Hello, Aibek! The Story of a Local Family’s Adoption

By Kevin Quirk

Our Son

“So tell me something about Aibek,” I stammer to Jennifer, our social worker at Coordinators 2 in Richmond. I am able to take in bits and pieces: his birth mother was an unwed 20 year old, and this was her first pregnancy. He weighed more than seven pounds at birth. Even I know that’s a good thing. He lives in an orphanage in Aktobe, a city in northwestern Kazakhstan, not far from Russia. Jennifer would be forwarding us his initial medical report and also a photo.

“A photo? You have a photo of him?” I ask, sweeping the hair off my forehead as if I were actually about to meet him.

Yes, and she would be able to send it to me in a few minutes by email attachment. Ah, just enough time for me to spring into action. It is 4:30 p.m., and my wife Krista will arrive home after teaching one of her Gentle Fitness classes to Seniors at about 5:15. That gives me 45 minutes. The email photo comes over about 15 minutes later. Aibek is an adorable child, cute and vulnerable looking with what we had learned is the common Kazak look, with both Asian or Mongolian, along with European features. My computer only prints in black and white, which I decide simply will not do for the occasion. So I race to Krista’s computer upstairs and print off Aibek’s color photo and quickly write up a letter of introduction:

“Hello, Krista and Kevin. My name is Aibek. I was born in Aktobe, Kazakhstan on March 2, 2002. I am looking for warm, loving parents to take care of me and bring me to their home. Will you be my parents?”

I tape the notice to the plastic cover of an unwrapped baby blanket we had recently purchased, with the title Just Born printed in large letters on the wrapping. I place the note and package on our baby rocking chair in our soon-to-be nursery. It is now 5:10 p.m. A few minutes later, Krista walks in.

“Listen, Sweetie, I have a little surprise for you upstairs,” I announce, trying to sound nonchalant. “But you have to keep your eyes closed until we get up there.”

“You ordered the toddler from L.L. Bean and he’s up there, right?” she jokes in a reference to my wish to skip the diaper-changing years and adopt a 2-year-old, express delivery. But we weren’t expecting a referral for another two months.

When we get into the baby’s room, I lead Krista into a kneeling posture. I want her to see Aibek at eye level.

“OK, open your eyes,” I instruct.

Her eyes go right to the photo. She tries to read the notice but is already in tears. “This isn’t a joke, is it?”

“No way,” I respond, my arms wrapped around her from behind, my own shirt drenched in tears.

The Blessing of the Court

We were told that our judge would be a woman and that she was very supportive toward adoption, but we are surprised to see how young and attractive she is. She is sitting at the head of a long table, with two tables extending out from hers on either side. Two women are seated on one side. We recognize one as the representative from the Ministry of Education who observed us at Hope House, the orphanage, the other day. On the other side sits a very young man wearing some kind of uniform- the prosecutor.

Krista and I are seated side by side facing the judge, a few feet beyond the side tables. Alla is in another chair behind us. As the judge invites those at the front to declare who they are for the record, Alla whispers her translation to us. We learn that the other woman on the defense side-that is, defending our petition to adopt Aibek - is the assistant director of Ymit, our orphanage. We had not seen her there in our entire two weeks of visiting, but I remember hearing that a chief Ymit administrator had been away for vacation and would be coming back for our court hearing.

“When the time comes, you will speak first and you will begin by stating your name,” Alla reminds me. A minute later, no one is speaking Russian at the front of the room and I feel Alla nudging me from behind, so I say my name to begin my statement. The women on the defense side smile and stifle a giggle.

“You have just been asked whether you trust the court,” Alla informs me sternly. “You are to answer yes.”

I realize that Alla might have actually told me this a minute ago, but I was trying so hard to focus on the officials up front that I must have missed it. Stage fright strikes again.

“Yes,” I say with a sheepish grin.

“Fine, now it’s time for your presentation,” Alla declares.

“My name is Kevin Quirk and I live in Charlottesville, Virginia in the United States. I wish to adopt Aibek. I am a writer and editor. We have a good home with four bedrooms, with one room already set up for Aibek. We also have health insurance for Aibek.”

I add a few more details, trying to strike a balance between an official legal demeanor and a more personable approach, but I must not be saying all the right things because Alla is leaning forward and whispering to me again.

“And do you love your wife?” she prompts me.

“Oh, I love my wife very much,” I beam as I look directly at Krista, which makes us both laugh self-consciously.

“And have you two bonded with the child?” Alla nudges.

“Oh yes, we have spent 14 days visiting the orphanage and really bonded with Aibek. Today is his nine-month birthday. We are very excited about sharing part of the day with him back at Ymit,” I report. I notice the judge smiling warmly, even before Alla translates my words back to Russian for the rest of the court. Either she understands spoken English relatively well, which is quite possible, or she is responding to my obvious warmth and sincerity.

“We also like to sing to Aibek. We have been singing to him every day,” I add, my eyes beginning to moisten. Again, the judge smiles. My stage fright is dissolving.

Then it’s time for Krista to add her follow-up statement. She speaks with her usual warmth and sincerity, but I notice right away that she has forgotten to begin by saying that she confirms everything I have said. I make a silent vow to remind her about this later.

