Thursday, August 9, 2007

Summertime....and the livin' is easier

"Love is to the heart what the summer is to the farmer's year - it brings to harvest all the loveliest flowers of the soul." ---Author Unknown

We are nearing the end of summer now, very warm even here in San Diego where the temperature varies very little year-round. It has been a summer of discovery, of learning, of growth, and a whole lot of "firsts" for Sam and Maggie--well, for all of us. A brief report on our summer, and with it an update on the progress of building a new family....

In a nutshell, we are doing fantastically well. Those first couple of months were rough, with Maggie's tantrums (resulting from her frustration at her loss of life's "control" and her inability to communicate), and Zach's "regressive" behaviors (tantrums, aggression, as he struggled to come to grips with his new siblings). But what a difference a few months makes. Sam and Maggie's English is amazing, and I think this has been the real "giant step" in turning the corner for creating a new family. With growing language skills, their frustration level is minimal. They understand everything but the most complex concepts, and can almost always make themselves understood--even if the word order is a little chaotic sometimes, or the verb tense is wrong. And our frustration level is much lower because, finally, we can actually parent these guys. Developmentally, they have been old enough from the beginning to understand the penaties/consequences and the rewards of bad or good behavior. But early on, without language, it was impossible for us to use those as parenting tools. Now they understand only too well that, if the playroom gets cleaned up and their pajamas are on by 7:15PM, they might get to watch a few minutes of their favorite TV channel (PBS' Sprouts) before bedtime. The conflicts with Zach, though still there, are better all the time, and are probably near the level that we will always see with siblings. Maggie already is a master at verbally taunting Zach, trying to provoke him to lash out physically at her, which promptly gets him in trouble....gee, this sounds familiar. I seem to remember doing the same thing to my younger sister....

So what have we done with our summer? We stayed really close to home those first two months or so, but we have definitely ventured out these past three months. Probably the biggest adventure was our first trip together as a family. John had a business meeting in Aspen, Colorado in July, and we all went with him. We took our wonderful nanny Liz with us, to provide that extra pair of hands and eyes at the airport and the hotel and the swimming pool. And we had a wonderful time--the kids rode horses, took the skylift to the top of the mountain overlooking the town, explored the village, and even attended two of the mostly-adult nightime functions related to John's business trip. One was a wonderful barbeque, complete with a bluegrass band, and newborn foals to pet, outdoor fire pits and their favorite--ice cream! It was a great trip and gave me hope that maybe I'm not, after all, doomed to live out my days in the same zip code, day after day....

Other firsts--

We took them to their first baseball game a month or so ago, and have been a couple more times since. Like most 5-6 year-olds, they were much more interested in the hot dogs and french fries (and of course the ice cream in a bowl that looks like an upside-down Padres cap) than they were in the game, but that's OK for now. Zach has been to a number of games now, and he is finally beginning to watch the game a little and ask questions about the rules, etc.

We went to the beach for the first time, at least the first time to actually swim in the ocean. They both loved the sand, the waves slapping the shoreline; Sam loved the water but Maggie decided she would rather swim in a pool than the "salted water". ( I second that one!)

    We had backyard barbeques with relatives and friends, to "introduce" the kids to a broader group of people, but in the familiar (and kid-proof) setting of our home. We had a wonderful time with relatives visiting from Chicago and Phoenix, and even with the family of our friend Don, visiting from Italy.

    And then there was the usual lazy, wonderful summertime activites--swimming lessons, or swimming in Don's pool (they're getting quite good, all three of them). Taking meandering neighborhood walks in the evening, ending at the little deli 4 blocks away, sitting at the streetside table enjoying our--you guessed it--ice cream. Trips to Balboa park to ride the miniature train and the carousel. Birthday parties on the bay with jumpers and face painters.... So nice, so nice. It seemed as though it was a long time coming, but really, it has only been five months....

