Cover image for Adopting Alyosha : a single man finds a son in Russia
Adopting Alyosha : a single man finds a son in Russia
Klose, Robert.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson, MS : University Press of Mississippi, [1999]

Physical Description:
165 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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HV875.5 .K59 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Although single women have long been permitted to adopt children, adoption by unmarried men remains an uncommon experience in Western culture. However, Robert Klose, who is single, wanted a son so badly that he faced down the opposition and overcame seemingly insurmountable barriers to realize his goal. The story of his quest for a son is detailed in this intimate personal account.

The frustrating truth he reports is that most adoption agencies seem unsure of how to respond to a single man's application. During the three years that it took for him to proceed through the adoption maze, Klose met resistance and dead ends at every attempt. Happenstance finally led him to Russia, where he found the child of his dreams in a Moscow orphanage, a Russian boy named Alyosha.

This is the first book to be written by a single man adopting from abroad. The narrative of his quest serves as an instructional firsthand manual for single men wishing to adopt. It details the prospective father's heightening sense of anticipation as he untangles bureaucratic snarls and addresses cultural differences involved in adopting a foreign child.

When he arrives in Russia, he supposes the adoption will be a matter of following cut-and-dried procedures. Instead, his difficulties are only beginning. Although he meets kind and generous Russians, his encounter with the child welfare system in Moscow turns out to be both chaotic and bizarre. However, his dogged ordeal pays off more bountifully than he ever could have hoped. In the end he comes face to face with a little boy who changes his life forever.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Given the number of children languishing in orphanages overseas and the number of Americans clamoring to adopt, one would think that it would be a relatively quick and straightforward process to bring them together. Not so, particularly if the prospective parent is an unmarried man. The title gives away the happy ending, which somewhat deflates the suspense that builds as Klose, a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor and a biology professor in Orono, Maine, runs into one blind alley after another in his search for "Pablo," the Latin-American boy he believes is waiting for him. With wry humor, Klose chronicles the adoption process, step by agonizing step, from his first meeting with an agency through parenting classes, obsessive cleaning for his "homestudy" inspection and dealing with adoption facilitators of varying levels of honesty and efficiency (one bilks him out of $4000). After more than two years, much paperwork and many fees, Klose forgoes his Latin dream and, after spotting a boy in an adoption agency video, travels to Russia to pick up seven-year-old Alyosha. A combination journal, travelogue and, above all, love story, this is a wonderful read, even for those uninvolved in adoption. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Those who have met Alyosha Klose in the columns written by his father (biology, Univ. of Maine, Orono) for the Christian Science Monitor will be especially interested in this expressively written saga of a journey toward adoption. Klose narrates his two-and-a-half-year navigation of the painful, frustrating, up-and-down steps to single male parenthood with elegance and insight, culminating in his adoption of a little boy from a Moscow orphanage. This is an enlightening read about the world of agencies and individuals in the international adoption "business" that manages to convey a certain amount of suspense, even though we know the goal was attained. Highly recommended for general readers.ÄSuzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One -- In the Beginning -- My adoption agency held information meetings "every so often," once a critical mass of interested people had accumulated. Information was not commitment. It was not even a toe in the waters of adoption. It was just a glance from afar.     My adoption agency was in Lewiston, Maine. Lewiston is one of those places on the map that one drives to but never seems to reach. The signs on the interstate always post Lewiston as being three digits away. The hundred miles might just as well have been a thousand. En route to Lewiston, my favorite FM stations decay into a harsh crackle, as if Lewiston cannot be reached even by radio wave. I had heard that adoption requires the leaping of many hurdles. Was getting to Lewiston the first of these, a test of patience and stamina?     There were moments, as I drove alone, when I could not believe I was really doing this. I mean taking the adoption bull by the horns and seeing where it would lead (or throw) me. I had even steeled myself against the eventuality that the agency would not even work with single men or that their books would be closed to new applications. If they did not want me, then that would be that, and I would be able to concentrate on my garden and catch up on my reading. But the agency had welcomed me. Making the initial phone call had been the hardest part. But once I was in my car and headed south, the idea of adoption took on a very pleasant aspect. The closer I drew to Lewiston the more anxious I was to get a look at the agency and see what they had to offer.     My anticipation grew, mile upon mile, until I repeatedly found myself traveling well above the speed limit, as if some force were occupying the passenger seat and snaking its foot over onto the accelerator. I had to make conscious efforts to ease off the gas. Lewiston will come, I kept telling myself. It must come. If I drive much longer I'll be in New Hampshire.     Then, like the Emerald City of Oz rising from the far side of an endless field of poppies, Lewiston appeared. (Please don't travel to Lewiston to verify this image.) Grateful for having at last arrived, I did not even flinch at the idea of an adoption agency operating out of a National Guard armory. It was a formidable brick building, dark and unforgiving, WWI vintage, with a steel entrance door wide enough to admit a tank.     