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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Russian Adoption Court

As most adoptive parents preparing for family court in Russia, we arrive in region virtually unprepared. The fact that this is our third and fourth adoption makes no difference. We request a list of possible interrogatories and suitable answers, which is half-heartedly given to us the next day, yet we are told that it will be best to discuss the questions with our lawyer just prior to court. The two of us sit in a hot van for almost an hour, waiting for the arrival of said attorney, who at last turns up.

“You read the questions?” she asks.

“Yes,” we respond.

“Good. Pah-ee-DYOM, let’s go.”  And that was it.

Now I must admit that this cheat sheet included such gems as us stating for the record that we would take a six month paid leave of absence to tend to the kids.

“Six months?” I grill our interpreter, only one available to talk with in the van, other than Alex our driver, who greets Benedetto on this auspicious day with an English phrase polished off for the occasion, “Goood luuuck.”

“Six months?” I repeat. “You’ve got to be kidding. You’re lucky if you get two weeks’ paid vacation in the US, and that’s gone after the first trip to Russia. Six months?”

“Oh yes,” he snaps his fingers in remembrance, as though one preposterous idea leads him to another. “Benedetto, it’s important for you to declare that you visited the girls a couple of times, you know, at least two days. The judge will not like that you visited only once.”

We both look at him. Mind you, we had only arrived in Sweaty Starii Krai the day before. Plus, we signed the orphanage’s official guest registry each time we crossed the threshhold.

“You are not stating anything of the sort,” I maintain, breaking the silence, in case there was any question. Here we are, standing outside of the judge’s chambers, being given our last-minute list of lies.

“Of course I won’t,” Benedetto agrees. “Don’t worry,” he turns to the interpreter, “I’ll tell about Alexandra’s visit, how I saw the girls on video interacting with her, how we wrote to them between trip one and two, what a good visit we had yesterday. It should not be a problem.”

They couldn’t seem to comprehend that our truth was much better than their maze of deceptions. My husband would not stoop to such subterfuge, no matter if that’s business as usual in this part of the world or not. Frankly, we were a bit miffed that we were even approached to tell such whoppers. Bunch of low-lifes….

And with that, we are summoned inside.

“Speh-SHEE, speh-SHEE,” (quickly, quickly) urges the attorney like a mother hen.

And so the two-day proceedings begin. This is a new region for us. Previously, we were used to only one day of court. We stand, while the sixty-something female judge opens the hearing stating statutes from the Russian Federal Code in a rapid-fire speech. Our interpreter whispers all to us in excellent English and I wonder if it might be easier to simply listen to the Russian. We are never to look at him, but to maintain eye contact with the judge at all times.

After the preliminaries, the two of us are called upon to testify, stating our name, date of birth, university degrees and present line of work. She grills us with dozens of quirky questions, some straightforward, others more tailored to our specific background:

-How did you come to Starii Krai?
-Why not adopt domestically in the US?
-How much time did you spend with the girls?
-Why do you want to adopt these two in particular?
-What character traits did you observe?
-Will your boys accept them as sisters?
-Will you love them as your own daughters?
-Are you financially secure?
-How will you handle four older children?
-Don’t you think you are overestimating your abilities?
-Why do you homeschool in Russian and in English?
-Do you plan to continue homeschooling?
-Will you discuss sexuality with your children? We have had some older kids placed in homes and then they want to marry each other, she explains.
-What if you can’t handle these children? Will you try to send them back to Russia?
-Do you know about the adjustments which they will face?
-Will you raise them in the Russian Orthodox Church?
-Will you always tell them of their Russian roots?
-Have you been up-to-date and on-time with both of your sons’ post-placement reports to the Russian Federation?
-Do you plan to do post-placement reports for the girls?
-If the Russian Federation extends the reports to the age of 18, as they are discussing in legislation, are you prepared to comply with this ruling?
-Are you in good health?
-Is there any issue that you know of that would prevent you from parenting these children?
-Why are you not using the same adoption agency as for your boys?

We sweat bullets, not so much due to nerves, instead due to the extreme heat in the unairconditioned room. I fleetingly consider firing up my hand-held, battery-operated Dollar Store fan–would the slight buzzing create a stir, or would it be better to just faint outright?

Others stand and testify:  from the Internat director, to the Organ of Guardianship social worker, to the public health department official reviewing the girls’ physical and mental states. After each testimony, the group is asked if we have any questions or objections to the statements presented. We stand en masse like pop-up dolls, over and over.

“No, Dear Court,” come the responses, time and again, giving the Russian form of “Your Honor”.

For this adoption, we are blessed beyond measure. Each one testifies as to our utter competence and suitability as parents, singing our praises better than we could ever hope for. They state that the girls had been asking for us every day and considered me to be their fairy tale princess of a mama.

Benedetto asks later, “I guess that makes me the troll?”

“No, Shrek!” laughs the interpreter.

Funny that Prince Charming, or a knight in shining armor, did not dawn on either of the men.

Those involved closely with the girls state our experience with two older Russian boys as a benefit. They tell how our sons made a brief video in Russian, welcoming the girls, saying they couldn’t wait until the girls came home, showing them the dogs, and how good life would be. They bring up the fact that the boys are well-adjusted, having worked through any post-institutionalized behaviors.

The fact that I took additional training as a coach for parents of children from trauma and abuse backgrounds also helps our case. And having Russian family roots, getting along well with the girls, and even physically resembling these little blond over blue beauties did everything to help our cause.

So after the first hearing at 2:00 pm, and the second hearing at 10:00 am, the judge adjourns us to “discuss with the court” her findings. Since all of us have just filed out, I ponder whether she is praying, as there is no one else left!

After 20 or 30 minutes of standing in the oven-like fourth floor hallway, she calls us back.

“Speh-SHEE, speh-SHEE,” urges the attorney. It must be her knee-jerk reaction. No one in their life has ever accused us of being lolly-gaggers.

The judge has written in long-hand, her four-page summary in the name of the Russian Federation. We stand as she reads it in full. The children are granted to be ours, with their new family name stated publicly, and all rights and privileges to be due them.

She congratulates us, we sign more papers, we shake her hand, and exit the courtroom a new family. Since the girls were not yet fourteen years old, they were not required to be present in court, but the older one submitted a note, written in her own hand, that she freely and willingly wished to be placed in our family.

As in any fairy tale, her wish was granted. The troll went home for the time being, the fairy princess mama will soon take custody after a ten-day appeals period. We will return to our castle and live happily ever after.

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