What are the chances that two toddlers who lived in the same orphanage halfway across the world would find each other 13 years later at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? Pretty slim, but it happened. Chills run up my spine when I think of it.
16 years ago, I made the momentous decision to travel to Moscow and adopt my then two-year-old baby girl, Laura. She’d lived in orphanage number five since she was six months old. Demckuit dom in Russian, or “baby home.” There are twenty-five “baby homes” in Moscow. In the one Laura was living in, number five, the lopsided seat of a rusty swing dragged to the ground in the back yard. Inside the building, torn, pink-flowered wallpaper decorated the narrow entranceway. Toys were scattered across the floor and a rocking horse stood motionless in the corner.
I remember my first visit to meet my daughter. I brought bags of Oreo cookies for all the toddlers. The caretakers gathered them in the kitchen and they sat down at a narrow wooden table. I passed my cookies to each one and watched, stunned, as they pried the cookie apart and licked the icing. They’d never eaten Oreos before yet instinctively did what every child does. While visiting, I took dozens of pictures of the orphanage, the kids, and the caretakers, making a history for my daughter since we knew nothing of her biological family.
As a single mom with my family living out of state, I constructed a Pittsburgh family for my daughter. My two closest friends became her aunt and uncle. Family and religion were important values I wanted to instill in her, so when Laura turned six, we joined a local synagogue. She attended Sunday school and participated in youth groups for many years. At one of their events, when she was 12, she introduced me to a boy she had befriended. “He’s adopted, too,” she told me, “and I think he’s from Russia.” I liked him, he was polite and thoughtful. They continued their friendship on Sundays and at youth group parties.
When Laura turned 15, she invited a boy to a school dance. I was secretly thrilled that he refused because I didn’t like this particular boy. He was a poor student and acted silly in school. I suggested she invite someone else and she chose her Sunday school buddy, David. He said he had to ask his mother first (I knew I liked him) and we planned a meeting for the kids and the moms at a local shopping mall.
It was a breezy, cool, Saturday afternoon when I first met David’s mother.
“Hello! So happy to meet you,” I said as I offered my hand. “I understand David is adopted from Russia.”
“May I ask what part of Russia?”
“He was born in Moscow,” she replied.
“Really? So was Laura. How old was he when you brought him home?”
“He was two,” David’s mom said.
“Really? So was Laura.”
“What baby home was he living in?”
“Oh, I think it was number 25,” she answered.
“Oh well, Laura’s home was number five.”
After more conversation about our adoption journey, we learned we had travelled to Moscow just one month apart. I’d adopted Laura in May and she’d been there in June. We said our goodbyes until early evening when we came back to pick up our children. David’s mom ran toward me, screaming, “You won’t believe this! I can’t believe it! I checked our records, David and Laura were in the same orphanage. They were infants together, and toddlers together, and now teenagers together.”
We were stunned. The kids were ecstatic, giggling and hugging each other. Was this just an amazing coincidence? Or was there some other unknown force that brought these two teens together, halfway across the world? This special knowledge of the early history they shared brought them closer and soon they became boyfriend and girlfriend.
Like most teenage romances, it didn’t last. What did last was an exquisite connection between two children who shared a unique beginning, a time in their lives they didn’t remember but would be a part of them forever.