I am Ilze Marie Madeiros, but that wasn’t always my name. I used to be Ilze Janstovica. My story goes back to April 17, 2006 in a small European country called Latvia. I lived in a very violent, alcoholic family. Both my parents drank and fought constantly. My dad spent most of his time in prison. During those times, my mom was usually in the hospital. The police took me to a facility where kids could stay. My parents would come get me when they could. In kindergarten, I got dropped off and stayed all week, along with a few other kids. Most students were picked up every day. Being at school was safer for me.
When my dad wasn’t in prison, he took me to my aunt’s house and we played with the dog and went for walks. He taught me how to ride my tricycle. I don’t ever remember him hurting me. I had a better relationship with him than my mom.
One night, my dad, mom, and I walked to the grocery store together. I chose to wait outside with my mom. As soon as my dad was out of sight, she grabbed my hand, told me to run as fast as I could and keep up with her. She took me to a strange place where a strange man waited for us. Even though I did not know him, I was expected to call him “dad.” Every time I refused, I got slapped.
My mom yelled and beat me when she was mad or in pain. I learned to stay away from her, especially when she was drunk. Unfortunately, that didn’t always work. Finally, she left me at my grandparents’ house. At this point, I didn’t see her again for a very long time. You would think I might be safe and loved now, but my grandparents were alcoholics, too.
Things were not always horrible. My grandma baked delicious bread. She helped me learn to read and write. I enjoyed long days out in the fields. Hunters visited frequently because we lived close to a forest. When the shooting woke me up in the middle of the night, my grandma would give me bread with fresh honey to help me calm down.
A truck drove by once a week and my grandpa would buy me animal crackers. But he also bought alcohol. Lots of it. When I saw those bottles, I knew to stay out of the way, no matter what. One time, I got so scared that I tried to call my mom to come get me. I couldn’t figure out how to work the phone, so I crawled under the kitchen table, crying quietly, trying hard to stay out of sight.
But I wasn’t sneaky enough. My grandpa caught me trying to call my mom. His drunken wrath turned into a severe and seemingly endless beating. I screamed for mercy but got none. All hope was lost. I thought I would die.
A farmer passing by heard my cries and came running through the front door. He demanded that my grandpa stop beating me and, surprisingly, he did. The man asked to see my birth certificate. He wanted to determine if they had any rights to me. They didn’t have it, so he picked me up and walked away.
I stayed with him on his farm. It was nice not being treated with a harsh hand. I played with his kids and helped in the fields. I liked it there. Unfortunately, my grandparents came with the necessary paperwork and took me back. They tried not to drink so much after that, but the peace didn’t last long.
That was when my mom showed up. She took me back but things just got worse. She beat me almost every night. No child should ever see what I saw. She started to fight with her boyfriend. Early one morning, some people came knocking at the door. My mom had had a screaming fit at me the night before, but I don’t know why these people showed up that particular day. I was taken away again.
At this new place, many ladies talked to me. One asked how I liked my family. I told her that I wanted a new family with a nice dad and mom who wouldn’t hurt me. I wanted to be loved. My eyes were filled with tears. I told her that I was scared of my mom and my grandparents because they beat me. She said she would try to help. But she, too, sent me back to my mom after a while.
One time, my mom got so angry and drunk that she told me to pack my things and leave. I did. I ran out of the apartment, trying to get away as fast as I could. I was looking for someone who could help me. A few minutes later, my mom came after me, dragged me home, beat me and made me kneel on hard beans. I have no idea how long I endured this painful punishment, but by the time I was allowed to go to bed, I had to peel the beans out of my skin. The indentations lasted for days.
About the same time the bean marks disappeared, the police showed up again and took me to an orphanage where I met that kind lady who said she’d help. She told me that I would stay there until a nice family came to take me away. I cried at bedtime. I was scared, lonely and really sad. Eventually, I got used to the place. So many kids needed help. I saw babies dropped off at their doorstep. Kids would come and go regularly. One day, I met Linda, a young lady in her early twenties. She and her mom, Solveiga, visited me. Shortly afterward, I went home with them.
I lived with the Solveiga and Felicita, another rescued girl, who was twelve. She was like a big sister to me. Solveiga, sent us to a summer camp. After we returned, I started first grade. Not long after that, Felicita was adopted by an American family. I got to meet them before they took her away.
