Friday, November 07, 2008

Pasha & Nikita

If you looked at a picture of Pasha and Nikita with their mom and dad, you wouldn't notice anything remarkable. Two boys in tee shirts, both with the mischief of little kids in their eyes, posing with their parents by a waterfall. Pasha, who's five, loves baseball and plays soccer. He's fascinated by the planets and the solar system, and likes to ride his bike. Nikita, a year younger, also likes baseball, but is bigger on ice skating than soccer. He likes to help out his dad in the yard and loves dogs. Alas, the family pet is a cat named Jack.

What you don't see in the picture is the boys' background. Less than three years ago the two of them were in an orphanage, a "baby house" in Achinsk, Russia. To get there, you took a 10 hour flight to Moscow, then a 5 hour flight to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, followed by a 2 hour drive. In the wintertime, the temperature hits 40 degrees below zero, and that's without the windchill. Needless to say, it's not your typical tourist destination: you have to want to go there. But Scott and Christina did, and in a big way.

They had tried without success to have kids of their own. Finally they woke up one day, said enough was enough, and made the decision to adopt. They signed on with an agency, did all the requisite paperwork and waited. And waited. And waited. Eight months went by without a referral. After looking at their options, they broadened their net, and decided to look internationally. And because Christina was half Russian, they decided they would head in that direction.

A whole new round of paperwork was required. And since they wanted more than one child, they decided to try for a "twofer." While they knew it would be harder in the beginning, they didn't want to go through the whole process twice, and experts told them they could save some money if they adopted two at the same time. In short order, they got a hit. The initial paperwork indicated just the bare facts, with no pictures to tug at their heartstrings. Still, it was a match with their hopes: two young sibling boys. They talked it over, made the decision, and went for it.

Pictures followed shortly, which they sent to a doctor who specialized in photographic evaluations. Just as they were checking out the kids, the Russian government did the same to them. They had to build a dossier proving they would meet certain standards for parents, which included not just economic profiles but also police reports, home visits and psychiatric assessments. It was "papers, more papers, and more papers" according to Christina, with every signature making them dip further into their bank account.

The process itself required two trips to Russia. The first was a meet and greet with the kids. After an exhausting journey, they got to play with the boys for 90 minutes or so over two days. They did some rudimentary tests that the doctor taught them to see if there were any serious developmental issues... for instance, if they reacted to a loud noise behind them. It all went well, and only increased their determination.

They returned home to even more papers, more money and more phone calls. They got the kids' rooms ready, all the while hearing that the Russian government was considering shutting down the program worldwide. (It was shut down several months later, but has since resumed.) They closed their ears, crossed their fingers and waited for the call telling them they could proceed. It finally came, just 2 days shy of Christmas.

This time the trip was all business, as they passed final papers and made their petition for adoption in a court in Krasnoyarsk. Relying entirely on facilitators working in Russian, they were ushered through the process, hoping that all the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed. Even though they spoke no Russian, Christina said their hearts froze when the tone abruptly changed at the final session. It turned out the signature of a distant relative of the boys was missing on a key form. They had to dispatch someone to drive 5 hours to obtain it, then return to court before the judge would grant them official custody.

Finally, they were given the go ahead. They picked up the boys and spent a few more days with their driver and his wife getting their footing. Then they made their way back to Moscow and the US Embassy to get travel papers. After a 10 hour flight home, their plane touched down in New York with two new US citizens aboard. Over the same nine months that Christina might have been pregnant they signed countless forms, spent about $50,000 not covered by anybody's health insurance, and emerged with not one baby, but two toddlers.

These days, according to Christina, they're "just busy being a family. They make you laugh and cry, they hit you and they hug you." The kids know they are adopted, but are probably too young to fully understand. They do celebrate their Adoption Day with cake and stories of how they became a family. "I don't want to say I forget they're adopted, but I do," Christina says. "They're not our adopted sons, they're our sons."

Only once in telling me the story did Christina cry. That was when she told me about their first visit to see the kids in Russia. As they left, they walked down a hall filled with photos of other children in the home. "It was so sweet, but also so incredibly sad. Because some of those kids would never have the chance we were giving to our boys." But it was actually a chance for both sides. Christina and Scott wanted a family; Pasha and Nikita needed one. As Christina said, "I think we are all very lucky."


Marc Wollin of Bedford is happy to know others who have adopted, especially since November is National Adoption Month. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.