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Warming the Stone Child

Whenever there is adoption there is its corollary: abandonment.

At the US Embassy in Russia the guard sent my husband through the metal detector, and then turned to me. "Hello, ma'am," he said. "Hello, deyavuchkas," he said, waving the security wand over the girls' heads. He sounded a little like Woody Harrelson.

"You've got some beautiful daughters there," he said, tracing the wand across my blue wool coat.

"C'mon," I said. "All the kids are beautiful."

The guard checked my backpack. "I've seen thousands of these kids up close and believe me, ma'am, they are not all beautiful," he said somberly.

I couldn't deny what he said about my kids, but what he was saying about the others made me wince.

He jutted his chin toward the crowd of families waiting for visas just like us. "Take a look," he said, urging me to see what he saw.

Inside the generic governmental waiting room we found seats. A little boy in droopy pants slapped his hands against the hard plastic shell of his father's camera case. He screamed moloko! moloko! until the father pushed the bag aside and produced a bottle of milk. Next to me a woman balanced a baby girl on her knee. She leaned over and surveyed our daughters.

"What you're doing is so commendable," she whispered primly. She loaded a silver Tiffany spoon with Gerber's carrots and pushed it into the baby's mouth. The baby immediately knocked the sterling spoon onto the muddy tile floor and spit up.

"It'll be a challenge for you," the mother said, retrieving the utensil and wiping it surreptitiously on the inside of her coat. "Yours are so much older."

I looked at her little girl, then at the boy with the bottle of milk. Little Russian girls and boys were everywhere, and no, they weren't ugly, as the guard was implying. But they were frightened, disconnected and too young to have words to speak the feelings. The awkwardness, confusion and vulnerability shone unfiltered through their innocent faces.

"But it has to be more of a challenge for you," the mom went on, dabbing carrots off the child's face.

I realized at that moment that what she was desperately trying to prove to me had little at all to do with her child or mine. It was about feelings she didn't want to acknowledge. They were coming up fast and furious-inside her. Nothing, not even all the Tiffany spoons in Russia or all the statements about how much harder it was going to be for me over her, were going to stop them.

Back home I had a tape called "Warming the Stone Child-Myths & Stories about Abandonment and the Unmothered Child" (Sounds True) by Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés. The clinician in me liked the education; the writer in me loved her storytelling; and the daughter craved the hope I found for the part of me that loved my own mother, yet often felt alone in the relationship we shared. (I highly recommend this tape; its appeal is universal.)

Estés uses fairytales and mythology to explain what she calls the unmothered child within. But now, so far away from home, her words took on a new meaning. Whenever there is adoption there is its corollary: abandonment. But adoption doesn't hold exclusive rights to it. Still, understanding all this on an intellectual level is only part of the equation. You have to get it, so to speak, in the gut.

Our name was called at the visa window. I turned and wished the mom good luck.

"You'll need the luck," she said back. "You've certainly got your hands full."

I shrugged. Maybe she was right. What mother doesn't have her hands full? I thought.

When we were finished at the visa window I glanced back. The woman with the Tiffany spoon was crying now. It was like something hidden inside her was revealed possibly, against her will.

And now the baby was staring up at her sadness; blank-faced, numb.

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