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Carolyn Goodman is mom before mayor for adopted children

Cara Goodman knows when she has a taxing day at work, she can go down the street to her parents’ house. With one look, her mother will be able to tell she’s down and wrap her in a hug.

That kind of maternal instinct serves Carolyn Goodman well at City Hall, her daughter says.

“I think that’s why she is so good as the mayor — she wants to take care of everybody,” Cara said. “I know how much she did for all of us. I’m glad other people can share in that.”

In the 1970s, decades before Carolyn was elected mayor of Las Vegas, her job was mom.

And she was on the clock 24/7.

The mayors Goodman, Oscar and Carolyn, adopted four children: Oscar Jr., 47; Ross, 47; Eric, 46 and Cara, 44, in Las Vegas, all shortly after they were born.

The four were born within 38 months of each other, a fact the mayor threw out during a particularly contentious City Council meeting in November, when she said a clash over a proposed development felt like she had returned her children’s youth.

After hours of sparring in City Council chambers, the mayor urged the two sides to come back with a compromise.

“You cannot have four children, 38 months apart, and not be able to mediate,” she said.

The children they chose

Carolyn called the adoption process “unnerving,” because there was a possibility the children could be taken away during the first six months at home, before the adoption was finalized.

When the Goodmans were mulling adoption in Las Vegas, Carolyn’s father, an OB-GYN in Manhattan, told her “come back here, we can help you,” she said.

But the Goodmans forged ahead with the adoption process through Catholic Charities in Las Vegas.

“And lo and behold, we have the most magnificent children,” Carolyn said.

Cara never remembers her parents formally telling the children they were adopted.

“It was something we always knew and that it was really special,” Cara said. “‘You’re special because we chose you, we picked you, and we want you.’ It was something that was celebrated.”

Cara feels “incredibly lucky” she got the mother she did. The two are close and spend a lot of time together — frequently going to get their nails done on Fridays, when City Hall is closed.

“There’s something to being adopted where you feel a little more fortunate,” Cara said. “And you have to do something with that gift you’ve been given.”

Oscar Jr. is a doctor with the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada, Ross is a criminal defense attorney, Eric is a Las Vegas justice of the peace and Cara, 44, is a marriage and family therapist. She works with burn victims at University Medical Center.

With Oscar Sr. trekking around the country for his clients, Carolyn was “driving, cooking, shopping.”

“I was hands on, 24/7,” she said. “I didn’t send them to day care because I didn’t want someone else raising them.”

Ross is “eternally grateful” his mother was so involved, he said.

“She was quick on the draw any time my brothers and sister got down on ourselves,” he said. “During these twists and turns, she reminded us of the importance of what matters and I can hear her telling us to look at the glass as half full, be yourself, and suffocate negativities or any excuses.”

Education first

Carolyn characterizes raising her four children as “the best of times,” and said she and Oscar would have adopted another two, but “the well dried up on us” — the number of babies available for adoption plummeted.

“We would have had six,” she said. “Oscar would have liked a baseball team.”

But after a while of making cereal, changing diapers, keeping four kids busy, Carolyn felt like her brain was “turning to mush,” which prompted her to pursue her master’s degree at UNLV.

Education was always emphasized in the Goodman household.

Carolyn wanted the children to go to the best elementary school, and drove them far every day to make sure that happened, Cara said.

At the dinner table, the Goodmans encouraged their children to have “interesting, intellectual conversations,” Cara said.

A recent dinner with her parents and one of her brothers reminded Cara of those days, when the conversation topic turned to freedom and liberty, she said.

Carolyn founded The Meadows School in 1984, and Cara was one of three students in the school’s first graduating class in 1991.

Her vision in founding the school was “that her children and all children alike could have the best opportunity to succeed and thereby give back to society,” said her oldest son, Dr. Oscar Goodman Jr.

All four children left Las Vegas for college and said they had no plans to return, Carolyn said.

But they eventually came back to the city one of their parents has led for the past 18 years. On Mother’s Day, as they do on other holidays and birthdays, the Goodmans will all get together.

Now, their numbers have grown, adding spouses, six grandchildren, seven granddogs and two grand-guinea pigs or hamsters — the mayor isn’t exactly sure which species.

In her sprawling seventh floor office at City Hall, Carolyn is surrounded by photos of her children. Mementos are quick at her fingertips, too — she searches with a smile for a photo on her iPhone of her four young children in the same bathtub.

“We are the most blessed, lucky people in the world. They’ve filled us with a wonderful, warm feeling of purpose,” Carolyn said of her children. “Life is beautiful. They’re part of every thought, all day long, without question.”

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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