By: Huck Nicola
I play Ice Hockey almost every day of the week, and I wished for a son who shared my love of the sport. Latvia ended up delivering more than I could ever imagine.
Once in Latvia, I remember waking up at 4 AM to meet the in-country social worker in the lobby of my hotel. She was going to take me on the long 5 hour drive from Riga to meet Maksims in an orphanage directly east, only 10 miles off the Russian boarder. I remember the icy road narrowing as we left the city toward the countryside. It was the middle of January, in the coldest place I had ever been, on a journey of a lifetime. I was speechless, but filled with the excitement of finding my son.
The time had come for me to actually meet Maksims, a Russian speaking 7-year-old boy that had no idea why I was there. The door opened slowly and he came in, head down but smiling, timid and shy. He just found out that someone from America was here to meet him—it was his day! Whenever a car pulls up at the orphanage and strangers get out, there is a frenzy of excitement that follows. Children from all over the inside of the orphanage press their faces in the windows to see who it is, and wonder, “Are they here for me?” To experience this sight is one of the most sad, humbling, and moving moments of my journey as they are literally, “the waiting children.” It made me proud that I had gotten to this point, confirming my choice to adopt a waiting child with special needs. I wanted to change the life course of a child, forever.
I was asked to bring a present for the boy as an “ice breaker,” and I had decided based on his age that a small $7 Lego car would fit into my suitcase. I even brought a gift bag all the way from the USA to wrap it in! He loved it, and we sat there building, and playing for over an hour. He was so determined to put that car together through the visual directions to show me that he could do it. The pride he had when he finished was a smile ear to ear. We made a game of rolling it back and forth. We could only communicate with smiles, and made-up sign language, which we laugh about today. It’s hard to describe, but we connected in such a way, making rules for a game, totally understanding each other, like we had nothing to worry about. I knew without a doubt—this was my son—and he called me Papa from that day on.
During the stay in Riga, I had changed his name to Bear and moved the Maksims to the middle name. I wanted him to have a name I picked to celebrate his American life, and honor his Latvian/Russian heritage as the middle name. I picked Bear after hearing the story of what he went through, as the Bear is a sign of Russia’s pride, strength, power and endurance. The Russian national hockey team often uses the skating bear as a symbol for their team too—it was a perfect fit.
There are highs and lows of the process—you will need to be strong. I honestly could write a book, I never get tired of telling the story. Today we live as a happy family, and I recently entered back into the Latvian “waiting children” program to find 2 more “special needs” brothers for Bear to be the eldest sibling in our family. We play more ice hockey than I’d like to admit to, and cherish the moments each day brings us. If you are lucky, you will get assigned to an amazing domestic social worker like I did. They are the unsung heroes that fight for these children everyday. She made the difference in my decision to get back into the Latvian program with CAN and find more sons. For us, the journey continues.
Bear happily resides with his father in Tampa, Florida He loves playing ice hockey, his dog named Finn, and was recently named “Student of the Month!” To read more about adopting from Latvia visit our program page here!