Nathaniel Christopher's Adoption Story
Adopted from Magadan, Russia in 2002 at 6 years old
Died on April 23, 2017
Nathaniel at age 21 (2017)
Nathaniel, Lydia and Joseph entered our life near the end of Miriam’s adoption. We learned of Nathaniel, Lydia and Joseph through a friend and contacted the agency to learn more about them to see if we could help find a family that would be interested in adopting the three children. We were told by the adoption agency, Tree of Life Adoptions, that they only had a short time to place the children. They had been waiting for a family for a long time, but Tree of Life had not had any success in finding them a forever family. They only had a few weeks left before the children were being split up. There was a family who was willing to take only Lydia (Varvara), but the
y were not willing to take all three of the siblings.
As we thought of the special bond that our children share with each other, it broke our hearts to hear of these children being split up. Apparently, in Russia, it is not unusual to split siblings if they feel they can place one and not the others.
We did not feel that we could pursue the adoption of Nathaniel (Georgiy), Lydia (Varvara) and Joseph (Sergey) until after we had completed Miriam’s adoption. We were about to be leaving for India as soon as Miriam’s documents had cleared the courts. We started praying that if it was God’s will, that He bring home these children too.
On September 9, 2001, we got a phone call from a social worker at Tree of Life. They told us that the Russian officials had told them that if there was not a family willing to take the three children, that they must be split up. Tree of Life asked us if there was any way we were willing to adopt them right away. We were reluctant to say "yes" because we still did not have Miriam home yet.
After praying about it, we felt that there must be a reason God had placed these children in our lives. On September 10, 2001, we called Tree of Life and told them that we wanted to adopt the children. We were not sure how we could afford to start another adoption, when we had not completed one yet. We were still trying to come up with the money for travel expenses to bring Miriam home. We were excited about the decision to add three children to our family, but it was also a leap of faith for us.
On September 11, 2001, we woke to the horrible news of the terrorist attacks on New York and D.C. Suddenly it seemed like the world had been turned upside down and our dreams of bringing our daughter home from India seemed very questionable, not to mention bringing three children home from Russia. Terrorism had thrown our country into a state of fear and confusion. Everyone grieved for the families of those lost on 9-11.
My husband is self-employed in a family business. He is a third generation jeweler. As the next few days unfolded, it seemed that the economy would be very uncertain. With jewelry being a luxury item, we were not sure how the economy would affect our business. Every time we turned on the news, it seemed like another large company was laying off more employees.
On September 13, 2001, we called Tree of Life and told them that we did not feel that we could commit to the adoption of the three children because we were worried that with the economy was so uncertain that we might not be able to meet the financial needs to complete another adoption and take care of our family already home.
Tree of Life encouraged us to take two weeks to see what the economy was going to do and recover from the shock of 9-11. They told us to pray about it and to not make a decision for two weeks. Tree of Life also explained that Russia was allowing families to make one trip to complete an adoption instead of the two trip process that was previously used. We were excited about this because it would greatly decrease the cost of Russian adoption.
During the next two weeks, we spent a lot of time in prayer for the families effected by 9-11 and for the economy. We prayed that God would deliver our little Miriam from India and that if it was His will, He would make it clear to us if we should or should not start the adoption of the children from Russia.
Over the next two weeks, it was clear that the Lord was calling us to Russian adoption. While the economy seemed to be falling, our business seemed to be holding steady. In fact, we had several unexpected larger sales in that two week period. We felt that the Lord was confirming to us that if we followed His will, that He would take care of us. I am not saying that He will make is easy, I’m saying that He will sustain us.
After more prayer, we decided to call Tree of Life and continue the adoption process. We did not feel comfortable doing our home study until after our daughter Miriam was home from India. We were expecting the news of being cleared for travel any day. We were so excited about bringing Miriam home. We had not adopted in almost four years and looked forward to having a new addition to our family.
We were very surprised when we were not allowed to travel to bring Miriam home until November. Our travel went well and Miriam added a new joy to our lives. After her arrival, we started our home study and the rest of our Russian dossier. We mailed everything and began the waiting process. I must admit, the time flew by as we enjoyed our new little bundle of joy.
In March of 2002, we got news that the Russian government had returned to the two trip adoption process. We were so upset by this news. Once again, we questioned whether or not we could afford to complete this adoption. It seemed like there was always a new expense that we had not planned for.
In April of 2002, we received the call for a visitation trip with the children in Russia. Nathaniel, Lydia and Joseph are from the far east side of Russia, in a city called Magadan. Magadan was the city where Stalin set up concentration camps for prisoners of war. The city has a dark past. Magadan is located directly in the center of the three coldest places on Earth. Our children are of Chukchu decent and have very Asian features. The Chukchu people are similar to the Eskimos in Alaska, only they speak Russian. Magadan is across the Bering Strait from Alaska. Russian’s sometimes joke that Magadan is so far east that it isn’t Russia anymore!
