My wife and I met and married in our mid-30s. Deciding to have children was the easiest decision of our marriage. When nature didn’t cooperate, we had to find other ways. Adopting became the second-easiest decision of our marriage. My wife had always wanted to adopt, and I wasn’t born with the gene that required me to have biological children of my own.
Adopting through the state was our first option, but after the required classes were completed, waiting for the final steps proved to be a lengthy and convoluted process. We had friends who had adopted internationally, so we followed their lead.
The agency we were using sent us a tape of a girl. While thinking over our decision, they sent us another tape, suggesting the boy in this tape would be a good brother for the girl.
I don’t like the terms kismet or destiny, but when we saw the curious 4-year-old boy in the video, we knew we were looking at our son.
After reams of paperwork, we finally obtained approval. That is how we found ourselves in a Russian airport in August 2001. Being yelled at by a man in a military uniform in a language that could only be described as a cross between Klingon and Romulan was not what I was expecting, but being 5,300 miles from home in the Domodedovo airport in Moscow, on a journey to adopt our son, was also not what I expected in my life. Verbal communication was out of the question. But through a series of hand and arm gestures, animated facial expressions and frustrated sighs, I figured out he wanted me to go through a metal door in what was to be the first of many checkpoints along this journey.
I passed through the door. It closed loudly behind me, and I was literally behind the Iron Curtain.
I was now out of sight of my wife in a foreign country that I’d been taught was our enemy. As a police officer in Los Angeles, I’d been in some scary situations, but I always felt I had some semblance of control. Not here, not now. However, I was greeted warmly by airport workers welcoming me to their country.
Moments later the door opened, and my wife — looking confused and a little scared — was allowed through. Now being an experienced Moscow traveler, I assured her everything was fine, and we were directed to the boarding area for our next flight.
We flew east on an eight-and-a-half hour, 4,000-mile, nine-time-zone flight to Vladivostok. We gathered our personal luggage and the five large duffel bags of clothing donated by Hanna Andersson for the kids at the orphanage. We were met by our driver/translator who took us on a short tour of Vladivostok, the end stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway. We were taken to our hotel where we had to wait overnight. It was long wait. We (mostly my wife) had been working on this adoption for the past nine months, from applications to financial disclosures to medical exams to inoculations to home studies. It seemed longer than nine months, but these few overnight hours seemed to last longer.
The morning finally arrived. I had expected breakfast to be my first actual Russian meal, but it turned out to be a typical American breakfast. The hotel was Canadian-owned and all food and water was regularly imported from Canada. I wasn’t too disappointed to put off sampling the local cuisine to an other time. (I don’t like to say I’m a picky eater, but my family says it.)
Our driver/translator arrived promptly at 9 a.m. We and our donations of clothing were off on an hour-and-a-half drive through the countryside. We enjoyed fields of sunflowers, crops, grass and just plain looking at Russia. It was amazing to be in a country that not so long before was off-limits to travelers. We were excited, curious, wide-eyed and eager. We were on our way to meet our son.
We arrived at the orphanage and were given a tour. The orphanage was clean but in need of many repairs, and it was strongly suggested that we could be of financial assistance. The water heater was in need of repair or replacement, and a rich donor was what was needed. It was hard to concentrate on that. We were only interested in one thing, meeting our son.
We were finally led to a meeting room with few toys and even fewer chairs. We sat on the rug in the middle of the floor and waited. Fortunately, the wait was short as we heard voices and footsteps echoing from the hallway. A caretaker and small blond boy entered the room. Our son.
Upon entering the room my son, Valentin — known as Valya, soon to be known as Matthew Alan Valentin — let go of his caregiver’s hand and ran across the room to where we were still sitting on the floor. He passed by my wife and leapt into my arms.
No matter what milestones we were to reach in the future with our kids — graduations, boo-boos, hospitalizations, temper tantrums, birthday celebrations, first dates — I will always have that leap, that first contact, that first hug from our first child.
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