By Joan McNamara
Illustrated by Dawn Majewski
hardcover, 32 pages
Borya and the Burps: An Eastern European Adoption Story
Adoptive Families magazine, in their August, 2008 issue, has listed Borya and the Burps as one of eight “must have” picture books for young children!Just for fun, Publisher’s Weekly’s Editors, in compiling their 2/21/2005 Children’s Book Announcements issue, offered ten tongue-in-cheek awards as “Silly Salutations of the Season”. And a winner is… Title Most Apt to Encourage Less-Than-Silent Activity at the Dinner Table: Borya and the Burps: An Eastern European Adoption Story by Jane McNamara, illus. by Dawn Majewski, the story of baby boy with a talent for making magnificent burps. (Perspectives Press)We got a chuckle out of this. Hope you do!
In recent years more children have been adopted from Eastern Europe, Russia, and the former Soviet Bloc countries than from any other region of the world. Yet until now, there have been no picture books designed to tell their stories of finding a forever family through adoption.
Long time social worker Joan McNamara has ably filled that gap with a new children’s book that acknowledges the sense of security and comfort that many children have with the “familiar” in their daily life in an orphanage compared to the unknowns of a new adoptive family. This delightful book gently illustrates some of the confusion children feel when they are removed from the multiple caretakers and groups of children whom they know within their (often deprived) orphanages and are moved into a loving but unfamiliar new family with a sensory-enriched (but possibly overwhelming) home environment. With their whole world turned upside down, children are still able to struggle to make sense of these changes and ultimately blossom within a new family, with a parent or parents who will be theirs forever.
Although Borya and the Burps! is one of the very first books on international adoption from Eastern Europe to be widely available to families, families who have adopted from other regions of the world may find this story valuable as well. Simple comments from parents while reading about what was the same and what was different for their child can personalize this story. Adoption of children from orphanage care does share some common themes and situations in all parts of the world, and thus parents can share this story with their children irregardless of where their child’s orphanage was or will be located.
A good introduction for young, recently arrived children, this unique book will also become an often-used conversation starter for slightly older children ready to talk about their prior lives, their prior caretakers and companions, and what adoption has meant in their young lives.
Borya and the Burps! fills a big hole for families who adopt from Eastern Europe.
About the Author: Joan McNamara
Joan McNamara, M.S., has been immersed in adoption for almost four decades as an adoptive parent, advocate and activist, and professional. Her research, training, and publications have been recognized and used widely in the US, Canada, the UK, and elsewhere around the world. But she says that it has been personal experiences with children in her own family and other families that have provided her with unique insights into some of the issues and thoughts of children coming from orphanages and foster care. Eleven of the thirteen children she and her husband Bernie have parented (now all adults) came into their family through adoption and foster care, many internationally.
Joan was Associate Director of Family Resources, a special needs adoption program, the Education Director for Carolina Adoption Services and also founded and directed the Home Again program, which was one of the first organized, national programs to assist children and families in crisis facing possible disruption of an international adoption. Currently she is the Director of Social Services for Hopscotch Adoptions, a not for profit international humanitarian aid and adoption program. In addition she is the co-chair of the Education Committee of the Joint Council for International Children’s Services.
Although there has been much written about international adoption for adults, there is far less from the perspectives of the children themselves, and no widely available materials for children related to Eastern European adoptions. Joan McNamara saw a need that desperately needed to be filled, and Borya and the Burps is her joyful and innovative contribution to the field, a loving gift to children from Eastern Europe and their new families.
Talking with Children about their Orphanage Background: A Guide to Using Borya and the Burps!
Each child is a gift to the world and should be a blessing to his family. In adoptive families, children bring into a new family the gifts of genetics, culture, and life history that must be incorporated into an understanding of the past and present. A child adopted into a family after living in an orphanage has taken a little longer, more complicated path to find the place where that gift is cherished and nurtured, a forever family. In part it has been this difficult journey that has contributed to such a child’s becoming the unique little person now blossoming in your home and heart. Like a diamond, these children have become strong and shining and beautiful not only because they are cherished now, but because of pressure from the past and how they have met the unique challenges of their young lives. Welcome to the adventure of international adoption through the eyes of a young child from an orphanage.
Children grow best in families, with one parent or two to nurture, encourage and cherish them. We all know this. Even if an orphanage is as bright and cheery as your neighborhood day-care center, with appropriate nutrition, health care, and activities, children who live in group care have far fewer opportunities to learn healthy emotional connections and living skills, and thus have less encouragement to reach their developmental milestones and to develop positive attachments.
As adoptive parents, one of our tasks is to help our children make sense of their world and to integrate the many strands of past and present into a cohesive sense of self. This may be more difficult for adoptive parents because we have to first accept that our children come to us with the rich tapestry of their past, one that may have included not only good things, but difficulties, even sad and hurtful times. And for many children, even infants, leaving what is familiar for a new family may be a sad and scary time.
