Monday, December 31, 2012

Cruel Consequences of Russia's Adoption Ban

My two were style mavens from the moment they first set foot in this country

While the world has seen more than its share of horrors and outrages during this year, my heart ached particularly when the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signed the law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans.  The level of cruelty behind this move is beyond understanding.  I speak from the perspective of one of those parents who gave her heart to two school-aged children she first met through a shaky video years ago showing a roomful of Russian children all trying to “out-cute” each other in order to win the golden ticket that would send them to forever families across the ocean.

I cry inside for the parents who have chosen their children but may never get to hold them.  I cry for all of the children who will never find families if the ban stays in place.  While the administrative paperwork and amount of money involved in international adoptions makes it seem like a business transaction, the creation of families happens in an instant.  Believe me, when you look at a video and choose your children, you are immediately as hopelessly in love with them as any parents are with their unborn baby after hearing  “you’re pregnant” from a doctor.  So to lose this child in the middle of the adoption procedure is as traumatic as a miscarriage.  Only this time it’s much worse because the children – who have no sense of the politics – are left to believe that they’re damaged goods or completely unlovable.

The new law is in retaliation for a recent law in the United States that banned those in Russia accused of human rights abuses from traveling to or owning assets in the U.S.   So 650,000 children remain in a holding pattern of foster homes and orphanages. About 120,000 are available for adoption.  A large percentage of those are special needs cases.  My husband and I were blessed that our two children didn’t come to us disabled, did not suffer from H.I.V., or have any known diseases, but they had an enormous number of special needs after living every minute of the first eight years of their lives in an institution.

Some people say that the ban is good because there are children in the U.S. who need homes.  Americans shouldn’t cross the ocean to find one to adopt, they say.  We should focus our attention on those here.  However, with so many children all over the globe who need families, we should all rejoice when any one of them finds a home.  The decision to adopt internationally (or adopt at all) is not made lightly, so those who choose this long, expensive, and difficult route shouldn’t be second-guessed any more than they should be considered saints.  They’re simply following their heart to where their longed-for children live.

Some in Russia say the ban is good because the country shouldn’t be giving away its children.  The truth of the matter is, though, that many countries don’t nurture an adoption culture.  Issues of poverty, rules of inheritance, cultural distinctions, religious laws and the like discourage families from embracing unrelated children as their own.  With this new blockade raised, I’m not sure what plan Russia has now for locating homes for the hundreds of thousands of children currently languishing in its institutions.  It currently has only about 18,000 families registered to adopt.

However, I do know what will happen to those children who fail to find a home before they age out of the system between 16 and 18 years old.  Generations to come will end up on the street without money, without support, with little education, with no one to love them.  Russia passed its new law in retaliation for our law against human rights abusers.  Unfortunately, the only ones who will actually suffer real consequences are the children waiting day after day for a mommy or daddy to take them home, wherever that home may be.  It’s just one more abusive blow to them. 

I can only imagine the agony of the American parents-in-waiting who are caught in the middle of this game of political one-upmanship.  I can’t bear to imagine where my beautiful children would be now if my husband and I hadn’t been able to bring them home 17 years ago.  While countries might wildly disagree on any number of issues, it just seems so basic to me that a universal and unwritten agreement would exist that you don’t hold children hostage for political gain.  Haven’t children in an orphanage already lost enough?  

Now everybody go hug your children – because you can.

I don’t often write overtly political blog posts.  Today I’m not sure what question to leave you with.  Perhaps you can talk to me in the comments box about children’s issues that occupy your mind and heart.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Recipe for Christmas Love and Sweet Memories

Grandma's strawberry cookies

The best thing about being down with the flu for two weeks is it gives you a new perspective on all the Christmas frenzy.  In other words, I had no energy to become obsessed with having a perfectly decorated tree with ornaments distributed absolutely symmetrically top to bottom and front to back.  No energy to fill the window boxes with evergreen cuttings and pine cones.  No energy to stay up all night baking every freakin’ Christmas cookie recipe from my mother and grandmother’s recipe boxes.

