When we met Vanya, he was standing outside his boarding school in Bor, Russia, with a group of boys, watching our van pull up. He later told me he was on his way to have a cigarette! When we opened the van door, he jumped in with a big grin. He was ready to go with us that minute. So much for not wanting a mother! That tough boy in the photo was a smiling, eager, hopeful 12-year-old. We gave gifts to him and his friends and promised to return two days later, after we had completed the adoption paperwork.
As we left the boarding school, I asked the official if we could see the house where our children had lived with their family, and within 20 minutes we were there. I was astonished. Nastia was only 3 when she left this place, yet the description she had given me was completely accurate! There was her home, the stream, the pear tree. And to our great surprise (for we thought she had died), here was her Babushka coming out of the house.
We approached and our interpreters spoke to her. Babushka, so little and worn, and blind, was crying. Excited neighbors and their children came rushing out of their houses. We were introduced to Babushka as the parents of her grandchildren, and she was overcome with emotion. We all were. After a teary goodbye, we headed back to the home of our host family.
Two days later, at the boarding school, the director accepted our gifts and then turned away and sobbed. Teachers cried, and children cried, hugging one another and hugging Vanya. We gave the children some more gifts and treats, took some pictures, and then it was time to go. Through tears, my husband and I looked back at the children, while our smiling son sat between us.
We then headed back to keep a promise we had made to Babushka -- that she would hold her grandson one last time. As we got out of the van, who should come trotting along but Mishka, the "little dog." Babushka was waiting. Vanya said goodbye to his childhood friends, to his Babushka, and to his dog.
Vanya and Nastia's reunion at Kennedy Airport was one of the sweetest moments of our lives. Even after years of separation, the joy and delight of recognition was all over their faces. Nastia was hugging him and chattering in English about her house, her cat, her car. Vanya talked to her in Russian.
Vanya soon proved to be a sweet, active, inquisitive boy who loved to fix things and fiddle with gadgets. We never saw the seemingly troubled child in that photo.
I'm glad we were na?ve in 1994. Otherwise, we might have said no instead of yes -- and missed this great blessing. Today Vanya is 19 and Nastia is 14. He is a wonderful son and brother, kind, considerate, and caring. Nastia, our sunshine, summed it up beautifully one morning as we dashed off to school, with Vanya standing at the bus stop, waving goodbye. "Mom, I love that boy. He picks me up when I fall down."
Eileen Kadletz lives with her family in Lindenhurst, New York. She and her husband are adopting again from Russia.
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