Marik Rye

It was a strange ultra-modern mishmash of a building. One section was a long low box with wooden slats all over it, even covering the windows, giving the disconcerting impression of bars. Other parts were big white, yellow and red blocks sticking off at weird points, some up in the air and on stilts. It was all clearly supposed to look new and interesting and not-at-all-stereotypical of an orphanage. I had read about this place on the internet the night before our trip. The webpage made a big deal about it being progressive and “family oriented.” Its stated goal was to “reunite children with their birth families as quickly as possible” and yet there were only two visiting periods for two hours each week and those were at the time of day when almost everyone has to be at work, if they are trying to have a job and put their lives together – meaning that there was little possibility for struggling birth families to see their children. So, I was pretty skeptical from the outset.

We were let in by a prudish social worker who grimaced at anything overly enthusiastic we said, which was practically everything we said. She gave us some further details about the baby for a half an hour and then a nurse came in holding a baby. I was confused because I couldn’t understand why they were bringing other babies into the office where we were, but I assumed the nurse had a question for the social worker. The baby was way too pale to be our Romani baby, even if he was supposed to be light for a Romani baby. And he seemed far too big to be nine months. I thought this baby must be at least 14 months.

But then the social worker motioned at him. I felt something like an electric shock go through me. This really was our baby!

So, as much as I wish it were otherwise, I did not feel any instant “click”. There was no sense that this was meant to be or that fate had drawn us together. I was put off by how different he was from what I had expected, much bigger than I had even feared when thinking about an almost 10-month-old and so pale compared to Shaye, who is already seen as too pale to “really be Romani”. I suppose that I don’t really care what color my child is. I just had some vague picture in my head, a beloved fantasy and it was shattered in that moment. At the same time, I heard Dusan let out his breath sharply at my side. Was that relief? Was he relieved that we wouldn’t have to face greater conflict with his family? I couldn’t blame him… and still… Something in me seemed hollow, as if there was a child somewhere that we were supposed to have and this one was a mistake.

I rallied quickly and held out my arms for him. The nurse carefully handed him to me and he immediately started to sob and reach out his arms for her. Perversely, I knew this to be a very good sign. He was not one of those emotionally flat, unresponsive orphanage babies. He knew and cared who was a familiar person and who wasn’t. I carefully turned him to look at the nurse and the social worker and held him gently on my knee, so that he could see them. While I would guess that the best approach would have been for him to get used to me while sitting on one of their laps, that obviously was not going to happen given their unpleasant expressions. In fact, they quickly handed me some yogurt and heavily sweetened tea for him and left us alone in a small visitor’s room equipped with some toys, florescent lights and a bed covered with a clean cloth.

I started in to feed him as best I could and that quieted him for a while. But when I was done he started crying again, wailing in a voice that seemed deep for a baby. I got a somewhat better look at him then. He has very soft, straight brown hair, large brown eyes with big black lashes, bulging cheeks, a rather big nose and full lips. A very pleasing face in general with only a bit of the thuggish look that baby boys often have, but also a very average face, almost too ordinary somehow for all that it had taken to get him. Dusan and Ember each took a turn holding him and Shaye tried “sharing” my lap with him by sitting on one of my knees while I held him on the other. She also brought him toys. I had never seen her give another child toys. Even at the very beginning it seemed that she understood that this baby was something special, not just another child of a friend who we were visiting. We had tried to explain it and had told her this was the place where we would find her little brother and all, but I simply have a hard time guessing what a two-year-old understands and what she doesn’t.

