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RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (Catholic Press Association) - If it was a reality show, you'd call it "Extreme Family Makeover," jokes former Catholic News Service graphic artist Tony DeFeo, about the changes to his life over the past year.
The Defeo family, Tony and Mary with sons, Mick, left and Igor.
P>When DeFeo left his job with CNS last spring after 10 years and started his own design business in Aiken, S.C., it was not a career move so much as one part of a lifestyle overhaul, centered around the adoption of two young boys from the former Soviet Union. DeFeo said he loved working for CNS and has nothing but love, respect and affection for the people with whom he worked. But he and his wife Mary, an attorney, both spent many hours each week commuting into Washington, D.C. from their suburban Maryland home. "When we decided to adopt our boys, we did a lot of talking and praying. Is this the best way to raise them?" they questioned. His wife began a job search and found a position with a government facility in Aiken, S.C. which DeFeo describes as a "beautiful place, with nice atmosphere and a booming economy." When she proposed it to DeFeo, he asked, "but what's there for me?" That's when his wife suggested he start his own business, so he could work from a home office and be more available for the kids. Today, he is settling in to the small community where a horse and carriage is not an uncommon sight. He talks about building his business, Creative Design Resources, and joining the local Chamber of Commerce. The conversation also touches on play dates, soccer games, and the family that came together through a lot of trust in God. He and his wife had discussed adoption, but DeFeo admits he was a bit surprised the day she told him, "I found our kids" and directed him to information about two young brothers on a Web site of children available for adoption in Kazakhstan, part of the former Soviet Union. "We went to the agency and prayed about it. We asked the Lord for a sign. The next day, we found out the little one had the same birthday as my wife," DeFeo recalled. That was sign enough for the couple that embarked on the adoption process which involved two difficult trips to the former Soviet nation, which is struggling to rebuild a devastated economy. DeFeo said that once the decision was made to adopt nine-year-old Nicolai, who likes to be called Nick, and five-year-old Igor, he and his wife considered them their children and couldn't wait to get them out of the orphanage and into their home, but it wasn't that easy. First, they had to be thoroughly screened, and then approved by a judge in Kazakhstan. On their first trip to Kazakhstan, they stayed for a month in the country that can be dangerous for foreigners, careful to follow the instructions of the U.S. government and the interpreters who assisted them throughout the process. Although the accommodations weren't luxurious, the couple got to spend an hour each day for three weeks getting to know Nick and Igor. They returned to their new home in the U.S., due to adoption regulations, before going back to pick up the boys. Mary had to start her new job immediately. "I had 10 days to get the house ready," he recalled. Hectic doesn't begin to describe life for the couple, yet somehow; less then two weeks later, the new family of four began a 27-hour journey from Kazakhstan to their new home. "We are so happy we did what we did," said DeFeo. "They are awesome kids," gushed the proud father. "They're both bright and intelligent." He noted that they have quickly learned English and are adjusting well to school. In what DeFeo considers another sign that God is helping out on this "extreme makeover," the DeFeo's met another family in the neighborhood who also have two sons adopted from Russia. They have all become great friends, with the boys having weekly play dates at each other's homes. "It's amazing," said DeFeo. "When God wants you to do something, he makes it happen." "The whole reason we decided I would have a home business is so that there would be a parent at home, to pick the children up at school, to take them to the doctor," said DeFeo, who has already been enlisted as a soccer coach. In order to make his design business a success, DeFeo invested in state of the art computers and software and is beginning to pick up local clients. When a printer asked how he was getting so much work, DeFeo said he realized "it's obvious that something is going on beyond my efforts." "We couldn't have orchestrated this by ourselves," he said. "The Lord has made a way." As the family builds a new life together, they are taking time to appreciate the little things. While there are still struggles ahead, DeFeo focuses on the rewards. He noted how the boys were excited even over the pajamas they got on Christmas morning. Emotion chokes his voice when he talks about the way the boys have shown their love. For example, Igor recently took his father's hand while they were walking to the car and said, "Papa, you're my best buddy." Nick recently wrote a letter to his parents. "Thank you for my new home. I love you," it read. "Now we're mama and papa and we love them and they love us and that's how 'Extreme Family Makeover" ends,'" said DeFeo. - - - DeFeo may be reached at Creative Design Resources at 803-295-6677 or email@example.com.
This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of the Catholic Journalist, the official publication of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada (www.catholicpress.org).