Brothers reunited by adoption

January 04, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

A pregnant Russian widow left her 10-month-old son, Yuri, at an orphanage in the Tula Oblast region south of Moscow in 1989. The baby was ill and she could not afford medical care for him.

A few weeks later, she returned with her newborn, Alexi, and left him there, too.

The brothers were moved to another orphanage when Yuri turned 4, a common practice as children in state care in Russia are grouped by age. But in 1996, the brothers were separated when Alexi was moved to the Severo-Ageyevsky internat - a boarding school orphanage - in a remote area.

Yuri's orphanage had an active adoption program and, a year later, he was adopted by Tim and Susan McCarl of St. Thomas, Pa., and renamed Colin Andrew Yuri McCarl.


When Colin arrived in the United States shortly before Mother's Day 1997, "I became a first-time mom at 50," Susan McCarl said Friday.

That Sunday more than six years ago, McCarl recalled, her husband, Tim, stood the small, red-haired boy on a pew in church and announced to the congregation, "This is our son."

While Colin says he does not remember that, he clearly recalls his ninth birthday party a few days later because he received a pair of in-line skates and frightened his mother by skating downhill straight toward his grandmother's swimming pool.

While he enjoyed becoming an American boy, Colin had something on his mind.

Sitting with Susan McCarl in a restaurant one day a few months later, he drew a picture of a mom and dad and two boys on a paper napkin and said the word "brat."

Susan didn't know what he meant at first, but did some research and discovered that "brat" means "brother" in Russian.

If Colin had a brother in an orphanage somewhere in Russia, the McCarls decided they would find him and make him their son.

They contacted The Russian Initiative, a missionary group affiliated with the United Methodist Church's Global Ministries Program. That group was helpful, Susan McCarl said.

But the search proved to be long and frustrating before they finally were able to locate Alexi at the Severo-Ageyevsky internat.

But that organization had no adoption facilitator; only two children had been adopted from it.

The McCarls completed mountains of paperwork, then spent September 2002 in Russia, when they met Alexi for the first time.

He and the 140 other children there seemed happy, Susan McCarl said, and the buildings were warm and clean.

"The internat was built in a quadrangle. Three sides were old brick buildings for housing, the other side was the school, and in the center was a magnificent stand of birch trees, maybe 200 by 200 feet, and dogs, cats and chickens were everywhere," she said. "The internat is three hours from everything. It's not in a town, just a settlement. There are no stores, and the roads are terrible."

Because of Russian bureaucracy, the McCarls had to return home "cold and empty-handed," she said. "No brother for Colin."

Finally, a reunion

After enlisting the help of anyone who had any ties at all to the Russian internat system, the McCarls finally were permitted to bring Alexi to the U.S. last June.

Colin recalls his reunion with his brother.

"We first saw each other on June 3, 2003, on my graduation day from Corpus Christi School (in Chambersburg, Pa.). I had stayed at my cousin's house, and at 2 a.m., Dad woke me up.

"I remembered Alex. (But) we couldn't talk" because Colin had forgotten all his Russian, and Alexi did not speak English. Nor did he seem to remember Colin.

"We had shown Alex photos of Colin when he was younger, and he got very excited," Susan McCarl said. "They had been together as little boys. I don't think either of them was expecting a big boy."

Now Alex, officially named Charles Alexi McCarl, plays soccer and chess and goes skiing, snowboarding and swimming with his older brother. Both are U.S. citizens and belong to Boy Scouts and DeMolay.

Colin, now 15, speaks English without an accent and is a ninth grader at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, where he is on the swimming team.

Alex, 14, is a seventh grader at James Buchanan Middle School. Communication between him and his new family has been a challenge. He speaks Spanish, Russian and a little bit of German.

"In my school in Russia, everybody in five grade learn German," he said.

Learning a language

Susan McCarl, who works at Letterkenny Army Depot, speaks some Spanish, but she said an Internet Translator program has been the most helpful. She types her message in English, pushes the Russian button, "and he gets the point immediately," she said.

Several books have been helpful, especially "The First Thousand Words in Russian," which uses pictures and words to assist with various activities such as a visit to the dentist.

"Alex wants to be part of absolutely everything we do. But sometimes, he doesn't understand," his mother said. "His English is coming."

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