In this short excerpt from Chapter 5 of Find My Baby, Zachary and Lucy Foxborne have traveled from their home in Dallas, Texas to an orphanage in Donetsk, Ukraine. After a heated debate with the Head Master of the orphanage, expedited by their translator, Natasha, they will meet children who are eligible for adoption. The consulate in Kiev had said they could see 4 children, but the Head Master only wants them to see one.
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A woman – a babushka, led them to a large room with a few toys in it. There was a spinning top and a couple of plastic toy cars that a child could sit in. There was a soccer ball that looked new, like it had never seen a proper game in its existence. One wall was lined with windows that looked into the stark whiteness of the frozen world outside.
Zachary and Lucy waited in the room, standing restlessly. There was a small table and a couple of chairs, but neither of them felt like they could sit. Not right now. They had been planning for this moment and all the effort, all of the frustration, all of the expense had been put into having the next moment happen. This was when they might meet their child. The gravity of the circumstances was clear and evident and precise and both felt it acutely. While the wait was less than ten minutes, it felt much, much longer.
Finally, the door opened and the babushka came in, a little boy in front of her. He looked around the room, a little apprehensive. He was a good looking child, perhaps five years old. He had dark brown hair and brown eyes, like Zachary. He was dressed in clothes that were a little big for him – the long sleeved pull-over shirt almost covered his hands.
Zachary walked over and knelt down next to him. He offered his hand to shake and said, “Hello! My name is Zachary. What is yours?”
The boy smiled wanly. He made good eye contact with Zachary but did not say anything. Of course, the boy did not speak English.
Zachary tried again, pointing to himself, he said, “Zachary.” Then he pointed to the boy and shrugged.
“Pavlik,” the boy said, pointing at himself.
Zachary picked up the Soccer ball. He threw it to Pavlik, a slow toss. He caught it and held on to it. He seemed to have good hand eye coordination. He was calm, but Zachary could see his eyes dancing around the room. It was as if he had not seen this room before and was trying to take it in.
Lucy watched the interaction. This boy was older than they had asked for but he had no discernible handicap. She presumed this is what the Head Master had called his ‘best’ child. And from the looks of him, he was a healthy, good-looking kid. She thought he looked a lot like Zachary and that appealed to her. They had no plans to hide the fact that the child was adopted, but it might make it easier on him if other kids thought he was their biological child and didn’t bring it up.
Lucy went to Pavlik and introduced herself. “Zdravstvuj,” she said simply. This was ‘Hello’ in Russian.
The boy smiled at her and repeated the greeting, “Zdravstvuj.”
Then there was some uncomfortable silence. Not being able to communicate beyond the simplest words left both of them a little lost at how to proceed. Natasha was not allowed to be with them. They were told that it would be confusing to the children, and they would likely be drawn to her if she translated. They would not understand that she was only repeating what they were saying. So here they were, Zachary, Lucy and Pavlik, in this big room in an orphanage in Ukraine, and all they could do was look at each other. Then Lucy remembered something – the photo album she had put together, showing their house, the dogs and relatives.
As she was reaching into her purse, the babushka came in with another child. This was a little guy, Zachary guessed he couldn’t be more than a year old, based on his size. He was dressed in green and purple. Lucy excused herself to go over and talk to the babushka, and Zachary stayed with Pavlik, still awkward and unsure of what to do.
He looked at the boy, really inspecting him. He felt like this was the wrong way to do this. “I am not buying a horse,” he thought. Check its teeth. Check its hooves. Does it have a healthy mane and tail? No, this was a child. But if he approached this academically, the boy was a good specimen. Older than they asked for and potentially, he may have more ingrained orphanage behaviors that might present some challenges, but overall, he was a star. The best – that’s what the Head Master had called him. Maybe he was.
Natasha poked her head in the door and asked Lucy, “How’s it going?”
“Good!” Lucy said brightly.
“Alright then, there is another family that is going to come in, too. They are also looking for a little boy.” Then she disappeared and the door closed.
The babushka went over to Pavlik and said something in Russian, and Pavlik waved goodbye to Zachary and then sat down in a chair at the table, his hands folded in front of him. Zachary guessed that his time with Pavlik had been cut short. Was that all he got? He started to go out to find Natasha and see if he could get more time. There was no way he could be sure. No one could they make a decision with only ten minutes of interaction, he thought.
Lucy interrupted him as he walked to the door. “Go see him. His name is Alexander.” She pointed to the green and purple lump sitting on the carpeted floor.
Zachary walked over and sat on the floor next to the child. The boy was dressed in a green, plaid suit that was too small for him. He had purple stockings on and black shoes. He had a green beanie on his head that Zachary thought looked ridiculous. The boy was looking down and Zachary couldn’t see his face. He seemed fascinated with the shoes and kept pulling at the laces. They were untied now, even though Lucy had tied them twice. It had become a little game for them. Lucy would tie his shoes, and he would pull the string and untie them, and then wait for her to tie them again so he could untie them again.
Since the boy wouldn’t look up, Zachary picked him up. The child was small and weighed less than twenty pounds. Zachary had held children before, but it was always a little awkward for him. This time was no different. Still, he cradled the boy’s bottom under his arm and held him close. Then he looked at his face.
The child was cross-eyed, but they were beautiful blue eyes. He had a shock of the finest pale blonde hair. It almost looked like he was bald, as his hair was cropped short and didn’t contrast with his skin very much.
