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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…!

Tips for Family & Friends of Those Adopting

This blog is for you, the onlooker/observer, as your family or friend is undertaking an international adoption. We understand, you may feel that they are making a Big Mistake. This time, try to keep it to yourself.

You know our story: busy, workaholics, traveling the world to help humankind, we never had the time for children. When we decided 25 years into our marriage to consider such a thing, the two of us believed it might be fun to adopt. There were kids, already on Planet Earth, who needed our help.

We did it for altruistic reasons, which is looked down upon in most adoption circles where they believe you should only do it for yourself, to grow your family, generally because you have no other choice. But we had a choice, and it was to help a child, and we’ll have to talk about that another day on the blog. We had bigger fish to fry once the decision had been made.

How to break it to our families.

We made the trek, flying from sea to sea, over mountains, deserts, and forests, to visit my Russian father and slowly, carefully, broach the subject. It was a big birthday for him, the house was full of other Russians and we called him outside to the garden. He was having a grand time and for some reason, couldn’t stop talking. (I can’t relate.) I finally had to practically interrupt him to get to the point. The festivities were set to commence soon.

“Dad, we’ve been married a long time, and we’re thinking of expanding our family. There are no medical problems, but more and more we’re hearing about orphans who need homes. So we’ve decided to adopt from Russia!” I explained, a little nervous. My dad never thought well on his feet, and it would take him time to digest this news.

“Oh, uh-huh…” he said, obviously reeling. “Why don’t you kids get a dog? You know, start slowly. Whaddaya want kids for?”

There you had it. And this was the Russian side of the family.

With time, they had newspaper articles of adopted children who had tried to kill the parents, or acquaintances who wanted he and his wife to speak in Russian to their Eastern-European adopted kids. The more they investigated, the more upset they grew.

“They’re not normal,” my father confided, truly concerned for us. “The children don’t come from good families,” he shook his head.

Gee, ya think? Like we were simply going to round up some prep school children in polo shirts from the local country club.

On to Benedetto’s famiglia, oh joy. Perhaps his sisters and mother would not begrudge us this next step in life. We were seated on his mom’s deck overlooking the golf course, meat on the grill when he took the plunge, making a few introductory comments.

“So, we have some news,” he wound into high gear.

“You’re getting a dog!” shouted his younger sister, happy and bubbling, in my direction. She knew how much I had wanted one, and that children were not really on our radar screen. They had married later in life and their own child was now a toddler.

“I wish,” I laughed.

“We’ll be adopting from Russia,” Benedetto declared with a smile.

“Congratulations!” the sister enthused.

“Great!” her husband added, shaking Benedetto’s hand.

The others stayed silent. Finally his older sister spoke.

“Don’t you think the children would be better off in the orphanage than with you?”

Never let it be said that our abilities had been overestimated. The older sister and Benedetto’s mom honestly felt that maybe these children were better off “with their own”. Perhaps being an orphan was a communicable disease in their mind. I thought maybe too many cannoli over a lifetime had done them brain damage, or that this was an unfortunate latent gene that popped up during times of stress. Thankfully, we would not be dipping into this shallow gene pool. Crazy thing is, the relatives were absolutely serious.

It turned out that the younger sister worked them over in the ensuing months and years before the Blessed Event actually happened. Bless her. We had studied, and researched, and were semi-capable of making an informed decision at this point in our lives, no matter how many horror stories they could toss our way.

That is why I am writing to you today, the friends and families of those adopting. When an adoption announcement is made, here are the responses to avoid: any gagging sounds, comments about blood being thicker than whatever, cranking up a CD of Cher singing “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” or “Halfbreed”, sitting in stunned silence, asking why they don’t try some more to have a baby “of their own”, promptly changing the subject, or any talk of changing the will to disinherit them all.

This is why Hallmark exists. Or even the 99-cent card rack at WalMart. You go, you buy a “Congratulations!” card, you sign your name, affix a stamp, and voila`, you are on board with the baby. “Bimbo a` bordo,” as we say in Italian.

An immediate, pleasant gesture is good. Try this: Smile! Force your lips to upturn at the corners. Murmur something meaningful: “Best wishes”, “Great news”, “I’m so happy for you”. Give a hug, a handshake, a pat on the back. The fact that these people are sharing their special news with you means that you must reciprocate, rise to the occasion and celebrate.

