Sunday, August 2, 2009

Day 41

The traffic to the airport wasn't too bad and we were on time for boarding. Getting through security and customs wasn't that hard. When needed, we showed passports and the court decree. I think they made a copy of it because we had to wait a bit at the desk. And since directions are also in English, it wasn't hard at all to find our gate.

The girls were excited to finally get on a plane that would take them to America. During the flight they were hard to maintain but at some point we slept (some), had two meals, snacks, played, and went "pee-sit" and "ka-keet" often. The first flight was about 9 1/2 hours. We had a 6 hour layover in JFK. It took 1 hour to get through JFK security and customs. Forms, forms, forms..., but since we didn't purchase much, it wasn't a big deal. The Embassy had given us two sealed packets that can only be open by the American customs officer. There was some other paperwork that they did and soon the girls will get there green-card, followed by official citizenship. After waiting for 5 hours (including lunch and coffee), we boarded the much smaller plane to Charlotte. We tried to get some sleep but not much. Eventually we found ourselves being driven home by "Papa's pa-dru-ga" Ronnie. Thank God he was there because I was too tired to drive home safely.

Being surrounded by English actually took some getting use to. I have to say that Ukrainian coffee is much better than ours - StarBucks just can't compare. I find myself speaking Russian words to people but they are so use to foreign languages that they don't even notice. Being home feels like a dream and I was very happy that when I awoke this morning, I found it wasn't.

The girls are excited to be home. This morning, they have explored their room, the other rooms, and now it is time for some real home-cooking. Nick is at the computer, Noah is now at the Wii, Sarah is upstairs, and Kaitlyn is waiting for Jennifer to finish setting up so we can eat. We are rested some but I'd imagine that some naps are in order. The key thing to remember about the girls room is that they both saw pictures of it while in the orphanage. When they first saw it, they were ecstatic. It was a dream come true for them. They are in their home, their room, with their toys, their clothes, and with their family. Ah! Time for breakfast!

Day 40

Today was a day of leisure. After some breakfast and a much needed shower, I arranged for a cab to take myself, Nick and Noah to pick up some souvenirs from the tourist mall. The vendors there all speak English and many take US dollars; although I already exchanged for hrivnias. There’s a good amount of items to choose from: baboska dolls of all kinds, decorated wooden eggs, wooden maces, chess sets, hats, WW2 memorabilia, USSR memorabilia, snacks, drinks, and clothing. Nick got a Ukrainian baseball cap, Noah an old military cover with patches and Russian metals. I got Jenn a nice baboska doll that is in her favorite color (Russian style since our girls speak Russian). I won’t speak of the gift we brought back though, that’s a surprise!
After getting back, Jennifer and Yulia went to a local bank to withdraw a cash advance on the check card. This wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. They had to try three banks that would find one that had enough cash. All we were withdrawing was $1,000. My CheckCard has a higher limit than that. While out, Jennifer learned that a bill was being presented to the Ukrainian Congress that would eliminate international adoptions. I’m glad we didn’t know this because I may have reconsidered adopting – which now I could never imagine doing. But the bill didn’t pass and now the number of dossier submissions is back up to what they were.

I praise God that our adoption was so smooth. Although the aunt caused some problems for us, she didn’t cause any delays in the paperwork. We have heard the horror stories: prosecutors appealing; documents being lost or incorrect (ie birth certificate); children deciding to not be adopted; and adoption disruptions. I want everyone to know how special this adoption is: there were no other sisters available for adoption in all of Ukraine; there are hardly any relatively healthy children available as most are now considered special needs; the new passport and VISA processes will take longer for everyone; the girls feel comfortable enough to convey their feelings; none of the paperwork was incorrect, lost, or delayed; we had water and hot water the entire time; we had power the entire time; we met new friends who helped us in parenting our daughters and are a great encouragement; our costs were lower than average; Kaitlyn was miss-categorized as being special needs so most people overlooked her; and Sarah was never considered for adoption. God’s hand is truly on this adoption and the girls were set apart (hmm… same as being holy) for us. By God’s help and leading, we’ve overcome language barriers, logistic obstacles, financial issues, and the hardship of being in another country of a completely different language.

