The More the Merrier

by Lisa A. Johnson

Editorial Associate

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    Their family doubled overnight. So did their ability to learn and love.


    “We’re going to get sisters!” 13-year-old Lara Bisgaard thought excitedly as she put the letter back down on the counter where she found it. “Just wait till I tell Christopher!”

    “No way!” 15-year-old Christopher said when Lara told him about the letter saying her parents were trying to adopt four sisters whose parents had died in Mexico. After all, Lara was always bugging their parents for more kids. Four at once, though? That sounded crazy. “It’s just not true,” Christopher said.

    But Lara was insistent. She’d seen a letter talking about adoption. She’d read it with her own eyes—held it in her own hands. So Christopher and Lara decided to confront their parents with it one night when they were eating dinner in a fast-food restaurant.

    “Well, as a matter of fact, it is true,” their parents told them. “At least, we’re thinking about putting the wheels in motion. We didn’t want to get your hopes up until we knew how much of a chance we had.”

    Chris and Sharon Bisgaard had written the letter after reading an article in the Los Angeles Times. It told how the wife of the American ambassador in Mexico had come across four young sisters whose mother had been killed in the earthquake in 1985. Now their father lay dying of leukemia, and he begged the woman to see that his daughters would be taken care of.

    The article struck a chord within the Bisgaards. They had been unable to have more than two children, and they thought this might be the ideal opportunity to expand their family. But there must have been hundreds of people who read the article and wanted to adopt the girls. The Bisgaard’s initial letter just asked if they’d even be considered.

    That night, over hamburgers and french fries, as the family discussed the project, they began to realize just how important this could be to all of them. Enthusiasm was kindled, and grew and grew. They decided they’d do all they could to bring the Torres Mendoza sisters to La Cañada, California, where they would be adopted into the family.

    Applications were filled out, letters were written, interviews were conducted. Question after question was answered, and many prayers were offered, until finally, the non-LDS organization responsible for the sisters decided that the Bisgaards were the most qualified candidates for the adoption.

    That was only the beginning. They still had miles of red tape to untangle to make certain that everything was absolutely legal. In the meantime, the family tried to prepare for the adjustments they’d have to make when the family doubled overnight. Lara would have to move out of her room into the guest room. Five people would have to share a bathroom. Their parents wouldn’t be able to spend as much individual time with them as they had before, and big family vacations would be curtailed.

    There was also a degree of racial prejudice to cope with. “It’s funny,” said Lara. “When my friends at school heard I was going to get four sisters from Mexico, they thought it was pretty neat and decided they’d have to stop telling Mexican jokes. That’s good for them.”

    On top of all that, they would be responsible for helping acclimate four Catholic Mexican girls who spoke very little English to their LDS, California culture. Would Christopher and Lara be able to handle it?

    Handle it? They couldn’t wait! The sisters were allowed to come visit the Bisgaards for Christmas, and the family members all fell in love. They were frustrated to learn that it would take several months longer before the girls were able to come back and stay for good. “We were so excited about having them come, and the waiting hurt so bad,” said Lara. “We needed them to be with us, and they needed to be here.”

    Meanwhile down in Mexico, Claudia, 13, Sandra, 10, Yvonne, 7, and Jennifer, 3, were waiting at an all-girls boarding school. They were happy that they’d be able to stay together, and while they weren’t exactly sure what it would be like in a new family, they were anxious for the paperwork to clear. They exchanged letters with the Bisgaards and lived on hope.

    Family and personal prayers were especially intent during that waiting period.

    At last the big day arrived. The Bisgaards drove to the airport in the van, dubbed “The Mormon Mobile” by Christopher and Lara, that they’d recently purchased to accommodate everyone. The girls arrived in the late spring and would have the whole summer to learn English so they could attend public schools in the fall.

    The first week was hectic, to say the least. A lot of tears were shed, a lot of frustrations vented. In the beginning it was a great challenge to communicate, since the Bisgaards knew only schoolroom Spanish, and the girls’ English was limited to a few words and phrases.

    There were eating habits to adjust to—scrambled eggs became the common ground. There were bathing habits to adjust to—at first the girls were wary of all the water, and then found it so much fun they wanted to bathe three or four times a day. Even dressing habits were different—the girls were shocked when they were asked to put on nothing more than a bathing suit and swim in public.

    Religious habits weren’t similar either. “We found the Mormon church to be very different at first,” said Claudia. “In our church in Mexico, there were Saints and statues and things all over, but in the Mormon church there’s none of that. We liked it, though. Family home evening and family prayer are all very nice.”

    It’s amazing how adaptable a family can be when they work together. Within a few weeks, Christopher and Lara knew that getting A’s in Spanish would be a breeze from then on, and their new sisters learned how to communicate in English with ease. Christopher hit on a universal form of communication—teasing. “Oh Christopher!” his sisters squeal as they roll their eyes in mock disgust after he’s told them some outrageous story. But the teasing sessions usually end up in hugs and smiles.

    They all learned from each other. Christopher added stroller pushing to his sports repertoire, while his new sisters added American football to theirs. When they went to see Christopher play JV quarterback on his high school team, Claudia commented, “It’s a very strange sport.”

    Lara had given up dolls for basketballs and volleyballs quite some time ago, but suddenly she found herself combing and braiding hair, dressing and helping feed her younger sisters. And she loved every minute of it. Well, almost every minute of it. It was only natural for her to occasionally miss the status of being the only daughter in the house.

    But one of the best adaptations of all came when Claudia and Sandra announced, out of the blue, that they wanted to be baptized. The Bisgaards had not been pushing their religion on the new family members. After all, they had enough to adjust to at first. But they were always included when they wanted to be. The Spanish-speaking sister missionaries came by now and then, but they were there to translate more than proselyte.

    “One day the missionaries told us they were going to a baptism, so we asked them about it,” explained Claudia. “When they told us that in this church they baptize children when they’re eight so they understand everything, we decided that we needed to be baptized now too. We wanted to be members of the Church.”

    Their new parents made certain that they understood what they were doing before they were baptized. The girls took the missionary discussions and attended many Church meetings prior to their baptismal date. Brother and Sister Bisgaard wanted to assure that their new daughters didn’t feel pressured into their decision and had sincere testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel.

    As time goes on, more and more adjustments are made and the family becomes more unified. They’re not yet perfect. What family is? There are still occasional tears, but there’s also a lot of laughter. As far as the kids are concerned, the pros far outweigh the cons. “Four new sisters mean four times as much joy,” Christopher concludes, tugging Jennifer’s ponytail as she toddles by.

    Photography by Jutti Marsh and Lisa A. Johnson

    The Bisgaards introduced their new sisters to family home evening and to participation in sports. The first they loved; the second they’re still getting used to. But enthusiasm and cooperation bridge most gaps.