He could have been any American kid on a warm spring day - riding his bike and singing "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da" at the top of his lungs. But for me, it was amazing to hear a song from my childhood coming from him. He had only come to be my son three months earlier, from an orphanage in Russia.

"My, oh, my, what a wonderful day . . . " belted out my 8-year-old as he zipped along on his new red two-wheeler.

It's a wonderful day for me, too. It has been some ride since this adorable little boy stared up at me as I descended in the glass elevator in a northern Russian hotel. After three trips to Russia, streams of paperwork, months of worry, and gobs of money, I can now breathe a sigh of relief.

When do you know you're a mother? For me, maybe it started when I held his quivering hand during takeoff on our flight from Arkhangelsk to Moscow on his first-ever plane ride. It could have been watching with pride at his first soccer game. Maybe it was when he hurt his knee while playing outside, and I held him until he stopped crying.

Either way, I know I love him whether I gave birth to him or not. There are no degrees of parenthood. A colleague who has both a biological and an adopted child sent me a note. "DNA doesn't matter," she said, only the amount of love you can give.

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The adoption process was the most grueling thing I have been through, and believe me, reporters are used to hassle. I compiled a "dossier" consisting of dozens of documents on my health, finances and living situation. For two hours, a social worker interviewed me, checked my home for safety and explored my plans for raising the child. I spent hours on the computer after work completing the mandated parent training. Between agency and document fees, and travel, it all cost $50,000.

But when I look at him now, the hassle and the expense seem so unimportant. He has quickly become the center of my life, and he fills me with happiness every day.

More importantly, he is happy, too. He seems to pick up new English words every day. His life, once confined to an institution, now is busy with school and learning, friends and playing, and family to love. He has a dog, which he cuddles with when watching television. He likes me to give him "a hundred kisses" when I tuck him in at night.

Do issues from his past sometimes surface? Of course they do. I went into this knowing full well that he had a rough start. But his bravery, from that first day he was left alone with me in Russia, to the first morning he got on the school bus in America, fills me with awe and makes me want to be brave, too.

Lately, we've taken to making a tent on the floor of my bedroom with comforters and blankets. We crawl under to read books with a flashlight. He sometimes likes to stay in there and look at his Spider-Man comic books by himself - as long as I am in the room. I marvel at how far he has come, and I can't wait to see what adventures await us together.