Dustin Racioppi, The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press
FREEHOLD, N.J. -- A couple in the throes of finalizing the adoption of a toddler from Russia when they suddenly became victims of a vengeful diplomatic breakdown has succeeded in bringing their boy home.
Robert and Kim Summers were one of 52 families in the U.S. that had been in the final stage of the adoption process when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning Americans from adopting Russians as of Jan. 1.
From the moment the couple laid eyes on the then 14-month-old with ginger hair named Stanislav at the orphanage in the Kaluga region of Russia, they knew they wanted him to be their first child. They fed him raisins for the first time and played in the spare orphanage.
When Robert Summers, 47, comes home from work, the boy they named Preston Mackie Summers runs into his arms. During the day Preston and his mother dance to music in the kitchen. He scarfs down yogurt and bananas, then the 23-month-old takes a nap in his room, next to an onion-domed replica of Moscow's St. Basil's Cathedral.
"He's going to be a stocky Russian, I think," Kim Summers said.
Thrown into limbo
After that first visit to the "baby home" in Russia, the couple returned to the United States to go through the many motions to adopt Stanislav. The Summerses went back to Russia again in December, when they legally changed Stanislav's name to Preston and went through a final court hearing before they could bring him home to America. They were told he would likely be theirs around mid-January.
Then word came around Christmas that Putin was going to ban adoptions to American families at the beginning of the year. Critics have said it was in retaliation for the United States enacting a law targeting Russians accused of human rights abuses. Supporters said it was a result of simmering resentment over 19 deaths of Russian children adopted by Americans over the past two decades.
The Summerses and the 51 other families in the final stages of adoption were thrown into a legal limbo. The Associated Press reported that as many as 1,500 other families were in earlier stages of adoption at the time of the ban. Among them was the Eyermans, of Shrewsbury, N.J., who were close to finalizing the adoption of a boy from Siberia, but not close enough. They are still waiting, Rayna Eyerman said.
Meanwhile, the Summerses bent the ear of every local lawmaker and lit up social media in a campaign to raise awareness. They went nights without sleep and days with stress levels that knocked out their confidence, Robert Summers has said.
Stress reached new heights when the family left for Russia on Jan. 12, as they had scheduled, unsure whether they would be able to finalize Preston's adoption and come home with their boy. Kim Summers said they had the support of Rep. Chris Smith, R- N.J., and Assemblywoman Caroline Casogrande, R-Monmouth, who had made phone calls to the State Department and "were phenomenal."
Rocket to Russia
The Summerses arrived in Moscow on Jan. 13 -- the same day about 20,000 Russians protested the adoption ban -- and traveled three hours to Kaluga the next day. Putin had softened a little, saying already-approved adoptions could proceed.
That Tuesday, Jan. 15, the Summerses were in a Kaluga courtroom at 9:30 in the morning to obtain a decree for the adoption, Kim Summers, 49, said. So far so good.
"With each office we were holding our breath because at each point (the adoption) could've stopped," she said.
From there they went across town to the passport office, where a woman there took a look at the decree with skepticism -- Americans? -- and said she couldn't give Preston a passport. She told them to come back the following day at 3 p.m., Kim Summers said.
"We couldn't breathe. We couldn't speak," she said. "All we did was look at each other all night long and pray."
They arrived the next day to better news: The woman at the passport office had gotten clearance to give Preston a passport. Kim Summers waited alone in the lobby while Robert and the family's facilitator, Tatyana Terychova, went to pick it up.
"You know when you're so fearful you can't move? You're, like, paralyzed?" she recalled. "I sat in that lobby, just with a prayer book in my hand, and I didn't look up for, like, the 30 minutes they were gone. It was the most paralyzing, fearful moment of my life."
Then Robert Summers and Terychova returned to the lobby with the passport and held it up.
"And I started to cry, of course," Kim Summers said.
They went back to the orphanage to pick up Preston. Inside there were about 10 children listening to Russian folk music. Some of them were dancing, she said. Not Preston.
"He was just standing there. I walked in quietly and he looked up and he went, 'Mama!' " she said. "I can't even describe the elation."
They left the orphanage, drove four-and-a-half hours in a snowstorm back to Moscow, went to their hotel room and spent their first night together as a family.
Kim, Robert and Preston Summers arrived in New York City shortly after noon on Jan. 20. Every day for the last three weeks has been a new learning experience and, for Preston, "a new shtick," Robert Summers said. He'll offer a new facial expression or a new movement. He is inquisitive and, on a recent visit to their Freehold Township home, he showed a love of dancing to music and, to his parents' frustration, repeatedly opening doors.
Preston has quickly acclimated to life in America, and especially New Jersey.
Kim Summers said he "absolutely adores" Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" record. When the track "Easy Money" comes on, she said, "he goes crazy."
Kim Summers said the family has made it a "pursuit, a quest," to help other families in the adoption process.
Robert Summers said that with Preston here, "It feels like your life is complete."
He said he hopes Preston one day will want to return to the Kaluga region, and specifically to the orphanage, to see where it all started.