One spring evening, my mom and dad sat me down and asked how I would feel if we hosted a little girl from Russia for the summer of 2003. They explained that we were going to be a part of a program called Bridge of Hope where families host children from all over the world. The ultimate goal of this program is for families to adopt the children that they host. Consider it a trial period. I was seven at the time with no brothers or sisters to play with, it’s safe to say I desperately wanted a playmate. After trying for many years, my mom could no longer have kids— which almost ruined her. She suffered miscarriage after miscarriage and finally stopped trying. My dad is an engineer and my mom is a bookkeeper. Both had small businesses. From the outside, we looked content. We lived in North Salem New York, we had a roof over our heads and I never went hungry. However, we didn’t know how lonely we were until we met Valentina and Ivan.
My family is centered around faith. We attended a local Catholic church where my dad lectured every Sunday, where I’ve made all of my catholic sacraments. One Sunday in mass, a volunteer from Bridge of Hope explained the organization. She began by stating that this organization is responsible for permanently placing many children in loving families. Before this announcement my parents weren’t planning on expanding our family– we made our peace with the fact that we were going to be a family of three. After church, my mom talked to the spokesperson who told her that there was a little girl from Russia who was looking for a family for the summer and for the rest of her life.
After deciding that Bridge of Hope was something we wanted to be a part of, we made arrangements to host Valentina for the summer. We picked Valentina up on a warm June day from JFK, I remember how excited I was to finally meet her. Bridge of Hope sent over pictures and a “home” video but nothing compared to finally meeting her in person. The first thing I noticed was how scared she looked and I couldn’t blame her. She had cuts and bruises all over (because she apparently “fell”) and she only spoke Russian, something her and I did not have in common. We thankfully had a translator who helped us communicate. The first night was the hardest. She cried the entire night, she didn’t sleep (probably from jet lag), and she didn’t eat any of the traditional Russian food we bought for her- she did end up eating Goldfish and Doritos though. We ended up falling asleep together on a chair; and on that very first night, I knew she was my sister.
The five-week program flew by; we went on vacation, she went to a summer camp, and we hung out all of the time. We were inseparable. At the end of the five weeks, we had to send her back; it was without a doubt the hardest day of my life. I had never seen my father cry until that day. Immediately we got in contact with the program to file for adoption; we had to see her again, we had to make her part of our family. The adoption agency finally got in contact with us and said we could file for adoption but there was one condition, we had to take her brother, Ivan, as well. We joke about it now that they were a “package deal”. My parents did not even hesitate, they immediately said yes. I don’t know how many people are familiar with Russia and their government but they are, to say the least, a discriminatory nation. Valentina and Ivan, who were biological siblings, were separated when the authorities took them into different orphanages. Why were they separated? My brother apparently had a “disorder”, which was caused by irresponsible parents. My parents and I didn’t care, we knew that whatever the problem was we could conquer it. We got a date to fly out to Russia on December 1st— did I mention how cold Russia is in the winter? We were there for over a month, finalizing both adoptions. The first day we landed, we went to my sister’s orphanage. We waited in an office while the director called her down. When we saw her, we all cried with joy. She couldn’t believe that we came back for her, and I couldn’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want her. My sister was released instantly into our care, and we resided in an apartment with help since Americans stuck out like sore thumbs. My brother’s adoption took longer, however, we were able to visit him. The reunion between my sister and him can’t be described in words.
At the end of four weeks in Russia, we were finally able to come home to the United States. Although we missed Christmas that year, nothing beats the gift of family. Suddenly the house didn’t seem too big and our hearts were filled. I often get the question: “how did you adjust from being an only child to having two siblings?” and I always answer with “they immediately felt like family.” Thankfully I’ve never experienced jealousy towards them or was upset that I wasn’t enough for my parents. I truly believe that we were destined to be a family of five, and I am forever grateful for my siblings.
It has been fourteen years since we adopted my siblings: my sister is now nineteen and is starting college in the fall and my brother turns seventeen next month and is a sophomore in high school- with ZERO disorders whatsoever, by the way. Valentina and Ivan have changed my family forever; they’re both caring and passionate people and I wouldn’t have become the woman I am today without them. People sometimes tell me, “you’ve changed their lives forever,” while this is true, they’ve also changed mine. It is truly incredible to witness their transformation, and I’m truly blessed that they will forever be in my life.