With a thousand questions in hand, I pulled the door open and entered long corridor: linoleum-tile floor newly buffed, dim globes for ceiling lights. My every footstep echoed. I found the office and walked in. Not a soul was there, but I was captured by a wall covered with photographs of happy families and their adoptive children who were every color of the rainbow, some visibly handicapped. My heart rose in my throat--the first time my viscera have had their say in the matter. The sound of distant voices broke my concentration.      I went back out into the corridor and followed the voices to a room holding an arc of steel folding chairs. There were six couples there, but the husband and wives--most of them holding hands--were speaking to only one another. It was as if there were only one child in the world left to be adopted and no one wanted to lose their advantage by saying something stupid or incorrect. When I entered everyone gave me a peremptory glance. Then, in unison they looked behind me, presumably for my spouse. My expression must have said, "There ain't no more, folks. I'm it." A moment later they turned away and resumed their quiet conversations.     I took a seat among the couples and perused my legal pad, prioritizing the questions I had brought along. I had just finished reading Lois Gilman's Adoption Resource Book and had dog-eared it into a Japanese fan. Although comprehensive, every page had raised as many questions as it had answered. I had dutifully jotted them down, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the details of the adoption enterprise as well as intimidated or even frightened by some of the experiences of adoptive families.     A middle-aged woman named Janet walked in, laden with notes. As soon as she began to speak we began to scribble. She told us that the agency had been in operation for twelve years and that it had placed three hundred children, seventy percent of whom were foreign. Then she listed the steps involved in adoption: 1. Application 2. Intake (interview with a caseworker) 3. Adoptive-parenting classes (four weeks) 4. Paperwork 5. Homestudy 6. Paperwork 7. Referral of a child 8. Postplacement supervision (six months to one year, depending on the age of the child)     She added that the time flame for completion of all the paperwork was three to seven months. A child would normally be referred within a year of application.     So adoption meant a long haul. But I found comfort in this for several reasons. I would have ample time to make sure I knew what I was doing. I would be able to use the time to read, to consult with adoptive parents, and to learn as much as I could. Also, not least in importance, I would be able to save, save, save, because adoption was going to be expensive.     In fact, when Janet began to recite costs by country, I found the figures dizzying: $7500 plus travel for Honduras; $8700 plus travel for Guatemala; $10,000 plus travel for Peru; $14,000 plus travel for Chile. When she listed a mere $3000 for Thailand, my heart leaped and I circled Thailand. Before coming to the information meeting, $3000 had seemed like a lot of money. Now it was beginning to seem reasonable.     Then Janet added that Thailand was not available to singles, either male or female.     I scratched out Thailand.     Janet raised her head from her paperwork and asked if anyone was interested in Poland. "Because," she said, "if you're Catholic and of Polish ancestry you may have an advantage in adopting from that country."     "What's the cost?" I asked, being the good consumer while I made a note of the Polish option.     "We don't know yet," she said. "We've never done a Polish adoption."     Oh.     After finishing our tour of countries and listing their associated costs, Janet stated that in addition to the country fees families would be responsible for the adoption agency's fee of from $2000 to $3600, a sliding fee based on gross income.     I did some quick scribbling on my pad. More reason for hope: my teacher's income made me a solid $2000 man.     Janet opened the meeting to questions.     Silence.     There was not a single question from any of the couples. So I jumped in with alacrity.     "Do you have a payment plan?"     "Which countries are the most reliable to work with?"     "What did you mean by saying we can't choose gender?"     "What kind of support do you give us?"     "Which of the listed countries work with single men?"     "Can I have the phone numbers of some of your past clients?"     The couples were looking at me as if I had crashed their party.     Janet addressed my questions in a businesslike manner, almost like a recitation--the result, no doubt, of having been through this time and again. Mexico, she said, was considered unreliable: horror stories about couples becoming trapped down there, being bled dry, waiting for a child who might not even exist. Peru was also tricky, but doable. India was wonderful, but closed at the moment. Payment plan? Nothing sponsored by the agency, but families had been known to take out second mortgages on their homes. Single men? The agency had never "done" one, but I was welcome nevertheless.     After answering my questions, Janet went into another room to retrieve some information packets. In the silence she left in her wake, I turned to the others and asked, "Are any of you having trouble envisioning yourselves writing ten thousand dollar checks?"     No response.     Janet returned and handed out her agency's information and applications. The others seemed baffled, if not disappointed, by the whole affair. It was as if they were expecting to walk out with a child that very night. I think the talk about gender selection had been the watershed. Janet had said that families could not select the sex of their child. This immediately threw a pall over the already moribund audience. I was unaffected by this pronouncement, though. I was considering the adoption of a boy and had no illusions about a single man being given a girl. In this sense, my marital status gave me the advantage of being able to get an early start on decorating the upstairs bedroom in anticipation of a male child.     When the session was adjourned some of the couples milled about, pausing to look at albums containing photos of yet more happy, smiling adoptive children. Others approached Janet and asked questions they had been reluctant to pose in front of the others. But I felt, for the moment at least, satisfied. I was glad I had decided to come to the orientation to get my first real look at the subculture of adoption. With the information packet and application rolled up tightly in my hand, I pushed open the steel door of the armory and stepped out into the night.     