I Was About to Retire Before We Adopted a Teenager

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Photo courtesy of Linda Goodnight

Man meets woman. Baby comes next. It's just that simple. Or is it? This week, Yahoo Parenting is running a series about the unique way families are formed. From a surprise adoption right before retirement, to a brother-in-law's generous gift, to an HIV+ positive father who had his sperm "washed," read on for inspiring parenthood stories.

We were nearing the Winnebago age. You know the drill: retire, buy a Winnebago, have incredible adventures. But life is full of surprises. 

We’d raised a family. In fact, we’d raised two families—my husband’s children and then ours together for a total of six now-successful adults. We adored our kids and loved being parents, but people our age didn’t start all over. 

Yet, we were moved by television documentaries about orphaned children with little hope for the future. We sought out reputable orphan programs to support, not yet realizing that we were traveling a road that led to family.

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When the opportunity presented to host a child during the holidays, we agreed this was a great way to make a personal connection with one of the millions of orphans we’d learned about worldwide. In hosting, we could share love and faith and make a connection that might give the child hope to persevere. We also knew younger couples and singles who might be interested in adopting. We could advocate.

In 2006, a 10-year-old from Eastern Europe spent Christmas with us. Masha arrived exhausted and apprehensive but eager to see America, particularly McDonald’s!

The two weeks flew by in a flurry of holiday magic, family events and, yes, McDonald’s fries. Though Masha spoke only Russian, an interpreter was just a phone call away and charades worked well, so we all had a delightful time.

We knew the discouraging statistics about Eastern European orphans, so when Masha returned home, we wrote letters of encouragement and sent school supplies, birthday cards and boots and coats for the bitter winters.

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Fast forward to the fall of 2008. By then, we had hosted and advocated for several children, most of whom had found families. One day we received word that Masha and her younger sister were being adopted. We rejoiced, content that her future was now secure.

A few months later, we received the phone call that changed our lives forever. The adoption was not working out, and the family sought another placement for Masha, now 13. Were we interested?

Shocked and saddened but apprehensive about taking such a permanent step, we instead offered a week’s respite. We hadn’t seen Masha in years and we didn’t really know her. But when she arrived, this thin, quiet teen who now spoke broken English, we were struck by her maturity, sincerity and inner strength. Whatever had gone wrong in the other placement, I can’t address. All I know is Masha won our hearts.

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With legal advice, and as much common sense as possible when hearts are involved, we talked endlessly with the other family in an effort to mend the rift. When it became apparent this was not going to happen, we agreed to make Masha part of our family.

Suddenly, a pair of empty-nesters headed for the Winnebago set was once again parents.

Within a year, the family asked us to also adopt Masha’s younger sister. We had never met Victoria, but our much-adored Masha longed for her biological sister, and once again, we said yes.

Since both my husband and I work at home, we had the luxury of being constantly present with our daughters to help them adjust to yet another new situation. Homeschool proved a powerful bonding method. We worked and played together, laughed and hugged, and sometimes we talked about the hurt and cried. In a year of discovery, we watched the girls slowly heal as we learned to love and trust and live together as a strong family unit.

Horses are a rarity in Ukraine, so when a friend offered a golden Palomino for sale, Masha fell in love at first sight. We bought the horse and another for Victoria, and Dad spent hours teaching them to ride, groom and train. In the horse world, “join up” means to bond to the herd, and the horses provided a much needed “join up” opportunity for our new daughters. They felt a part. They belonged.

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Were there bumps along the way? Certainly, but no more than expected when children have been badly wounded, especially more than once. Today both girls are popular, happy and well-adjusted. Masha runs marathons and attends the local college where she is secretary of the honor society. Victoria is a happy-go-lucky seventh grader with an infectious giggle who loves horses, dogs, and learning piano.

Life, indeed, is full of surprises and we couldn’t be happier with ours. And those amazing adventures we dreamed of? We’re having those with our beautiful daughters, and we don’t miss that Winnebago one bit!

Linda is a former nurse and teacher, and is active in Orphan Ministries. She resides in Oklahoma with her husband and eight kids, including two teenagers they adopted from the Ukraine. Her next book, The Memory House, will be released in March.

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