Beginning their lives together

Steamboat couple adopts Chinese toddler

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Zofia Xing Hao Stroman arrived in Steamboat Springs three weeks ago -- 22 months after she was born in China and 17 months after Tara and Larry Stroman began the process to adopt her.

When Zofia (her parents call her "Zo") is old enough to understand and curious enough to ask, her parents will hand her the scrapbook they made of her life at an orphanage and the day they met. They also will give her a book written especially for Chinese children adopted by international parents titled "When You Were Born in China."

In a small Colorado town, the Stromans' choice to adopt a baby from China might seem unusual, but it is hardly out of place. Eight families in Steamboat have adopted Chinese children through the same agency, Chinese Children Adoption International in Denver. Some of those have adopted two or three children, including a couple of babies born with special needs. And there are others -- Chinese children adopted through other agencies and children from Russia, Vietnam and Honduras.

Zofia will grow up in a small sub-community of internationally adopted children, and her story will not be much different from the others born in China.

China still has a one child per family policy, put in place to control overpopulation. Families can have a second child but are heavily taxed, making more than one child financially impossible for most parents.

A mother who gives birth to a second child often wraps it in blankets and leaves it on a doorstep or in another high traffic area where he or she will immediately be discovered.

Chinese Children Adoption International calls this spot "the finding place."

Some babies have notes attached telling their names, when they were born and a request to "please take care of my baby."

Zofia had no such note. In the scrapbook, there is a picture of the neighborhood in the Chinese city of Guilin where she was found.

She spent the first 21 months of her life in an orphanage with 300 other children. When the Stromans arrived to take her to the United States, she had not left the orphanage grounds since her arrival.

Larry Stroman is about to turn 50. Tara is 45. They have been married for 16 years. Most of their friends are watching their children graduate from high school. Some of them are even becoming grandparents. Although the Stromans could have had biological children, they had always talked about adoption.

"There are kids all over the world and in our country who need homes," Tara Stroman said.

The Stromans moved to Steamboat in the early 1990s to open Amalama, a jewelry and bead store that is now Silver Lining. Their business had "simplified" to the point where at least one of them could always be home with a child.

Larry Stroman found Chinese Children Adoption International on the Internet. They chose it because it was in Denver.

"They made it so easy for us," Larry Stroman said. "They held our hands through everything. They want you to be focused on the child, not on the paperwork."

After federal and state background checks, interviews, home tours and required parenting classes, the Chinese government matches the parents and child. Six weeks before they flew to China and met their daughter, the Stromans were sent a photo of her.

They prepared a room for her and got used to saying her name, then they drove to Denver and flew to Hong Kong, then to Nanning where Zofia lived. They were a few days early and decided to take a four-hour bus ride to Guilin, where Zofia was found.

When they returned to Nanning, they met eight other American couples arriving to adopt through the same agency. Each was given its child in a formal ceremony. The agency calls it "Gotcha Day" when the child is taken by his or her new parents.

"We were so nervous," Tara Stroman said. "The night before, all I had was this picture. She was looking right at the camera and seemed to be saying, 'Are you ready for this?'

"But it felt so natural when she came into my arms. I love her so much. I'm so happy. I'm so full."

Zofia cried at first. They took her out onto the lawn and the new parents and the child just looked at each other.

"We were trying to figure each other out," Tara Stroman said.

The next day, they took her back to the orphanage where she saw her nanny and the orphanage director. She reached out for them, and they held her one last time.

As the Stromans were leaving, the women blew Zofia a kiss, and she blew a kiss back to them.

"It was a kind of closure for her I thought," Tara Stroman said.

They boarded a plane back to the states with the eight other families and their new children.

Now at home in Steamboat, the parents and child are getting to know each other.

"She tells us in Chinese that she wants to go potty, and when we don't understand her, she gets frustrated," Larry Stroman said. She was just starting to learn words in Mandarin such as "jump," "sit" and "hair." Now, they are working with flashcards to teach her English.

Her favorite foods are fish, broccoli and rice, but she is learning to love Goldfish crackers, as well.

The Stromans still seem completely amazed by their new child and that an hour of Internet surfing could begin this journey.

"A lot of people are intimidated by (international adoption)," Larry Stroman said. "But it's just documents and waiting, and it's all worth it."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips, call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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