I sat in my pickup under a streetlamp, while, one after the other, the couples drove away. I began to pore over the agency information and the notes I had taken. Before traveling to Lewiston I had been filled with trepidation. Not sure. Just not sure. Have thought about it for years now, but not sure . But as I sat in the glow of the streetlamp flipping through papers, a truth came to me. It was a good truth, something I had once read in a book. I have never begun any important venture for which I felt adequately prepared .     Preparedness did not mean having all the answers to all the problems that would crop up with an adoption. It meant recognizing that I had the resources within myself to respond to situations that were yet unknown and that I could not even imagine. It was all right to feel reasonably, but not fully, prepared. I was further fortified by this consideration: Why should I fail at adoption when so many have succeeded before me?     At that moment, I felt as I had while studying math in grade school. It was my hardest subject, a real conundrum for me. But the insight that came once I had solved a difficult problem gave me an unbelievable rush. It gave me the impetus to do more, to stay up a little later than I really should. I felt that way now--energetic, optimistic.     I felt as if I could drive to Lewiston and back. Five times. -- Into the Woods -- Intake: It sounded like something one does with a rental car, or a way to inhale an unpleasant gas.     Intake meant that I was no longer anonymous, as I had been at the information meeting, or abstract, symbolized only by my application and an attached $100 check. Now things were getting serious. I was actually being looked at as a candidate for adoptive parenthood.     It was April 1991, one month after the information session. Once again I traveled to Lewiston. Once again the road signs insisted that, despite my odometer reading, I was always a hundred-plus miles away from the city.     At the armory I met my intake worker, a pleasant, middle-aged man named Carl. (Everyone in the adoption business seems to be middle aged.) We sat opposite one another at a small, round table in a room brimming with yet more snapshots of happy adoptive families. The purpose of intake was twofold: the agency needed to find out if I knew what I was doing and if I was someone with whom they could work.     Carl was a psychologist. Little did I know that within the year he would resign from both the agency and his profession to begin a new career staging karaoke acts at local restaurants and clubs. But, for now, he was a psychologist, an amiable psychologist, not threatening in either manner or speech--no ink blots, no couch, no electrodes.     I have often thought that one would have to be an imbecile not to be able to answer a psychologist's questions correctly. I recall having taken some sort of generalized psychological exam while still in college. One of the questions was "If someone stole an item of little value to you, would it be okay to kill him?" Even if I thought that in some instances it might be okay, I would never tell that to a psychologist.     Carl's questions were cut from the same cloth, but tailored for the adoption business. I was asked, for example, if I believed in beating children to discipline them. Even if I did, the little angel on my shoulder would have whispered, "Tell him no! The answer is no, for God's sake!"     With my hands folded before me on the tabletop, I looked into Carl's eye and told him, "I believe that if a parent needs to beat his child there is something functionally wrong with their relationship."     Carl held up his hand to slow me down. "I want to get this verbatim," he said, seeming pleased with my answer.     "What do you consider to be appropriate means of disciplining a child? he asked as a follow-up, his pen hovering above his notepad.     The angel spoke again: "A stern look, curtailment of privileges, sending him to his room for quiet time," I enumerated, "depending on the child's sensitivity. A simple word may be enough to do the trick." Then I hastily added, "Almost anything short of a beating."     I think Carl liked me. He scribbled away with enthusiasm. I was beginning to warm to this adoption stuff.     Then Carl began to move about in his chair, appearing slightly uncomfortable for the first time. He looked at me, probing his teeth with the butt of his pen. "There's a question the director wants me to ask you."     I shrugged my shoulders and presented him with an expression of unconcern. But the little angel on my shoulder was dripping beadlets of sweat. What question, I asked myself, could be important enough to make it down the chain of command like this?     "The director wanted me to ask you why you never married."     So that was it. Gee. Carl made it sound as if I were already in a rocking chair, the subject of a retrospective on my life. "It's not as if I've shut the door to the possibility," I said, honestly.     Carl's expression continued to search.     What could I tell him? I am a very independent man who is attracted to very independent women. It is not a recipe for success. In the struggle to preserve our individual goals and habits, we eventually part to salvage a friendship, which, oddly enough, invariably persists. But did Carl need to know all this?     "I don't know," I finally offered.     Carl shrugged in a manner suggesting commiseration. Perhaps he was reflecting his own experience, saying in effect, "Women. Who knows!"     One of the last questions Carl asked me was what kind of child I was looking for. I had thought about this in the interim since submitting my application. As a speaker of Spanish who had traveled in several Spanish-speaking countries, I was endeared to those cultures and their common language. I therefore inquired about a Central or South American boy.     Age?     I had thought about this, too: four to six years old. I realized that as a single person, a baby was not really appropriate for me. Without a partner at home and with supportive family five hundred miles away in New Jersey, reality dictated that a child with some degree of self-sufficiency, that is, an older child, was best for me.     "I don't see any red flags."     