Worth the wait

Nikiski couple loving adopted family life

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2006


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  Laura and Emily enjoy learning how to play music with their dad Wally. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Emily Hufford, 3, cozies up to her mother Liz as dad Wally watches from the family's dinner table in their home in Nikiski.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Moms across America awoke this morning to extra big hugs from their little ones — many were even treated to breakfast in bed.

Greeting card manufacturers year after year report Mother’s Day as their biggest volume day, and restaurants across the Kenai Peninsula are advertising brunch specials comparable only to those of Easter Sunday.

On one quiet lane in Nikiski, a family of four also has special plans for this special day, and circumstances that brought parenthood to them assure few will experience more love than they.

After deciding to start a family, most couples then count the days, in eager anticipation of the birth of their child nine months later.

For Wally and Liz Hufford, the wait for their first daughter was two years, and the process of adopting her took them halfway around the world, to China.

“We wanted to have children. It was a long wait, but it was worth it,” said Wally Hufford this week.

So much so, in fact, that the Huffords returned to China six years later to adopt their second daughter.

“We love our girls and we’re glad we’re parents,” said Liz.


Laura and Emily enjoy learning how to play music with their dad Wally.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“I think it was fate that it worked out this way,” she said. “We’re happy.”

Wally, now 46, and Liz, 48, met while teaching at Nikiski Elementary School, and married in 1989.

With a clear love of children, the couple wanted to start a family and looked into adopting.

Liz recalls going to an information meeting and seeing a little girl from China there who had been adopted.

“I knew right then, that’s what I wanted,” she said. “She was so cute.”

Following some research and a mountain of paperwork, the Huffords were approved to be adoptive parents, but then were required to wait another eight months, partly because of China’s mandatory six-week waiting period and a number of unexplained delays.

Finally in July 1997, Wally and Liz were off to Guangzhou, China to become 10-month-old Laura’s parents.

“The second time was much easier,” Wally said, of the process and subsequent trip to China to adopt Emily in October 2003.

“The first time we didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Liz.

“It was all new. We had never been parents before,” she said.

The second time, the couple knew what to expect, and Laura went with them to see the country where she was born.

“We also hoped Laura would be able to see her biological mother, but when we got to China, we realized it was going to be impossible,” Wally said.

The Huffords did take Laura to see the city of Beijing and China’s Great Wall, and Liz recalls her saying, “I love my homeland.”

Laura says she enjoyed seeing all the people in China, she liked going to the White Swan Hotel — the hotel where most orphans are brought to meet their adoptive parents for the first time — and she liked seeing the Peking Acrobats.

She also liked the prospect of having a little sister.

“She’s fun, but she gets into my stuff,” said the 9-year-old.

The 3-year-old also is quick to tattle on her older sister.

“She’ll say things like, ‘Laura’s putting chips in her lunch box,’” Laura said.

“Typical things sisters say to each other,” said Liz.

“I love my girls. They’re fun to be with ... smart ... beautiful. They cheer me up when I’m down,” said Liz.

Almost as if rehearsed, 3-year-old Emily breaks into an impromptu song.

“Oh my mommy, oh my mommy,” she sings to the tune of “Oh, My Darlin’.”

Liz said she learns a lot from her older daughter, Laura.

“She’s certainly broadened my horizons,” said Liz.

“She’s the same age as my students,” said Liz, who teaches third grade at Nikiski North Star Elementary School.

“She teaches me how they are, how they think,” she said.

“The experience of having a child helps me to understand that now they’re tired, now they’re wound up,” she said.

Liz said being adoptive parents also helps kids at school who are adopted.

“I think they think we understand where they’re coming from, what they’ve been through. There’s a connection,” she said.

Wally, who is a speech therapist at Nikisk North Star, said he enjoys “all the stuff we get to do together.”

Living alongside one of Nikiski’s many small lakes affords the family to enjoy canoeing in the summer and snowshoeing in winter.

Wally said the girls “do keep us more active.”

“We do more (downhill) skiing,” said Liz, who skied in the Lake Tahoe, Calif., area in her own youth.

Liz said Laura’s become a very good skier, enjoying frequent trips together to Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood.

“As her instructor says, she’s gone beyond my yikes factor,” Liz said with a laugh.

Depending on the time of day, Liz said the girls can make her and Wally feel old or young.

In addition to skiing, Laura takes piano lessons, she’s in Girl Scouts, she attends Boys and Girls Club activities and does “a lot of homework,” she said.

When asked if Laura’s parents help with the homework, Liz answered that she does check it over for Laura.

Emily is the early riser of the family, according to her parents, who say the first thing they usually hear in the morning is, “Mom. Dad.”

The younger daughter, who is in her first year of preschool, also enjoys music and likes to play guitar, according to her mother.

“She pretends to play guitar,” interjects her big sister.

Looking back to their first meeting with Laura, Wally and Liz recall writing in a journal they kept:

“She was more beautiful than we ever imagined.

“Liz and I took turns holding her and looking at her.

“She was so pretty with long eyelashes, stunning eyes and an adorable face.”

They wrote about the first time she sneezed.

“Immediately afterward the most beautiful smile spread across her face exposing the cutest little teeth I have ever seen. That moment will be etched on my memory forever,” they wrote.

The memories continued as Laura grew in her new home in Alaska.

“The time we saw the wolf, the time we saw the bear,” said Wally of their first visit to Denali National Park with Laura. “And when she lost her first tooth.”

Laura remembers that incident:

“I had this moon cake. You know, it was chocolate covered, and it was really hard.

“It made my tooth loose and then it came out,” she said.

Fortunately her grandma had sent her a little box to put it in, which she did, placing the box on her bureau.

When asked what happened next, she said matter-of-factly, “The Tooth Fairy came.”

The tooth was replaced with $2.

Wally also remembers the first time Laura read.

“She wanted to read so badly,” he said.

“Then she came home from her first day at school and she read.

“She looked up like that was no big deal,” Wally said.

Laura said she remembers what she read: “Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a Bear.”

She surprised both parents.

Wally and Liz do what they can to encourage their daughters to learn about their Chinese culture, going to Chinese restaurants, cooking Chinese food at home and sending Laura to a week-long Chinese Cultural Camp in Anchorage, and they hope to revisit China one day when Laura is in high school.

While the older daughter has an interest in China, she is already thinking about college, hoping one day to go to Harvard or Stanford and study to become a research scientist looking for a cure for cancer.

“I have really good grades,” she said.

Liz said Laura and Emily are good girls.

“They listen,” she said.

“I think motherhood somewhat comes naturally, and you learn along the way.

“My girls are teaching me new things all the time,” Liz said.

She also said Laura is a good big sister to Emily.

For Mother’s Day the Huffords are planning to go for a big hike along the Russian River trail following brunch.

About parenting, Liz said there are a lot of responsibilities, and she said “the joys of it outweigh the things you have to watch out for.”

“I love being a mom,” Liz said.

Though Emily is a bit young to be able to voice an opinion about her parents yet, she smiles a lot when she’s in their arms, obviously feeling safe and loved.

Laura, on the other hand, says she truly loves her mother and father, and “wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

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