It was now just me and Solveiga. I played outside with the neighbors and other kids in the town. I went to school and did homework. Day to day life was uneventful. Then, on a field trip, Solveiga pulled me aside to tell me that my mom had died. You have no idea the relief I felt. I was terrified that she would show up one day and take me back to that apartment and the misery. I used to cling to Solveiga like glue. When I learned that my mom could never come for me again, I didn’t need to stick to Solveiga as much anymore. I also found out that my dad killed himself shortly after my mom ran away with me.
When I was eight, Solveiga and I went to the orphanage to pick up two new girls. Stella was eight and Victoria was nine. Well, funny thing, they were among the few kindergartners who, like me, stayed at the school all week. We lived, played, and fought together for the next two years. Sometimes, two ganged up on one. Other times, we were all upset with each other.
School was also hard. I got into many fights. I learned how to take care of myself. I had to. No one would stick up for an orphan. I got into fights with kids around home, too. I was probably one of the meanest kids around. If you hurt me, you would get worse back. I became tough and ruthless.
That same year, Solveiga sent me to America to be hosted by the family who had adopted Felicita, who was now Kate. I argued with Solveiga, begged her not to send me away, especially to a country across the ocean. But she knew best.
I flew to America with two supervising adults and a huge group of orphans, all traveling to spend time with host families. I stayed with Kate’s family. It was great. She translated for me. We went lots of places, had movie days, visited the beach, and did crafts and other things. After a month, I went back to Latvia. The following summer, I was hosted by friends of that family. At first, I was scared, but I had a great time with them. I stayed with the same couple the following winter.
America was like vacation. Latvia meant the return to a harsh reality. I treasured those good times. I didn’t know if I would see the American couple again but I hoped so. And I did. That next summer, I found out that Brandon and Miriam Madeiros wanted to adopt me.
They rented a small apartment in Latvia for a month. I stayed there with them. We were required to see if living together would work. We played games, toured Riga, took the train to the beach and tried out a lot of restaurants. Well, as many as we could. They are gluten and dairy free. We used Google translate and lots of pointing. Then, they brought me home, to America.
At first, life was pretty bumpy, I would say. I was nervous and determined to make this work. When you have been repeatedly sent back into dangerous situations, fear stays with you for a long time. You get scared of making people so angry that they won’t want you anymore. I was terrified of being sent back. I also wasn’t used to having so many rules to follow. I had to work hard to let them be my parents.
This was no longer a vacation. There was so much to get used to. The food was different. I love meat, mashed potatoes, soups and, most of all, my mom’s special meatloaf. At first, I did not like olives or peanut butter but got used to them. The dairy here upset my stomach.
I miss some Latvian food, like bread filled with meat and onions. That was our specialty around Easter. I miss plov, an orange rice with sausage. But most of all, I miss the sandwiches that we used to have once a week. I don’t know how to make them, but they were delicious! The only Latvian dish I make is cold beet soup. We used to have that almost every day during the summer and never tired of it.
In Latvia, I lived in a really small town near the woods where you know everyone. When I was adopted, we lived in San Jose, so you can imagine the adjustment. People didn’t know each other there. You couldn’t talk to strangers because they might kidnap you. My new environment seemed really big and dangerous. Plus, everything was “go go go” and “don’t waste time.” Now, we live in Idaho, a little more like where I came from, with a lot of wooded land and friendly people.
My new mom labeled everything, from forks to clothing, so I picked up English pretty fast. I also learned about faith and became a Christian. Just as I was getting used to my new life, along came a little brother, Oliver. It was exciting and hard at the same time. There was so much to deal with, but I have since realized that people never stop learning. Not knowing something or not doing things perfectly was OK.
I have also learned that, despite how dark and painful the past has been, it’s important not to give up hope. There were times that I wanted to die. But then I would never have found the family I was meant to have. I was adopted at ten and will be seventeen in April. I have two great little brothers, Oliver (six) and Henry (three). I have wonderful parents, who discipline me with love, awesome grandparents, good friends and a strong faith.
I still keep in touch with the girls who lived with me and Solveiga. Kate (and her sister) are among my best friends. Stella and Victoria (now Emma) were adopted a few months after me. They live in Texas with twelve siblings. Their dad is in the military. I was offered the chance to change my first name but opted to keep Ilze. My parents added the middle name.
When people find out that I was adopted from Latvia, they have so many questions. It is hard to talk about. But I remind myself that there is a reason I went through all that. My heart goes out to those of you who suffer like I did. I want you to know that it will get better. Hang in there. The struggle will make you stronger. You have so much potential waiting for you. God has a plan. Everyone’s story is unique.