After about 45 minutes, the nurse and the social worker came back and informed us abruptly that they were taking him away again. When I insisted that we wanted to visit more, the social worker grudgingly agreed that we could come back at 8:30 in the morning the next day and “we’ll see.” I insisted mainly on principle. If this was to be my baby then I would behave as if he were MY baby. If my baby were in the hospital, I would be visiting every moment that I could, wouldn’t I? But still I was troubled that that was my motivation rather than a real desire to be with him every moment. So far, he was still just another baby as far as my emotions were concerned. The social worker also resisted when I asked to leave a blanket and a stuffed animal with him, which I had kept in my bed so that they would smell like me, in order to help him with the transition to a new environment. I began to explain the psychological theory behind putting things from the new family’s home in the baby’s bed and rather than listen to me, she agreed to it. She also commented with disapproval in her voice that he did cry a lot with us.

That was Tuesday afternoon. We were told that we had to get documents from two different offices in distant cities and see the orphanage doctor before our little boy could go home with us and one of the officials wasn’t available except at 7:30 in the morning on Friday in another town. This meant that we had to wait for two full days. Dusan decided to return home to Mnichovice and get in at least one day’s work to save on vacation time that we would need later. Ember, Shaye and I stayed in Liberec in a small hotel by the dam reservoir, which is used for fishing and swimming. It was a short walk though a neglected parkland to reach the orphanage from our hotel, so we felt fairly fortunate. Shaye was so far reacting very nicely to the baby but otherwise throwing record tantrums and generally taxing everyone’s nerves. Our pastime became analyzing whether or not her behavior was simply the stereotypical symptoms of the “terrible twos” or whether it was due to the stress she felt from adults around the new baby. We also mulled over names for the baby. Although he technically had a name, he didn’t react to it that we could see and it had been assigned by the orphanage, naming him after his original stepfather of all things. It was not a name given by his birthmother and it didn’t appear that the orphanage workers called him anything much. So, we decided that in the interests of family bonding we would give him a name that would fit with our family culture and have a story that he could take delight in later on.

Dusan had not wanted to think about names for our theoretical children before they became real and so I had come up with a list of names I liked and let him choose among them. He chose Elias and we tried calling the baby that and it didn’t seem to fit to anyone, so he chose Jasek until I pointed out that Jasek Blazek might be hard to say quickly without accidently switching the middle consonants. Finally, he settled on Marik, which he had resisted at first even though it was favored by Ember, my mother and me. That was combined with the name Rye, which is supposedly a Romani name meaning “prince” or “nobleman”. We had settled on that as a middle name for a Romani boy long ago. So, he became Marik Rye and we all tried out various versions of that over the next two days.

On Wednesday morning, Ember and I went up to see him as soon as we were allowed. Then Ember took Shaye for a walk and I stayed until the staff more gently but still officiously kicked me out at 11:00. I was allowed to come back from 2:30 to 5:00, which I did. After our first meeting Marik didn’t cry so much anymore. He seemed very happy to be held and he ate well. Mostly we lounged about in the small visitor’s office, trying to interest Marik Rye in toys and singing songs. Only once did we have to share it with someone else, a young, tearful Romani mother with her infant, who she came to visit in the children’s home. She didn’t speak to us beyond “hello” and “goodbye” although we tried to appear friendly.

Dusan returned on Thursday morning to spend the day with us and Marik Rye and prepare for our mad dash after paperwork early on Friday morning. I was finally able to get into the part of the orphanage where Marik actually lived most of the time and get a few pictures of his bed, the living space and a no-nonsense nurse who took care of him and five other older babies. We were also allowed into a larger visitor’s area where some of the older toddlers from the children’s home came to play with toys. There was a huge pool of those little plastic balls that children love to swim in and Shaye and the resident toddlers had a blast romping around and trying to elude adult attempts to keep them from leaping in on top of one another. The whole thing had a dreary cast to it even so. It had been raining steadily for two days by then and we were all tired of being indoors and constantly under the gaze of the disapproving officials and nurses.