    School is just around the corner and we were fortunate enough to get them all into the same school for the first time--one drop-off and one pickup for Mom or Dad. They will be attending one of the larger Catholic schools in our part of San Diego, one with an excellent academic reputation and large enough to have two classes per grade (Sam and Zach will likely always be in the same grade). The kids are excited to all be going to school together at last....

    So--onward and upward. There are still occasional frustrating days. There are days of bickering and jealousy and the constant "testing" of limits. It has been hard, hard work for sure. But there are no days where we question whether we did the right thing for Zach, or whether these (all three) were meant to be our kids. We thank God every day for the opportunity to enrich each others' lives, and we try to imagine how things will be 10 years down the line....

    For the first time Maggie recently asked me, in her broken English, if Papa and I were happy that she and Sam came to live with us. "Yes, honey, we searched and waited for you for a very long time", I said, and told her the story of how, saying bedtime prayers with Zachary over the past couple of years, we would always ask God to please send him a brother or a sister. I asked her if she was happy that she came to live with us. "Oh, yes, Mama, so, so happy!"

    Love to all....

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    A Mother's Day to Remember

    A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. ~Tenneva Jordan

    A quick, belated (very belated) look at Mother's Day....

    I found this to be a very wonderful, very humbling, very moving, and most of all very promising Mother's Day--this first Mother's Day with a real "brood", and pretty much my first Mother's Day without my own mother. There have been other Mother's Days for me, of course, but none where I had to break up multiple squabbles, tie a myriad of shoelaces, clean up unending spills and spatters--and open multiple, precious, handmade cards and gifts. There was the dishtowel, with Margarita's painted hand-print and name indelibly written, the beaded keychain, strung and tied by Zachary, and the flowerpot painted by Sam and planted with a very wilty verbena. And the cards--so cute, so funny, so touching. I remembered back to about a year ago, just after my own Mother passed away, I was helping my Dad at his house, cleaning out drawers and boxes and cabinets. I came across a small stash of old Mother's Day cards, hand-made by me and my sister at maybe these same ages--the same shaky handwriting and big hearts and XOXOXO's as I got this year....

    After Mass, we all went out to brunch with our great friend Don at one of my favorite family restaurants, the Red Sails Inn, on Shelter Island. It was too crowded to sit out on the patio among the boats at the marina, but the kids loved the ship paraphanelia inside, especially the ancient deep-sea diver suit with the huge helmet and massive arms and legs--a "robot", Zachary supposed. We ate a fine breakfast of eggs and toast and bacon and pancakes. This was our first family outing at a sit-down restaurant, and I must say it went quite well. The kids (including Zachary) have a little trouble understanding and/or remembering that we use our quiet voices in a restaurant, so we probably frightened our neighboring tables a few times. But most people around us heard the Russian voices and eventually wanted to know our story, and ended up being very kind and understanding and friendly.

    After brunch we went further down the island, where a park snakes along the shoreline. The kids played for almost two hours on the playground and in the grassy areas, while the adults sat and talked and looked out over San Diego Bay and the city skyline. Again, it was pretty much the first outing with all three kids, in a wide open area unfamiliar to them and with lots of places to hide or escape to. But, not surprisingly, nobody bolted, nobody threw a tantrum, everybody repsonded to commands not to wander too far, etc.--things we didn't take for granted a month ago. Suddenly, things were starting to feel right--to feel promising. We were gelling as a family.... Later that day we filled the inflatable pool in the backyard, and, cool as it still was in San Diego, the kids thought it was fabulous playing around in the very cold water. They didn't stay in long, I noticed, but it was just the principle of being able to go swimming in your own back yard.

    All in all, a wonderful day, and a day that felt, for the first time since we returned with the kids, like we were going to be a normal family someday.... I'm not sure what my own Mother would have said about all of this--she didn't live to meet the children or even know much about our plans to adopt again. She might have said we were nuts to go through the adoption madness again, or she might have said, whatever is supposed to happen will happen. Regardless of what she would have said, she would have adored these little kids.... (Happy Mother's Day, Mom--I miss you.)

