans.But there is a catch: only children with birth defects and incurable medical conditions may be adopted. Adopting Olya is the story of one such adoption.
Four-year-old Olya has lived in the Children’s Home in Chelyabinsk all her life. She has been diagnosed with a vague “developmental disability.” Olya knows her future American family only from a little photo album:
“This is Daddy Sam, this is Mom, this is my kitty.”
Sam and Meredith live in California, have never traveled to Russia, and know their future daughter from a video.
Sam and Meredith walk into the orphanage with gifts for Olya, but soon every child in the room is playing with balloons and soap bubbles. Olya, holding a new teddy bear, shyly retreats to the familiarity her friends. They know this won’t be easy. There is still paperwork to be done, and a medical examination to be passed. Two middlemen, former Soviet bureaucrats, will be smoothing the way with the city administration. When a new birth certificate is finally issued, the interpreter Lena tells Sam and Meredith they must destroy the original certificate. Russian society is not comfortable with the concept of adoption. As Olya leaves, her favorite caregiver “Gramma,” bursts into tears.
“We’ve never sent a child so far away before!”
A year later we visit Olya in her new California home, celebrating her first Independence Day. Does she have a developmental disability? Her mom thinks not: “Most of the time these kids are given labels just to get them out of the country.” Once a shy, timid child, Olya is now rambunctious, marching in her town’s 4th of July parade with the “stars and stripes” painted on her cheek. Olya’s dad agrees:
“We got another one that loves to talk!”