The image is haunting: a little boy, confused and alone in a yellow jacket, at the center of an international incident. But mostly -- a little boy alone. Seven year old Artyom Savelyev was adopted from Russia six months ago by Torry-Ann Hansen of Shelbyville, TN, but what probably started as a dream for her ended as a nightmare for everyone. He was put on a United flight from Washington to Moscow, alone, with a note indicating that he was difficult, possibly mentally ill, and that the Russian orphanage had lied about his problems.
There is so much wrong with this story that the photo of the exhausted little boy only begins to skim the surface. As a long time foster parent (and biological mother of a teenager), I know that every child comes with his own story. When you take in a seven year old, you know that you're not in for an easy road. When you take in a seven year old who has been living in a Russian orphanage for much of his life, you know that you might not even locate the road for years. How could Ms. Hansen have been surprised by anything that the little boy did? And why did the adoption agency not screen her more carefully?
But taking in a child is not like taking in a stray dog that you can return once you realize you're allergic or it sheds too much or it's a biter. A child cannot be returned, not your biological child and not the one you choose to adopt. The very definition of "parent" indicates unconditional and eternal. A friend of mine adopted a little girl from Eastern Europe 14 years ago and called in a panic from a hotel room in Poland to describe a toddler who was shredding toilet paper and rocking uncontrollably. Mother and daughter have gone through years of therapy, special ed classes and a more than their share of tears but they love each other dearly and are better people for it.
One of the most inexplicable parts of this inexplicable story is that little Artyom was placed on a 10-hour flight by himself. He had ten hours to think about his rejection, to wonder what would happen when his flight landed. He was placed in the care of strangers who hopefully were kind to him. I didn't let my own daughter fly unaccompanied until she was 13 and then only on a two hour flight. Who sends a little boy alone across the ocean?
I'd like to believe that Ms. Hansen had good intentions when she decided to adopt a child in Russia. But in a world of instant messaging and YouTube and Facebook, it's become much too easy to believe in instant gratification. Bonding takes time, whether you give birth or adopt. Children can be difficult -- maddeningly so -- but love has to win out over exasperation and fatigue. I'm sure Ms. Hansen will be excoriated enough by others that I don't need to add my voice. And yet, there is that little boy's face, his body limp with exhaustion, as he heads toward a future made worse by his six months of hope and then rejection. He deserves better.