Truth be told, I’ve been known to be a bit of a shrew around this time of the year because I thought the holiday would not be perfect unless EVERYTHING was exactly as my mom had done it, and Grandma, and Granny.  Trying to be three people can be exhausting.  For a couple of decades I would bake for days and days to recreate all the family’s signature cookies during the week leading up to Christmas.  Then I’d end up throwing out half of them after New Year’s because nobody needed that many.

It took a lot of years and a lot of sleepless nights during Christmas week before I realized my mania was simply a way to bring to the celebration all those people I loved and missed so much.  Their traditions had defined the holiday for me.  Making six or seven different Christmas treats meant that my loved ones were with me through the season, even if it killed me.

So this weekend I’ll be making another batch of my Grandma’s strawberry cookies.  I know that strawberries don’t exactly scream “Christmas” to most people.  But our holiday meal wasn’t complete until she walked through the door with them.

In my youth I was more about butter cookies with icing and sprinkles or fudge, turning my nose up at Grandma’s Christmas offering.  After all, why would I want a “cookie” made from chopped dates if I could have oodles of butter and frosting and chocolate and every other thing with no nutritional value?  It wasn’t until my late teens that my taste buds matured enough to slap me upside the head over what I had been missing.

After I moved back to my hometown Grandma started threatening to give up cookie baking at Christmas because she couldn’t read the recipes or get to the store to do her own shopping for the ingredients.  Being 92 will do that for you.  What was worse than Grandma giving up baking, however, was the realization that I didn’t know how to make some of her signature sweets.

That Christmas I asked her to show me how to make her strawberry cookies.  She had first tasted them about 25 years before at a church meeting and pestered the woman who had brought them for the recipe.  Grandma had been making them ever since.  And now I would finally know.

We spent the afternoon in her little apartment watching The Price Is Right as we shaped the date concoction into the shape of strawberries.  Our fingers turned red from rolling them in the colored sugar and green from the tube of green icing that formed the leaves on the top.  I repeated the event for the next three years until she passed away.  And then I continued on because passing on this small skill felt as important as passing on any family photographs, jewelry or furniture.

So now I produce Grandma’s strawberry cookies, even if I have no time for the others.  And I only make a half recipe to make this labor-intensive endeavor a little easier on me.  After all, it’s really the care and love they served up during the season that is the most important thing to recreate.

Grandma Farrar’s Strawberry Cookies

1 cup pitted, chopped dates
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2 cups Rice Krispies, slightly crushed
1 cup coarsely copped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
red decorating sugar
1 tube green icing, with leaf tip

In a heavy saucepan, combine dates, sugar, butter, and eggs.  Mix well and bring to a boil, stirring often to prevent scorching.

Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer 6-7 minutes, stirring often.

Remove from heat and stir in Rice Krispies, nuts, and vanilla.

Let mixture cool slightly.  Then shape small amounts into the shape of a strawberry (flatten one end of chunk and pinch the other end).  Roll in red sugar.  Finish by using the icing tube and tip to add one or two leaves of green icing to the large end of the cookie.

Stick in your favorite Christmas movie and call a companion over to help you shape and decorate them.  The memories make them taste all the sweeter.

When I read French Word A Day blogger Kristin Espinasse’s story about her obsession with re-creating the Christmas of her Arizona youth in her adult home in the south of France, I felt her crazed mania and longing for the familiar.  For her, it was about finding a tree exactly like her mother had lavished such care on each year.  For me it had been about cookie-baking.  After you read Kristin’s lively piece come back and tell us what’s one holiday tradition (Christmas or other) that you insist on although it drives you and everyone around you to the brink?  Why does it mean so much to you?  Share your obsession in the comments box.

In the wake of the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, 
I'm wishing peace on earth and goodwill toward all

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