The Boy From Baby House 10

News

A boy becomes a son - Bethlehem Twp. woman gave Russian a home.

Copyright The Morning Call May 14, 2006
Kathleen Rose- Bercaw Special to The Morning Call - Freelance2

There are days when 16-year-old John Lahutsky can barely contain his euphoria.

He might be poring over a favorite social studies project at East Hills Middle School, or working on a project with his beloved Boy Scout Troop 362, or chowing down on ribs, another favorite. Then it hits him.

"I love my life," he'll say to himself. "I just love it."

And what a life it is.

He loves Tchaikovsky and martial arts, and is a First Class Boy Scout who has earned eight badges, "with no short-cuts," his mother Paula Lahutsky, of Bethlehem Township, would quickly interject.

John's life has taken many turns, but certainly no short-cuts. And Paula's journey to motherhood was no smooth sail either.

On Mother's Day and every day, however, they are sure of this: They are hugely happy to have arrived at their destination.

Eight years ago, John had no mother. His name was Vanya Paustookov, although he was little more than a number living within the walls of Children's House No. 10, the Moscow orphanage where he ate and slept. His ears had never thrilled to Tchaikovsky's melodies, and social studies was as alien to him as baby back ribs swimming in barbecue sauce.

Vanya always knew what his life lacked, for the total nothingness that greeted him daily was unavoidable. He hasn't forgotten the emptiness, but the memories are bearable because everything has changed.

He knew all about aching memories by age 6, when he learned the unrelenting permanence of goodbye.

For more than a year, his most coveted activity was teaching his friend Andre how to talk. Although both boys had outgrown their cribs, they were pleased that theirs were alongside each other, where they could peer through the bars that surrounded them and find comfort in the familiarity of each other's faces.

Andre had never spoken until Vanya decided his neighbor needed first a friend and second, words. He can't pinpoint when, but sometime after Andre was adopted and left, Vanya stopped dreaming of the stuff that happy childhoods are made of. He had watched other children come and go, and none of it was easy. But losing Andre hurt.

Perhaps it was the way Andre smiled at him that made Vanya feel needed, or maybe it was the accomplishment he felt when Andre responded and actually correlated thoughts and words. Happy moments were rare. Magical ones, wrapped within the connection between Vanya and Andre, were all but nonexistent.

And so, as Andre walked out the door, Vanya's cherished dream faded. Never mind a new computer or soccer ball. All Vanya wanted was a family.

It wasn't a dream that dissolved easily, for it would be presumptuous to think that anyone who weighed 2 pounds at birth and survived life in a Russian orphanage didn't know how to dream.

From the vantage point of his crib, he could envision the woman - - his mother -- with a wide smile and gentle hug, or the father with a deep voice and strapping shoulders, who would carry him out of Children's House No. 10 and take him home.

And when his basic hope, this sweet vision, didn't materialize, he needed to remain as strong and resolute as a front-line soldier. Vanya was born with cerebral palsy, a chronic condition caused by a brain injury that usually occurs during fetal development or infancy, which affects body movement.

He endured multiple leg surgeries without a parent to coax or coddle him through the painful recuperations. In the absence of a walker or crutches, holding onto the edges of cribs in his room afforded him the luxury of standing upright.

Although a bright child, for a time he was placed in an asylum, where he was drugged and confined to a crib in a locked room for hours. He survived through sheer determination and with the dream that someday the nightmare would end.

On three occasions, he was told that a British couple would adopt him. Three times the couple never came.

He clung to slices of interaction with social workers. A group of British women who took interest in the orphanage brought smiling faces, arms that hugged, and the hope that somewhere outside there were more people like them.

Inside, there were people like the aide who one day told Vanya that no one would ever take him home. Her matter-of-fact summary concluded: "You'll never leave here."

Whether that was the final straw or it was a combination of all the horrors that slowly crushed Vanya's dreams, he cannot say. He does know that in August 1999, when he finally was told that a woman from America was here and would be his mother, it was too much to grasp.

Home, heart ready...

Nearly a year earlier and on the other side of the world, Paula Lahutsky, a school psychologist in the Pleasant Valley School District for 24 years, was settled into a comfortable lifestyle.

After caring for her invalid father for four years before his death, she again was enjoying wonderful friends, a career she loved and a strong church community. The thought of becoming a mother was as far from her mind as Moscow.

Then she read the blurb in her church bulletin inviting parishioners to consider adopting 8-year-old Vanya, a handicapped child whose future looked bleak. Vanya, it explained, would be placed in progressively worse conditions as he got older.

His plight was conveyed by two parishioners who had recently returned from adopting a child who lived in Vanya's orphanage. While there, they witnessed Vanya crying inconsolably after learning that his would-be British parents had a change of heart.

Paula pondered the life-changing decision, but not because she was reluctant to change her lifestyle. She had moved to a Bethlehem Township ranch house and made it handicap-accessible when caring for her father. It seemed that her home was waiting for Vanya. What she feared was the convoluted Russian adoption process and emotionally immersing herself in a dicey situation.

Two weeks later, the inexplicable and overwhelming desire to become Vanya's mother obliterated any lingering doubt. Her mission in life became a ticket out of Moscow: for two.

Temporarily lost...

Not everyone, however, was ready to jump on the bandwagon -- or airplane. When she talked by phone with the contact person at the Orthodox Church in America, which was facilitating the adoption, she was informed that the church wasn't certain a single-parent adoption would be approved.

It seemed that a single woman had previously adopted a child, and the situation had ended in failure. This predicament, Paula assured them, would not be hers.

"Why should all of the children suffer because of one failure?" she asked.