That was Carl again. "Red flags" belongs to the jargon of psychologists and sociologists--warning signs. He had not detected any warning signs in my answers.     The rest of the intake interview consisted of a review of my application, questions about my family (healthy, not so wealthy, but pretty wise), and my financial resources (adequate but with little room for frivolousness). I also handed over to him proof of medical insurance, the form for which had been part of the application package.     Carl saved some of the more cogent questions for last.     What if I were to become seriously ill or die?     I had thought about this as well. My sister in New Jersey, who is married and has two young children, would care for my son in the event of my incapacitation or demise.     What did my family think of my plans?     They were supportive, very supportive. My mother was already referring to my prospective son's room as "Pablo's room."     Remember: the submission of an application is no guarantee of the referral of a child .     Carl told me he would write up the intake and hand it in for agency review. But he did not foresee any problems.     I suddenly felt that I had taken another solid step toward the child who, although he did not know it yet, was waiting for me. I felt like the sculptor who already sees the image in the block of stone: with every cleave of the chisel he comes closer to releasing it.     Still, I made overt attempts to remind myself that so much sheer bureaucracy still lay ahead. Although adoptions, by and large, come to fruition with a minimum of delay and complication and I had no reason to suspect that my situation would present me with insurmountable difficulties, the stories of scandal were rife as well. My reading about adoption was making a good consumer of me, but the anecdotes were sometimes terrifying: the couple stranded in Mexico, dependent on shady Mexican contacts who needed "just a thousand dollars more"; the couple waiting at the airport in New York for their seven-month-old Korean daughter to arrive, only to be presented with a twelve- year-old boy; the frightening isolation of going it alone in corrupt Romania. (I had read somewhere that any unscrupulous adoption facilitator, regardless of nationality, was now being referred to as a "professional Romanian.")     "No red flags," Carl repeated as he packed my case folder into his attache. Then I handed him $500 as the first installment of the agency's fee. Writing the check had pinched a little, but handing it over was like a first seal placed on a covenant. In that act was contained, somehow, the power to make things happen in my favor.     As I drove back home that evening, I reflected that if one considered everything that could go wrong, if one read too many horror stories, if one dwelled on the potential problems without seasoning one's fears with hope, then a person would never sign on for such an undertaking. Adoption is the expectation of a reasonably happy future, with normal ups and downs. Tragedy hovers in the back of one's mind as a possibility, in the same way that people acknowledge the potential of an accident while driving. But few anticipate having one.     Intake: a pleasant gas; an opportunity for me to tell my story and have someone tell me, in turn, that I am okay.     No red flags. -- What Color Is Your Harley? -- I have never been much for groups. On those occasions when participation in a group has been unavoidable, I have made it clear that there are three things I will not do: state what kind of tree I would like to be, touch someone I do not know, or turn to the person next to me and tell that person that I love him.     My adoption agency required that I attend adoptive parenting classes: four hours one evening a week for four weeks. This took place two months after the submission of my initial application and one month after intake.     In Lewiston.     Carl, my caseworker, and soon to be the karaoke master of central Maine, ran the session with a helpmate, a woman named Ann.     The other prospective parents were a single woman, about forty, who had had her tubes tied when very young to prevent pregnancy from inhibiting a career that never blossomed, although a latent desire for children had. There was also a "middle-America" couple--young, bright, well-groomed: he a junior-high-school principal and she a gym instructor. Lastly there was a Harley couple. The husband, Billy, was brawny, bearded, and potbellied; had a few teeth left; and wore a T-shirt that had seen much of the world. His wife wore a frilly cotton dress and looked like the only person who could beat Billy at arm wrestling. In short, we represented prospective adoptive families from the four corners of the earth. Our portraits should have been adorning the nether regions of a medieval map.     We sat in a wide circle while Carl and Ann introduced the session. The meetings were to consist of a series of dynamics in which we were all expected to participate. There would also be a lot of direct-thought questions.     I was on edge. I was always on edge in groups. To compensate for being on edge I tended to talk a lot. And then I was on edge because I talked a lot, fearing I would say something that would constitute a red flag.     But when I looked across the circle at Billy, I saw him awash in red flags, like a Soviet leader on his catafalque. So I relaxed.     The purpose of the parenting sessions was to get us to think about the most important issues pertinent to the adoption experience. There were discussions of bonding ("Do you warm to people quickly or slowly?"), disciplining children (curtailment of privileges? corporal punishment?), dealing with questions from outsiders ("What a beautiful Vietnamese baby! What language will he speak?"), and even the issue of renaming an adopted child.     The last was something I had thought about a great deal. It seemed self- evident to me that a child's name is his identity. For adopted children it may very well be the only thing that they own. Further, their name represented what most likely was their only possession from their birth country. To suddenly start calling Pablo "Harry" once he is on American soil seemed almost punitive.     For infants, of course, it is different; and some older children do ask their adoptive parents for an American name, because they want to fit in. But to foist a radical name change on an eight year old with a highly developed sense of self seems selfish, at best.     (I did get wind of one justifiable case of renaming an older child: a girl from a Middle Eastern country. Her name was originally O-Shit. It was changed to Jennifer.)     There was an interesting group dynamic that revealed how dramatically different we four adoptive parties were. It involved Carl and Ann reading a scenario involving a child's behavior and a parental response. Each of the four corners of the room represented one of the following: strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the parent's reaction. Following the reading of the scenario, each adopting party was to go to the corner of the room that best represented our level of agreement with the parental action. In almost every case each migrated to a different corner, as we were consistently divergent in our opinions of what a parent should do in the situation given.     One of the scenarios was "Your two year old suddenly runs into the street. You go after him and spank him."     I went to the "strongly disagree" corner, the single woman went to "disagree," and the middle-America couple went to "agree" (although I eventually managed to lure the wife into my corner by offering a coffee mug bearing the adoption agency's logo). Billy and Candy lodged themselves solidly in the "strongly agree" corner.     Carl asked me to explain my reasoning.     "Well," I began, "you can't automatically assume that a spanking is the answer for every child. Why would that be the response of first resort? Depending on the child's level of sensitivity, a stern verbal correction might make an unforgettable impression, obviating the need for a spanking."     Billy and Candy gaped at me as if I had mistaken their bike for a Kawasaki.     Carl turned to the two of them. "What do you think, Billy?" he asked.     Billy swiped the air with his hand. "Give'm a whack on the ass. He won't run in the street again."     Silence.     At that moment I saw Billy in a different light. I think my response had been honest, but guardedly so. Higher education had taught me to wrap my reasoning in a labyrinth of prose that would discourage all but the most persistent souls from understanding me. But Billy's simple philosophy and blanket honesty, though perhaps offensive or wrongheaded to some, were unencumbered by thoughts of propriety, correctness, or acceptability. In Billy, one got what one saw. I might, in reality, be an ax murderer, but you would not know it until I was upon you. Billy, on the other hand, could not be an ax murderer, because if he was, he would be carrying an ax. In my mind's eye I suddenly envisioned him and Candy straddling his MegaHarley with an adoptive bundle of joy in the sidecar, the three of them tooling briskly down a country road, their faces flush to the wind.     What came out of the adoptive parenting classes were not the dicta I had feared, but a heightened awareness of the range of parental philosophies and responses that exists. Our choosing separate corners of the room after each vignette brought this home in spades. In short, as Carl later made clear, there were no right or wrong answers, just "different" answers. (However, some borders must exist, Otherwise the red flag industry would not have a raison d'être.) In fact, after the dynamic on discipline, Carl remarked that the night before his nine-year-old daughter had been a hellion on wheels. "I gave her a whack," he said, swiping the air for emphasis. Billy looked over at me from across the room, as if to say, "On the ass."     The discussions proceeded to parental expectations of the adoptive child, support networks, and the agency's role in postplacement supervision. Then Ann presented a dynamic that made the prospect of adoption more real to me than it had been.     She asked us to close our eyes. A few moments of silence ensued, followed by Ann's quietly reading the following narrative: You feel yourself being lifted up and carried by someone who smells and feels different. This person even holds you differently. And when the person speaks, the sounds are unfamiliar. You are wrapped in a blanket. A door opens. The wind blows cold against your face. You feel yourself being lowered. There is a slamming sound. A roar. You are moving. After a while you stop. You feel yourself being lifted up again. There is another slamming sound. You are being carried along. There is a lot of noise. Voices. More voices than you have ever heard before. You are carried into a place that smells very strange. The place whistles. Then it roars and you are moving again. Then you and the person holding you are lifted up. It is as if your whole world is being lifted up. And then, after a long, long time, you feel yourself and your world coming down. There is a bump. Once more you are lifted and carried. More slamming and moving and roaring. And then it stops. You are taken into a place where nothing looks familiar. The colors are different. The smell is different. People gather around you. They all touch you. They pass you around. Someone puts food in your mouth, but it is not what you are used to eating. You cry. Someone rocks you. Your eyes close. You are lowered into a bed with a strange feel and smell. The light goes out. You are lying in a dark place and nothing reminds you of anything you have ever known before.     A shudder filled me. Who would my son be? What would it be like to lift him from his friends and caretakers, from the colors and sounds and smells of familiar surroundings? Would he like me? Would he run away when he saw me? Would he get on the plane with me?     In reality, it was too early to dwell on such particulars, for I had not yet even been given the agency's imprimatur to proceed with an adoption. The adoption process is slow and lumbering, with patience being the watchword. But, at some deep level, I knew and the agency knew that we were both anticipating the successful placement of a child at the end of the road. This anticipation would soon become an assumption, which in time would become a certainty. A theory if you hold it hard enough And long enough gets rated as a creed.        