When we originally made the decision to consider adopting Nathaniel, Lydia and Joseph, we had checked into flights to Magadan. At the time, the most economical way to travel was to fly west to Anchorage and then take an Alaskan Airlines flight to Magadan, Russia. After 9-11, Alaskan Airline, the only airline flying west to Magadan, decided to cancel their services to Russia. Our only choice was to fly from Houston to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Moscow and Moscow to Magadan. The flight from Moscow to Magadan is about 8 ½ hours. By flying this route, the cost of our airline tickets more than doubled, in addition to making two trips.
We decided that the only way we could possibly complete this adoption was to take out an adoption loan to complete the process. In April of 2002, I boarded an airplane for Russia. Our flight went from Houston to Frankfurt, then on to Moscow. I was to spend one night in Moscow and then fly to Magadan the next day. When I arrived in Moscow, we learned that the flight to Magadan had been canceled because there were not enough passengers. The delay worked out well because my luggage had not made it to Moscow. My bags arrived the morning of my flight to Magadan.
On the flight, I was amazed at how differently Russian airlines were in comparison to U.S. airlines. Most of the passengers on this particular flight were Russian soldiers. There was non-smoking signs on the plane and they announced that it was a non-smoking flight, but most of the people smoked anyway. Vodka was definitely the drink of choice, as almost every passenger had their personal bottle on the tray in front of their seat. The soldiers wore their guns on their sides too. It was a little scary with September 11th so fresh in our minds.
While on the flight, I cross-stitched a salmon and a rainbow trout for the boy’s room. The soldier sitting next to me was very interested in what I was doing. He even helped untangle my thread from time to time. After a while, we started drawing pictures on napkins to communicate with each other. I was finally able to explain to them that I was going to Magadan to adopt three children. They were so happy for us. They offered to help if there was anything they could do.
As we approached the Magadan region, I could see the snow everywhere. The runway was just a narrow strip with huge snow banks. The airport was a small building and there was not many other buildings in the area.
I met our translator and driver and we headed for the hotel. On the way, I was able to ask more questions about the children. I learned more about their pasts and I asked about their younger brother too. I was told that Nikolay was adopted by a Russian family.
That afternoon, they took me to meet Nathaniel, Lydia and Joseph at the orphanage. It was such an excited moment, yet I was so nervous about meeting them. I met the director of the orphanage first and then she called for the caretakers to bring the children to her office. Joseph and Lydia ran up to me right away. They were very excited about being adopted. Nathaniel was shy and stayed back for a while. Eventually he came and sat on my lap, but there was some reluctance to do so. We took the children to a playroom so that I could spend some time getting to know them.
It was obvious that Joseph, age 4, was a "ball of energy." His silly personality made us laugh. Joseph was in a separate group at the orphanage from Nathaniel and Lydia. He enjoyed playing hide-and-go-seek and being tickled.
Lydia, age 5 ½, was a confident little girl. She seemed to charm all of the caretakers. She enjoyed it when I brushed her hair and put bows in it. She also liked it when I painted her fingernails.
Nathaniel, age 6 ½, was much more serious than Lydia and Joseph. It became clear that he was the "Papa" of his younger siblings. He did everything for Lydia and Joseph. When Lydia would act-up, Nathaniel would correct her. He was much quieter too. He was well-behaved and tried to please the caretakers. He sang songs and quoted poetry when the director asked him too, but he rarely smiled.
Our first visit was short. The next day, we picked the children up in the morning and took them with us to the hotel. We had lunch at the hotel and the children ate very well. They loved all the new foods and did not leave anything. After lunch, I was instructed to take the children to my room for a nap. I had to separate them because they would not stop playing. It was clear that they were already starting to "test" me. After separating them, they went to sleep. After their nap, I gave them a snack of milk, fruit, crackers and cheese. Once again, they ate everything. After their snack, they had to be returned to the orphanage. I didn’t feel like I had much time with them, since they were usually either sleeping or eating.
The next day, we took them to an indoor playground and then repeated the previous day with lunch, a nap, a snack and then back to the orphanage. Sometimes, after their nap, we would call Jay so that he had a chance to hear the voices of his new children. They were always so excited about calling Daddy. I think they were a little confused about why I was there without Jay. They would point out the window at men and say, "Papa?" Nathaniel seemed especially concerned about this.
My visitation trip was short, but full of activity. We rushed from one place to another completing paperwork and taking care of details. Before I knew it, our time together was coming to an end. As we took the children back to the orphanage for the last time, Nathaniel started crying. He cried the whole way to the orphanage. He said that he was not feeling well and that he didn’t want me to go home without him. They all wanted to go on the "big airplane" to their new home. It was very hard to leave them. I had given each of them a stuffed bear with photo of our family on the tummy. It was a gift from the Clark family. I prayed that the caretakers would comfort them and reassure them that we would return for them soon.
