Much like Tracy Clark-Flory, I was struck by the tragedy of the case of Artyom Savelyev, a 7-year-old adoptee who was put alone on a plane back to Russia. He had been adopted by Tennessee resident Torry Ann Hansen, who, in the note she left with the boy, claimed that officials at a Russian orphanage tricked her into adopting a severe case – a child with too many psychological problems for her to deal with. Hansen’s mother spoke about how nobody could feel safe in the house with the boy, that he had threatened to burn the house down and even drew a picture of it.
I like to think that I appreciate, at least in theory, the challenge that adoptive parents like Hansen face. However, when, at the end of her piece, Tracy said:
it’s worth taking a moment to also ask what kind of desperation leads an adoptive mother to do such a thing
I had to do a double-take.
Here’s the thing – the very act of shipping a kid back to where he came from, like a gadget that broke before the warranty was up, is not desperate by definition. Relinquishing your parental rights is one thing, but the way that Hansen chose to go about it was not merely cruel – it was cynically convenient, calculated both to make an impact on the Russian authorities and, most importantly, the boy.
Hansen acted out her supposed desperation in a dehumanizing and humiliating fashion. This adopted child had hurt her, and so she hurt him back. Officials in Russia allegedly tricked her, and she decided to play her own joke on them. These are not the actions of a heartbroken parent. They’re the actions of someone who is, at best, a spoiled brat, shocked to discover that the world does not revolve around her and that there are, like, issues with raising adoptive children from volatile backgrounds sometimes!
What exactly is this damaged child supposed to do with this latest damage? That’s what I am wondering about. Assuming he was neglected and/or abused by his alcoholic birth mother, assuming he was neglected and/or abused at the orphanage, and even if we further assume that his time in Hansen’s home free of neglect and abuse (though considering Hansen’s stunt, there is room to doubt that), how is this kid supposed to grow up into even a shadow of a functioning adult in light of this debacle?
He suffered abandonment in front of the entire freaking world. Don’t tell me that Hansen didn’t know that this case would blow up in the media – of course she did. She wanted it to. She wanted to get back at those Russian officials back, at the further expense of this child’s sanity. Oh, and naturally, decent Americans whose international adoptions actually go well (or as best as they can make them go, considering different people’s circumstances) will get smeared in the ensuing mess too. Not that Hansen would care about any of that.
At the end of the day, whatever sympathy I may have felt for Hansen simply evaporates when I put her actions in context. Her act was symbolic, it was designed to hit with full force, and it succeeded. Congratulations, Ms. Hansen. You done me proud. I was just in a cab in Moscow, discussing your very case, reminding the driver that not all Americans are selfish jerks like you. The Russian authorities have every right to be wrathful. I’m wrathful too.