Tonight, Sarah asked me to comb her hair. Kaitlyn is allowing us to play with her much more (lifting, carrying, etc). We didn’t have to get on to them about anything serious and any discipline was just giving reminders. Sarah helped me wash dishes and clean up. Kaitlyn is good about getting the trash picked up but then she leaves some too. Oh! And Kailtyn finally “ka-keet” (poop) in the toilet! The girls are very excited about tomorrow. Yulia explained how the trip will go so hopefully that will make the very long day a bit easier. We can’t wait!

Day 39

After a long but not so bad train ride from Kramatorsk to Kiev, we immediately went to visit a doctor who gave his diagnosis of the girls. The physical wasn’t really necessary as the blood work was current and we know that “everything” works. But he did recommend that we continue on with the medicine that Kaitlyn had been taking. This information we only learned the other day. The orphanage doctor explained that she had stopped taking medicine for the benign seizures back in August but the neurologist report said that she had been taking another medicine since October. I don’t know why we weren’t told that and why they didn’t make sure we had it when we picked her up. At first we weren’t going to give it to her because we didn’t know what would come about with any side-effects. The doctor stated that she had been taking it long enough so we shouldn’t see any side effects. When we get back to the States, we will see if she really needs it. From what we can gather, they give her this medicine because of her temper tantrums but what 4 year old doesn’t have them? To be safe, we will keep her on it but to be perfectly honest, while on and off the pills – which she is very accustomed to taking so it seems she really was taking them – we don’t notice any difference in the behavior or any side-effects. But while waiting, a Ukrainian that spoke English commented on how well Kaitlyn speaks Russian. I thought that was cute.

We then proceeded to the Embassy with the doctor’s information, the birth certificates, passports, and court decree. It was just a matter of getting permission to bring them to the States and making sure that they didn’t have a criminal record. In fact, they even have an adoption department. We appeared around noon, was asked to come back at 3pm for an interview (which was not really an interview at all - just signing the forms and vowing that the information is accurate), and 30 minutes later we had their VISAs! By the way, all they did was add a section to their Ukrainian passports. Yulia couldn’t believe how fast it went. It generally takes two days for even a rushed request and we had it within 4 hours! That’s how God works. Now if the airline could bump our flight a day early!
We also learned some news about the couple we met from Nebraska. They were the ones who were adopting a young child with Down’s Syndrome. We had also heard that there was a couple who traveled to Crimea and was almost done with the 10 day waiting period when the prosecutor applied for an appeal! This was the same couple! Apparently some of the oblasts (States) in Ukraine are becoming increasingly more difficult to adopt from. But I couldn’t imagine going that far and then having to face an appeal. The process works like this: during the 10 waiting period, someone could contest the adoption; say a biological parent or family member, or the prosecutor. They only have to notify the court of the desire to appeal and they have another 20 days to actually submit the request. This means that the potential parents are either in country up to another 20 days or have to return. This is financially stressful for most parents seeking to adopt. In Russia, it’s worse. Parents are not allowed to say the entire time and must travel 3 times during the whole process. On top of that, hotels and other businesses are capitalizing on the parents by charging more.

We are back in the same apartment as before but the cable modem has disappeared. We could ask for it but by the time we would get it, we would be on the plane to America. Sarah’s face lights up when she hears that word. She got real excited when she got her VISA but they both have a hard time accepting the fact that we have to wait until Saturday. I hear ya, kiddo, I hear ya. But now the girls are 100% legally ours and nothing can stop us from bringing them home. Once we get there, we need to notify the Ukrainian Embassy (by mail) and re-adopt them in Raleigh. This way, their birth certificates are localized, though the birth place is the same, and if we ever need replacements we don’t have to fly to Ukraine and visit the vital records department.

Unfortunately, I had to discipline Sarah today. She has quite a loose tongue and even when it is in Russian, you can figure out what is being said. But it worked out… it was hard but really it was no different than what I have done with the boys. In the end, she knows that we love her. It’s important to be consistent and fair with everyone. Sarah has a lot of influence on Kaitlyn. They have a special bond since they both speak Russian. It helps them to cope with the changes and gives them a sense of security. We just need to make sure that Kaitlyn knows that we are her parents. Kaitlyn has a hard time using a toilet, though she will sit on it she won’t always go “pee’sit” and “ka’keet” (I don’t have to translate, do I?) but she will on a bowl. Yes, a bowl. Many children in orphanages use them and she is quite proficient at it. At least Sarah doesn’t need it and maybe once we get home, the potty seat (which we can’t find here) will help her transition. Even despite the discipline, parenting the girls is easier than it used to be. Every day, it gets easier but then we also face new issues and you just can’t prepare for those.
We also learned that the girls really do rely on mid-day naps. From 12-3pm, they take their nap. Today, we had to wake them for the Embassy “interview” and it was hard; kinda like having to wake up Noah. Yulia commented on how much Sarah and Nick look alike. And since Nick looks like Jenn, it gives Sarah bit of common familiarity on looks. Kaitlyn doesn’t look much like her sister but I think that if folks saw us altogether, we’d look like we had 4 biological children, just that the looks mixed well.

