There are just two memories that Max Rollins comes up with when he recalls the years he spent in an orphanage in Russia, near Moscow.
“I used to play on a toy motorcycle,” said Rollins, 24, who grew up in Davenport. “I also remember making my bed, every morning.”
Rollins was 5 years old when he was adopted from Russia by Robin and Jeff Rollins of Davenport. He is now a graduate of the University of Iowa and a third-year medical student at Rush Memorial Hospital, Chicago.
Home on break from a medical rotation, Rollins called the intent of Russian
President Vladimir Putin to sign a law to ban Americans from adopting Russian orphans sad. It’s more of an embarrassment to Russia than it is to the U.S, he said.
Rollins said there has been much publicity about a few problems in Russian adoptions, but little has been said about the “many thousands of American families who are loving and amazing to the children they adopt.
“Look at me,” he said Thursday. “If I would have stayed in Russia, I would have grown up in the orphanage and now be a member of the Russian Army.”
Visited in 2006
Rollins graduated from Rivermont Collegiate, Bettendorf, in 2006, and his grandfather, Jim Koehler, took him on a trip to Russia. He and his grandfather visited the orphanage and found some of the same people who knew Rollins as a little boy.
“They remembered me, and that was so cool!” he said. “They called me ‘sweet Max,’ and they were very comforted to know that life in America had turned out well for me.”
Parents of children adopted from Russia think many Americans don’t understand the love and care that many Russians have for the little ones. The orphanage where Max lived, Robin Rollins said, was not much to look at, but it was very evident that Max was loved and cared for.
Joan Baril of Blue Grass had a similar experience when she arrived in Russia 14 years ago to adopt a baby. Peter, now 15 years old, is a freshman at Davenport West High School.
“It was very difficult for our son’s caregivers to leave their care,” Baril said. The Russian people, she added, have no lack of love or willingness to care for the orphan children in their country.
“There is a lack of means to do so,” she said.
The actions of Putin this week have been repeated in Russia over the years. “This is purely a political tool,” Robin Rollins said.
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“Russia is pretty famous for doing this,” agreed Susan Salmon, who works with adoptions through Iowa KidsNet and is based in Denison, Iowa.
Salmon used to arrange international adoptions and remembers several instances in which families would start the adoption process, but would have to stop because of one Russian law or another.
“It does happen from time to time,” Salmon said.
“It’s never been easy,” Baril said, noting that when she and her husband adopted Peter, they had to wait an extra three months because of a bureaucratic mix-up and needed help from former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, a long-time Republican congressman from Davenport.
“We are very fortunate to have our son in our lives,” Baril said. “We gained from the experience.”
The law that Putin said he will sign represents an about-face for Russian adoptions. In July, the Russian Parliament approved a long-awaited agreement to simplify the adoptions by Americans.
Russia was the third-most popular country for international adoptions in 2011. Only China and Ethiopia had more.
Many American families turn to international adoption after being frustrated by a shortage of healthy U.S. infants or long waits for private adoptions. Others are drawn by interest in foreign cultures or a desire for a child of a specific gender.
Iowa congressmen are monitoring the situation and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is among 16 senators to sign a letter telling Putin the “overly broad law would have dire consequences for Russian children.”
Based on statistics from recent years, there are at least 1,000 Russian children in the process of being adopted by American families at any given time, according to the senators’ letter.
So if Putin signs the law, “thousands of Russian children living in institutions may lose an opportunity to become part of a family,” the letter said.
They appealed to Putin’s “spirit of compassion for voiceless children … so this sad turn of events will not lead to harm to so many innocent children.”
More than 50 children are in line to be adopted in the next few weeks who would have to remain in Russia, according to a spokesman for Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa. The State Department’s embassy in Russia would be unable to issue visas required for adopted children to travel to the U.S., his spokesman said.
Max Rollins, in the meantime, got his undergraduate degree in Iowa in the Russian language and works to balance his American life with his Russian heritage. He does not think he has relatives in the country, but he intends to visit it from time to time.
“I do want to travel there, but I don’t want to live there,” he said.
(Times Bureau reporter James Q. Lynch contributed to this report.)