    Love to all.

    Friday, April 27, 2007

    The Long and Winding Road

    "Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished:
    If you're alive, it isn't..." --Richard Bach

    Well, we are still alive, despite the worries that some of you have had. It has been a grueling, exhausting, fascinating, exciting and busy (busy, busy) month. We will have to bring you up-to-date in several installments, but here at least is the first.

    We arrived home late on the night of April 5th, after a 32-hour journey involving three airplanes, four airports, layovers, long flight segments, and very tired kids and adults. Two kids who were so excited about being on the airplane for the first few hours were totally "over it" by the end of the trip, as you can imagine. The trip went amazingly well, I think, with a few meltdowns and tantrums but that isn't suprising. The hardest part was that, as we mentioned in an earlier post, these kids have few of the normal fears that most kids have--like being lost, or separated from Mom and Dad. So between Sam's running full-bore across the airport terminal because he thought it was funny, and Margarita's wandering away because she was curious about something, the layovers and airport waits were scary because we couldn't let go of them for a second. Margarita actually got lost inside the business-class lounge in Moscow, where we were waiting out our 5-hour layover; we couldn't be sure he hadn't somehow escaped to the outside concourse, so we called in airport security. (She was a few minutes later discovered in the lounge's men's restroom, washing her hair...!). We were really, really glad to get home. The homecoming was neat--Zachary was still up and he was so excited to meet his new sister and brother, and they were excited to meet him. The kids ran and screamed and checked each other out for about an hour, before everyone crashed. That, unfortunately, was the last night anyone had a decent night's sleep for the next week or 10 days....

    The transition has been difficult for everyone. We experienced all the classic homecoming "symptoms" that we had read about internationally-adopted kids--sleep problems, eating problems, tantrums, hyperactivity. All of this while we were still incredibly jet-lagged from the 13-hour time difference. That first week was exhausting--we unfortunately had not arranged for permanent child care prior to our trip (not knowing exactly what we were going to need), and it was immediately clear that, for the time being, we needed a lot of help. My sister Diane, who had come from Venezuela to stay with Zachary during our travels, was wonderful and stayed several extra days while we found some temporary full-time child care. We were so tired and overwhelmed we couldn't even think or plan or see into the future at all. The kids were tearing around the house, opening every drawer, pulling everything out of closets and cabinets, pushing every available button (the TV, the clothes dryer, the telephone, etc. etc.). They were on sensory overload again, and in this new environment they were totally hyperactive for the first two weeks. Zachary finally figured out that these two weren't going home, and then the bickering began. Both Margarita and Zachary are used to being "top dog"--Zachary of course has been king of the roost around here for almost 5 years, and Margarita was the oldest in the orphanage and was used as another caretaker for the younger kids--so we expected the power struggles between those two. Poor Sam kind of gets the brunt of it all from his older siblings, but he's a pretty tough kid and, tiny as he is, stands up for himself pretty well.

    So--all of that said--how are things now? Calming down nicely, we must say. We now have everyone in school, at least part-time. Margarita seemed so sharp and, really, bored at home, that we decided to enroll her in Kindergarten at the public elementary school 3 blocks away. And we found a 3-day-a-week preschool program for Sam at one of the nearby Catholic parish schools. (Zach has been in full-time preschool all year.) Then we have child care in the afternoons, including Saturday, so that Mom has help managing three kids and dinner, etc. The "nanny" also stays late two nights a week, so Mom and Papa can take a night off and go out or just watch a movie on their own. This arrangement is working fairly well, though mornings are still a two-man job, between getting everyone up and dressed and fed and to three different schools. In the summer, all three kids will continue to go to school, but probably just to two different schools, so we'll assess things again then to see if we need additional help in the mornings. At least we are not exhausted all the time and we have a little time for ourselves, time to think and talk and plan....

