Violeta Altmann is an atypical mother, if we look at her in a superficial way and especially through the prism of generations raised in a conservative and closed Romania.
Towards the end of college she traveled to the States with Work and Travel, in California and eventually ended up working for one of the most coveted technology companies in the world, Apple. She married an American, whom she paradoxically met here in Romania, they lived in the States for a few years, but decided to settle in our country.
How they made this decision together, why, what it meant for Violeta to give up a dream job but also what it means to start a family, other than what we traditionally know, we find in the lines below.
Tell us a little about yourself, what were the turning points in your life?
At 14, I met a group of Americans in a camp. I had started learning English at school only 2 years earlier, and I was excited to have someone to practice the language with. These Americans were so friendly, open, funny, optimistic, vulnerable. It seemed to me that I had known them for a lifetime. Later I began to correspond with them through letters and postcards. I didn’t have an email yet. I also bought an English-Romanian dictionary with my own money, so that I could easily find the most appropriate words, write correctly, and not write nonsense. That’s how I enriched my vocabulary. Gloria, one of the Americans, told me that if I ever visited California, I could stay with her. Later I came to Cluj to college and in the second year I did my paperwork to go to California with Work and Travel. I asked Gloria if I could stay with her for three months and her answer was prompt and positive.
On the morning of the Transatlantic flight I was very nervous. I had never flown before. And I was leaving the country alone. I felt like the youngest son of the fairytale emperor, who was going on a journey to test and polish his character, but also to change his destiny.
I came out of my shell in California. I flew a plane, I skydived (not on the same flight), climbed under the moonlight Half Dome in Yosemite Park, went waterskiing, and discovered my leadership skills. Older people listened carefully whenever I spoke.
In childhood and adolescence I assumed and accepted my shyness. I was easily underestimated because I didn’t talk much. But I felt comfortably invisible until I decided I had something to say.
In the summers I spent in California, I went to the church where my husband was from, and I met all his family and childhood friends. But I didn’t meet him there. In the last year of college, he came to Cluj and we met through a mutual friend. And they both “knew.” He was the one I was waiting for. And he saw me, and recognized me from the first day. We got married in Cluj a few months later.
We left for California at the end of that year and adult life hit us like a train. We were both fresh out of college. We both started working entry jobs, and the financial crisis was beginning to take shape. I started working at a scientific research corporation and grew a lot in two years. Although I was doing administrative work, at the interview I received a bonus question from chemistry, to which I knew the answer, thanks to Mr. Șandru from school no. 41 from Galați. A harsh and fair teacher who commanded respect. I had many good teachers like him in junior high.
Although we were budgeting tight, current spending in America seemed overwhelming. More than half of our two salaries went to rent. I was saving every penny. I changed my job for a better paid but volatile one. The contract ended abruptly, and at the same time the company my husband was working for went bankrupt. In half a year I had applied for 300 jobs. I was called to 12 interviews and none of them materialized.
How did you get to work at Apple and how was your time there?
One fine August day I went to Oakridge Mall, to one of the Apple stores. A former high school classmate of Conrad’s worked there. That’s when we came up with the idea to try and apply at Apple. I had nothing to lose. Although I had no experience in retail, I was a shy convert, and Apple seemed too cool a brand for me.
From the moment I first met them, my life took a thrilling turn again. The first interview was actually a triage event. Over a hundred candidates, mixed at their headquarters in Infinite Loop, with about twenty employees. Everything super nicely executed. This was followed by a few more personal interviews and then the offer of the employment contract.
I felt intellectually courted and highly valued over the years I worked with them. What attracted me from the beginning was the transparency and approachability with which they recruited “You don’t have to know everything about Apple. We’ll teach you.” Followed by hundreds of hours of paid training before we do any work. The loyalty and quality of the employees was indisputable after such a generous and quality investment in each employee.
I advanced quickly in the company. It is the most beautiful period of my professional life. In a few years I became a Lead Creative and led a fairly large team. I loved my job and the team, and I have an extraordinary admiration for the Apple brand. As Steve Jobs used to say, things don’t have to look beautiful on the outside alone, he was referring to the interior elegance of the Apple products. I strongly affirm that as beautiful as the Apple brand is on the outside, it is even more so on the inside.
I think my leadership role at Apple awakened my maternal instinct. And today I put into practice at home, as a mother and wife, things learned at Apple.
You moved to Romania to adopt a child. How did those around you receive this news? Did your plans coincide with reality?
Because I loved my job, it took me about a year to make the leap to Romania and to adoption. We spoke with emotion to those close to us about our desire to adopt. Most were very excited and encouraging. A handful of people were more skeptical. But both helped us to define our courage. Skepticism or negativity in small doses stir my stubbornness and actually blows my wind into my sails, because it shakes me and helps me aware of what I really want. We expected bureaucracy, a long wait and unfriendly people. But we were very pleasantly surprised by those from DGASPC and everywhere we had travel for our paperwork: the police station, the town hall, the medical offices, etc.
