Yesterday my father would have turned 85 years old. I didn't really remember it was his birthday until later in the day, to be honest. I had watched the Dawgs defeat Auburn, which Dad would have loved. We ate Mexican food from Eduardo's for dinner, which Dad would have tolerated.
The weather was chilly but clear, and I walked Lola several times. Dad always loved getting outside on a pretty day. He loved dogs.
The one thing that would have puzzled him is why I couldn't call my daughter and wish her a happy Gotcha Day.
In 2004 when I appeared in a Russian courtroom for my daughter's adoption hearing, I was very happy that it was my father's birthday. I thought that was a good omen.
My journey to adopt my daughter was long and arduous, as I've documented in my book Adopting Alesia. Just finding the money to adopt her and then overcoming so many obstacles along the way -- the orphanage director who didn't like Americans, the adoption agency who kept telling me to adopt another child, the many naysayers among my friends and family who told me I was crazy -- that was a journey of faith and a very tough road. I really thought once I got her home, and Alesia learned English, and learned what it was like to live in a family, that everything would be fine. It never occurred to me that the process of acclimating her to a new country, new family, and new life would be so incredibly difficult.
I had Alesia here at home with me from December 2004 until June 2011, and then she left, at my request. She was going through a time of pushing the boundaries as hard as possible, experimenting with every drug and drink out there, and determined to do exactly as she pleased and to hell with the consequences. I didn't know what to do any more. All I knew was that I had to keep Mother and Michael safe.
What made the ordeal worse was that I simply couldn't talk to her. I couldn't reason with her. I tried. My friends Bronwyn and Leslie -- both very wise ladies who knew and loved Alesia -- tried, and failed. I took her back to the therapist, and she advised me to lock Alesia in her room at night so that she couldn't escape. [Alesia had been climbing out the window every night for months, to go out partying all night.]
The very simple concept of cause and effect was incomprehensible to my daughter. For example, IF you shoplift, you will be arrested. IF you take too many drugs you will overdose. [two terrible experiences I never wished for her]
In the 4.5 years since she's been gone, I have read a lot and commiserated with a lot of other moms of girls adopted from Russia and other countries. We've all had to deal with a very sad reality: most of our girls will bolt once they are 18, and they will seek out love in a lot of scary and dangerous ways. My friend Cindy [adoptive mom to more than a dozen girls] has watched many of her girls seek out their birthmoms and then learn that those women are still incapable of parenting because drugs and alcohol are still more attractive to them than being a good example to their children. Cindy has a number of grandbabies born to these girls who think having a baby will bring them love, not realizing they are facing a huge burden, not a cure for loneliness.
I have a friend whose daughter is 19 years old and who is pregnant and still drinking. So she will likely have a child with the same type of brain damage. Thus the sad cycle continues.
For most of our adopted girls, the early trauma suffered with birthmoms or in orphanages pales in comparison to the burden of trying to function in a world where their brains simply cannot really comprehend cause and effect thinking, and they have huge issues with memory. Fetal alcohol exposure causes, among other things, what's called "swiss cheese memory." You tell a girl something one day and she has forgotten it by the next day. It's very difficult for facts and ideas to stay put in a brain that doesn't function properly. Therefore just finishing high school is very difficult. Remembering to use birth control is difficult. Remembering that drugs are bad for you is difficult.
Perhaps worst of all, most of these girls and young women refuse to believe their brains don't work properly. Simple tasks of daily life will always be a challenge, therefore they will need help all their lives. If they do not find a life partner who is really devoted and good, that makes everything much more difficult.
It breaks my heart.
However, my daughter is now 24 years old, and when I spoke to her last summer I detected some new maturity and intelligence. She doesn't call me often and I don't have any way to call her, but I still hold out hope. I pray for her every day -- and for all the adopted girls of all my friends. None of them asked for their lives to be so challenging, but it's the reality.
Please continue to pray for all these girls and young women. Miracles happen every.single.day.