Much to our surprise, we were called back to Russia for the court hearing only four weeks later. Pavel, our adoption coordinator in Magadan was very good. He did everything he could to expedite the process. We were only given 3 days notice before we had to leave for Russia. We actually picked our tickets up on our way to the airport. Some close friends of ours, Marcus and Wendy Lawhon took care of our children at home while we traveled. Marcus and Wendy had been missionaries in Russia and they were very helpful. I felt a peace about leaving the children with them.
Traveling as a couple was much more relaxing than traveling alone. While we were in Moscow, we took time to see the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral. The following morning, we left for Magadan.
We met the children in the evening. As we drove to the orphanage, we saw a group of children walking down the side of the road. They looked so precious. I wondered if maybe one of our children was in the group. Sure enough, both Lydia and Nathaniel were. We visited with Joseph. He recognized me as soon as we entered the orphanage. He ran and hugged us. Lydia and Nathaniel did the same thing when they returned from their walk. They were very happy! We were not allowed to keep them overnight until after the court hearing.
The week was filled with obtaining passports, collecting documents and the court hearing. The Russian system was very different in comparison to adopting from India. In court, we learned much more about the children’s past. In some ways, I think it is easier when you don’t know what their past is. Each night we returned the children to the orphanage in tears. They cried and cried and there was no way to comfort them. The caretakers would ask me to stay with Joseph until he fell asleep, but it didn’t ever seem to work. He watched me and refused to close his eyes. If I moved just a few steps from his bed, he started to cry. It was a very emotional time for all of us.
When we boarded the plane to return to Moscow, we realized that it was our first time alone with the children when they were not sleeping or eating. Immediately, there seemed to be a change in Lydia. She seemed to challenge us with every limitation we had set. All she wanted to eat from her tray was the jelly. When Jay would not allow this, she took off her shoes and threw them on the floor of the plane. They were followed by her socks, jacket and the bows in her hair. As she threw each item on the floor, Jay calmly collected it and put it into her backpack. I told Jay, "before you know it, she is going to be naked!" Jay handled the way Lydia was behaving so well, much better than I could have. I took care of the boys, while Jay took care of Lydia. The boys were well behaved and played quietly until they fell asleep.
On my visitation trip to Russia, I noticed that Lydia had an area of her hand that seemed to have an irritated rash. I was told that it was an allergy, but it did not look like a skin allergy. When we returned to bring the children home, she had the same thing. When she got upset with us on the plane, she started frantically scratching that area of her hand, to the point that it was bleeding. It was very upsetting for us. She refused to stop and Jay had to restrain her from scratching. It really scared me to see her doing this.
When we got off the plane in Moscow, Lydia quickly walked up to our coordinator and told her, "my mother did not make my hair beautiful today." She failed to tell her that she had pulled everything out of hair and threw it on the floor!!! As we got into the car, she told the driver, "now I will live the good life." As they translated her words to us, I was in shock. It was very clear that we were going to have our hands full with Lydia. When we got to our hotel room, I burst into tears. I was so scared of what Lydia’s future might be like. She seemed to test us at everything. Because the judge in Magadan had waived the 10 day waiting period, we were allowed to return home earlier than planned. We were so blessed to have a Judge who was willing to do this. We were told that not many judges in Russia will do this.
We had called our travel agent and the airlines to get our tickets changed. The only way we could return home sooner than planned was to take two separate flights back. The next available flight where we could be together was in 12 more days. Our travel agent booked the tickets for the separate flights. When she called us back, she told us that she had made arrangements for Jay to travel with Joseph on the first day and for me to travel with Nathaniel and Lydia the following day. I was very upset by this because I was not real sure how to handle Lydia. Jay seemed to have so much more patience with her than I did. We tried to change the tickets, but it was not possible.
After completing the necessary paperwork in Moscow, Jay and Joseph left for the U.S. It was very difficult to watch them leave our hotel for the airport without us. I missed our children at home and longed to be home with them. I did not know how to handle the way Lydia was behaving. I prayed that God would give me that grace to handle what the coming days held.
I decided to try to make the best of the situation, so I took the children to the Moscow Zoo. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, because I thought it would be fun for the children and a great time for us to get to know each other a little better. Secondly, because I was worried that I would be asked to leave the hotel if Lydia kept throwing fits and crying loudly when she did not get her way.
It turned out that God had a special plan in leaving me in Russia with Lydia and Nathaniel. It forced me to work through some situations with Lydia, things I had been able to avoid as long as Jay was there. It seemed like as we walked through the zoo, we became a family. We shared ice-cream cones and I taught them some English words for the animals. We had no where to go, so we spent the entire day at the zoo. The children had never had the opportunity to see anything like this, so they were very excited.
