Parallel Lives, pg 5

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The tape arrived the next day, and waiting for Otto to get home so they could watch it together took more restraint than she thought she had. They sat on the living room couch, tensely holding onto each other, staring at the TV screen. They watched the tape at least ten times that first day.

Sergei was sitting on a patterned, Oriental-style carpet, chewing on an orange rattle, staring at the camera. "Chubby cheeks," Otto noticed, already developing a paternal fondness. Lidia, clutching a stuffed bear, stood beside her brother. They looked just fine, sweet downy-haired blonds in cheerful clothing-a ski sweater for him, a flowered dress for her-probably contributed by other American families who came to the orphanage bringing donations.

After a moment, a woman in a white coat walked over to help Sergei stand up, probably to demonstrate that he could-institutionalized Russian children may have health problems and developmental delays. Lidia gazed around and gave her bear a shake-and then it was over. Two and a half minutes, which was much too short-Chanda wanted the tape "to keep going and going"-but long enough for them to fall in love.

"Just adorable," Chanda thought. "Our kids. There they are, thousands of miles away, but there they are."


A week and a half later, the Kerns are preparing to go to what sounds like the ends of the earth to bring the kids home. There's barely time to buy and borrow and arrange everything before they are scheduled to fly from Philadelphia to Moscow and then to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, from which they will travel three hours to the orphanage in Cherepanovo. Frantic but focused, they compile lists, more lists, lists of lists. Nevertheless, every night before they go to bed, they watch the tape one more time.

It's a girl. Corinn Alexandria Snyder, born at 3:03 p.m. Monday, February 28, weighs 6 pounds 14 1/2 ounces, has a thatch of dark hair and a scrunched-up expression on her tiny red face and is, of course, beautiful. By 3:15, she's in Nicole's arms, wearing a miniature stocking cap to maintain her body temperature. Thanks to Ralph's mother's coaching and an epiderral, Nicole's labor went smoothly. She's exhausted but she doesn't let go of Corinn until the nurse-midwife asks to examine her.

Nicole's friends Angie and Liz, who dropped by unexpectedly to see the birth, coo over the baby's blue eyes. Over the next two days, lots more people arrive: Nicole's and Ralph's families, Ralph and his buddies, Heather, Nicole's other girlfriends.

Nicole has heard all the warnings about kids having kids and the problems involved. She simply thinks that she can be the exception-and of course, she could be. At any rate, no one is taking this baby home except her. "Uh uh," she says. "That little girl is mine."

On day three, Ralph's mom drives Nicole, Ralph, and Corinn back to Nicole's basement bedroom in her father's house. A little over a year ago she painted it midnight blue and hung a glow-in-the-dark moon and stars from the ceiling. Now it also holds a swing, diapers, and a gingham bassinet.

Three weeks later, Otto and Chanda Kern check in at the British Airways counter at Philadelphia International Airport two hours before their flight. Chanda's stomach is flip-flopping. It's the first time the Kerns have left the United States, and only the second time they've ever flown. And as Otto points out, "When we come home there'll be four of us."

The big suitcases they checked are full of toys, clothes and over-the-counter medicines for the orphanage. Their carry-ons hold cameras, two plush bears and Russian language sheets to study.

Finally, their row is called. "Alrighty," Chanda says, shouldering the large purse that will double as a diaper bag. They walk past the gate, without looking back, and onto the plane that will take them to their children.

Postscript:

A few months later Sergei's learned to open every kitchen cabinet. His sister Lidia can reel off the alphabet in English. After months of waiting and planning, Otto and Chanda Kern finally have the family they so desperately wanted. "It seems like they've been here forever," Chanda says. "We were meant to be their parents."

Corrin Alexandria Snyder is flourishing too. Nicole now lives with her father and has found a part-time secretarial job; she complains that Ralph, who helps pay for day care, isn't around much. Once she graduates, she wants to move to North Carolina. "I'd prefer to get far away from here and start over," she says.

This story was adapted by the author from the Washington Post Magazine, where she is a staff writer.

Credits: Adoptive Families Magazine

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