exposing the dark side of adoption
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Edina couple open arms to parenthood, Russian children


Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities

Author: Jim Klobuchar; Staff Writer

The third bedroom in the Edina home of Dan and Deb Traun was once a utility room. In a few weeks it's going to resemble a scene from a Russian fairy tale.

It's big enough for three twin-sized beds. It will have to be. By the end of March the Trauns expect to return from Moscow with their new family: three adopted Russian sisters, ages 3 to 7.

It is one thing to make an abrupt change in lifestyle. It's another thing to plunge into the Volga up to your eyeballs.

They are somewhat numb, but enthralled. On Wednesday, Deb Traun spent three hours at Target, buying clothes. Then she turned on the 8-minute video from a Moscow orphanage for the 20th time, to see if the clothes will fit.

A month ago, the prospect of bringing three children into an otherwise-childless home - in one batch, unable to speak a word of English - would have propelled them toward deep therapy. They have, after all, been married for only 2 1/2 years. They'd tried to adopt a Ukrainian child, but a government freeze there snagged their plans. But not long ago they learned of the three children through the director of a Minnetonka adoption and humanitarian agency called

Reaching Arms International

. Three Russian girls. Animated. Large eyes. Beautiful. A video sent by an American schoolteacher in Russia revealed that.

Dan and Deb Traun held their first discussion. "Impossible," one of them said.

No rebuttal was offered.

They held their second discussion a couple of days later.

Dan Traun, 39, is vice president and senior account manager of Martin/Bastian Communications; his wife is in cosmetic sales for Dayton's at Southdale. Life had been reasonably good and uncomplicated. Their mutual need for a child or children in the house, though, was strong. While they hadn't abandoned the chance of having their own, they were committed to an adoption and were disappointed when they missed connections with the Ukrainian child.

"I don't see how we can be ready for three," one of them said in Discussion 2. "Doing it right, do you realize the amount of energy it would take? The time? The expense? How on earth is this home big enough for three kids?"

No rebuttal was offered. They did agree, however, to Discussion 3. By then they'd heard from parents on both sides of the family. It wasn't a planned lobbying campaign. It might as well have been: "We raised families of more kids than that with houses smaller than yours and less money."

The grandmas have spoken: "Go for it."

Dan Traun gives us the gist of Discussion 3. "We looked at the negative arguments we had raised. We saw that they were about money and convenience. We looked at the three children on those videotapes, Alla, Svetlana and Luda, playing and reciting poetry. What we saw there was need and beauty. It was not only the children's needs. It was ours."

They called Nila Neumiller of Reaching Arms International, and the process started 2 1/2 weeks ago.

Reaching Arms assists in adoptions but devotes most of its resources to bringing urgently needed food and medical supplies to children in the kind of orphanages where the three girls are living. The Trauns got their documents and petitions retranslated from Ukrainian to Russian and are now beyond the point of no return in their commitment. They are euphoric about becoming parents of the three children, but not so giddy as to ignore some basic education.

About the children, first. They were turned over to the Moscow orphanage by the mother, who apparently was overwhelmed, caring for more children than she could deal with. They apparently lived in a town north of Moscow, but terse information available so far from the orphanage and Russian government doesn't say much more. What, for example, are the children's expectations if they're adopted? What are their wishes about going to that strange and faraway land of the Amerikanskis? Do they expect someday to be reunited with their mother?

"Those are things we have to know about," Dan Traun said. "We're confident. We have the approval of the Moscow orphanage and the government's permission to come there. We expect to have approval from American Immigration. We hope to be in Moscow near the middle or the end of next month. The expense of this, though, does keep you in suspense. We're almost afraid, though, to answer the next phone call or open the next letter."

It began with an estimated cost of $10,000. The figure now is slightly under $20,000.

"But we've prepared for that," he said. "I think we both feel the same about this. It's something that almost seems destined, because of the way things have fallen into place. We know there's so much uncertainty ahead. We pray very hard. We can't make this work by ourselves."

They probably won't have to. They've received the names of several members of the sizable community of Russian emigres in the Twin Cities. Until the kids bridge the language frontier, some pretty basic translation is going to be in order.

"I'm nervous but happy," Deb Traun said. "Until you mentioned it, I hadn't thought much about toys. At that age, I hope the toys are pretty universal. What happens if somebody brings up Ninja Turtles? Food, friends, school - oh, my gosh. Do you think we'll ever get there?"

They probably will.

If I knew nothing more about the kids, I would put plenty of music in the house, some dolls, a picture of Grandfather Frost and limited access to a TV screen. That may ease the culture shock. One thing's a cinch:

They're not going to be terrified by the first snowfall.

1995 Feb 23