Dedicated to Oksana Vasilyevna Oksanich, 11-24-1974 to 2009

Dear Oksana,

I am three days late with my annual letter to you, since I always *try* to post this in honor of your birthday. It’s been my annual tradition, so appropriate for Thanksgiving, ever since I discovered you in 2011 (which was, sadly, too late for us to meet). I will always regret not trying to find you sooner. I will always be thankful that I found you in time to be able to enjoy your family, especially your mother, our Granny Valentina.

To continue with my theme of being late, though: I also missed updating the family blog on Arina’s Adoption Day this year, another annual tradition. I used to *love* Arina’s A-Day, as we call it, since it’s the anniversary of the day we became a family. But, honestly, eight years later: it feels like we’ve always been family — and I guess we have, even before we knew it.

In that spirit, I will update the family blog this year as my letter to you, and I have a feeling that this will become a new tradition. Before, I always used this opportunity to talk mainly — even only — about Arina, but that’s just silly. If what’s yours is mine, then what’s mine is yours. Your mother understands this; she calls both Arina and Jack her grandchildren. And I think you would understand and embrace this too.

So, an update on my/your 10-year-old daughter, who for her tenth birthday wanted a pink bike and a mohawk helmet . . .

1932297_10204228718422013_2799913379504532918_n. . . and my/your 5-year-old son, who for his fifth birthday wanted (what else?) a train.

Jack smiling

They’re quite the pair. I mean: they’ve dressed in matching Halloween outfits every. single. year. since Jack was born: 2010 as Little Bo Peep and her lamb; 2011 as Little Miss Muffet and her spider; 2012 as Elphaba and Chistery; 2013 as Harry Potter and Fawkes


2014? Harry Potter and Fluffy.

IMG_0126Yes. Harry Potter, two years in a row — because after 117 hours and 4 minutes of listening to the audiobooks (which we started in 2013), we finished the series this year. Arina said her favorite character was Harry. Jack said his favorite character was the Hogwarts Express.

Speaking of trains (which you kinda have to do *all* the time when Jack is around), we were on a lot of them this year:

IMG_0513I think our train-obsession, like so many other things in our life, comes partly from me and partly from you. Jack is hard-wired to like trains (my grandfather’s legacy), but I never thought of trains as a primary mode of transportation until Scott, Arina and I took one across Kazakhstan — because, no offense to your country, but traveling on the Soviet-era small planes there is terrifying. Traveling on Soviet-era trains, on the other hand, is delightful and inspired us to get an Amtrak credit card when we were back state-side. So, thanks for that.

One of my favorite photos of Arina from this year was snapped while on one of our train stops: Washington, D.C.

IMG_0701I love this photo, because it’s *so* Arina, as much as the photo with the mohawk helmet. She’s a fearless free spirit — someone who will throw on a bathing suit and jump in the middle of a fountain, whether other people are there or not.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, her happy-go-lucky confidence absolutely terrifies me. *My* personality is much more cautious, like Jack’s. I give you the most perfect illustration I’ve found of their competing personalities:

Jack, as an anxiety-ridden mini-me: Scott hands him a pair of scissors, because he’s trying to open something. Jack raises both hands and screams:

“NO! I need SAFETY scissors!” 

Arina, as an anxiety-free mini-Scott (flashback to Oct. 2013, Kazakhstan trip): Six-year-old cousin Andrew pulls Uncle Yasha’s sleeve, speaking rapid Russian, after which Yasha runs outside.

Translator to us: “Apparently, Arina found an ax and is trying to chop firewood.”

That said, I love them together — because Jack, who is not the bring-a-bathing-suit-and-jump-in-the-fountain type of guy, does this when he’s with his sister:

IMG_0613And Arina, who is not the stop-and-smell-the-roses (or the sea breeze) type of girl, does this when she’s with her brother:


So our children round each other out and make each other better — braver and kinder, just like you and yours have made me better. And for that, now and always, I’m thankful.

p.s. thanks, finally, to scott, who fixed the color on our trip-to-kazakhstan video, below. the trip was 2013, but we didn’t put together the video until 2014 . . . because, well, late is how we roll.