On a rare balmy day in mid-December, I was sitting on my front porch soaking up the distant rays when I looked to my left. A few houses down, I saw my 18-year-old neighbor, home from his first semester in college, putting up Christmas lights on his family’s front porch. He looked a little more filled out and mature than when I’d seen him just last summer. And here he was back at home for winter break, helping his family get ready for the holidays. A smile spread across my face—I’m a sucker for heart-warming scenarios like this. I bristle to think how different this young man’s fate would be had he been a toddler now, instead of in the 1990’s, when his American parents adopted him from a Russian orphanage.
Russia is on the verge of signing into law a ban on American adoptions of Russian children. On Wednesday December 26, 2012, the Russian Parliament’s Upper House voted unanimously in favor of the ban, which comes on the heels of American legislation calling for sanctions against Russians who violate human rights. While some Russians leaders reject the adoption law, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the proposal “a sufficient response” to the recently passed American legislation, according to an article in the December 26, 2012 edition of the Washington Post.
In this adult version of tug-of-war, the imminent losers won’t be those pulling on either side, but rather the children stuck in the middle. According to UNICEF, an estimated 740,000 children in Russia are not under a parent’s care. Many orphanages that house these children have been described as squalid. In the past twenty years, more than 60,000 Russian orphans have been adopted by U.S. families.
I have known my Russian-born neighbor for ten years. In that time I’ve seen him grow into a focused young man from a rambunctious, daredevil of a kid who would skateboard full-throttle down the alley behind our house, climb up and over garages as if they were low-lying fences, and set off smoking noise makers like it was the Fourth of July, year ‘round.
I also witnessed this kid’s parents help him channel his boundless energy and curiosity. His dad once told me that his son would never make it in a traditional classroom. But he and his wife identified and steered their son toward a school where he found success. Last spring, he graduated from Towson’s Carver Center for Arts and Technology. To complement the carpentry skills he honed in high school, he currently is earning a degree from a four-year college in construction management.
All over the U.S., coming of age stories like my neighbor’s exist. Each one began in much the same way, with brave and selfless parents boarding planes to meet their new adoptive children in Russian orphanages. Here’s hoping that these heart-warming stories are allowed to continue unfolding in the coming years.
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