It took Aleksander Carsley about three minutes to warm up to me when I visited his Newport home on a bitter cold night this week.
It’s just the kind of kid he is. Shy for a second or two.
But soon enough his slippered feet were splayed comfortably across my lap as he tapped away on his handheld video game.
Until the batteries got low; then he was after the dog.
And after waiting patiently for the grownups to finish talking, he was finally able to show me his room, with bunk beds (though he has to sleep on the bottom bunk until he’s bigger) and a closet packed more with toys than clothes — just the way any 6-year-old would prefer it — and his very special Patriots pillow with a picture of his late Dido (Ukrainian for grandfather) sewn into it.
His folks, Jay and Tatiana Carsley, are thankful for their son every day, but for the past week have been even more aware of their blessing each time they tuck him into that lower bunk each night.
That is since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
According to the U.S. State Department, American families have adopted 60,000 Russian children since 1992.
Aleksander Carsley is one of them.
In May 2008, 18-month-old Aleksander spent his last night in an institutional “baby home” in Murmansk, Russia, and headed for his new home in Newport.
The new family’s arrival at Bangor International Airport on May 21, 2008, marked the end of a stressful, heart-wrenching and expensive three-year journey to adopt a child from Russia.
The couple is keenly aware of the mind-numbing paperwork, red tape and intense emotion involved in the international adoption process. And for all of the waiting by the adoptive parents, the worst part is knowing that the child you’ve fallen in love with is waking up every day in an institutional setting with no family, “just waiting,” said Jay.
Because of Putin’s ban, orphaned Russian children like Aleksander may be waiting for a very long time.
The State Department has indicated that 46 American families are currently in the final stages of the adoption process and have been to Russia to meet the children they plan to adopt. Those families now find their lives — and their adoptive sons’ and daughters’ futures — in limbo.
“It’s so frustrating to me that these children are being used as political pawns. Every time I look at my son, my heart just breaks for those kids and for the American families trying to adopt them. It’s so senseless,” said Jay.
Putin claims he signed the ban to protect Russian children from abuse by their adoptive American families, but many suspect a more political reason.
On Dec. 14, President Obama signed a law that imposed sanctions on Russian officials for their alleged human rights abuses.
Putin signed the adoption ban 14 days later.
The Carsleys began the process to adopt a child in 2005 after a miscarriage and a failed attempt at using a surrogate.
Tatiana’s parents migrated to the U.S. from the Ukraine. She is an only child and grew up surrounded by the Ukrainian culture.
When Jay met Tatiana he fell in love, not only with her, but also with her family’s history and traditions.
The couple planned to adopt from the Ukraine until “the bottom fell out of that country’s adoption program.”
And so they set their eyes on neighboring Russia.
“There were stacks and stacks of paperwork that we filled out and then there would be a snag in the system and things would get delayed, and then the paperwork would expire and we’d have to fill it out all over again,” said Tatiana.
The couple had to get clearance from an eight-member medical team, including psychologists and even oncologists. They took several personality profile tests, underwent interviews and background checks by all levels of law enforcement and were fingerprinted four times.
In December 2007, they flew to Murmansk to a “baby home” and met and fell in love with the little boy they planned to adopt.
At the very last second the boy’s paternal grandmother decided she would take him and the adoption was off.
“That felt like having a miscarriage all over again,” Tatiana recalled.
Then, finally, in February 2008, they got word that there was a baby at a home that adoption officials felt would be perfect for Jay and Tatiana.
“We hopped right on a plane and flew back to Murmansk,” Jay said.
There they met 18-month-old Aleksander, who was tiny for his age and wobbly on his feet and they fell in love again.
“There was an instant bond. I looked at Jay and I said, ‘That is your son,’” said Tatiana.
They spent five days with him and then had to fly home alone as the final preparations for the adoption were made.
“That was so difficult and every day until we went back in May to bring him home was painful,” Jay recalled.
And that’s exactly where in the process 46 American families were when Putin signed his ban on Dec. 28.
As I prepared to leave their home this week, Aleksander thought perhaps I could spend the night — on the top bunk, tucked in among the dozens of stuffed animals that reside there.
He’s a generous kid, always on the lookout for some fun. He loves his house and his family.
It’s just the kind of kid he is and there’s a family in Newport that is surely thankful to have him.