Robert Frost     On the night of the last session there was a period when we prospective parents were left alone in the room to talk among ourselves. Optimism was running high, although it was seeded with reasonable uncertainties. The middle-America couple wanted an infant. The single woman wanted a group of siblings. Billy and Candy seemed to be open to all the options--instantly heightening them in my estimation. Some of our talk revolved around costs. Oddly enough, though, there was little of the bonding that tends to take place among people who have shared a common, intimate experience. Perhaps this is peculiar to the adoption effort, where the thrust is essentially an individual one: get a child as soon as possible. In short, there is no group goal to be achieved.     Before breaking up, we dutifully exchanged names and addresses. "Let me know as soon as you have your child," was the parting sentiment. But I sensed that there would be no keeping in touch, no alleluia phone calls once the first member of our group had adopted. When we exited the armory and walked outside, I lagged behind a bit, watching as the others pulled away and disappeared into the darkness--exactly the way it should be.     On this last night I had handed over another $1000, plus $10 for the book Raising Adopted Children . It was like investing in stocks, I thought, and the dividends were represented by successfully completing each step in the adoption process. The checks had become easier to write too, which reminded me of something I had read in Anna Karenina concerning the drinking habit: "The first one sticks in your throat, the second goes down like a hawk, and the rest are like wee little birds." That first $100 cheek for the application fee just did not want to leave my hand, but once it had, the $500 check followed in hot pursuit. Now I was beginning to write checks almost reflexively.     I made the long drive home and opened my adoption file folder to check off yet another milestone in the journey toward my faceless child. I had finished my parenting classes.     And I did not have to tell Billy that I loved him. -- My Turf -- It began to get real. Now they were going to actually come to my house for a closer look. This was the so-called homestudy.     "It's not a white glove inspection," Carl had assured me as we searched for a date over the phone. Then he laughed before hanging up.     Why did he laugh?     My homestudy was scheduled for August. Perfect: weather warm, skies clear, apples hanging heavy on the branch, Penobscot River coursing serenely behind my house. A picture-perfect place to raise a kid.     I hoped Carl would feel the same. If I had known at the time that he had karaoke on his mind and in his heart, I would not have anticipated his visit with such gravity.     At this point I recapped my status. I had submitted my application, gone through intake, completed parenting classes (I was actually missing Billy), and had my physical exam. I had also paid the first three-quarters of my agency fee, and I was not even officially a client of my adoption agency yet. But I was confident of becoming one, having convinced myself that if there had been any RED FLAGS they would already have been pointed out to me, thus stopping the process dead in its tracks. So I tried to relax, looking forward to Carl's visit with the composure of someone rooted in a done deal.     Carl arrived just as I was on my hands and knees cleaning the kitchen baseboards with a Q-tip. He came in and remarked on the pleasant appearance of my house.     We sat opposite each other at my kitchen table. The sunlight poured in through the window, falling upon us like a benediction while we sat, quiet as Quakers. Carl had the bearing of someone who knew he had the upper hand--not arrogant, but generously reassuring in a manner that confirmed he was in control of a crucial step in the adoption process. The silence persisted a few moments longer.     Carl hoisted his briefcase onto the table, opened it, and pulled out a file: my autobiography. I had written the eight-page tract as part of my application. Suddenly I wondered if there was anything in there I should be regretting. It covered just about every aspect of my life from birth to the heady anticipation of adoptive parenthood. Carl was now going over it like an attorney scouring a contract for flaws. I tried to remember what I had written and whether any of the evidence would be detrimental to my petition. Or worse yet, did any of the statements constitute a red flag?     "So, you're Catholic !"     Carl had taken me by surprise, and his declaration brought me to attention. I leaned across the table. "Is that good?" I whispered. I remember having written that my Catholic grammar-school experience had been "unhappy."     " Very unhappy?" probed Carl as his pen hovered over his legal pad.     "Somewhat unhappy," I countered, bailing water as fast as I could. I was convinced I had not mentioned being put out with the trash in a pitch black incinerator room by my first-grade teacher, Sister Helen Celene, who was eighty- eight at the time and was said to be still alive but no longer teaching. Then I added, "It could have been happier, and in some respects actually was."     Carl scribbled. "Do you intend to raise your son a Catholic?" he asked.     "Yes," I said with a nod. "But a happy Catholic, if not a very happy one."     Carl looked sidelong at me, cracking and then quickly abandoning a weak smile.     We talked about my family. "What do they think about what you're doing?" asked Carl, even though we had gone over this question at intake. He made it sound as if I were harvesting opium in my backyard.     "They're all for it," I said. That was God's truth. I had joined my mother in referring to my prospective son as "Pablo," and this went a long way toward creating a mental picture of what he would look like. "Yes," I confirmed again. "They have no reservations."     "That's remarkable," said Carl.     Well, I didn't think it was remarkable, but perhaps not that common. The books I had read said that families frequently offered some initial resistance to the introduction of an adoptive child, especially one from a foreign bloodline.     The interview progressed through my job description and the prospects for staying employed, the distance of the grammar school from my home, how Pablo would get to and from school, childcare arrangements, my personal support network, medical insurance, the personalities of my neighbors, the likelihood of a meteoric impact on my home. Whew! I felt as if I were being peeled. I wished Carl would just ask me if I were a good witch or a bad witch and get it over with.     