For the first time in 22 years, Harlem Mayor Scott and Renee Dean spent Christmas apart.
Scott stayed at home with the couple's two sons while Renee, her parents and her sister traveled to Guatemala to spend Christmas with the five newest members of the Dean clan.
"It was a sacrifice, but one that is worth it," Scott said.
The Deans have spent two years trying to adopt Marlin, 14; Silda, 13; Sindy, 11; Mimi, 5; and Byron, 4. Renee Dean spent the holiday with the children in the Zacapa region of Guatemala, where they have lived in an orphanage for more than three years.
"We couldn't fathom them not having a family for Christmas," Renee said only two days before leaving for the holiday. "They have a family now. They've never had a family at Christmas and we don't want them to miss another Christmas with a family."
Scott said he met some of the older girls on a mission trip to the country in October 2004. After a second trip there in October 2005, he came home and told his wife, "I feel led to adopt them."
By the end of 2005, Renee had signed the required paperwork with the approval of their sons, Anthony, 11, and Meyer, 7.
"Actually, we asked them first," said Renee, who runs her own photography business. "We pretty much just gave them the first option of refusal. They were like, 'No, let's do it.'"
Since then, the Deans have spent their time doing two things -- preparing form after form for the Guatemalan and American governments and renovating their historic Harlem Victorian home to accommodate seven children.
The North Hicks Street home now sports a renovated kitchen with plenty of counter and cabinet space. The attic has been converted into a bedroom for the three boys to share, complete with built-in beds, a game room and basketball court floors emblazoned with "Siete Nios ," Spanish for "seven children."
"Because (Anthony) said we have enough for a (basketball) team," Renee said.
The home is waiting for the children that the Deans initially expected to be moving into their new home last spring.
Getting through American and Guatemalan bureaucracies has been a slow and difficult process. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which is estimated to go in effect governing international adoptions this year, caused a five-month delay. But the Guatemalan president's October comments, imposing a ban on adoptions to the United States because of concerns over loss of heritage, caused more concern.
The Deans' five adoption cases, along with the 5,000 other pending Guatemalan adoptions to the United States, have been allowed to continue. But when the children do finally arrive in Harlem, the Deans said they don't plan to let the kids forget where they come from.
"We definitely want to keep that culture intact," Renee said. "That's why we worked so hard at learning to speak Spanish, because we want them to keep their language.
"Of course, they are going to learn English. We're hoping the whole family is bilingual by the end of it. That is something that is very important to us."
Now that the U.S. Embassy has approved the Deans' adoption of the siblings, they are waiting for final approval from the PGN, the Guatemalan government agency which oversees adoptions.
With PGN approval, the couple will then have to wait three to five more weeks while getting the children passports and making final travel arrangements.
"That's been the hardest thing right now is just not knowing," Renee Dean said.
In a small town, everyone is supportive of the family and their efforts to adopt, the Deans said.
"It has been a huge blessing that the whole community, my customers, the people in the city, the people at church, everybody has been so interested in the process and the prayers and the concerns are very much felt," Renee said.
Meanwhile, the Deans are ready to make the newest members of their family feel welcome.
"You don't want to overwhelm them and take them to Disney World the first week they are here," Scott Dean said. "They already have the expectation that life in America is everybody is rich and everybody has everything and you never want for anything and everyday you go shopping like Paris Hilton."
Renee said it will be nice to have girls in the house, while her husband has a few more concerns about being the father to girls.
"My fear is they are beautiful," Scott said, adding that they have already begun working their magic on him. "They already own me."
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