Children who have lived in orphanages and are then adopted leave behind a world very different from that of their new family, but one which usually has had strong connections for this child. Even very young children bring along a wealth of memories, some accessible, some not, when they move into their adoptive families. These memories may include good times, a sense of sameness and stability, and trust in people they cared about who have cared for them. There may have been relationships with special caretakers and with other children with whom they developed ties as close as siblings. These kinds of relationships helped children begin to learn about the importance of human connections and attachment.
For other children there may be fewer good memories, perhaps because of abuse, neglect, abandonment or deprivation in their past. An overcrowded orphanage with overworked staff and few resources may be unable to provide more than the barest of essentials for children in their care; it may have been too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, with too many children to feed adequately or to give attention to. In such an environment, children may feel all alone in the middle of the crowd, where they are seldom singled out for attention and affection. They may have learned that the world is not a safe place and that grownups are not dependable creatures. Yet if this is all that a child has known, this familiar environment is usually perceived as what is normal, the only place to call home.
There seems to be a strong and universal human trait to reach out to a child in need. For parents, it seems almost an ingrained reflex to want to try to protect our children from pain and to ease our childï¿½s hurts. We want our children to be happy, to have happy memories and feelings to build into a positive sense of self-esteem. But all children, whether born into or adopted into their families, inevitably have a variety of experiences in life, with a wide range of accompanying emotions. It is how these experiences and emotions are dealt with-ï¿½not ignored or forgotten, but considered and incorporated into a sense of competence that one has succeeded in moving through difficultiesï¿½-that in part determines how a child grows stronger and more self-assured.
This tendency to want to protect children in need is perhaps part of the reason some people think about adoption as the ï¿½rescueï¿½ of a child, not just the growth of a family. But what adults see as a change for the better, some children experience as a kidnapping to an alien culture. Children and grownups may have very different perceptions and emotions about the same situations.
With adoption, all of the familiar and dependable people, places, schedules, food, words, clothing, and smells are gone. In their place are new and unfamiliar things an orphanage that seems like a less than positive, even deprived or negative place in an adultï¿½s eyes may have been considered as a safe and familiar home to a child, even with all of its obvious flaws. A grownup who seems pretty ordinary to us may have had significance to our child either as a beloved lifeline or as a feared disciplinarian. A loving adoptive parent and a stable home filled with toys, pets, and security may appear like a wonderful choice for a child to the grownups involved in adoption, yet feel to a child like being ripped away from everything she has ever known. While adults rejoice with an adoption, children may have a range of confusing emotions.
Even names, what people call you and how you intimately identify yourself, may be changed. Children as young as seven and eight months can recognize their own names and the endearing nicknames caregivers croon to them that help infants place themselves in the universe. How confusing it must be in this strange new place where people donï¿½t recognize who you are!
This can become even further complicated because some children are naturally easy-going and cope with changes with tentative smiles and curiosity, while other children, more sensitive, may view new things with more reserve, perhaps even with resentment or fear. Children who react with hesitation or even rejection when meeting these new people called parents are not necessarily indicating problems with attachment. The situation may actually be the reverse: you may be meeting a child who understands attachments to some degree and is reluctant to leave people and places where connections have been made. This child may know at some level deep inside that attachments are not instantaneous but take time and trust and energy to grow. A child who seems open and welcoming of new parents when meeting them at the orphanage may be temperamentally more relaxed in new situations, but she is far from being attached to these new parents, nor does her uncomplaining acceptance of her new home signal that she has already attached. This period is just the beginning of getting to know parents and slowly building trust. And it is trust, proven over and over again through countless interactions of both basic care and fun, that nurtures the bonding process towards attachment over weeks and months.
Although Borya and the Burps! is one of the very first books on international adoption from Eastern Europe to be widely available to families, families who have adopted from other regions of the world may find this story valuable as well. Simple comments from parents while reading about what were the same and what was different for their child can personalize this story. Adoption of children from orphanage care does share some common themes and situations in all parts of the world, and thus parents can share this story with their children no matter where their childï¿½s orphanage was or will be located.
Practical Strategies for Parents
When you read Borya and the Burps! with your child you are not only reading a funny and feeling story about a little boy, you are also opening the door with your child to sharing the funny, sad, joyful, and emotionally complex issues and stories about adoption and your childï¿½s and familyï¿½s adoption journey. Many young children like to read stories more than once, which can provide more than one chance to talk, question, and share. Reading the story again may spark new questions and concerns for your child, or new directions for discussion.
I happen to think the best way to read a book with your young child, especially a story about important family and life issues, is to snuggle close. Sit your child on your lap or sit close together with your arms around each other and the stories you explore become a way for you to connect in intimate ways important for growing attachments. Reading Borya and the Burps! together can be a warm positive way for each of you to talk about this one little boyï¿½s adoption story and open up avenues to communicate feelings and information about your own adoption stories in simple ways.