    I'll try and post again in the next few days with some interesting antecdotes about this fascinating process of creating a family from two "halves", tell more about the personalities of these two children, and more about how Zachary is handling all of this. The top photo in this post is Easter Sunday, three days after we got home; other photos are just "hanging around" ones....

    Love to all.

    Sunday, April 1, 2007

    A Day in the Life...and then some

    "Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away..." --Unknown

    Well, the days pass slowly here, the four of us cooped up in this hotel. It is a demanding task, finding things for a 4- and 6-year-old to do for 15 hours a day, when you can’t really communicate with them and it’s cold and rainy outside. It’s funny, though--we are communicating amazingly well. We have of course picked up some key Russian words and phrases (like regarding eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, etc.) and, I am already hearing them say an occasional word in English (Margarita said “thank you” to me today, rather than “sposiba” and she often now says “yes” instead of “da”--not much, but a start!). We use a lot of hand signals and facial expressions, and somehow we know what they are saying most of the time, and vice versa. They are both pretty strong-willed and independent, and make it very clear when they are unhappy. But the conflicts so far have been short-lived and in general we are having a really good time together.

    We are in a suite--a living room with a separate sleeping area, which has been nice. It gives us room to spread out a little, and at night we can put them to bed at 8-8:30, and then sit in the living room and decompress/debrief with a glass of wine, talk about which things went right that day and which things need a different approach. The first night we had the kids, they put us in this enormous suite, with 5 different rooms including a kitchen, etc. It would normally have been fabulous, but in this case it was totally sensory overload for the kids--they flicked the light switches on and off in every room a million times, they turned on the two Tvs multiple times, they punched on the microwave, they banged on the internet ready computer, and, worst of all--we could not see the front door of the suite from any of the nearby rooms, it was sort of in an alcove. They were pretty much out of control and we were totally stressed out. And, as I mentioned in the last post, they have little sense of danger or caution; they quickly figured out how to open the door to the hallway, and since we couldn’t easily see the door, they were out the door and down the hall ringing for the elevator before we knew it! The result was that we were in that suite only about two hours; we had them move us to a much smaller suite, where there were fewer gadgets and where the door opens into the living room, where we spend most of our time. Between that, and the fact that they are already getting these multi-sensory experiences under their belt, life is fairly calm now and they stay put in the room and only flick the light switches on and off about a dozen times a day. It’s still exhausting for Mom and Dad, but let me tell you the fun stuff….

    Can you imagine the things in this world that these kids haven’t done, or seen? They had never seen anyone shave, and they thought that Papa and his shaving cream was so funny. They have eaten a fairly limited range of food, so we have tried to order things for them they are familiar with but throw in a few that they weren’t (sparkling water was a hilarious find for them, potato chips were fabulous, French fries are terrific). They had never been to church, or to an amusement park (more about those later). And my favorite experience so far--they had obviously not taken many baths. We have this high-tech Japanese shower, that is small like a shower but is deep enough in the bottom to run a bath about 5-6 inches deep. Now Rita absolutely loves filling that up and taking a bath, but Serge panicked and cried and clung at the thought of getting in a bath. We stuck him in one night, kicking and screaming, and 10 minutes later you’d never know it was such an issue--they had a ball in their together, playing with the Army Seal plastic guys and spraying each other with the hand shower. He cried of course when he had to come out. We have great video of this one…. Anyway, photos in this area show the incredibly exciting things that we have been doing to entertain ourselves--seeing who can walk with a bottle on their head the furthest, babysitting the other infants while their parents shop or take a break, playing horsey, and applying princess stickers in the oddest places.

    Three interesting things today, though:

    (1) It was Palm Sunday, and we took the kids to the Russian Orthodox church nearby for services. It was so packed that we couldn’t get into the church, except to stick our heads in to see the icons and the priest. Palm fronds are, I guess, in short supply here in land-locked and high-elevation Kyrgyzstan, so they use pussy willow branches as their representation of the palm fronds laid out for Jesus. It was all lovely and though we didn’t see the service, it was very moving to see all the people. A kindly lady with a little knowledge of English explained to Rita and Sergey the meaning of Palm Sunday, since they didn’t seem to know.

