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A family grows in Medway

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  • A family grows in Medway

    Needy? Oh how I hate that word!

    A family grows in Medway
    By Auditi Guha/ Staff Writer
    Friday, December 17, 2004

    MEDWAY - Both Christmas and Kwanza decorations are up in the foyer of Michelle
    and Jim Cuff's home, a family that has a lot to celebrate.

    On a typical afternoon, Michelle has her hands full with five children,
    ranging from 2 to 14 years of age. The youngest, Anita, 2, and Emily, 4, are
    busy chatting or clinging to a mother they are obviously very attached to. The
    only thing that distinguishes them from the rest is the color of their skin.

    The Cuffs' youngest daughters are African-American, adopted when they were
    babies. But color is the last thing on the minds of parents and siblings, who
    believe that every child deserves a warm and loving home.

    "My husband and I like the idea of adoption and giving a needy child a
    home," said Michelle, holding Anita in her arms. With three older children, the
    Cuffs called the state Department of Social Services about five years ago to
    look into the possibility of adoption.

    After being assigned a social worker and a series of classes, a match was
    found. Emily was an "emergency call," said Michelle, who first saw her in a
    hospital nursery.

    "I remember looking in the nursery window wondering which baby it was,"
    recalled Michelle. "We were totally overwhelmed that we got to bring this
    beautiful baby with us."

    When she came to her Medway home on Florian Circle, she was an instant hit
    with the family.

    "Everyone had a serious case of baby love," said Michelle with a laugh,
    whose kids were aged 5, 7 and 9 at that time. "We had to do a little bit of
    adjusting to go back to diapers."

    Alexa, now 10, remembers being excited about it. "I came home from
    kindergarten and everyone was in my parents' bedroom. Pat (her brother) came
    down and said, "We have a baby, we have a baby!'"

    Today Emily is very close to Alexa. Alexa said it's great to have a big
    family so "I always have someone to play with."

    The two girls like to play house and school, they said. A photo of the two
    on adoption day has Emily hugging Alexa, both in identical pink dresses.

    "Sometimes Anita and Emily play with purses and put on a show," Alexa
    said. "They are always talking, trying to be cool and show off."

    Emily is a fast runner and likes to play soccer while Anita likes to play
    with Barbie dolls and ride bikes, Michelle said.

    "We have our hands full all the time," she said, laughing.

    Anita was as needy as they come, Michelle said. A small, sick child
    diagnosed "failure to thrive," Anita was handed to the couple in a parking lot
    outside a foster home two years ago.

    "To see the scrawny, tiny, fearful thing and the way she clung to me, a
    total stranger, it was an instant bond," Michelle said, misty-eyed.

    Now 2, Anita looks far from sick or fearful and her parents are waiting to
    complete the paperwork for the adoption process soon. Her dark, curly hair
    braided by her father with colorful butterfly clips, and wearing a bright pink
    outfit, she shyly peeps out from her mother's arms.

    Eldest sibling Patrick Cuff, 14, said the kids are a lot of fun.

    "They are funny and fun to be around," he said.

    He also believes adopting is a good idea because it helps children find

    With Anita's arrival, he had to move back to sharing a room - with no
    complaints, Michelle said. The Cuffs are happy their older kids adjusted easily
    to the newcomers.

    "I was very proud of how accepting my kids were," Michelle said. "It was
    well worth the adjustments we had to make."

    Married for 15 years, Jim met Michelle during their freshman year at
    Boston College. He is currently the vice-president of a tech firm in Boston.

    Construction is going on for a new and fifth bedroom for the parents and
    the girls are excited about moving to the master bedroom.

    "Me and Anita are going to get a big room," Emily noted.

    The hardest part of the adoption process is the wait, Michelle said. In
    the Cuffs' case, both adoptions took about 15 months of courses and paperwork.

    A social worker with the DSS, Sharon Adair, said she couldn't express in
    words how wonderful she thinks the family is.

    "The unique thing about them is they adopted out of their ethnic group,"
    she said. "It's become more popular now, but people usually adopt Latino and
    Caucasian kids. It's rare to find a family adopt an African-American child."

    Michelle helps the DSS conduct 10-week training classes and offers advice
    and information for prospective parents. Topics include maintaining cultural
    connections, separation and attachment, and helping neglected or abused kids

    While they knew about international adoptions, especially from third world
    countries, the Cuffs said they chose to adopt locally because a lot of kids in
    Massachusetts need homes.

    "We were open to any race," said Michelle, adding that more and more
    couples are doing interracial adoptions nowadays.

    Adair said the Cuffs have often helped foster troubled kids with behavior
    or health problems as well, as a favor to the DSS.

    "They practice what they believe and are very modest about it," she said.

    But the Cuffs don't believe in the term "problem child" and race is not an
    issue for people who can love a child, they added.

    "If you can love a child with your whole heart and are committed to doing
    all that it takes, then you can have an interracial child," said Michelle, who
    is very concerned about maintaining racial ties and culture and has started a
    playgroup in Medway for children of color.

    "Kids need a lot of love, don't they mommy?" said a thoughtful Emily. "I
    think I learnt that in my Care Bears book."

    The Rainbow Connection Playgroup will meet for the first time 10-11:30
    a.m. on Jan. 20 at St. Joseph Parish, 145 Holliston St.

    "It's important for children of different races to make connections to
    their culture ... in the best interests of their growth," she added.

    The Cuffs are also a part of another group called Adoptive Parents that
    meets on the first Wednesday of each month, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Medway
    Library. She believes this will help them and other parents who have adopted to
    connect and help children see there are other families like them.

    A list of the Cuffs' adoption resources includes books and reading on
    interracial adoptions, raising children of different cultures, stories of
    multiracial families and even hair designs.

    "We like to do lots of reading to find different points of view," Michelle

    Last week the Cuff family was be busy setting up a Christmas tree. A
    display of miniature lit up buildings, cars and figurines form the village
    scene from "It's a Wonderful Life" in the foyer. George Bailey's car is up
    against a tree. While the children know they are not allowed to touch it,
    sometimes Michelle finds the figurines have moved. "Mr. Potter is always being
    pushed around," she said with a laugh.

    On the wall hangs a red Noel sign and a colorful Kwanza wreath.

    "Have a merry Christmas!" Emily cried.

    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
    be sitting next to you saying, "**** . . . that was fun!"
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