I knew this 8-year-old boy as well as if I had been looking into his eyes for years.
Maggie Vink: "There he is," I whispered. "There's my son." Thirteen travel-weary kids
were coming off a plane from Moscow, and even amidst the chaos, I
immediately recognized my boy. I had only seen one picture of him -- a
stern and serious photo taken by his orphanage directors -- but still, I
knew this 8-year-old boy as well as if I had been looking into his eyes
Never having been a parent before, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with Vladimir for five whole weeks. But I needn't have worried. He and I fell into a rhythm almost immediately. Despite our language barrier, we figured out just how to communicate with each other. We played soccer. I cajoled him into eating unfamiliar foods; he brought enormous joy into my life and charmed everyone that he met. Though I had never been a mother -- and it had been years since he had lived outside of an orphanage -- we quickly became a family.
Sending Vladimir back to Russia was nothing short of devastating. My heart broke when he pleaded with me to let him stay in America. He was my son in my heart, but legally he was a Russian citizen. I knew it was the first step in adopting him. Soon, I was knee-deep in adoption work: home studies and FBI clearances, getting this notarized, getting that apostilled and raising the funds to complete Vladimir's adoption.
Letters and occasional phone calls assured him that I was on the job and that it hopefully wouldn't be long until we were officially a family. But international adoption is rarely easy, and while it's completely worth every effort, the process is rarely smooth. Russian adoptions were in a state of flux at the time, so delays were inevitable. To compound the issue, Vladimir's orphanage director was against international adoptions and was making great efforts to block them.
Soon, my kiddo with the gleaming golden eyes was moved to a "patronat" home (similar to a U.S. foster home). I didn't know where Vladimir was or if he was well cared for. I didn't know if he was still adoptable. A Russian home would receive legal preference over my international home ... and rightly so. Still, I kept going with the adoption.
Eventually, the time came to submit my adoption request to the Russian Ministry of Education. My agency then learned that Vladimir's patronat family had made a commitment to care for him until adulthood. What's more, the Ministry of Education official said that my boy and his patronat mother "see eye-to-eye" and that he was happy. Happy. In the long run, that's all that really matters.
While my grief over losing Vladimir literally made me fall to my knees, I had to let my sweet boy go. I chose to trust his new mother to raise him with confidence, foster his intelligence and passion, encourage his generosity and humor and never let his fighting spirit wither. [Russian law prohibits Maggie from sharing pictures of Vladimir here.]
I hoped that his time with me helped remind him what a true family is, and that it opened his heart to loving and trusting an adult. As for me, this little kiddo with the indefatigable spirit taught me what it felt like to be a "mama." He showed me the purest form of love there is. And he taught me that I was meant to be a mom ... meant to adopt an older child. After grieving my loss, I switched to U.S. foster-care adoption and was eventually matched with a spirited and athletic kiddo who gives me hugs and calls me "Mom."
I have two sons: One who is legally my child, lives in my home, challenges me, makes me laugh and fills my world with joy, and one who lives in Siberia and I haven't spoken to in years. Time, legal red-tape and distance have made it impossible for me to locate my Russian son, but no amount of time can possibly diminish my love for him.