Preschool children often like to relate the stories they read to themselves and their own world. After all, very young children who are loved know that they are the center of the universe (if only to those most important people in the world, their parents)! As you read to your preschooler, you may want to add short, simple comments about how this story is like or different from their own life situations. For example, while reading the pages that describe Borya and his friends in the orphanage, you might say something like
- ï¿½Your room in the orphanage had twelve cribs.ï¿½
- ï¿½There were two babies in your crib.ï¿½
- ï¿½I didnï¿½t get to meet the other babies or see your crib, so I wonder if these pictures are like what you knew in the orphanage.ï¿½
- ï¿½You looked scared (or confused) like Borya in this pictureï¿½
- ï¿½You had striped socks (or a blue snowsuit, or a sweater) too in your picture/when we meet you at the orphanage.ï¿½
Older children may already know some of this information and may have enjoyed shared stories in the family of their time in the orphanage, meeting new parents, traveling home, getting used to a new family and home. Their questions and concerns may be more complex, sophisticated, and difficult for parents to answer. Consider what issues might be brought up while reading about Borya–or brought up again now that your child is cognitively more advanced. Think about some of the common themes and questions school-aged children have related to adoption and how you might address these with your child. Some typical questions and issues are
- But why did my birthparents decide not to be a family, and how was it that I got to the orphanage?
- Was my orphanage a nice place to be? (Hint: Orphanages try to care for children but canï¿½t do as well as families. If conditions there were not good, be honest about this.)
- Do I have siblings? Are they still at the orphanage/with birthfamily? Why?
- Why canï¿½t we help my birthmother/family? Can we meet them?
- Why canï¿½t we adopt my siblings/friends? Can we go back and visit?
- What happened to my friend (still at the orphanage or now in a new family)?
- Are my friends still okay?
If your child does not have questions or comments about Boryaï¿½s adventures and feelings or about his or her own story, feel free to introduce a few of these. If your child is uncomfortable about answering questions or offering opinions, you might want to offer your own comments, but do state that your child might have different ideas and thatï¿½s okay too. Discomfort in talking about adoption issues with you may indicate that your child is either in the process of trying to work through understanding these or is having a problem intellectually or emotionally with some aspect of these. You may need to return to these issues another time and gently bring them up with your child.
One suggestion: Your child may find that reading about Borya and his wonderful burps leads your child to practice his or her own burps. Some families find burps and burping contests funny (at least for a short time) while others consider this to be inappropriate for children older than infants. You may want to think about how you will address this behavior in your family should your child be so inclined.
Using Borya with Parents-to-Be
Borya and the Burps! can be used as a tool and a resource in helping parents with adoption preparation or supports. It can be a simple, enjoyable way to introduce and explore important international adoption concepts, such as realistic parent expectations, orphanage conditions, attachment, and the views, perceptions, and reactions of children. Wherever in the world their children are adopted from orphanage settings, being familiar with these concepts can be extremely helpful for parents in understanding both the complexity of the process and the perspectives of children.
Why read a childrenï¿½s book about international adoption before you even have your child placed with you? Childrenï¿½s books can provide waiting families, grownups and children, with valuable insights and information, and possibly some ideas about how you will plan, act, and react in international adoption. Some important reasons for grownups to read childrenï¿½s adoption books such as Borya and the Burps! include
- getting to see things from a childï¿½s perspective, which may be different than you expected, and different from adult viewpoints.
- seeing the value of using simple stories and words to examine complex issues.
- learning new ways of thinking about adoption issues and cultural differences.
- helping us feel familiar and comfortable with new ideas, difficult issues, and a specific vocabulary.
- looking at ways and words to discuss complex issues at childrenï¿½s developmental levels, and ways to understand, accept, honor and celebrate the unique past each of our children brings into our families.
For adoption preparation groups and adoption support groups, reading Borya and the Burps! aloud together can facilitate discussion about important concepts, about the differences between adult and child responses, and about talking with children about adoption and their own international adoption stories, for example
- How might parents use Borya to explain, expand, or introduce and talk about adoption?
- How might parents use Borya as a springboard to sharing personal experiences, situations, and feelingsï¿½as well as questions- within an international adoptive family?
If parents are preparing for international adoption individually or with the help of an adoption homestudy worker, using Borya and the Burps! as part of recommended reading, perhaps with a list of questions to ask and important points to consider, can be a very helpful to gain insights into our childï¿½s past and the process of moving from a familiar orphanage to the unknowns of a loving adoptive family in a strange new country. Here are some questions to think about:
- In the beginning of my adoption education, what did I think children understood and feel about moving into an adoptive family?
- Has this changed since learning more about international adoption, and reading books like Borya and the Burps!?
- What feelings might my child have when we first met in my childï¿½s birth country?
- What familiar things might my child miss when we leave to travel home?
- What could I do to help my child feel more comfortable with the process? (This is a good question to ask other experienced adoptive parents, as well as your international adoption program. They may have some useful and practical suggestions for meeting, travel, and after coming home.)
- Can I imagine sitting with my child and reading an adoption book?
- Can I think about what things we might talk about while we read and afterwards?
As you and your child lead your lives together in your adoption-expanded family, it is my hope that Borya will help you both find your way. Adoption is a complex and life-long journey for parents and children that starts with willingness to risk and to trust, and a commitment to being a family forever. Borya is finding this out in his story, as I hope that you all will.