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Lilia's Story

Lilia’s Story

I met Lilia in the summer of 1997 when she was 5 and a half years old. As Director of The International Adoption Center, I was traveling throughout Russia identifying available children for the clients of my agency. In this orphanage in Ulyanovsk, I was there to videotape several specific children from ages 3 to 5 years old. Lilia’s group was a rather small one, with only 5 or 6 children total, and I intended to videotape one of her best friend’s, Julia. Julia was a beautiful and vibrant child with auburn hair and blue eyes, but it was Lilia who caught my eye. She was shy and even somewhat timid, and very thin. I felt that somehow I connected with her. She had dark eyes, brown hair and olive skin. They said she was “Tartar” and very stubborn, but I only saw a beautiful little girl who seemed in great need of a mommy. I had some concerns that she might have some learning disabilities because she seemed to have more difficulty with her shapes than her friend Julia, but I felt I was able to deal with it.

I already had my immigration approval and my foreign dossier was ready. The trip I had planned was a long one. Down from Moscow on the train along the Volga River, and then back north and east across the Trans-Siberian railroad, stopping at every major city along the way. I had planned to look for my own child during this trip, in addition to children for all my clients. My original plan was to adopt a little girl of 2 or 3 years old. My heart just fell to pieces over this little girl. I asked if she was available for adoption, and the answer I received was ambiguous—yes, no, maybe…When I left Ulyanovsk with my interpreter, we still weren’t sure, but very hopeful. They had allowed me to take photographs, videotape and medical information about Lilia, as well as the other children. Lilia’s medical report stated that she had ollegraphenia, which in Russian terms meant something like “mental retardation”. I knew after meeting this little girl that she was not! I had been down this road before with my clients, and I knew that many of the diagnoses were most likely incorrect.

Our train ride towards Siberia was 2nd class, so we bunked with two other strangers—another woman and a man. The woman, by some strange coincidence, was raised in an orphanage with her brothers and sisters. Her mother would visit them from time to time, and even take them home occasionally, but they were always ultimately returned to the orphanage whenever a new boyfriend came along. Since the contact with her biological mother was ongoing, and she had several brothers and sisters, the group was never adopted. The woman described to us that she still couldn’t eat potatoes because of her memories of potatoes day after day. While she spoke, I stared at the Polaroid of Lilia, and racked my brain for a sign—was she the one—what about her age? I worried because she would have to start school immediately, even before learning English.

By the time our train reached Tomsk, I was utterly in love with this little girl. I had helped to create so many families through my work. Now that I had found Lilia, I knew that I was finally ready to start my own. Since I was doing this as a single mom, I needed to make this decision on my own. I called my mother from Tomsk and we discussed the school issue. My current home was not in the best school district, and I would have to move soon if she was going to get a decent education. I also lived in a predominately Christian area, and I was concerned that she would feel left out as one of a handful of Jewish kids in the school. As a school administrator, my mother reassured me that we could handle whatever obstacles came our way, if I felt that she was the daughter about whom I had dreamed. I made my decision right then and there. By the time arrived back in the United States, I already felt that she was my daughter. I immediately faxed my Petition to the Director of the orphanage in Ulyanovsk, declaring my intention to adopt.

We had to wait almost 3 months for a court date, since I would be traveling with other clients whose papers were not ready yet. Those 3 months seemed like an eternity. I agonized and obsessed about whether Lilia was getting enough food and vitamins (just as I had always told my clients not to do!). I went back to visit Lilia at the end of September, a couple of weeks before our adoption hearing. I wanted to give her time to adjust to me before I took her from the only home she ever knew. When I arrived, I had no interpreter, but I gave Lilia a teddy bear and a photo-album with pictures of her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, her bedroom and her dog! She was so excited that she ran to put on her coat and hat. I threw my video camera into the hands of the driver who barely knew what to do with it.

I had no idea that they would let Lilia stay with me prior to the adoption hearing, since it usually did not happen that way. So I was surprised to be a mommy the minute I arrived! Lilia and I stayed in a “group home” with the older children and a foster “mom.” The next two weeks were difficult. It was very cold and I became very sick. Lilia was so excited to be playing with the “big kids” that she had little interest in spending too much “bonding” time with me. Although I tried to teach her some English, she felt she had plenty of time to learn when she arrived in the United States! During the day, we would visit her friends back in her group, and walk to the market for fruit. There was a swing-set in an apartment complex nearby, which kept us occupied some days. She also had her first ice cream cone and her first piggyback ride!

Our adoption hearing was delayed a day or two, and as it turned out, was ultimately scheduled on October 2nd, Lilia’s 6th birthday. After that, it was just one adventure after another for Lilia—her first train ride, her first plane ride, her first stay in a hotel, her first ride in a taxi—everything was new and exciting. When we arrived at the airport in New York, my parents were both waiting and Lilia timidly met her grandparents. She was surprised that they did not speak at least a little broken Russian as I did! That month Lilia had many more firsts—her first cousins, her first beach, her first ocean, her first seagull…And with every new adventure, Lilia became bolder and bolder. She was not shy and timid anymore.

Lilia very quickly became the center of attention in her kindergarten class. She learned how to color in the lines. She learned how to use her imagination. She learned how to count. She learned her ABC’s and she learned to speak English in 5 months. She even won the spelling bee in first grade one year later! She found it easy to make friends and to play nicely with others. And she loved to talk, talk, talk! By 2nd grade, she became very good at sports and developed a passion for swimming. At night, when I tuck her into bed, Lilia tells me that I am the best mommy in the whole world. I tell her I love her to the moon and back and a hundred times around the world.

Now in 3rd grade, Lilia’s current passions are roller blading and reading. She has become a very typical American girl in a lot of ways. But every time she oozes with excitement over a bunny jumping in the yard, or a plane flying overhead, I am reminded that she is not a typical American girl at all—she is a very special one…

Leslie A. Margolies
director@adoptlaw.org

Leslie A. Margolies, Esq. Executive Director
The International Adoption Center
...Your Child's Journey Home Begins in Our Caring Hands...

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