When we went to submit our documents, one year after the re-establishment our residence in Cluj, we had already been “pre-informed about the adoption procedure” two years before, during a visit to Romania, when we were elucidating our decision. Probably our time-tested decision had convinced them. But I was moved by their openness towards us, their approachability and the monumental work they have to do to build solid case in the final adoption decision. I received the adoption accreditation certificate after 4 months, according to the law. And after 2-3 months I met Jackie (our first adopted daughter). Everything went smoothly. Too easy. And I thoroughly enjoyed that season.
Your husband Conrad is of American nationality, raised and educated in the States. How did he adapt to the Romanian lifestyle? What were the biggest difficulties encountered?
My husband Conrad loves Romania, the nature, the food, the people. He mumbles occasionally about this and that, the things that seem to never change in the country. But he convinced me to come back. And after seven years, here we are again. We still have work to do.
The most frustrating difficulty is traffic. (The driver who gives himself too much importance does not give priority so that he is not a sucker, so he would not wait forever at the intersection, because no one gives him the curtesy either.) We hurry on top of each other. We are not careful, and we witness daily dangerous blunders in traffic. But, to be honest, in the last seven years I have noticed improvements in traffic in Cluj. Courtesy is contagious. Generous gestures are passed on.
For Conrad, a sensitive point is smoking in public spaces. Although even here, progress has been made since smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants. What is difficult to explain is that for several decades in California there is no tobacco smell anywhere in public. In Romania, if we can’t excuse ourselves from a public place where people smoke next to us, especially on restaurant terraces, and we politely ask someone not to smoke next to our children, we have been answered aggressively and quarrelsome. No courtesy whatsoever.
Otherwise, everything is a dream. We really appreciate when people do their best. And we are always pleasantly surprised, though we probably have lower expectations. However, Romania is an adaptable, flexible, open country. And Conrad feels that he often receives undeserved royal treatment.
How did the adoption process go in Jackie’s case? What about her sister?
We gathered the documents for the adoption file in 2 weeks. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a lot of walking. After we submitted the papers, we did a training course for future adoptive parents. Those meetings energized me so much! We had the opportunity to meet very nice and diverse people who have adoption on their heart. A social and psychological evaluation was also conducted. We were visited at home. The ladies from DGASPC assigned to our case also talked to my parents and our godparents. The great curiosity was what position do those in our support system have towards gypsy children. Because most adoptable children are gypsy.
My mom, bless her heart, she was like an open book, and expressed her joy and enthusiasm for adoption regardless of a child’s ethnicity. These questions need to be raised. The reality of discrimination exists. And it needs to be addressed. Living in California where diverse ethnicity was common, we became desensitized to the subject. Either way, as an adoptive parent, you become the number one fan and defender of your child’s rights. For the rest of your life. Whatever discrimination they may face. It sounds so dramatic and burdensome, but before we met and loved Jaclyn, we decided we would travel with her on the road of adoption for the rest of our lives.
On a warm October day, we were called to be informed that we had been matched with Jaclyn. I still remember the drive to DGASPC, to read her file. It was like floating. I read. I saw her picture. We were so excited but we seemed too stoic. The social worker confusedly asked me if I was happy. (Ma’am, I cry with excitement and joy only in the park or on the plane, not in a meeting or at the airport.) The next day we went to meet her.
We traveled early in the morning on a winding mountain road. The view was absolutely gorgeous. I caught the trees in the middle of their transformation. Golden leaves everywhere. When I arrived it had started to rain lightly. I entered a beautiful courtyard in the countryside, with an artistically decorated house. “My daughter lives here!”
When I entered the kitchen she was eating cereal. She was waiting for us, smiling. The ladies started chatting (the foster mom and the social worker). We looked deeply into eachother’s eyes. We greeted each other. I felt so clumsy. I was thinking how lucky Conrad is that no one expects him to say the right thing. He has the privilege of enjoying the moment. We brought her a pink elephant that we bought in America for her. We colored together. We took a picture. She came to me in his arms. Her small, warm body. My daughter.
All sorts of incoherent thoughts were swirling in my head. All that made sense was the realization that we had just met our daughter. It was an outer body experience. I remember clear details, as if every gust of wind, the blades of grass, the light rain, the sky, the undulating road, the gate, the festive autumn trees, the animals in the yard, were all witnesses to a miracle.
We then traveled almost daily for a month, to this mountain village to spend time with her. To get to know her, to help her get to know us. To become friends, and to start the beginning of a healthy attachment. She came to us with open arms, encouraged by the foster parents. It was a dance of awkwardness. We learned about the routine of a three-year-old child, about the particularities of our little girl, and we also took note of her favorite food recipes. It was a tiring and extremely beautiful time.
Luckily for us, her little sister’s foster parents were just as nice. At the other end of Cluj county, but also in a village with a beautiful, green and lively yard. Two different women but with equally big and brave hearts and full of beauty. They were the second mothers to my daughters and loved them by preparing them for adoption through a secure attachment. Both girls called their foster parents mom and dad. And they, through their care and love, defined the role of a mother (and father) in my girls’ subconscious.
