Family finds its groove

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Saturday, November 17, 2007
— After 1½ years, the Austins have settled into being a family.

Right down to their unibrows.

“All my kids have a unibrow, like me,” Mike Austin said with delight.

“He has flat feet, and they have flat feet,” his wife, Lisa, said with equal delight.

The Austins—Mike, 45, and Lisa, 41—adopted an instant family.

They adopted four children from Poland. They didn’t speak a word of English.

People asked Lisa, “Do you know what you’re getting into?” she recalled.

“I didn’t really understand that question until they were actually here, and I was dealing with things,” she said.

The Austins wouldn’t change a thing.

They also have two older children—David and Monika—from Mike’s first marriage.

With a laugh, the couple remember one of their first dinners as an expanded family. The tiny newcomers were whispering to each other in Polish.

Why are they whispering? David wondered. Nobody understood them, anyway.

The family moved to Beloit from Stevens Point about six months ago. Mike works at WJVL in Janesville, and Lisa home-schools the children.

Cindy Jensen, an adoption social worker in Janesville, said it is unusual for parents to adopt four children at once via an international adoption. She noted that the four didn’t speak English and also had a history of loss.

“I think they are a very brave family, and it’s wonderful those four children could be kept together,” she said.

“Just think how awful it would be to split them up.”

Mike, 45, and Lisa, 41, have been married for about eight years. They wanted children but that wasn’t happening.

They went the domestic adoption route and experienced several disappointments.

Then, they happened upon an adoption agency that specializes in Polish adoptions.

“We were told that they have a lot of family sibling groups,” Lisa said. “We didn’t want to split anyone up.” The Austins stopped at four only because Wisconsin statutes limit the number of children based on the size of the home.

“And they found us four kids,” Mike said. “To us, four kids is not a ton of kids.”

When the couple first saw a picture of their children, the siblings were grinning ear to ear, clutching each others’ hands.

“They were just so cute,” Lisa said.

“We both said, ‘That’s our children,’” Mike recalled.

The children’s ages were about the same as if Mike and Lisa had begun having them right after they were married: 6, 5, 4 and 2.

The children’s lives up to that point had not been easy. Bruised and malnourished, they had been removed from an abusive home by Polish authorities a year earlier.

The children appear to have adjusted well, not only to new parents, but also to a new language and country.

Lisa and Mike changed the children’s Polish names on the advice of the orphanage director to help them assimilate to their new country.

Mike and Lisa named them Maria, Therese, Joseph and Anna.

The children are polite and well-behaved. They giggle and appear to each others’ best friends. They are “very, very tight, protective of each other,” Lisa said.

There appears to be no emotional scarring from younger years, the parents said.

Lisa has a strict routine that keeps the family on course.

The major issues have been the children’s health, language and the children’s feelings of security.

The childrens’ teeth were so bad that they were taken care of all at once under general anesthesia. Therese had an exposed nerve, but she had never complained.

“These kids, they don’t complain about anything,” Mike said.

Maria also had her tonsils and adenoids removed.

Their health has improved.

The children began catching on to the language within three months. Lisa had tutored herself to understand key Polish words and phrases.

Initially, the children clung to their new mother. When Lisa got up to leave the room, they’d all get up and follow.

“It was like ducks,” Mike said with a smile.

“I think they’re afraid I wasn’t going to be there,” Lisa said.

Maria, the oldest, slowly relinquished the mothering duties she had taken on and learned to trust her new mother to take care of them all.

“We’re still trying to find our rhythm, our groove, even after a year and a half,” Lisa said.

“It’s getting much smoother. They’re understanding more English and are feeling more secure.”

Now, things they run into have nothing to do with being foreign or being adopted.

“They’re just kids,” Mike said. “That’s what we like. That’s where we wanted to be.”

“They were ready to have a mommy and daddy,” Lisa said.

Last updated: 10:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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