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Hannah's world - three years later

(Page 2 of 2)

The girls shared equally in their delight when Mary became pregnant again and Noah - or "Buddy," as Hannah calls him - further expanded their family.

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Good days and bad

But outside the house things were not always as wonderful. When Hannah began kindergarten things seemed to return to a darker time. She lagged behind the other children developmentally, especially in her speech, and her peers were quick to laugh and tease. She accepted the abuse passively, but suffered greatly.

"She came off the bus crying almost every day," remembers Mary.

One thing the Rockleins already understood, however, was that Hannah was not a quitter. While still in Russia and only 15 months old, the little girl became gravely ill and was not expected to recover. But she fought her way from the hospital back to the orphanage, earning from her doctors the nickname of "miracle child."

At school, Hannah proved herself to be a miracle child once more. She worked her way not just to peer acceptance but to social confidence. This year she's friends with everyone.

And instead of tears on the bus, Hannah's now the one who organizes the children into a line at the bus stop, with even the sixth-graders obeying her. Vacationing at Disney World her parents are both amazed and amused to hear her chatting with new friends - children and adults alike - she seems to make at every turn.

Hannah's schoolwork, however, remains a concern. She splits her time this year between kindergarten and first grade. Her teachers and various school specialists agreed at a recent conference that they're seeing progress, but her reading, speech, and writing skills trail those of her peers by about a year and a half.

Interestingly, however, concerns about fetal alcohol syndrome eventually proved unfounded, and other developmental problems that had been predicted never materialized. Concerns about Hannah now seem to be restricted principally to her language skills.

There are moments when she seems to drift in her own private world. Sometimes it's not clear if she fails to understand the instructions adults are giving her, or if - like many children given to daydreaming - she simply isn't listening.

Most of the time at school, the little girl flies about, lithe and energetic, long hair floating in the breeze and stretch pants hanging low on her nearly nonexistent hips. At home, she rushes to greet Noah with big hugs and kisses and squeals with joy at a playful nuzzle from Sadie.

There are moments, however, when Hannah's confidence clearly falters. She never speaks of Russia or her early memories. When the girls' singing teacher - a Russian immigrant - tries to speak to her in her native language, she seems baffled.

But she never forgets the fact of her adoption, and there is pain attached to that awareness. When learning Bible stories, the tale of the infant Moses' separation from his mother causes Hannah to break into sobs.

Mary remembers her own adoption and feels Hannah's hurt all over again. "You don't quite belong, and you just know that," she says. But perhaps it is also because of her own adoption that Mary refuses to agonize over Hannah's situation.

Adopting a child with Hannah's background was not the easiest route her family could have taken, Mary admits.

"Yes, of course it would be easier not to have to deal with these specialists and conferences and so on," she agrees.

"But things that are easier," she insists, "are not necessarily better."

Hannah the Happy

In some ways Hannah remains a mystery to her adoptive family. They are often amused - and occasionally bemused - by her fearlessness, her take-charge style of leadership, and her willingness to strike up a conversation with anyone at any time and in any place.

But what she remembers about her past, whether she worries about her challenges in school, what she daydreams about when she sometimes disappears inside herself - these are all things her parents wonder about but cannot know for certain.

What they do know, however, is that most of the time Hannah is their little ray of sunshine. She skips, she hops, she explores, she keeps a vigilant watch over both her little brother and her older sister. She is a giver. Her heart is full, and her desire to contribute to the happiness of her family is almost palpable.

Whatever path Hannah's development takes, says Mary, there's one thing she holds to as a certainty. "Hannah's going to be a special person, a caretaker, a helper. She has something special to give this world."