Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Dec. 18, 2000

'Adoption is perfect' Howard Lake couples say

By Lynda Jensen

"Behold, children are a gift of the Lord;

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

so are the children of one's youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."

Psalm 127:3-4

This Biblical verse stands true for many, but perhaps even more so for those parents who choose to adopt a child.

In fact, two Howard Lake couples made this decision several times over: Tom and Kathy Peterson, and Jim and Sandra Peterson. Tom and Jim are brothers.

Both families chose to adopt children from other countries.

Tom and Kathy adopted two children from Haiti, and Jim and Sandy adopted two children from Russia.

"Adoption is perfect," Sandra Peterson said. "It doesn't matter how you get a child," she said.

Their families were blessed by the decision and neither couple can imagine life without all of their children; adopted or otherwise.

Wouldn't it be something to adopt?

When Kathy asked her husband this, she was half hoping and half joking, wondering what he would say.

The Petersons talked about it in passing, but never discussed it seriously until then. They have two older biological children, David, 17, and Kristina, 16.

Kathy spent time with her longtime friend, Tracey Oswald, formerly of Howard Lake (the Oswalds since moved to Colorado).

At the time, the Oswalds successfully adopted two Haitian siblings.

"We prayed a lot," Kathy said. "God was working with us."

Her husband gave the green light, and "We just never turned back," Kathy said.

That was the Christmas of 1994. The Petersons contacted Reaching Arms International, an adoption agency based out of Crystal, in the Twin Cities.

The agency generally handles adoptions through Russia, although they will also help with Haitian adoptions, Kathy said.

Other agencies were too expensive and not as sincere about their desire to match parents with children, Kathy felt.

"To me, people think that adoption is out of their pocketbook," she said. "Adoption is affordable."

Things clicked. The couple, along with their older children David and Kristina, met an extremely tiny, malnourished eight-month-old baby at Miami airport.

"She was beautiful," Kathy said of their new daughter, Kaitlyn.

Beautiful, but doctors feared for her life because of her poor physical condition. Doctors could not find a sub-skin or her veins for blood samples.

Kathy spiked Kaitlyn's bottles with Jell-o to sweeten her appetite and two nights later, she cried from hunger in the middle of the night.

That was the sweetest sound they ever heard, she said. From then on, Kaitlyn grew stronger every day.

Although forever petite, Kaitlyn received one of the highest scores available in kindergarten and is involved in ballet, gymnastics, and music. She also started subtraction and addition ahead of her time, Kathy said.

She started talking early and could carry a conversation with her parents by age two, Kathy said.

"She's smart as a whip," she added.

The Petersons started to talk again about adopting, and by October 1997, were matched with a Haitian boy whom they named Jacob.

Jacob's adoption was hard, and Kathy jokes that it really was a nine month labor for her because it took nine months for them to secure him.

"We fought for him," she said.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service caused roadblock after roadblock, she said.

Jacob's mother died shortly after birth, but his father helped with the adoption in every way he could.

Once again, the Petersons found themselves at the Miami airport.

There, they found their frightened 3-year-old boy, Jacob. "He took one look at me and cried," Kathy said.

Jacob allowed Tom to hold him, but still cried.

Nowadays, Jacob, a happy 6-year-old, plays with trucks, Lincoln Logs, and speaks English with ease.

He had to learn English when he arrived, since Creole is the official language spoken in Haiti.

Considering his tough early years and all the catching up he had to do, Jacob is doing extraordinarily well.

"He's doing wonderfully," Kathy said.

Every summer, the Petersons attend Haiti Camp for adopted children from that country. People come from all over the country, she said.

The Petersons encourage Kaitlyn and Jacob to consider their birth parents and fully expect them to meet again some day.

"It'd be cool to meet them," Kathy said.

Has there been peace among the siblings? Absolutely, Kathy said.

"I can honestly say that there never, ever has been a problem," she said. Although there are occasional normal family disputes, all of the children have a special closeness.

The couple has encountered some racism at times, she said.

"I can deal with outward racism," she said. The people who bother her are whose who pretend not to be racist, when they really are, she said.

It seemed like the right thing to do

Four years ago, Christmas Day, Tom and Sandra Peterson brought home their new baby boy from Russia.

At the time their new son, Stas, was almost three years old.

The Petersons had to travel to Russia, and spend three weeks there, north of Moscow - answering questions in front of a Russian judge - before Stas was released.

The couple had to show photographs of their house to demonstrate their ability to provide for Stas, and even show the judge their plane tickets home to prove they could afford the trip, Sandra said.

An interpreter stood by to help the couple communicate.

After the proceedings, the judge went out to dinner with them, Sandra said.

Every day, the couple visited the orphanage to see the little boy.

The first time they saw him was unforgettable, Sandra said.

"He came running, smiling, up to us for hugs," Sandra said. It was as if Stas knew they were there for him as his new parents, she said.

Stas had been abandoned by his birth parents.

The couple had talked about adopting a few years before that time. "It seemed like the right thing to do," Sandra said.

They witnessed plights of Russian children on the television and decided the time was right.

They used an adoption agency in Minneapolis.

Nowadays, Stas is a class clown who loves to fish with his grandpa.

He's very outgoing, very affectionate," she said. "He loves to make people laugh."

He also loves the violin, which he's played since he was four years old.

The next year, the Peterson decided to adopt again.

This time, it took two trips to the Russian orphanage.

Sandra ended up going alone to pick up their new daughter, Natasha.

"She was beautiful," Sandra said. Natasha has straight blonde hair and bright blue eyes, she said.

However, she was pretty reserved, being old enough at 6 to know when to be frightened, Sandra said.

She didn't know a word of English, Sandra added.

Nowadays, Natasha is a thoughtful fourth grader attending Waverly Elementary.

Natasha loves to shop, go swimming, and play piano.

She's a bookworm, as well, and loves to read. Both of their children know karate.

"She's an all-American," Sandra said.

The Petersons don't expect Stas or Natasha to see their natural parents, in part because the parents' whereabouts are not known and can't be traced, Sandra said.

Sandra strongly recommends adoption for anyone who feels ready for it, but just as strongly cautions prospective parents to find out medical information about the child before hand.

In Russia, there are some children with fetal alcohol syndrome, which is incurable, she said.

"Try to meet the child first and ask questions," especially medical ones, she said.

This can be hard advice to take because parents are on an emotional high when they are getting a child, she said.

For those interested

There are approximately 122,000 children available for adoption out of 550,000 children in the foster care system in the United States.

Those interested in adopting may contact the Minnesota Adoption Resource Network at (612) 861-7115 or contact Julie Pribyl, parent liaison with Minnesota Adoption Support and Preservation at (877) 699-5937.

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