Our opening statements are followed by evidence presented by our defense team. Most of it is legal. Yes, we have met the requirement of 14 days of visitation and some other stuff I don’t understand. The Ministry of Education woman presents a strongly affirming report on how well Krista and I seemed to connect with Aibek.

“And the couple has decided to keep Aibek as the child’s first name,” she adds, which earns a nod from the judge.

Then the Ymit administrator takes over. She tells the court how her staff has been observing us regularly and that we have shown all evidence of bonding with Aibek. She adds other evidence that I can’t understand, then grins as she turns to face Krista and me.

“The caregivers also noticed that the couple sang to the child every day. They say that Aibek is going to be a great singer someday, like another Ricky Martin,” she says, referring to that young American singer who apparently is quite popular in Russia and the nearby countries.

Now, everyone is laughing. Suddenly, the stuffy, legal environment has begun to dissolve and the image of Aibek as a famous singer has breathed some fresh air into the room. The moment seems to serve as a reminder that we are all just people participating in a very human and very sacred life experience.

Of course, the prosecutor still gets his turn. Back home in Virginia, our adoption agency team had warned us to be ready to be asked direct and very personal questions by the prosecutor. He might ask why we are adopting when we are so old, or how we will support our child financially, or almost anything else. But instead of questioning Krista and me at all, the young prosecutor turns directly to the defense team.

“You do not have proof that the couple has visited this child for the required 14 days,” he asserts in a basic courtroom argumentative voice and posture.

At this, the ministry woman bolts from her chair.

“It is all in the reports! You have all the proof you need!” she bellows as she waves folders in the air. At least those are the words I hear Alla report as the literal translation, but what I imagine hearing from the scene I am witnessing is something like, “Sit down, you dumb little boy. We women are in charge here and you know it!”

As the two sides banter back and forth a little longer, I notice the judge intently looking through the photos of our home that we were asked to include in our legal dossier and that are now part of the court documents. She is smiling broadly. A minute later, the prosecutor sits down.

“I confirm the decision of the court,” he mumbles.

Alla motions for Krista and I to stand up and walk out of the court. This is the part where we wait for the official verdict. In less than a minute, we are called back in. Alla speaks slowly and clearly as she translates the court decision.

“You are now the legal parents of Aibek Jeremy Quirk,” she proclaims. As she continues, she places one hand on Krista’s shoulder and one hand on my shoulder, as if giving us her blessing. Or maybe it’s the blessing of the court. Or the blessing of the entire country of Kazakhstan. Or the blessing of God.

I feel tears of joy rising up, but stifle most of them out of a sudden concern for committing some cultural faux pas. Krista seems to be having the same experience. So we just grin and squeeze hands as we wait to be dismissed.

“I was about to burst into tears but I decided I shouldn’t,” I confess to Alla when we reach the hallway.

“Why didn’t you?” she responds. “Everybody cries then.”

Going Home

On the flight to New York I also am in awe as I watch Aibek make deliberate eye contact with just about any passenger we walk by who happens to be paying any attention to him. A sociable baby for sure! Several women ask to hold him, some speaking English and others making their request clear through arm and hand motions, I am happy to accommodate each of their requests. For one thing, it gives me a breather. And, I must admit, I am one very proud Papa.

A Papa who is holding Aibek close when the Delta plane heads in for a landing at JFK. When it touches the ground, I lean over toward Aibek’s right ear.

“You are now a U.S. citizen, Aibek,” I say. “Welcome to your new home.”

Sunday, March 2, 2003: Aibek is seated in his high chair with his king’s-eye view outside our back yard and the wooded ravine beyond. Krista and I are seated at our dining table on either side of him, admiring the messiness of his face.

“Is Aibek enjoying his cupcake?” Krista asks.

In response, Aibek smears more frosting across his chin. His cheeks, nose, eyebrows, and forehead also have fully participated in the feats. It’s a carrot-cake cupcake and Krista had put one candle in it to mark our son’s birthday. Yes, Aibek is one year old today.

Behind him, in our former living room that really has become Aibek’s playroom, the last of the wrapping paper is still strewn about the floor. Aibek helped to tear it off the exciting toys that my parents, Aibek’s grandparents, had mailed down to him from New Hampshire. His Happy Birthday balloon is perched up on the ceiling and a giant homemade welcome home banner still graces one wall of the room.

Aibek has been totally enjoying all the new sights, new sounds, and new people. Krista and I feel blessed to have an essentially happy baby, one who has lost none of those keen social instincts from our first days together in Kazakhstan. Our many friends who have met Aibek have all been struck by his sharp eye, focused attention, and eagerness to get to know them. Aibek was pronounced amazingly healthy by our pediatrician, especially for a child coming out of an orphanage in a foreign, underdeveloped country. That not only gave us a major sense of relief, it also stirred renewed appreciation for the excellent care he received from Elfiya. Goula, and all those other devoted women at Hope House in Aktobe who are making dreams possible and helping to build families.

Aibek, Krista, and Kevin are enjoying every day as a new family at their home in Crozet and anticipating many more happy birthdays together. In addition to being a local dad, Kevin is a ghostwriter and editor who helps ordinary people tell important life stories through Memoirs for Life. His book, “Hello Aibek!” is published by 1st Books Library. Email Kevin@memoirsforlife.com for details on purchasing a copy.

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