The second adoption lasted longer than we expected, but every minute of turmoil and longing was worth it. I wish I had endured the wait more happily. But the time together was redeemed.
Now both girls have been home together for a year. Before we started the adoption process, they did not know each other. But they both seemed to be longing for each other. It’s a joy for me to give them the gift of sisterhood. My role is to love them fully and from the shadows. And they don’t owe me anything. In this pandemic year, the role of mother stretched me and humbled me, extended my patience to the maximum. And yet, I get a glimpse between the lines of the extraordinary blessings and joy. And everything I offer them now, I just hope they can pass on to their children.
Are there big differences in the US education system compared to the Romanian one? What are the pros and cons in your point of view? Have you considered moving there for this reason?
There are huge differences regarding the education system in the USA, even among each State, but especially compared to the one in Romania. However, I think that the biggest discrepancy becomes evident not in the school but in the parents. For example, Conrad has playful ways to explain math, and to make learning fun. I’m not that fun. But, as an adult in California, my experience in the Romanian school system of the ’90s was a great advantage, if I had the flexibility to adapt and apply the very diverse knowledge I had gained.
Conrad is an artist, graphic designer, and he specialized in this quite early on. And his parents supported him. I would have explored my artistic side. But I was more practical and uninspired, and I studied Finance-Banking due to my affinity for mathematics, being aware that I would figure out my career along the way. I found an application for all the seemingly useless experiences and knowledge. School has sometimes been an exercise in overcoming fear (since first grade), and finding solutions when your leader or teacher does not know or does not want to help or guide you.
I would have liked my university to have more practical applications, interesting projects and passionate and available teachers. Sometimes it seems to me that most students learn to develop despite the university, and are not inspired or helped by it. Luckily I didn’t look for validation in teachers. I flew under the radar through college. And I blossomed outside of it. Conrad’s experience and his school projects seem out of this world. Because they are. He enjoys getting lost in work, he has an extraordinary attention to detail when refining design projects.
We still have no plans to move back to America. Other than maybe for a year or two, in a few years, as a life experience for our girls. Maybe I’ll work at Apple again. On short term, they re-hired me when I went to California with Jackie a few years ago.
How did your little girls adapt to family life in 4? How did you adapt?
Jaclyn and Evelyn seem to be with us since forever. Our work in integrating the younger daughter into the family has diminished considerably. Jackie has a great pleasure in verbalizing everything she has learned in the last four years. And for me, it’s an encouragement to hear what Jackie is saying to her sister, because I realize how well she listened to me and remembers from all these years. I often feel that she doesn’t hear me: in one ear-out the other.
On the other hand, we have challenges. There is a subliminal competition between them for my attention. And that’s very tiring sometimes. The questions come like a torrential rain, and they want to know everything and everything. One-on-one time with each of them is very precious. Conrad and I share tasks, and we take the girls one by one and easily swap each other to deal with the questions. Adoptive children are fascinated by fathers during the matching period. When they come home, they cling mainly to their mothers, and then things settle down and love is shared impartially.
What does free time mean to you? What are your favorite activities?
I haven’t had free time for a year. The pandemic is to blame! But I make time to read. It is the activity that relaxes my brain, disconnects me and makes me feel good. Before the pandemic, I swam every day. Alone and with the girls. Now what makes life bearable is the fact that I like to cook and eat. It helps that my family is not picky about food, has well-developed taste buds and is easily satisfied.
And I have a repertoire of fresh recipes and a mix of tastes from my mother-in-law. We cooked together a lot and I exchanged ideas and recipes with her when we lived just a few miles away. However, after hundreds of lunches and snacks and who cooked, I could gladly take a break from this activity.
We have been working from home for seven years, since we moved to Romania. So disconnecting and free time means going out in nature, without technology. We go hiking in the mountains, or go out on the lake by kayak.
What recommendations do you have for couples thinking about adoption?
There are no shortcuts in adoption. And going through each stage of this process, with patience and curiosity, can become the solid foundation on which you build the rest of your life with the adopted child. The role of the institution facilitating adoption, DGASPC, is both evaluation and support. This idea stuck in my mind as a point of reference and validation. In any case, in this journey full of challenges, unknowns and accomplishments, we need people who are like us, and talking openly about adoption is not a fad, or an act of courage, but a necessity.
Adoption is like leap of faith. We do not know how we will land on the other side, and no one guarantees that it will be easy. On the contrary. From the first courses and meetings, we are reminded of the challenges of this journey and we are invited to reflect for a long time on our motivation and expectations.
However, the joy and fulfillment in adoption is miraculous. Life takes on a deeper meaning and we come out of ourselves. We, as adults, choose to love, we learn to love well, and so we witness the extraordinary transformations in our children. So take courage! Take heart! Take a leap!
For every orphan, God created a parent. It’s only a matter of time before the two meet. Or so I would dare to believe…