    (2) We went to a neat amusement park, situated in the main downtown park area. The kiddie rides were ancient but most seemed to be safe, so despite cold temps and a little drizzle, we spent a couple of hours there, letting the kids ride and eat chips and play the midway games. Rita had a fine time; Sergey did too I think but he had a little difficulty with “transitions” as they say in child development--difficulty leaving one fun activity to go in search of another.

    (3) Not long after we got back to the hotel we had to evacuate, due to a phoned-in bomb threat! It was pretty disconcerting, but the hotel staff was great and quickly made arrangements for us to sit inside a police car, and later a hotel van, with our children (remember there are two infants in our group), rather than all stand outside in the cold and drizzle. After about 1 ½ hours we were cleared to go back inside; nothing was found and the policeman told us it was likely an April Fool’s Day joke (yes, it’s a tradition here, I guess).

    Well, tomorrow we head to Almaty, a 4-5 hour van ride, to visit the regional US Embassy for medical exams and paperwork. We will try and post on Tuesday night, as we arrive in Almaty late tomorrow night. I guess you can say we are in the home stretch….

    Love to all.

    Friday, March 30, 2007

    Small things with great love...

    “In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love….”--Mother Teresa

    We picked up Margarita and Sergey on Tuesday, with great joy, trepidation, curiosity, and a pervasive sense of peace. They ran to us when we walked into their area, and jumped into our arms. Well-prepared by the caretakers for our arrival?--maybe, but I believe there was real emotion and sincerity there. They had made cards for us, in their crafts time, Rita’s with pictures of flowers and Sergey’s with a picture of an airplane. We visited a little with the caretakers and the other kids we had played with on the last trip (though a few had “gone home” to America in recent weeks to their new families--hooray!). We dressed the kids in the clothes we brought for them, so the orphanage could keep their clothing, and soon left. The caretakers were sad to see these children leave, children who are clearly some of their “favorites”--there were smiles and hugs and tears all around. Margarita and Sergey were, though, amazingly focused on, well, getting out of there. They said their goodbyes and piled into the car, eager to move on the next, unknown phase of their lives….

    The last few days have had ups and downs--fortunately, many ups and only a few downs. We are all getting to know each other, feeling each other out, testing. We had been told by others that have internationally adopted older kids that there is often a “honeymoon” period for a few weeks just after adopting, where kids are not secure enough to let you see their “difficult” sides. Then eventually, when they figure you’re not going to “return" them they will begin to test you and the power struggle begins. We have seen a little of both here already…

    These kids are great kids--very bright, curious, independent, social and affectionate. Their naivety is scary sometimes, however--their lack of fear regarding everyday things, like busy streets, leaving the hotel room without Mom or Dad (!), or walking away with strangers. These are some of the hardest things to deal with without a common language--how to impart these warnings to children who don’t perceive any issue. It has really been the source of the few tantrums we have seen.

    So what have we been doing? Well, unfortunately the weather has turned cold and rainy, so we have been cooped up quite a bit in our room. We brought a reasonable supply of hotel-toys--puzzles, Hot Wheels, dolls, trains and train tracks, a Leap Pad. In addition, we brought a selection of DVDs we thought they might enjoy, ranging from English language animated films and musicals, to a few Russian-language videos we picked up at Moscow airport (so far the favorite is Sound of Music, in English). Margarita is extremely interested in electronics, and really good at working with them, so she has enjoyed the Leap Pad, the electronic English-Russian translator we brought, and Mom’s laptop computer (oh, dear). Sergey loves the train set (look out Zachary!). We have tried to have at least one outing a day, even in the damp weather, just to give the kids (and us) a break from the hotel. Most days it has been a short walk up to the local grocery store, or to the fruit stand vendors on a nearby neighborhood street. One day we were required to appear with our children at the US Consulate, for some paperwork. Yesterday however we used the hotel’s inexpensive shuttle to take us to a local park, near the center or town, and we walked around for an hour or so, visiting the train station, a local pastry vendor, and the playground area of the park. That was a lot of fun, though we were all freezing by the time we got home.

