Happier by the Dozen
Seven, however, soon turned into nine. Nine became 10. And then, three months ago, the Spriggs reached an even dozen. "People see a family with 12 kids and shake their heads," says Diane, 36, who home-schools the children in her suburban San Diego kitchen. "But I've discovered that it's not much different than having four or five kids. You just have to correct more papers and bake more potatoes."
The family's acquisition spree began in December 1999 after Diane, a homemaker, called an adoption agency. "The lady said, 'We have these three brothers in Russia that nobody ever inquires about,' " says Diane. Ivan, Eugeny and Alex, then 7, 5 and 4, had been languishing for three years in an overcrowded orphanage in rural Krasnodar near the Black Sea. Diane saw them on video and fell in love. Steve, 37, a software executive, "wasn't jumping for joy at the thought of three," she says, "but I started working on him." A self-confessed type A personality, Steve quickly warmed to the challenge. Their kids needed no convincing. In May 2000 the couple flew to Russia to meet the boys.
Once in Russia the Spriggs received stunning news: There were two more brothers living in an orphanage for older children 80 miles away. They hadn't seen their younger siblings since all five boys were placed in the institutions in 1996. "It hurt to know they had been separated," Diane says. "I didn't want them to suffer that kind of hole in their lives."
That June the Spriggs brought home the three younger brothers—now 9, 8 and 6—and set out to adopt the older boys. It wasn't easy. There were visits to their five-bedroom home by U.S. officials, anxious inquiries from the Russians, who wondered whether the Spriggs could handle 11 kids, and endless red tape.
Make that 12 kids. Diane gave birth to Dominic last October. The Russians relented, and in July, Dmitry, 12, and Valery, 11, were reunited with their biological brothers. Marshall felt he had hit the jackpot. "I wasn't the only boy anymore," he says. "They're really good guys."
By all accounts, so are their adoptive parents. Observant Catholics, the Spriggs downplay the rigors of rearing and homeschooling a dozen kids—and of spending $500 a week on groceries to feed them. Paper plates help, as do a weekly housekeeper, a no-shoes-in-the-house rule and a tightly organized schedule for chores. Steve says he spends his entire six-figure salary on supporting his family, but he's not complaining. "They're great kids. Anybody who saw those boys would have adopted them."
Not so, says LaDonna Stearns, a director at Dove Adoptions International, the Portland, Ore.-based agency that handled the placements: "Luckily, they have the financial means to bring this off. But you also have to have the heart for it."
The Spriggs are both from large, close-knit families. "Steve and I felt this was our calling," says Diane, one of seven kids whose parents took in a Vietnamese refugee family for a year when she was 9. The Spriggs met at the University of Notre Dame, where Steve earned a B.A. in finance in 1987 and Diane a B.S. in chemical engineering a year later. They wed in 1988 and set about producing—in addition to Marshall and Dominic—Brittany, 13, Ashley, 11, Courtney, 9, Shelby, 5, and Kiley,4.
The Spriggs initially feared that their adopted sons, who had spent the bulk of their lives in institutions where they slept 11 to a room and endured food shortages, might have difficulty adjusting. But Steve credits the staffs of both orphanages for giving the boys a good start. "I can't say enough about their dedication and caring attention," he says. Though the younger brothers sometimes played rough and refused to follow rules, eventually, says Diane, "they saw our other kids obeying, and they did too." Terri Francois, vice principal of St. Michael Catholic elementary school and a tutor to Dmitry and Valery, has seen the proof. Not only are the kids polite, she says, but they shine academically. "Diane requires them to excel, and they work to do it. That's normal in their home."
So is trust. "The boys are starting to take what they have for granted, which is what kids should do," says Steve. "The high point for me is that they no longer gobble down every single thing at dinner because they're afraid they're not going to get any more."
Today the boys wear new sneakers, ride shiny bicycles and play sports and musical instruments. (Some have even Americanized their names: Eugeny is now Luke; Ivan, Kevin; Valery, Greg.) Soon the family will move into a new $2 million home with nine bathrooms, a classroom and a 50-ft. pool. Yet like their seven siblings, the boys are anything but spoiled. "Every time I see one of them helping the other kids, I realize how beautiful these boys are and what a gift to us," says Diane. The feeling is mutual. "Mom and Dad," Dmitry says emphatically, "are very good people."
Ron Arias in Poway, Calif