At that point a friend came by, and not a moment too soon. Mary had written one of the three reference letters that had been submitted with my application. Part of the process required that one of these people be personally interviewed in my absence, so it was necessary for me to step outside. As Mary sat down for her cross-examination, she laid a platter of freshly baked sticky buns before Carl.     Good girl, Mary!     I sat outside on my back porch for the longest time, watching the river curl south in long silver ribbons. Goldfinches came to the feeder from their haven in the immense silver maples growing along the bank. Raspberries were swelling on their canes. The sky was bluer than Seattle's. God, I thought, all of this is being squandered on one person. I need to share it with someone, preferably a little black-haired boy from Latin America.     A dangerous line of thought had been snaking its way into my head for some weeks now. I had tried to dislodge it for my own emotional well-being. But I now had to acknowledge its permanence: I was assuming the adoption of a child. When I looked at the raspberries, Pablo was picking them; when I walked along the river bank, he was there with me, his small hand in mine; when I cooked a meal, I imagined calling a little boy to the table and feigning annoyance when he showed reluctance to abandon his play. "It's happened," I whispered. What on earth will I do if all this doesn't work out? What on earth will I do?     At the end of an hour and a half Mary emerged--smiling. She came through the screen door. "It's okay," she said, as if the fix was in.     When I went back into the house Carl was licking his fingers. A few sticky buns remained on the platter. "Good woman," he said after swallowing. "And a good friend."     "And a good cook," I chided as Carl made a last few smacking sounds.     Carl smiled. "Now," he said. "What kind of child were we talking about at intake?"     Everything really was okay, then. I was being asked to paint my child's portrait. "Young, school aged," I said, resuming my seat. "Four to six."     "Why not a baby?" asked Carl as he reached for another sticky bun.     "What would I do with a baby?" I asked. "It never occurred to me to even consider it. Anyway, how would a single man take care of an infant?"     "It's been done," said Carl.     "How would I afford the childcare?"     "That's something to consider."     "And I think an infant needs a mother."     Carl scribbled. "Are we talking about a boy, then?"     "Of course." But he already knew that. Why were we going over trodden ground? Perhaps they wanted me to repeat myself to assure them that I knew what I wanted. Or maybe Carl was simply forgetful.     "Why?"     I had thought a lot about this one. "Carl, I don't think I could be a role model for a girl. Besides, isn't it going to be hard enough for me, as a single man, to adopt a boy?"     Carl scribbled with one hand while he reached for a sticky bun with the other. "What about nationality?" he asked.     "Hispanic," I said. "Didn't I tell you that at intake?" I recognized the edge of annoyance in my voice, but felt that, having come this far, I could afford to assert myself a bit.     "Yes, but you gave no justification."     "I speak Spanish, and since a school-aged kid is very verbal it seemed like an advantage to be able to talk to him."     Carl put down a few last words, clicked his pen, and pocketed it. "Can I see the house?"     We went from corner to corner of my small clapboard home, winding up in Pablo's room. "Nice," said Carl. As I stood on the threshold looking in, the room seemed pregnant with possibility. I swelled with anticipation. I had built all the furniture in it. On the low bed was a superheroes comforter. Dinosaur curtains hung across the windows. Suddenly a small sleeping boy appeared in my mind's eye. I could see the rise and fall of his chest. I could hear his subtle exhalations. Then it struck me: This child is already alive, in a place as different from Maine as can be; he is absolutely unaware of me, and yet I have somehow invoked his spirit by putting these charms in place.     Carl packed up his papers. He eyed the last of the sticky buns and in the next moment had seized it. I saw him to the back porch.     "I'll submit this and then you'll get a call to come down to the office to read it."     "Lewiston?"     "Yes."     "I'll book passage on the packet."     "Hmmm?"     "Good-bye, Carl."     Once Carl was safely on his way I felt the most incredible compulsion to ascend the stairs to Pablo's room. I lingered on the threshold for a moment, gazing in, as if awaiting his invitation to enter. I sat down on the edge of his bed and stroked the comforter, my hand passing over the triumphant faces of Superman and Wonder Woman. I turned my head to the window and watched the river roll south, south, always south, the sun blinking off its surface, the pendulous branches of the silver maples sweeping the bank.     God, what a wonderful place to raise a child. -- Red at Last -- In this age of electronic mail and the fax, I have no idea why I had to drive to Lewiston to read my homestudy. The invitation to do so came in a call from Ann, the woman who had assisted Carl at the parenting classes. I felt that another giant step had been completed. I was being asked to read the homestudy because it was worth reading. Did this mean I had passed?     It was November, three months since the home visit and eight months since I had submitted my application. Carl was now history. One early autumn evening he left a message on my answering machine. "But I'll be interested in seeing what kind of kid you wind up with" were his closing words.     As I drove the interminable miles to Lewiston, my breath was constantly being taken away by the autumn landscape bordering Interstate 95. When the soothing greens of August give way to the shocking golds of October, I become hypersensitive about the passage of time. That autumn, the passage was particularly unnerving, making me feel anxious about my plans for a son, as if the ball were rolling much too fast, as if my son's arrival were imminent and then what on earth would I do? At other times, my heightened sense of time endowed me with a feeling that things were happening too slowly and that I wanted the adoption now, at this very moment.     