Should We Adopt this Little Girl?
She was wearing jeans and a faded red track jacket. A red, plastic headband decorated her boy-short hair.
She was so small sitting on the chair, swinging her feet. She was wearing jeans and a faded red track jacket. A red plastic headband decorated her boy-short hair. Our translator, Irina, and our driver, Tolya, stood in the hallway and talked to the orphanage director. Ron and I couldn’t understand anything they were saying but it sounded official. We waited and watched Olga through the doorway.
We would have three days to visit the orphanage and decide if we wanted to adopt Olya. If we decided she wasn’t meant to be our daughter we could request another appointment at the adoption center in Kiev and select another little girl to meet.
I was too excited to wait any longer. I slipped past them and went into the director’s office. I sat next to Olga. I showed her the Russian children’s book we had gotten in the US, where you have to find the duck in each picture. Together, we looked for ducks. She was quiet but engaged. Ron sat catty-corner from us. He and I caught eyes and smiled. We were both thinking the same thing, “How could we NOT adopt her!”
Soon the others came in and brought with them Olga’s friend, Lisa. Olga brightened and got more bubbly. She had acted reserved and kind of shy. Lisa was not shy. She was boisterous and quickly and loudly pointed to the duck in each picture letting us know she had found the duck first, before Olga. Then Ron realized that the girls were naming the items on the pages in Spanish. We understood what they were saying! (Since we lived in Miami, we had picked up some Spanish.)
Before we left Miami I researched Ukrainian girl names. Olga was the only name that I couldn’t warm up to.
Through our interpreter the orphanage staff explained that Olya and Lisa had been to “summer camp” in Spain. Both girls had only been at this orphanage since September. “Wait! What had they called her…Olya? What a beautiful name!” They explained that Olya along with Olinka and Oleechka were nicknames for Olga. But our Olga was known as Olya. Ron and I laughed at my relief.
Through our interpreter, the orphanage director explained that through a program called Chernobyl Children, Spanish families sponsored Ukrainian orphans allowing the children to get out of the contaminated region and get clean air, food and water reducing the risk of the children getting cancer. In 1988 the #4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had a meltdown which killed thousands and contaminated half of Ukraine and even surrounding countries. The orphanage was only 90 miles from the now abandoned town of Chernobyl.
Olya had spent two summers and winter holidays with a host family in Spain. Her brother’s host family had adopted him a year earlier. They had tried to adopt both of her brothers but the older one had refused. If a child is over 10 they get to choose to go or not. We were told the family did not want a girl. We couldn’t believe a judge had divided the children. We decided if we adopted her we would get the info for the two boys so Olya could remain in contact with them.
Ron asked the director for permission to videotape the girls. The girls loved having their picture taken. Ron played the video back so they could see themselves. Through the interpreter I asked the girls if they knew a song they could sing for us. I showed them they should stand next to each other and sing for us. Lisa was much bolder and self assured. She wiggled her hips and loved performing. Olya was cute as could be but more reserved. Then the girls had to go back to class.
We asked about the possibility of adopting both girls. We thought the director might have brought Lisa into the room for that reason but no. They invited her so Olya would feel more comfortable. Smart of them. Olya was shy and we wouldn’t have seen her personality come out so quickly without a friend around. Lisa’s parents visited so she was not available to be adopted. There is no Ukrainian equivalent for the word orphanage. Instead they have live-in schools, called internats, that act as orphanages and foster homes. Poor families can leave their children at the internat until they are financially stable enough to care for their children again.
We talked to the doctor who said Olya was very healthy. She did have hernia surgery in 2000 but that was the only problem she had. Her teacher said she was a bright girl and had done well the month she’d been at school. She had no behavior problems and paid attention in class. She liked working on puzzles and drawing. She was careful. Then we went to see her music class.
On the way to the class a group of about a dozen children crowded around me hugging my legs and calling Mama, Mama, which is also what they call their teachers, who are all female. Most of the children in the orphanage were not eligible to be adopted but they were too young to understand. They wanted us to take them home with us. It was heartbreaking.
Once inside the next classroom building a little one bumped into me and wrapped both arms around me. The child was wearing a big coat and white Pokemon knit hat. When the little face looked up it was Olya smiling at me. Then she took my hand and Irina’s and walked us to her classroom.
She sat next to Lisa and carefully listened to the teacher. By contrast Lisa interrupted the teacher. The teacher sat at the piano and asked Lisa and another boy, Vasilly, to come up and sing. “Deepe, deepe, deepe, brushla bahu ha, or at least that’s what I heard. Irina said the song was about picking mushrooms with Grandmother. Then the teacher asked Olya to come up and sing. Lisa rolled her eyes and pouted. She wanted to continue to be the center of attention. Having the other two children standing with her made Olya feel comfortable and she sang a solo. Ron videotaped the little concert. She did well. Afterwards she joined us in the director’s office.
Ron and I showed Olya the little photo album we had brought from home. When she saw Smudge, our chocolate lab, she repeated his name, “Smudge”, her first English word. Her second word was “duck” because we kept looking for the hidden ducks. Her third word was, Pippa, my name.
Here is a little more of our story:
…more of our story coming soon.