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Family to have first Thanksgiving together

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River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

This will be the first Thanksgiving for Mark Andres Channing Anderson, Mac for short, and he will likely get more attention than the best-cooked turkey could ever hope for.

Mac is the son of Paul and Helene Anderson of rural Hudson. The couple, both 41, adopted him in June through Crossroad's Adoption from an orphanage in Bogota, Colombia when he was 4 months old. Helene's brother Charles had adopted two children from Colombia, and through their family became acquainted with Friends of Fana, a group of families who have all adopted from the Fana orphanage in Bogota.

"They are a very tight-knit group, and we got to know many of them and decided that's how we wanted to go. We chose Crossroads Adoption Services in Hudson because we felt so at home with Charlotte (Vick). She reminded us of Paul's aunt and we felt an immediate connection with her," said Helene.

Vick is the director of Crossroads in Hudson, which is located in the Municipal Building at 911 Fourth St.

The couple began the adoption process two and a half years ago. It took longer than expected to adopt a child due to some changes in policy by the Colombian government. Helene quit her job last Thanksgiving, anticipating that Mac would be with them shortly thereafter, but they didn't get the go-ahead to come for him until this June. "It was a delay of about six months and that was discouraging, but we knew eventually we would get him, and I tried to focus on that," said Helene.

Paul remembers that the hardest time was around Mother's Day and Helene's birthday, which are close together. "She didn't have her son yet but she did get a mini-van."

The word finally did come, and the couple traveled to Bogota around June 15. The day after they arrived in the city, they went and met their son for the first time. They had only seen an email photo of him prior to coming face to face with him. Some Friends of Fana families happened to be in Bogota visiting when the Andersons arrived. A teenager from one of the families who had been adopted from Fana when she was a baby was at the orphanage the day the Andersons came to pick up their son. She carried Mac out to them. "It was very moving and a very special moment for all of us," said Paul.

The Andersons took Mac with them that day and began a month-long stay in the city while they awaited final adoption approval there. The family lived in a bed and breakfast inn that is associated with the orphanage and designed for families waiting to take their new children home. There is room for six families and the staff does everything for guests except their laundry.

"Initially all we did was stare at him. It was pretty hilarious the first time we went to change him and feed him. And I didn't quite get the hang of burping him the first time but it didn't take long before it got comfortable. I've been surprised by how instinctual some of this parenting stuff is," said Paul.

The family bonded quickly. The inn staff provided babysitting to give new parents a chance for a date night about 10 days after they arrived. The couple dressed up and was ready to leave when a staff member in a uniform came in to take care of Mac. "He looked at her and looked back at us and then her again and then started to cry. He didn't want us to go. We did but we spent the whole evening thinking about him, wondering if we should call and being anxious to get back to him. We were parents," said Helene.

The Andersons said they were very impressed with Bogota during their visit. They found the people very hospitable and the city of about 8.5 million clean, safe and very cosmopolitan. They expect to return there as Mac grows up to show him where he was born and to help him learn about his heritage. Helene recalled several times when the impact of what was happening to them would hit her unexpectedly during their time in Colombia.

"Every once and a while we'd be sitting somewhere with him and it would hit me. We're in Colombia with our son. We waited so long and everything seemed to be falling into place."

Paul had to leave his wife and son a week early to return to work and said it was the hardest thing he had ever done. He admitted the fear he had that something still might go wrong until his wife and son made it home. But when Helene and Mac did arrive home, they were met by a mob of both friends and strangers who came to see the new family reunited.

"It was really something. People from Fana, family members, even strangers in the airport who just heard what was happening were crying and coming up to us and telling us how happy they were. It was something I will never forget," said Helene.

Back home

Helene said the biggest adjustment for her after bringing Mac home was getting used to "all the baby stuff. They require a lot of it." Mac slept through the night almost immediately and is now 16 pounds and very healthy.

Paul, who is the director of engineering for a California company, travels some but also works out of their home. That works out well since their lives now revolve around Mac and neither parent wants to miss anything when it comes to their energetic and very vocal son. Paul and Mac enjoy swimming at the YMCA and Helene said she is happy for any chance to brag about him. He also gets plenty of attention from his extended family, which includes 18 cousins.

The Andersons are aware that Hudson is not the most diverse community around and that may create some issues for their family as Mac grows up. But they also believe that is slowly changing and that as that happens, people will become more open.

"Just having him has made me more aware. It opens your eyes to people and kids of all colors," said Helene.

Paul said he knows there are people who don't understand why they would adopt from a place like Colombia. One person even asked what language Mac spoke. "I said 'baby.' I don't think they intend anything by it but they don't always think before they speak. But we'll deal with."

The Andersons are looking forward to a big family Thanksgiving. More than 40 relatives are expected and Mac will get plenty of attention. For Paul and Helene, the meaning of the holiday will never be more real. They describe adoption as a wonderful, great gift that has opened their horizons and their hearts and recommend the experience highly.

About their son, Paul wants to make it clear. "There's no second best about him. He is and will always be our first choice."

For more information about Crossroads Adoption Services, call (715) 386-5550.

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net

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