It subsequently was decided that Paula could proceed. With the help of Diakon Adoption and Foster Care of Topton, Paula completed the required home study and mounds of paperwork to adopt Vanya -- only to be informed a few weeks later that the Russian authorities had lost track of him.

"What do you mean, you don't know where he is?" Paula asked in disbelief. "How can no one know where he is?"

Offers were made for other children, children who were "better," meaning not handicapped.

"Don't even tell me about them. I want him. I want Vanya," Paula replied with the furor of a mother whose child had been snatched out of her arms.

His whereabouts at that time still remain somewhat of a mystery, but it is believed Vanya was in the hospital undergoing or recuperating from surgery. Several days later came the news that Vanya had been found, and plans for the journey to his first and last home were under way.

Meanwhile, Paula was beginning to panic. Not about caring for an 8-year-old, mind you, but about driving to Philadelphia to the immigration office for a notarization required for the adoption.

"I am so not a risk-taker," she says. "I avoid driving in a lot of traffic and, although I was going to do it, the thought of driving to Philadelphia scared me."

Fortuitous encounter...

Driving home from school one day, Paula was thinking of the dreaded trip when she noticed her mailbox had been run over. Inside the mailbox was a note: "In order to avoid an accident, I drove into your mailbox. Please call me at this number so that I can pay you for it. Stacey."

Paula did not immediately call, and she placed the note on her kitchen table. A few hours later, she answered a knock on her door. It was Stacey's apologetic husband, Greg. Their conversation, Paula recalls, went something like this:

Greg: "Ma'am, my wife ran over your mailbox. We insist on paying for it."

Paula: "You don't need to pay for it, but would you mind putting it in the ground for me when I get a new one?"

Greg: "No problem. Here, let me write my phone number on the ticket stub that my wife wrote on."

Paula: "Ticket stub?"

Greg: "Yes, I drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Philadelphia every day."

Paula: "Can I ask what you do?"

Greg: "I work at the immigration office."

Paula: "REALLY?"

As Vanya's adoption was becoming real, a smashed mailbox produced the remedy for Paula's driving angst. Paula asked Greg if she could hitch a ride with him to the office and Greg replied, "Ma'am, I'll take a day off work to do that."

Which he did. The next day, Vanya's documents arrived in Paula's mail, and the following week Greg whisked Paula to the state's Office of Immigration.

48 pounds, 46 inches...

In July 1999, Paula waited in the car outside Children's House No. 10 with armfuls of gifts for Vanya, who was still unaware of her efforts to adopt him. Paula would name him John, the English translation for Vanya. Her eyes were glued to the adoption agent as he returned to the car without John -- and with the heart-stopping news that again, the boy's whereabouts were unknown.

Several days later, authorities learned John had been placed in a foster home and his foster mother, who didn't want to give up her stipend for housing him, had fled with him 1,000 miles from Moscow. They located them and returned John to the orphanage, where he and Paula finally met.

John, then 9, was wheeled to his mother in a stroller, his primary means of navigation to that point. He weighed all of 48 pounds, and was 46 inches tall.

Paula had dreamed of this moment, and knew exactly what she wanted to say.

"Hi, I'm your mother," she said, leaning down to look into his eyes and give him a long, gentle hug.

John, afraid he would say the wrong thing and be sent back to the orphanage, was speechless.

"The funny thing was," John recalls in perfect English, "I waited all this time and was so nervous that I didn't say anything. I didn't think this could really happen to me."

A few days earlier, on July 28, 1999, exactly nine months from the day Paula made the decision to adopt John, Paula had stood in a Russian courtroom to file documents for his adoption.

On Aug. 8, 1999, Paula and John Lahutsky became mother and son.

"The moment I knew"

Sitting in their cozy home sprinkled with pictures of John, they are a living portrait of love and happiness.

John, handsome and poised, dressed in his perfectly pressed Scout uniform, evokes all the glowing adjectives a parent yearns to hear of a son -- brave, kind and hard-working.

"I wouldn't have come as far as I have without my mother," says John, who walks expertly with his crutches and is proudly working toward his yellow belt in martial arts. He plans to be a lawyer.

His hazel eyes reflect astounding calm; his smile, confidence, as though the joy of his present life has somehow muted the anguish of his past.

"Some very bad things happened to me when I was younger," he says. "But now I'm here."

Paula, tears pouring down her face, hears her son talk of his past, how he loves his mother, his home, his life. She recalls how quickly she bonded with John, and the day when she knew John had bonded with her.

He had been outside for a while taking in the freedom of walking outdoors, when he came in the house and said, "Hello, lubee myah," a Russian colloquialism that means, "Hello, my love."

Becoming very still, she draws a breath.

"We hugged and hugged. That was the moment I knew. I knew I was his mother."

For information about adoption referrals through the Orthodox Church in America, call Arlene Kallaur at 516-922-0550, extension 126.

For information about Diakon Adoption and Foster Care, call 610- 682-1504 or 888-582-2230.
Kathleen Bercaw is a freelance writer.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
 
     
It subsequently was decided that [Paula Lahutsky] could proceed. With the help of Diakon Adoption and Foster Care of Topton, Paula completed the required home study and mounds of paperwork to adopt [Vanya] -- only to be informed a few weeks later that the Russian authorities had lost track of him.

In July 1999, Paula waited in the car outside Children's House No. 10 with armfuls of gifts for Vanya, who was still unaware of her efforts to adopt him. Paula would name him [John Lahutsky], the English translation for Vanya. Her eyes were glued to the adoption agent as he returned to the car without John -- and with the heart-stopping news that again, the boy's whereabouts were unknown.

A few days earlier, on July 28, 1999, exactly nine months from the day Paula made the decision to adopt John, Paula had stood in a Russian courtroom to file documents for his adoption.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.



The Boy From Baby House 10