As we were walking through the zoo, Lydia looked up at me and said (in English), "Mommy, I love you." I immediately broke down into tears and we just sat there and cried. I will never forget that moment. It caught me so off guard and I still cry when I talk about it. It was as if she was saying, "I give up, it looks like you really are going to keep me." Something changed at that moment. Lydia did not become the "perfect" child, but she did seem to become more compliant.
The next morning we boarded a plane for home. I did not sleep the entire night because I could not wait to tell Jay what had happened and I was so worried I would oversleep and miss our flight home. In the airport, Nathaniel and Lydia did very well.
As we approached Frankfurt, Nathaniel discovered that he had a loose tooth. Then Lydia discovered that she had one too! It seemed to be a race to see who could pull their tooth out first. A couple of hours before we arrived in Houston, Lydia pulled her tooth out. When she showed Nathaniel, he burst into tears and cried almost the rest of the way home. There was nothing I could do. I tried to explain to him that his would fall out soon, but he did not understand. There was something about Nathaniel that made him feel that since he was older, it should have happened to him first.
It was a great feeling to get off the plane and see our family! It seemed like we had been gone for so long. Jay and the kids, along with the Lawhon’s met us at the airport. We drove home and spent the evening playing in the living room. Granny and Grandpa came to meet their newest grandchildren. Jay had to pull out Nathaniel’s tooth that night too!
The following day was Jay’s birthday and he stayed at home with us. It was a time of celebration as well as adjustment. Lydia seemed to regress each day. She tested us, but not the extent that she did before. Our friend, Karen Hall, helped us to work through the challenges that came with adjusting. Our social worker explained that she felt that Lydia had been rejecting us because she had experienced so much rejection in her short life.
At night, Joseph would get up and roam the house. All night long, Jay and I would take turns getting up and putting him back in bed. He seemed to only stay there long enough for us to fall back asleep. We had never experienced anything like this before. Finally, we called our social worker at Lutheran Social Services. She told us that she had seen this before and that it was sort of like what happens to children when they know they are going to Disney World in the morning. They get so excited that they cannot sleep. He was extremely over-stimulated. She suggested that we talk to our pediatrician and have him suggest a medication that would help Joseph to sleep. Our pediatrician suggested Benedryl and it worked! Joseph started sleeping through the night. We only needed to use the medicine for week and then he started to fall asleep without it. It has not been a problem ever since.
Today, Nathaniel, Lydia and Joseph are typical children. Nathaniel is extremely coordinated and learned how to roller-blade the first week he was home. He is a very very determined child. He plays roller hockey on the same team as Samuel and Joshua. He has learned how to ride his bicycle too. School has been challenging for Nathaniel, but he is slowly learning. He started playing the cello about five months after he came home. He is doing very well. English has been a little more difficult for Nathaniel than it has been for our other children. He only speaks English now, but we have noticed that there is sometimes a loss for words. He gets along well with his siblings and enjoys helping his Daddy outside. I think there is a side of Nathaniel that feels a "loss" since he is no longer in the role of "Papa". He has had to learn that we are the parents and that he no longer has to discipline Lydia and Joseph. He loves helping take care of Miriam and tells us that he would love to have another baby in our home. Sarah is only four days older than Nathaniel. The two of them think that is pretty neat! They are good friends and enjoy playing together. Nathaniel is still as serious as the day he joined our family, but when he smiles, it makes your heart melt. I can’t imagine not having Nathaniel as a part of our family.
Nathaniel has grown into being a really nice young man. So many of the things we struggled with in the past are no longer an issue for him. He does well in school, except for spelling, and seems to have accepted his role in our family. He gets along well with the older boys and has really become a pretty easy going kid. He loves to read, ride horses and work with his animals at the ranch.
He has really enjoyed showing Texas Longhorns. In 2009, Nathaniel made the Texas Longhorn Breeders of Tomorrow Hall of Fame. He was very excited about that accomplishment.
Nathaniel and his sister, Lydia, tried out for the Lil’ Wranglers, a country and western swing dance team patterned after the Aggie Wranglers. They danced with the Lil’ Wranglers for two years and enjoyed many performances including being the half time entertainment for the San Antonio Spurs and Aggie Men’s Basketball. Nathaniel and the other children in our family decided to stop Lil’ Wranglers so they could focus more on the showing Longhorns and working with their horses.
On April 23, 2017, Nathaniel went to his heavenly home. Early that morning, an officer came to tell us the news. Apparently Nathaniel fell asleep while driving and hit a pipe fence. He was killed instantly which gives us some peace knowing he did not suffer. As you can imagine losing Nathaniel has been incredibly hard for our family. He was so full of life, always there when you needed him, and had such a great sense of humor. Sometimes it is hard accept what we cannot understand, but we trust that we will see him again in a place where there is complete peace with no pain or suffering.