Even if it’s a full moon, you are forbidden from doing any kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde turnaround. Be nice, and don’t talk behind their back.

Send flowers, send a card, send a fruit basket. Take them out for a Starbucks. Alright, I wouldn’t do it, but send an e-mail high five if you must. That’s for the parents-to-be. Ask them if they have any adoption reading that they need to do (but no hinting around like they need to educate themselves). Ask them to make a book wish list and send it to you. That gets brownie points. It shows you care.

Offer to donate hotel points for their stay in one of the most expensive cities of the world, Moscow. Sign over airline miles to give them a free ticket, since they will need two or three roundtrips to Russia.

Toss some crisp hundred dollar bills in a card and think about the joy the family will have, knowing that they can take the child to a doctor or dentist for the very first time. Our youngest daughter came home at age 8.5 with 21 cavities and needing four immediate tooth extractions, they were so rotten from years of inattention. A family friend stepped forward to help with several thousand dollars’ worth of work, while we dealt with the other childrens’ more normal dental work. Totally unexpected, but what a blessing!

Should the family or friends already have a referral of a child, you may purchase a “little something” for him or her. Buy a silver baby cup, a rattle, stacking cups. If the child is going to be older, get him a digital photo key chain, a photo album, a sweatshirt from your alma mater, a CD player or simple digital camera. Buy him a Ferrari and I’ll look the other way, just this one time.

Give the gift to the parents to give to the child–all gifts in the beginning should come from them, rather than from the many new faces around the periphery. After you meet the child for the first time, ask the parents if you may give them something else small.

Small. Keep that in mind. Having socks of their own will be a big deal. No ostentatious overload allowed.

Plan a baby shower, or an older child shower. Parties full of good cheer are always perfect. Blow up images of St. Basil’s, or matryoshka nesting dolls and place on the wall. Pop in a CD of Russian balalaika music. Make blintzes or pelemeni or Russian salads or Ukrainian borsch, with chai.  Offer to pay for baby or older child announcements.

Nobody likes to say it, but bad things can happen to referrals. Maybe someone else agrees to adopt the child before the intended family arrives in country, he goes into Russian foster care, or an extended family member visits, thus removing her from availability for international adoption for the next six months. This is one party where gift cards or cash is the best bet in terms of gifts. If you purchase clothing for an 18-month-old boy, the family may end up with a 3-year-old girl. Don’t jinx them by buying anything too specific. (I have tons of unused baby clothes stashed in a spare closet, in case you need proof of this phenomenon.)

Another idea is to sign-up friends to each bring one frozen meal before the happy family leaves for their final pick-up trip. Stock their freezer to give them a break when they return and need to cocoon with their new child for a while. Offer to mow their lawn, water the plants, housesit the dog.

As we waited throughout our paper chase of dozens of documents, and then the interminable stretch of time hoping for a referral of a child, I sent funny newsletters to our extended family, just to update on the process and what was “not” happening. The non-events definitely outweighed any real “news” 10 to 1. The newsletter suppressed the usual ultimately-depressing inquiries, “Any news?” which really should have an upper limit of one question per person every other month.

I shared hopes and dreams, downplaying any rude realities and rip-offs, lest we encourage too much advice or meddling. This was not the time for any Dr. Kevorkian wanna-bes to try to talk us out of our future. Most of all, we wanted our families to feel comfortable with the idea that this was happening and that it would be a good thing for the entire extended family.  You will have mixed emotions, at times, and so will they.  As a friend wrote recently, even when everyone has said they’re on board, some will try to jump ship from time to time-!

Most of all, “be there” to listen if the family wants to share how it’s going. This will be an emotional time for them, particularly after the first trip, when they are fairly certain that this child will be theirs, but they had to leave them behind for a number of months until the paperwork is ready for court. That is the most unnatural feeling on the face of the earth. The couple may be weepy, or anxious, or fearful at times. Pray for them, encourage them, maybe take them out to see a funny movie.

Now, six and one-half years after our first older child came home from Russia, two years after our second son arrived, and one year after our girls landed, our family and friends could not be more enthusiastic cheerleaders. They love our children, who, according to these onlookers, could not be more polite, better behaved, cuter or more intelligent, or more loving and thoughtful.

With a little kindness and understanding on everyone’s part, our international adoption turned out to be very much a positive family affair. May it be yours, too!


(Feel free to e-mail this link to family and friends. Tell them Alexandra made you do it!)







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