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Monday, January 30, 2023

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Building or Family Tree

In December 2004, we embarked on an adventure when we decided to fly halfway around the world to Astana, Kazakhstan, where we adopted two children, Ruslan, age 3yrs. 9mo., and Aisulu, age 6mo. We spent 7 weeks in Kazakhstan, in the middle of winter, enduring unimaginable cold and falling head-over-heels in love with two adorable kids.

After 8 years of marriage and too many years of infertility treatments, we decided adoption was the best way to grow our family tree. My name is Michelle and my husband is Jon. We were full of such hope and dreams. We kept a website to chronicle our adoption adventure. ( When we met out son, Ruslan, he was a handsome, energetic, curious and comical boy. Our daughter, Reagan, was a small, sweet and cuddly infant. We were overjoyed.

Like new parents, we became caught up in the joys of parenting. We delighted in every “first.” Through our little boy’s eyes, we rediscovered the world, as new and wondrous. We played with our kids at the park, wondering why the other parents and nannies were sitting on benches. We thought that by providing love, nurturance and structure, parenting would continue to be fun and exciting.

Now, I look back at the website from our journey and wonder what happened to the adventure and the joy. In the past 7 years, we became caught up in the ordeals of life, routines, school, homework, sibling rivalry, unemployment, uncertainty, stress, doubt and the trials of parenting. It was gradual, but the joy seemed to have fallen, like leaves, from our family tree.

At 5, our son was diagnosed with ADHD. We went for counseling to better understand how to adapt to this new information and learned about RAD (Radical Attachment Disorder). RAD is caused when a child fails to develop secure attachment to a loving, protective caregiver during infancy. As a result, there’s an impact on the child’s ability to develop and maintain relationships, establish trust, have a positive self image and experience genuine affection. After 7 years in our family, Ruslan doesn’t trust we will keep him safe. His fear of abandonment, has kept his heart locked away from us. He seldom asks for help, then blames us for not helping. Instead, he will endure pain, sadness or helplessness. Each day is a struggle for control, because control means “survival” to him.

At first, we had difficulty believing Ruslan wasn’t bonded. The councilor asked him to do a trust fall to demonstrate the abstract concept of Trust. He was told to stand stiff as a board and fall back, blindly trusting Jon would catch him before he hit the ground. After several tries, he finally did it correctly. However, he refused to do it again, saying “I know Papa WON’T catch me this time!” He truly believes we will not be there for him.

Although RAD can set the stage for additional risk factors, we believe its consequences can be overcome by helping Ruslan develop a positive attachment toward us. Our counselor says it’s important we help Ruslan face his fears and then demonstrate how we are able to provide him with support and security. This will build trust and aid him in breaking down the wall he has around his heart. It is hard to find ways to do this as he cannot be cuddled and nurtured like an infant, at eleven years old.

When Ruslan was 5, we visited Busch Gardens regularly, where he developed a love of animals, nature and science, which he still has today. Although, he was always afraid of the roller coasters. When he started school, we allowed our membership to lapse because homework, counseling, therapy and tutoring took up all our free time. That is when the joy began to dissipate. As parents, we became schedulers, chore chart makers, routine enforcers, and supervisors. We began to manage the kids, instead of enjoying them.

In the middle of all this was Reagan, three and half years younger. She was swept along for the ride, as everything revolved around her brother. Fortunately, she was young enough to develop attachment and had an easy going personality. However, we feel she has been missing the chance to develop her own unique qualities and to have her own opportunities for adventure. Now that she is seven, she is acting out to get more attention, because she sees it working for her brother. She is struggling to develop her own identity.

Now it’s 2012, seven years post-adoption and we are searching for ways to spend quality time together that fosters trust and joyfulness. We tackled the ropes course at MOSI and visited Winter the dolphin. Perhaps, riding a roller coaster is a great opportunity to let Ruslan face his fears and demonstrate how we can provide him support and security. Spending time at a theme park would force us to break out of the daily monotony of routine and responsibility, so we can continue to rediscover the joy of being a family again.

All families get caught up in the rigors of life. However, it is vitally important to stop and see what is most important. We’ve learned it is the connection and bond that ties us to each other and keeps us from ever being alone or unwanted. It’s the happiness we feel, the empathy and wholeness of loving and being loved.

As we face tomorrow, we look forward to a new type of adventure. Where we each face our fears, find joy in our relationships and spend more quality time together. We hope to fertilize our family tree with special moments, so our bond can grow and become stronger. Only then, will Ruslan learn to trust his heart in our hands and Reagan can develop her own sense of self.

The definition of adventure is below:
noun exciting or very unusual experience.
2.participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure.
3.a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.

This definition describes adoption, parenting, marriage and friendships. Life is a continuous adventure with challenges and triumphs.

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