You Mustn't Miss Las Vegas, Mikhail

Relates to:
Date: 1986-08-04

August 04, 1986 Vol. 26 No. 5 You Mustn't Miss Las Vegas, Mikhail
By Alan Richman

A casino showgirl's home, a California surfing beach, a Sioux reservation—these aren't the usual scheduled stops for a visiting Soviet Premier. They are, however, some of the places suggested when we asked readers last March where they thought Mikhail Gorbachev should go to learn about America after the summit with President Reagan. We received replies from 6,351 of you and last week reported on visits to a few of the people and places east of the Mississippi. This week our journey—our travel guide for a first-time Soviet guest, really—moves west. We've learned a lot about what our country's like in the course of our odyssey, and we think Mr. Gorbachev would, too. It's dazzlingly varied, often beautiful, seldom perfect, and sometimes, as in Cedar Falls, quite something indeed.

Cedar Falls, Iowa

This is how an American family is made:

The first kid comes naturally. While Jim Swarbrick is in Vietnam, Jody Swarbrick gives birth to a son. Eight months later, at the Waterloo, Iowa airport, Jim sees Eric for the first time. It is an omen.

"I met every one of my kids at the airport," he says, 16 kids later.

After Eric, Jody has four miscarriages. They decide to adopt an American child, but the first dies before arriving, and the second has a 16-year-old father who wants a motorcycle in exchange.

Jim and Jody then decide to adopt a Vietnamese orphan. A child is promised them via airlift from Saigon, but the C-5A crashes, and the child they have never seen is dead. "I remember that morning, sitting there in tears," Jody says.

They learn of an agency in Oklahoma that arranges Korean adoptions, and a year later Tori arrives. She is 5 months old, weighs 10 lbs. and suffers from hearing loss, malnutrition and impetigo. Not until she is 4 years old does hair grow on her head. They like her a lot.

Today, Tori is 10 years old, cute and very, very opinionated. "She's a mini-Gorbachev, a dictator," says her brother Eric, 15.

Jim and Jody decide to adopt two more Korean kids. The agency tells them about sisters—Maggie, 3, and Kari, 10 months, the older child described as "a sweet, outgoing little girl who loves her sister dearly."

"Maggie was the nastiest kid I ever met in my whole life," Jody recalls. "She got off the plane and glared at me. At home, she'd grab her little sister by the ear and drag her across the room. She broke Tori's arm. Honest to God, the first American sentence out of that kid's mouth was, 'Don't tell me what to do—you're not my mother.' "

Today, Maggie giggles when reminded of her brutal past. She is 11, beautiful, patient and "one of our nicest," Jody marvels.

Jody and Jim next decide to adopt a boy, a Korean child of Eric's age. "I was complaining that all I was getting was sisters," he says. The agency warns them that orphaned boys of that age lie, cheat, steal, swear, run wild in the streets.

Off the plane come Luke, 9, and Andy, 7, two desperadoes from Seoul. They bow to their new parents.

The Swarbricks are learning that kids don't come as advertised.

Everybody is happy except Andy, who wants a brother his age. So they adopt Jason, who has mild cerebral palsy, and devise physical therapy for him: He must pick up everything on the floor with his bad hand.

Today the floors are neat, and Jason plays cello in the school orchestra.

Joey, 6, comes next, their first seriously ill child. They are told that he is retarded, which they never believe, and has cerebral palsy, which turns out to be muscular dystrophy. Joey learns to walk, attends kindergarten, hardly ever misses an episode of Kung Fu Theater. He is told of his impending death, and he makes a will, listing what he wants with him: a Bible, a picture of Jesus, a piece of bubble gum, his underwear, his shoes, his socks and his karate suit.

Joey dies at home when he is 9.

Before that occurs, Jenna joins the family. She has lived in a hospital in Seoul for seven years, one leg crippled from polio. She is 12, and her wish is to become a nurse. At the hospital, she has been told repeatedly that because of her handicap, she cannot.

Today she says, "When I came to the U.S., my parents asked me what I wanted to be. I told them a nurse and they said, 'Why not a doctor?' "

She is 17 now, just out of 10th grade, and plans to attend the University of Iowa Medical School.

The Swarbricks are not through: more twins, Zachary and Noah, one healthy and one with cerebral palsy; Channon, 3, who walks off the plane hollering at Jim and Jody not to touch his precious shoes; Tyler, a Filipino rejected by two families for behavioral problems, including throwing rocks at ducks; and four more babies—Molli, Sunni, Emili and Brock. The total now is 15 Oriental kids plus Eric, who says, "They think I'm Oriental and they're not. They think I'm the strange one."

They live in the suburbs of Waterloo in a house with four dogs, three bathrooms, one washing machine and 27 Cabbage Patch Kids. Jim earns $37,000 a year as finance manager for Friedley Lincoln-Mercury in Cedar Falls, repairs golf clubs on the side and takes Jody out to dinner once a month.

Meals at home are not to be missed when Luke, now 15, cooks his Korean specialties, but they are legendarily bad when Jenna is at the stove. "I tell her when she's a doctor, her husband will cook," Jody explains. The adults and older children take their meals in the dining room, while the younger children sit off by themselves in the kitchen. Allowing 10 kids, ages 2 to 12, to eat without supervision in most households results in casualties, not conversation, but here they chat away like members of a Princeton University eating club. One afternoon the discussion concerned small children, and a visitor contributed a very disconcerting comment.

"You know," he said, "I don't have any children."

"Too bad," said Channon, now 5, his face stricken with sympathy.

"You can make some," advised Zachary, just turned 4.

Little about Jim and Jody quite explains the extraordinary workings of this household. After Jim hurt his knee in Vietnam, he spent a lot of recuperative time feeding babies at an orphanage outside Da Nang, which might account for his love of kids. After Noah arrived Jody spent a year trying to get him to smile, which says something about her patience. She finally despaired, began crying, and that made Noah laugh.

Says Eric: "It's hard giving everyone equal attention, and they try. That's all I can ask or hope of them."
[rest of the article is unrelated]

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