“Well hello, little guy!” Zachary cooed to the child.
Alexander was nonplused and his expression didn’t change. He still kept looking down at his shoes, so again, Zachary was looking at the top of his head. Zachary held the boy up in the air, over his head. He did this to play with him, but also to get a better look. And that’s when it happened.
Alexander laughed. At first, Zachary did not recognize it as a laugh, it sounded a little like a whistle if you inhale instead of blow on it. It was so funny. Alexander’s face cracked into a beautiful grin and he made his snorting laugh sound. At that moment, Zachary fell in love. Right there and just like that. It could not have been simpler or more natural. It just was.
He pulled Alexander down, close to him, and then pushed him back up into the air. The boy laughed again, his funny little exhalation. It was infectious and Zachary laughed too, as did Lucy as she watched. Even the babushka was laughing. Zachary pulled the boy down and this time he held him close. Alexander’s arms hung at his sides. Zachary kissed him on top of his head, almost without thinking.
Had they had the amazing fortune to have found their child so quickly? His wife had enriched his life in so many ways and he would marvel at just how happy he was with her. Having her to share events with and even just to watch TV with, was a fulfilling part of his life, just because she was there. Now, he also had a son?
Zachary wasn’t aware of it, but he had spent approximately ninety seconds with Alexander. It took him that long to realize the search for their child was over; his child was found. But how did Lucy feel? Still holding the boy, he looked at Lucy, and she was watching him, smiling. A tear ran down one cheek. She had drawn the same conclusion before Zachary even sat down on the floor with the boy.
“My God, is it this easy?” Zachary thought. They had drawn a conclusion so quickly, perhaps it was too quickly? Maybe they needed to think this through, rather than make an emotional decision. But how else should you feel about your child except to be emotional?
Lucy came over and took Alexander from him and held him close, cooing at him. She hugged him. It’s one of the common behaviors of infants raised in an Eastern European orphanage that they do not know how to hug. They get held from time to time. They get carried. They do not get hugged.
Lucy and Zachary were so involved, so completely engaged with Alexander that they didn’t even notice the other couple that had come into the stark room. They had also forgotten about Pavlik, who was also in the room and who had been watching them. The babushka had distracted him with the soccer ball, but he watched and he noticed. He was an intelligent and aware child, and his eyes had seen this before. He had seen couples meet him and then leave, never to return. He had seen couples adopt other children, while he remained.
Unlike Alexander, Pavlik knew what life was like outside of the orphanage. He lost his parents two years earlier, killed in a train derailing. He had been at the orphanage ever since. Pavlik stood quietly, waiting to go back to the other children in his group. Zachary and Lucy knew nothing of Pavlik’s background, or Alexander’s for that matter. All they had been told at the Adoption Center was that they would be able to see four children and were shown some badly taken photographs that were outdated by a year or more.
The other couple was from New Zealand, and they gravitated immediately to Pavlik. They were older than Zachary and Lucy by about ten years. Jesse and Annabelle Anderson had adopted a little girl from this same orphanage three years earlier, and now they were back to adopt a son. They were hoping to get a boy who would be close to their daughter’s age, around five years old. Pavlik liked the woman. She had happy eyes. The man wore glasses like his papa had.
When Natasha came into the room, it was with the Head Master. “How is it going?” She said with some trepidation. She was mediating the concerns of the Head Master with the needs of her clients, and if Lucy and Zachary wanted to see another child, well, she would have to convey that. The Head Master had already told her that they could not see any other children today. They would have to come back tomorrow to see any other children.
Natasha thought Zachary and Lucy were hugging, and they were. But between them was a little bundle of green and purple.
“It could not be better!” Zachary said, Lucy nodding in agreement.
A babushka came from behind Natasha and told her she needed to take Alexander for his nap. Reluctantly, Lucy gave the child to her and waved as he was taken out of the room. It pained her to let him go. She wanted to spend more time with him, much more time. All day would not be nearly enough.
“We’d like to know more about Alexander,” Zachary told Natasha, who translated to the Head Master. He shrugged and agreed. After a short wait, they went into a small office with a clerk who pulled the file on the child.
It listed his full name and birth date. He was twenty months old.
“He is very small for being almost two years old. And he isn’t walking yet, is he?” Lucy asked.
The clerk didn’t know. She said she would have to check with the care takers for Alexander’s group.
Zachary and Lucy looked at each other with some concern.
Natasha translated the rest of the information in the file, which was very brief. “He has eyes crossed,” she said, adding, “That is correctable. He was born five weeks premature, and stayed at the hospital for two months. Then he came here, to this orphanage. His biological mother had Syphilis at the time he was born, but he does not have it. The mother waived her rights as a parent at the hospital and never saw the child afterwards. She never came to visit him at the orphanage.”
“What about medical records?”
“There isn’t much here,” Natasha said. “He was seen by a doctor about a year ago for an ear infection. Nothing else is listed.”
They knew there would be a lot of unknowns when adopting, but knowing more would be comforting. Really, it wouldn’t have changed anything about their decision, even if they had more complete medical records and it indicated significant problems.
“Looking at Lucy, Zachary said, “We would like to start the process for adopting Alexander.” He was speaking to the clerk via Natasha’s translating, but he never took his eyes from Lucy’s.
Tears welled in Lucy’s eyes and ran down her cheeks, but she was smiling. They had found their baby.
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