Oh, and by the way, I think we have another swimmer in our family. Sarah loves the water and in the huge tub that we have here, she was trying to literally swim. With her upper body strength, I bet she could water-ski. If my in-laws are reading this, they are getting excited right about now. But if we could just convince the girls to let Jennifer comb their hair…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 38

It's July 29th and flurries are falling down around us. I'm not kidding. Last week, the temperature was in the 90's. Obviously we didn't expect a cold front to come in but for me it's welcomed.

Last night was our first night as a family. We showed the girls around, had dinner, watched a movie (as much as young kids can watch a movie on the first night in a new place), and had bath. Jennifer gave the girls their bath together and they loved it! I think it was the first time they were able to play in the tub and Sarah enjoyed laying down in the tub, turning this way and that. They both smelled so much better afterward. Going to bed was a challenge. For Sarah, it was a matter of convincing her. For Kaitlyn, she needed to be comforted. She spent an hour in our bed and
moved the whole time, though she also yawned. I asked her if she wanted to be with Sarah and she said yes. I think she ended up rocking herself to sleep. I wish we had a rocker. But I'm guess by the way we found her in the morning.

Meal times are not that hard except for keeping everyone at the table until we are finished. They both like cold cereal and of course juice. Later we went to get Sarah more shoes as her were too small. After lunch, the girls had well needed naps. Then it was an afternoon of play. We finally got the passports, birth certicates, and court decree! At 8pm, our taxi will come and then it's off to the train station! We leave a 8:53pm and arrive some time in the morning.

I'm assuming that I'll have internet access but if I don't, it means I can't figure out the Russian interface at the hotel. Either way, we fly out on August 1st and we will be getting the girls VISAs within the next couple of days.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 37

We have Sarah and Kaitlyn! Our driver took us to the Slovansk vital records building and we picked up both of the birth certificates. We have a copy of their original and the one with their new names. They are in Ukrainian and we will get the English versions in Kiev. First we picked up Sarah. The whole orphanage knew and when we came up, all the other kids told us "bye-bye". We spent a while signing papers, showing documents, and talking with the director. She actually seemed happy for us and sad to see Sarah go. The kids got their bananas and juice, teachers their chocolate, and the doctor and director their champagne and chocolates. The director shared with all the adults and we toasted to the adoption. By that time, Sarah was changed but only after the director made sure that her dress was ironed. Good grief. So long to that place!

Kaitlyn's orphanage was much easier and actually had less documents to sign. Go figure. We also met with the director but we had Sarah with us this time. After a few minutes, we had Kaitlyn with us and the girls were very excited to meet each other. They hugged, they held hands, and helped with getting their shoes on. We gave the teachers their cake and chocolates. Then we shared another glass of champagne with the director. He shared his chocolates, we gave him ours. It's easy to tell that he loves the children and deeply cares for them.

I love watching them together. As of now, they are enjoying Marsha's play room and the pile of kopekas at the desk. Everything is new to them. The city, the elevator, the computer, the Game-Boys, neighbors... you say it and it's probably new to them. We just finished eating our first family dinner and we practiced etiquette. Once they knew it was chicken, they stuffed their faces. They obviously know what it is but don't get it very often.

Tomorrow, Marsha's mother will need to work with getting some of the documents notarized. She will bring them when we board the train. We are leaving tomorrow night at 8:53pm and the train arrives in Kiev around 7:30am or so. I'm so tired and yet so relieved to have the girls with us. Integrating them in to the family is still to come but at least we have started. We are almost home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Day 36

We learned this morning that today will be the last regular visitation day. Because we couldn't reach Marsha, we got a hold of Yulia. She explained that she had scheduled for our driver to come today. Apparently, getting the court decrees and birth certificates take more time that we realized. But a part of our problem was that we weren't told and didn't know to ask.

