Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's a Boy!

Having coordinated several Lighthouse Project trips, there is no thrill for me like receiving e-mail updates from Russia, sent by families who are completing adoptions for kids I’ve had here. My favorite correspondences are the ones sent by new parents that start something like, “It’s a boy!” or, “It’s a girl!” immediately after they complete their court process in front of a Russian judge who approves the adoption and declares them a legal family. I experience a cacophony of emotion as I read those lines: nostalgia for our own moment a few years ago, when nothing but hope stretched before us; melancholy while considering what the child will leave behind; pride at having been a part of bringing a family together; joy at a new beginning for a previously hopeless child; pensivity at the prospect of challenges I know lie before my friends; and even a twinge of envy at the excitement and expectation that accompany adoption. It is not outside the scope of this blog about the Lighthouse Project to look at the end of the road, or at least the end of the beginning, when a new family is finally rewarded with a son or daughter birthed physically years ago and half a world away, but born to an American family through a dream of the heart.

A good parent would never admit to having a favorite child; a good Lighthouse Project coordinator is bound by no such decorum. In July of 2008 a boy a few days shy of his fifteenth birthday traveled on my Grand Rapids trip. He was added to the trip at the last moment; the project director flattered me when she told me she’d added him to the trip without consulting me, hoping she had not acted out of turn! As director it was not out of turn; having met him, I would have forgiven her if it was. Sergei brought an unusual expectation in his eyes, a smile that owned his face, and an attitude so winning it defied you not to like him. It was hopeless: I crumbled at this defiance and Sergei ensconced himself as my favorite child ever to travel on a Lighthouse trip.

For finding an adoptive family, though, age and gender were not on his side, and it worried me. With two days remaining before the kids' return to Russia, I had high hopes but no leads. That night at the evening program that is historically my best avenue in finding adoptive families, one family was cajoled into attending “for support” by a hosting friend. After the kids performed in their typically touching manner, the supportive family rather tentatively approached me with questions about a list of three kids that had piqued their interest. My heart leaped when Sergei’s name was mentioned. While it is tempting to claim I knew then I was speaking to Sergei’s parents, honesty requires disclosure that it was more circuitous than that. But in the end, both the supported and the supporters decided to adopt children from the July trip. Friends before but with a deeper bond forged now, both families are in Russia together as I write, proud new parents of teenagers.

So it was with a more acute sense of pride, joy, and envy than usual that last Friday I received my latest “It’s a boy!” alert. Sergei’s family posted a few photos of their trip; the best was a thousand-words shot that showed his “Poppy” helping him with his tie before their court appearance. For many boys, this lesson by their father would be a rite of passage into proper attire; for Sergei, this was a passage into his family. The expression of admiration on Sergei’s face exemplified the emerging connection between Sergei and his dad; the tie was demonstrative of the importance of the court moment when they would become family in fact; and the lesson from Poppy “Exhibit A” that parenthood is a series of seemingly mundane lessons on the path to responsible adulthood that all children require. The photo said Sergei has parents who care how he grows up. Somebody has come alongside him. He is not rudderless. He is not an orphan.

Congratulations, Kevin and Kelly!

Welcome to your family, Sergei!