Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Attachment and Detachment

I’m still here. Every now and again it hits me that I actually live in Astana. I went out with Dana (another single adopting mother) and two families from the States on Sunday night. My coordinator put them in touch with me. One family was passing through as they picked up their 4 year old daughter (their second trip after having done the bonding period and court). Another family is here visiting a 5 year old in another region as part of the start of their bonding period. When they asked me how long I’d been here I couldn’t believe it had been a month.

[At Vaquero, a tex-mex restaurant with an extensive menu, more than half of which is unavailable on any given night.]
I had a birthday here this week. I’m growing old in Astana. My fellow adopting mothers gave me a a potluck party. (The fathers left after court.) As a special treat one of them had made a cake. This was no small task. She had to borrow a cake mix, a can of frosting (both send from the U.S.) and a cake pan from an American living here. It was delicious.

[Me blowing out the birthday matches.]

Apart from chocolate cake, I don’t miss much in the way of food from home. On the other hand, I’ll definitely miss some things when I leave here. The tomatoes are incredible. Juicy and sweet – not the acidic tasteless things we buy at home. In fact all the produce is delicious and easily available from stands on the street. Everything is smaller and less perfect looking and much much tastier. We eat exceptionally good salads, except there is no lettuce.

In terms of the number of hours we have spent with the children it’s just over two full days now. (When we got together after our court dates someone mentioned that we hadn’t yet spent the equivalent of two full days with our children.) It’s amazing what has happened during those two-hour-a-day visits, though. We all have the sense that the kids now know who we are and look forward to our visits. They are all changing every day … smiling more, cuddling more, looking to us for comfort occasionally or just at us. Everything we look for in them is informed by the theory of attachment that we’d all read a lot about before coming here. We want them to follow us with their eyes, to be friendly but more with us than anyone else (indiscrimate friendliness is considered a worrying sign), to trust that we can meet all their basic needs (which is why feeding is so important.) In short, we are seeking to create a total dependency from which we can then begin the task of turning them into independent beings. One of my friends wondered a few nights ago whether this is a narcissistic project. And someone else answered that maybe this is necessary – that the way they make us feel when they smile at us is what makes putting up with the hard stuff bearable. Critical stance on attachment theory aside, we’ve certainly all been transformed into parents despite the severe limitations on what we get to do with our children. Little Kiana-Maria has just this week discovered that she has a voice and can use it to make noise – loud screeching noise. It is the sweetest music to my ears.

It is sometimes easy to idealize the baby house. It is without question one of the best in the country. The kids do not look malnourished, they are in clothes not rags, and their structured activities seem to involve adequate supervision. Their basic needs are definitely being met. And yet there’s something missing. Angie, who visits at the same time as me, and I got swarmed by a group of three-year-olds today. We’d been denied access to the playroom and told to go outside. So we found a place to sit on the grass, cuddling our precious babies with our knapsacks by our sides. We’ve come to know the three-year-olds who play outside by sight at least but we were unprepared for their attention. Little hands opening every zipper of our knapsacks, touching us and the babies, talking to us in Russian, fighting over our stuff. It hasn’t rained in a while and the play area is very dusty and so were the children. It was hot and they were just in underpants. Some of them had rashes, some had scabs from having fallen down. Some are obviously “special needs” kids. It was overwhelming. We snatched our things from their hands and retreated to the baby house. We were embarrassed at ourselves. There was some sort of raw need emanating from them that shocked us.

I don’t think I could work at an orphanage. Not without detaching completely from the kids. When I was first here another American asked one of the translators whether working at the baby house was a “prestige” job in Kazakhstan. It made me wonder for a moment whether there is any place in the world where child care is or has ever been a “prestige” job. Her answer was obviously no, despite my hoping it would be otherwise.


BT said...

Happy happy birthday, Jila. I am so glad you told people it was your birthday, and I'm doubly glad they helped you celebrate it. That cake, complete with matches, must have been quite a feat!

I am crying at your description of the three year olds at the baby house. That was Bohdan and his mates to a tee. After meeting us once, Bohdan defended us mightily from all his groupmates, saying "NO! MY mama, MY daddy." The second time we went to visit, he heard Maurice's voice in the corridor and left the group shouting "my daddy has come for me." The kids in his group were starved for parental attention, even those who were clearly learning disabled.

The caregivers at Bohdan's orphanage were not at all detached -- we couldn't believe it because we thought it would be so hard to let yourself become so attached to all the kids. They cried when Bohdan left, and it was clear that they loved him and would miss him.

Peter's caregivers, at the bigger kids orphanage, were more detached, and I wonder why. Maybe it gets harder as the kids get older?

Anyway, I really enjoyed this post and hope the time keeps going by at a good clip for you.

gina said...

Happy Birthday, Jila!

Anonymous said...

Jesus, JG, I'm crying too. I don't even know how BT can read this latest posting. That's the problem with letting love into one's life (for people, for animals)--some unbelievable sadness gets in too. Maybe that's why AJ and BP keep adopting and adopting
Happy Birthday: it's wonderful that you were able to spend it in KMG's birth country.
R. turns one next week. She has a screech like the one you describe K as having. David and I call it the Blood-Curdler .
xo D

Ileana said...

I have often thought that it was important for babies to be cute and to charm us - otherwise, we'd just abandon them at the first screaming fit.

The process seems to work in reverse when they hit their teens. They become awkward and uncomfortable and unpleasant, so that we are ready to kick them out of the house.