We had really great visits with both of the girls. Kaitlyn is into trying new things and feels much more confident around us. She is playing more and more with her brothers. Sarah is also playing more with her brothers. I was a bit nervous about our visit with Sarah today after having to sternly discipline her. At first, she seemed a bit cool and kinda regressed. She also seemed calm and treated us more like she does the care-givers; which included listening better. After a few minutes of play and juice, she pretended to be a baby that wanted to be rocked. But something changed, I could tell by her relaxed position that she really enjoyed being rocked. I even sang a lullaby: "za-snoch, za-snoch, za-snoch men'ya doch"; which means, "go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep my daughter". Behavior was not an issue and I was truly happy to have such a wonderful visit with my daughter, especially after the last time. For other parents out there... expect good days and difficult days but none of them are easy.

We had dinner with Christine and Julia Reed at Premier and I tried Ukrainian borsch. It was delicious! It also came with very strong garlic bread, which made us take a drink after one bit. The garlic was very, very strong. I loved it! I also had chicken with cheese and spinach. Oh, and don't forget the Sprite. Jennifer had some real beef! The boys had the chicken as well. We walked home and later Yulia called.

We learned that Marsha is helping another couple with their adoption and that the reason why she is not with us is that they had serious problems with getting their court date. Since we are on the downward slope, she felt it was better to stay with the other couple. I would have appreciated some forwardness on her part but I can't blame her for staying with the other couple who needed her more. Marsha's mother is taking her place and already has the court decree and the passports. The birth certificates will be available for us to pick up first thing tomorrow morning. After that, we will head over to Sarah's orphanage, have a small party, give gifts, and she'll never have to see that place again. After Kaitlyn's nap time, we will do the same for her.

Marsha's mother will also assist us with getting to the train and boarding. After that, we will be in better hands, Yulia's hands, and in Kiev getting the girls VISAs. We'll need to stop by the SDA, we'll grab some souvenirs, maybe more toys to entertain the girls with, and just have some fun! Then it's off to the airport but that is for another post.

Oh, and we saw this today.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 35

Today is our last day (or should be) having to “visit” the girls. This morning, we went to Kaitlyn’s orphanage and she is getting better at repeating English words. Since it was hot, we played inside the sports room and she decided to play with the tube! Before, she was too scared to even touch it but after getting use to it and watching Alex Reed play in it, she joined him. Soon she was asking her Papa to roll her some more. On the way home, we stopped by the local market and Christine and Julia helped us carry the gifts for the directors, doctors, teachers, and kids for the good-bye parties. We still need to pick up the cakes but we are waiting to hear from Marsha of when we will be having the parties. We need to make sure that the cakes are fresh and have the dates printed on them. For those who don’t know, even US daycares require this.

For the directors and doctors, they will be receiving a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine and a box of chocolates. For the teachers, a cheaper bottle of champagne to share and chocolate bars (nice ones). And for the kids, cake and juice. These can be picked up in almost any market and relatively speaking, they are not very expensive.

We just returned from visiting Sarah and for the most part, the visit went great! She played well with the boys, as a girl does in Russian. She was more polite as well. But towards the end of the visit, she had a tantrum over the cell phone. Once that was dealt with, she had another tantrum about saying in the shelter and out of the rain and simply obeying her father. Unfortunately, the only real means of discipline is to return her to her group. She was told that she needed to listen. She would not and continued her tantrum. In the end we took her back to her group, we explained the situation to the care-giver, and told her that we would see her tomorrow. We were sure to communicate our love for her and that we would return but we needed to be consistent and follow through.

Christine taught us something very important. She explained that since Sarah is being disobedient (at times) and is truly expressing how she feels, this means that our attachment and bonding is going well. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier but that makes sense. Often times, adoptions have a honeymoon that ranges from 1-6 months. During the honeymoon, the child is very complacent and easy to get along with. It’s when the honeymoon is over that the real work of integrating the child into the family begins because it is at that moment that the child feels confident about being honest. That being said, we are doing really well with getting Sarah to bond with us. It's just that I haven't had to deal with tantrums since the boys were little. Tomorrow will be a better though, and we'll leave the orphanage for good and will be on our way home.