We moved from our stuffy attic room at the hotel by the reservoir to the airy and ultramodern student dorms up the hill, which turned out to be much better, cheaper and even closer to the orphanage. The next morning we left Ember and Shaye and drove off into continuing rain amid flood warnings to get the last of the paperwork. We made it through with only one large detour around some sort of flood damage and found Marik Rye’s case worker in a municipal office complex. First, she rehashed what we had been told about his birth family, adding a few details here and there that we had not yet heard. His birth mother was of average height and plump but not overweight. She had said she wanted a better life for the baby than she and her two remaining children had. Then, she switched into “the lecture” about how problematic Romani children are. I couldn’t help but remember the joyful and positive interview we had had with Shaye’s case worker, who seemed to care personally about her. This woman obviously could not care less and although none of the actual facts she had about the case were all that negative, she remained negative in attitude. But she gave us the necessary papers and seemed happy to have them off her hands. We plunged back into the downpour and returned to Liberec, damp but ready to be on our way home.

We had a very brief but also uncomfortable interview with the orphanage doctor and then in a flash we were free to go and suddenly urged to take him and leave as quickly as possible. Again, I remembered how the staff at Shaye’s orphanage had gathered round to say goodbye and kindly took pictures of us all ready to walk out the door. This time, we were simple suddenly left alone in the cold hallway with no one to say goodbye to and we hurried to the car through more pouring rain.

I also remembered how when we had brought Shaye out of the children’s home on a calm morning, she had screamed in terror at just being outside and then had increased her screams when we put her in the car and went into a complete frenzy of terror when the car started. It was the first time we had even heard her cry as she had been entirely silent throughout our several days of visiting. We were braced for a similar ordeal with Marik Rye, who had already shown his ability to cry, but he didn’t look much more than curious as we ran through the rain and then strapped him into his car seat. Shaye got in hers and immediately took his hand and held onto it for the entire two-hour trip home.

Since then life has mostly been a blur. There has been very little of the quiet contemplation of Shaye’s first days home. Within 24 hours of coming home Marik Rye and I came down with the stomach flu that had been going around at the orphanage. Ember had it too and so she couldn’t come to help us. That started off everything in a weary spirit of bare survival, which seems to have remained even after the sickness is gone.

The congratulations have poured from friends and family near and far and we are happy in the Hallmark sort of way. It just somehow seems that the smiles are painted on over the exhaustion of two screaming bundles of diapers and mush and the deeper exhaustion of dealing with all those unpleasant officials. I keep thinking I can see a light at the end of the tunnel or at least a light someplace inside the tunnel, a state where we can just exist, get through the days with our health intact and give both children what they need. I know that Marik Rye is soaking up every bit of attention and cuddling and rocking that he can get, and Shaye needs that as well plus more activities than just following Mama around from kitchen to bathroom to bed and back.

So, we are still in the daze faze. I’m hoping this isn’t as good as it gets, though I do enjoy both of them for brief moments.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peter Farnam
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 14:54:23

    A good picture of the reality of adoption. Thanks for the insight. I know you are really busy. You are amazing!


  2. Julie
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 15:48:17

    As always, I appreciate your gut wrenching honesty. Yes, this is the process. Right now you’re all in shock. It will get better. And worse. And better. And much worse. And worse. And better. This is how relationships grow. And this is the adopting parent’s version of post-partum depression. Remember, when you’re going through hell, don’t stop. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. And even though you think you can’t do it, stop for a few seconds to look at the moon or feel the breeze, even when you’re holding a poopy baby and the other one is soaking wet with watermelon juice and matted hair. Stop and breathe because those few seconds are the difference between “doing poverty well” and being impoverished.


  3. ariefarnam
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 20:33:02

    Oh, dear. I really didn’t mean this to be overly negative. I’ve received some private replies that seem to think we’re unhappy and not enjoying our good fortune. In any event, I didn’t mean to make us sound miserable. We are simply tired and that probably came through more than anything. But there is the elusive light at the end of the tunnel part. That was supposed to be the standard hopeful part toward the end, folks.


  4. Nathaniel Farnam
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:01:20

    That is so sweet that Shaye held his hand all the way home! She is such a little darling! And so unbelievably cute! Marik Rye is adorable, too! I’m so happy for you all!


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