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November is National Adoption Month. Our adoption story started in 1996.
We started the adoption process through the state social services agency, but quickly fell out of love with how they handled things (too long a story to go into here). We met a couple in our area that adopted children from Russia, and our minds were made up. My wife and I decided we wanted an international adoption.
We flew out of Atlanta on Friday, December 13, 1996 (an ominous day to start a long journey, landed in JFK in New York, then boarded our overnight flight to Moscow. We landed in Moscow the next morning, spent several hours with our host family, then took the overnight train to Dzerzhinsk (I heartily recommend a private compartment when traveling on Russian railroads). We were met by our host family there, but we didn’t stay with them. Instead, they took us to a family friend’s apartment. Their friend was going out of town to visit relatives, so we had her place all to ourselves (this was considered a luxury).
After grabbing a few winks, we got ready to meet our girls for the first time. Escorted by our hosts, we walked to the nearby orphanage, met the director, then an aide brought our three girls in to meet us for the first time. I didn’t know that hearts were made of wax, because ours melted in an instant. The two older girls wore ribbons in their hair, but the youngest couldn’t because her hair was too short. We held them in our laps, played with them… they were a little apprehensive about what was going on. After all, they were only 4 1/2, 3 1/2, and 2 1/2 years old at the time.
After spending an all-too-short twenty minutes with them, the aide whisked them away and we then headed to court for the adoption proceeding. Fortunately for us, the wife in our host family was also the regional chief in charge of the local orphanages, so we had some bureaucratic weight on our side. Still, the “prosecutor” asked serious questions. Do you have jobs to support them? What school will the children go to? Do you have room for them? Can you afford to feed them?
The judge ruled the adoption finalized, but we still had to wait ten days before we could take physical custody; that was the law in Russia back then (talk about your cooling-off periods). For the next few days, we visited the orphanage every day for some familiarization time with the girls and to handle administrative tasks: getting their exit visas, filming children at other orphanages for future adoptions, and so forth. We did manage to get some sightseeing in too, even though it was winter and the temperature was -30 degrees centigrade (thank goodness there was no wind).
When the ten days were up, we took the girls, said tearful goodbyes to our host family, then rode the overnight train back to Moscow; this time, in two private compartments. Our Moscow host family met us, and we spent the next few days getting things in place to bring the girls back to the U.S. This included getting them physical exams and entrance visas from the U.S. embassy (I must say, the people at the embassy were very efficient). We managed to do a little sightseeing in Moscow, such as visiting Red Square and the Kremlin. We wanted to visit Lenin’s Tomb, but Lenin himself was down for maintenance (apparently dead commies are high maintenance).
The overnight flight back to JFK was fun. The plane was only half full, and there were several families bringing Russian children home. The plane looked more like a day care center than a commercial jetliner. We arrived at JFK on New Years Eve, then stayed overnight at the airport Hilton. We were all so tired, we ordered room service. Have you ever seen movies or cartoons where a person was so tired, he fell asleep in his food? That happened to our girls. We put them to bed for the flight home the next day.
We arrived in Atlanta on January 1, 1997. I had left our van parked at the airport, packed with all sorts of stuff — snacks, pull-ups, cleaning wipes — for the ride home to Aiken. As we pulled into the driveway, my mother (who stayed in our house the whole time we were gone) came outside and started jumping up and down. We said “Babushka! Babushka!” to our new daughters, letting them know this crazy woman was Grandma. We all still call her “Babushka” to this day.
There are many other stories relating to our children’s adoption more I can tell: anecdotes of things that happened on our trip, why we fired our government agency, why we decided to adopt in the first place, why we decided on a foreign adoption, and so forth. With all the National “This and That” months that are celebrated in this country, this one really means something.