Jack’s Christmas presents were under the tree — toys to teach him the alphabet, and clothes given by friends and grandparents.
His room was ready, the bed neatly made and clothes hanging in the closet.
His parents had thought of everything — including airline tickets dated Jan. 20 — as they made the final preparations to bring their adopted son from a Russian orphanage to his new home on Hilton Head Island.
Last week, mom Kristy Gonzalez even bought a small snow suit and boots so he’d be warm when they picked him up.
This week, that “when” turned into an “if.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill Friday banning the adoption of Russian children by American citizens.
That left Kristy and her husband, Michael — and 45 other American families — in limbo. Their adoptions are almost completed, but senior officials in Moscow say the ban, which takes effect Tuesday, probably will block the departure of the children.
“We don’t even know yet,” Michael Gonzalez said. “We’re on pins and needles.”
A reunion of brothers
Jack is 1 and the biological brother of the couple’s 3-year-old son Braeden, adopted a year and a half ago. The older child came into their lives after years of their trying to conceive and considering a number of adoption options here and abroad.
The older boy filled a space in their lives.
Just before Christmas, Kristy told Braeden how “lucky Mommy is.”
“Braeden lucky, too,” the boy replied.
They long had known Braeden had a brother and have been working for some time to adopt him.
Those efforts weren’t easy.
First, they had to wait for Jack to be old enough to be adopted.
Then came a six-month waiting period, required to allow a Russian family an opportunity to adopt him. That was followed by thick stacks of paperwork to complete the process. Among them was the requirement that Kristy and Michael submit letters from eight doctors attesting to their health.
Matters were further complicated when some of the guidelines changed after an American mother, who said she could no longer cope with her adopted child’s emotional issues, sent him back to Russia, flying the 7-year-old boy home alone in 2010.
The incident created a scandal in Russia and had authorities there threatening to ban adoptions by American citizens.
This summer, the two countries reached an agreement that allowed adoptions to continue under increased scrutiny. The agreement included a more thorough screening of American families, as well as steps to ensure adoptive families were informed of their children’s medical histories and upbringing.
On Dec. 11, Kristy and Michael finally completed the last step in the process. A Russian judge — after reviewing their paperwork, poring through their medical and financial history and talking to the Gonzalez family and local Russian officials about the risks — approved their adoption of Jack.
Then came the new Russian law, passed as part of a bill drafted in retaliation against an American law that targets human rights abuses in Russia.
Now much is now uncertain.
Kristy and Michael pray that something — anything — will allow them to bring their son home in a few weeks.
But Russian officials have said the ban will have an immediate effect, keeping Jack and other children from their new homes.
'He's definitely our son'
What has survived through it all is hope — that the couple will have another son and Braeden his brother.
“I look at Braeden, and I see faith and perseverance and love,” Kristy said. “He’s a true example of all of those things. I feel in my heart that this will work out. We have Braeden to prove adoptions can work.”
They’ve turned that hope into action.
The couple started a petition on the White House website and contacted members of Congress. As of Friday night, 220 people had signed the petition; 25,000 signatures are needed in a month for it to merit an official White House response.
Though Jack is always on their mind, the family is strengthened by the routines of daily life, running their real estate business, ERA Evergreen Real Estate, and making Braeden’s life as normal as possible.
That can be difficult for the boy. He begs to see photos of his brother every time he sees the family’s iPad. On Friday on the way to preschool at Cross Schools, he asked again when he would see Jack.
They aren’t sure what they’ll tell him if Jack can’t come.
“As young as he is, I guess we’ll just have to say Jack is not coming, and stop talking about it,” Michael said. “One day, we’ll have to tell him about his brother, though.”
They worry what might happen to Jack if the adoption is halted. Workers at the orphanage had already begun to show him pictures of his new family.
“He’s our child in terms of Russian law,” Michael said. “He’s being told, ‘These are your parents.’ After all this, Braeden is excited. We’re excited. He’s definitely our son.”
“The unknown is just awful,” Kristy said. “But I feel it will work out. They’re brothers. They should be together.”
She was quiet for a moment.
“I want my two sons to be together.”
Family creates online petition
The Gonzalez family has started a petition asking the president to help families caught in limbo by Russia’s ban on adoptions by American families. The petition is online.