When I got to the armory the doors were locked. I was ten minutes early. I took out my copy of Raising Adopted Children and sat on a park bench facing the building. There were several young teens carousing on its granite steps. They were tormenting one another, the boys against the girls. The girls wanted the boys' attention, but they were pretending that the girls did not exist. This led to occasional screaming and feigned hitting. The activity was monotonous and went on without letup. I was sure it would last the night. Then, for only a moment, I imagined my son as a teenager, wondering what the autumn evenings of his fourteenth year would be like.     Ann arrived. She came over to the bench and then we both headed for the door, wading through the kids. They parted for us in such an incidental way that it did not interrupt their horseplay. Ann seemed apologetic. "Have you ever imagined your son as a teen?"     "Not until now," I said. Ann's expression solicited clarification, but I had none to give, so we continued into the office.     I sat down at a round table and Ann pulled out my homestudy. She left me alone while I read it through. Almost immediately I began to pick up inconsistencies, misleading statements, and inaccurate information. I recalled having mentioned to Carl during the home visit that my grammar-school experience had not been the best. On paper he made it sound as if the nuns had locked me in a closet with rats. When I had spoken matter-of-factly about the ethnic and racial diversity of the New Jersey neighborhood where I grew up, Carl had, with the best of intentions no doubt, inserted commentary that made me look too good to be true. "Robert has no prejudices and is accepting of all peoples, religions, and cultures." I realized that as my advocate the agency had to make me look presentable, but I was leery about risking comparison with Albert Schweitzer. I dutifully noted every passage that gave me trouble, grammatically, stylistically, or contentwise, and handed it over to Ann. "It's not bad," I said, "but these corrections will make it more accurate."     "I haven't read the homestudy myself," she said, "but I'll pass on your comments to your caseworker."     She had not read the homestudy? I wondered if I should point out the red flags I saw in the agency s operation. But I was preempted by Ann, who raised an index finger and said, "There is a small problem, though."     I caught my breath. A problem? But I'm the one who is accepting of all peoples, religions, and cultures!     "It's something that came up at the parenting class," she continued. "We didn't want to point it out then, thinking it better to discuss it in private."     I found myself frozen in my seat, my eyes begging for clarification. I tried to recall everything I had said at those meetings, wondering why Billy wasn't sitting in the hot seat instead of me.     "Do you have any idea what it could be?" Ann asked.     I thought hard. Was it my questioning the agency's fee? Did that indicate lack of financial wherewithal? Was it my reluctance to consider adopting an infant? Had I offended someone by playing "Wipeout" behind my head on a toy guitar during one of our breaks?     "No," I said. "I have no idea."     Ann's response was anticlimactic. "Do you remember the question we asked you folks about whether you tend to get attached quickly to people or whether it takes you a long time to warm to someone?"     My eyes shifted rapidly back and forth as I took in all of this. "Yes," I said. "I remember."     "What was your response?"     Was I on the witness stand or something? What should I say? What could I say?     "I get quickly attached," I offered, my mouth closing quickly about the last word, as if I could inhale the whole statement should it prove to be the wrong answer.     "Right," said Ann in the manner of a kindergarten teacher. Only she did not add "Very good."     "Is this a problem?" I asked, leaning forward.     "We need to discuss this," she said.     I swallowed hard for both of us. "It's not," I began. "It's not a red flag, is it?"     Ann brought her thumb and index finger together, offering a faint smile. "A small one."     I recalled the small green flags that we as kids would wave at the St. Patrick's Day parade. Small, yes, but without them, no free hot dogs from the Irish vendors, no membership in the club. "But why?" I asked.     Ann smiled again, benignly, as if my unfamiliarity with the tenets of social work struck her as quaint. "What we're afraid of is that you'll get quickly attached to your child and will feel hurt if he does not immediately return your affection."     I felt as if I were floating in some thick liquid. My senses seemed dulled and I had trouble thinking. I repeated, "Is this a problem?"     Ann nodded, still smiling. "We just want you to remain aware of your tendency, so you won't set yourself up for disappointment."     I was stuck on the word tendency . How could a tendency be distilled from a single, forgettable (though not to Ann) statement? I realized that I could just as easily have said that it takes a long time for me to warm to someone. And what about Billy, damn it?     "I am so apprised," I said, contritely, seeking the path of least resistance, although the coals were still flaming within.     At this point, I remember thinking that adoption agency personnel do not seem to dwell in the same world as their clients. It is as if they were born and bred within the walls of their agencies. But I know this not to be true; many of these people have multiple adopted children of their own. So where did the gravity of some of their interpretations come from -- a need to show that they have read the right books? I still have no answer to this, but with all the adopted children and families experiencing real crises, indulging in polemics seemed like a trivial pursuit.     "Your caseworker will be Laura," said Ann as she put her papers away. "She'll help you choose a program."     A program, a country from which to adopt. I gathered this prospect under my skin and left the armory, passing between the teens who were still going at each other. This time they fell silent when I approached, like crickets.     I stopped at a Wendy's on the way home. It was just before closing. The salad bar was still illuminated. "It's on the house," said an employee as he passed by with mop in hand. "We have to throw it out anyway."     I rubbed my chin, hovering over the broccoli crock. The vegetable was dark and wilted, soft looking. I thought to myself, "It is good that the broccoli looks so terrible, lest I should grow too fond of it." Then I stepped up to the counter and ordered a cheeseburger. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Robert Klose. All rights reserved.