From Russia, with love: Sisters find new home in Frederick

February 04, 1993|By Karen Gardner | Karen Gardner,Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK -- You could say that Diana and Mike Bartel became instant parents. They didn't do it the nine-month way. Nor did they go through a long, drawn-out adoption process. Six weeks after the Bartels saw pictures of Russian sisters, Masha, 4 1/2 , and Sasha, 3 1/2 , the girls came to Frederick to live.

Adoption had always intrigued Mrs. Bartel, 35, and Mr. Bartel, 34, who might someday have a biological child of their own. In late October, the couple went to a public meeting on adoption in Rockville, Montgomery County.

It was there they saw the pictures of Masha and Sasha, with a caption, "Masha and Sasha need a family."

The Russian girls, sisters who were each given up by their mother at birth, had lived their entire lives in an orphanage in Astrakhan, a city at the mouth of the Volga River on the Caspian Sea.

"It hit both of us," Mrs. Bartel said. "They were meant to be our kids."

They worked through the Datz Foundation, a Vienna, Va.-based foreign adoption group. In three weeks, the Bartels had the paperwork in hand to make the journey to Russia. With a little luck, a sympathetic worker at the Department of Justice and an efficient social worker, the paper chase was cut from an average of six months to three weeks.

While his wife was in Russia, Mr. Bartel, who owns a kitchen design and installation business, finished the children's room at their home. A spacious walk-in closet was turned into a play area and Mrs. Bartel's office was turned into a bedroom.

Mr. Bartel also got a loan from a local bank to cover the adoption costs, which can range from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on the length of stay in Russia and the number of children involved.

Mrs. Bartel and her mother left for Moscow Nov. 18.

"A lot of children from Russia are developmentally slow," said Mrs. Bartel, who is a teacher at her mother's Village Montessori School, a preschool and primary school in Gaithersburg. "These children are not. The most wonderful thing is they're normal."

Only their size, 28 pounds for the 3-year-old Sasha and 32 pounds for the 4-year-old Masha, a little small for their age, reflects their stay in an orphanage.

"Right now, they crave fruit, bananas, apples, oranges," Mrs. Bartel said. "It's like they can't get enough of it."

In the Russian orphanage, they didn't go hungry, but got little in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many Russian children waiting to be adopted have medical problems that can be surgically corrected in the United States, problems such as cleft palate or club foot.

"We expected them to be slow, and we were told Masha had severe bowlegs," Mrs. Bartel said.

Bowleggedness results from a poor diet. But Masha's legs are only slightly bowed.

In Astrakhan, Mrs. Bartel met Masha and Sasha briefly at the orphanage for the first time.

"There were all those children's faces," she recalled. "They let me take them into a room, where they played for an hour. Masha was very serious, and Sasha was running around, very happy. They started calling me 'Mama' in there."

The Aeroflot flight from Astrakhan to Moscow was delayed for several hours because of no gas. When they finally arrived back at the home of their Moscow host family, a series of night terrors began for the girls. Each night, upon going to bed, they screamed for more than one hour.

"They freaked out," Mrs. Bartel said. "They screamed uncontrollably. It may have been the language."

It didn't calm down until Masha and Sasha arrived at the Bartels' home in Frederick. "They calmed right down," she said. "They know they're here to stay."

Language differences caused the immediate problems in America.

"She'd [Masha] come in and talk excitedly, and I couldn't understand, and she would have tantrums," Mrs. Bartel said.

The girls accompany Mrs. Bartel to her preschool each day, learning language from the other children their age. They also are learning about typical amenities of American life. Masha and Sasha have learned to operate the television, the VCR and the radio, and they love to open and shut the refrigerator.

At first, the Bartels catered to their new children. But they quickly realized the effects of that.

"I wasn't being firm enough," she said. "We now have discipline."

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