    We’ve been eating mostly at the hotel--usually room service for breakfast, lunch down in the restaurant, and dinner at one location or another. Scott and Carolyn, here with their infants Jack and Daniel, have also stayed pretty close to the hotel, due to the cool, wet weather. It is supposed to warm up soon; I hope so cause we are getting close to cabin fever--more clashes with the kids today than in recent days, and I think it’s due to the kids’ boredom--and ours.
    We spoke with Zachary on the phone yesterday for the first time, all of us. It was pretty funny, everyone talking at once in two different languages. I think Zach was very excited to hear from his brother and sister, and they were definitely interested in talking to him. Now every time I boot up my laptop, they run over and grab the external headset, calling Zachary’s name, thinking I am about to make a voice-over-internet Skype call to their brother….

    It’s been a little hard to post, it sort of takes both of us to keep things under control much of the time. But I’ll try to post tomorrow with some anecdotes and special moments from our first days with Margarita and Sergey… We feel truly, truly blessed that we have been given this wonderful opportunity, a chance to do this “small thing” for these kids, and complete a journey within ourselves at the same time….

    Love to all.

    Monday, March 26, 2007

    Back at the Dragon....

    "The world is round, and the place which may seem like the end, may also be the beginning..." Ivy Baker Priest

    We go to pick up our kids tomorrow. While it seems like the end of a long twisting journey for us, it is truly an amazing beginning and the start of a huge--HUGE--new chapter in the life of our family....

    We safely arrived in Bishkek yesterday, back to the Golden Dragon, after an enormously long and tiring series of airplane rides and layovers. The “short” 4-hour flight to Atlanta was followed by an 11-hour flight to Moscow, a 12-hour layover in Moscow airport, and then another “short” 4 ½-hour flight to Bishkek. We will, I guess, never again view our typical flights to Chicago or Atlanta as lengthy! The good news was that the breakfast buffet was still layed out when we arrived at the Golden Dragon, and our rooms were ready, so we got a hot breakfast of stir-fried chicken and vegetables, and some fruit, ran a few errands and then met with our coordinator to get started on the paperwork for the week. Dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant later, then a good 11-hour night’s sleep.

    Today has been easy--our coordinator Lyudmilla and her husband Sergey took our paperwork and our passports to the nearby US consulate for processing, so we did not have to appear in person. They are obtaining a visa for us and the kids to enter Kazakhstan, the neighboring country, where we will have to travel next week in order to finalize paperwork for the kids’ immigration (the regional US embassy, who handles this, is in Almaty, Kazakhstan). We continued to recover from the trip and later in the day we went grocery shopping, stocking up with healthy snacks in preparation for little mouths to feed…

    Tomorrow we go to Tokmok orphanage to pick up the kids, and we are so excited! The other families we traveled with are here as well, though only one spouse from each couple made this second trip. They are also very excited to get their babies. It is definitely going to be a challenging week, all of us out of our element and our usual environment for handling kids. But at least the weather is much nicer here than the last trip, and we are scoping out places where we can take the kids to play or walk, when we start to get cabin fever. We have an embassy appearance on Thursday, but really after tomorrow when we get the kids it is mostly down time until next Monday, when we travel to Almaty.

    What an interesting day tomorrow will be…

    Love to all.

    Monday, March 19, 2007

    Rowing Toward the Shore....

    "Pray to God, but continue to row towards shore...." --Russian proverb

    We finally have a firm travel date to return to Kyrgyzstan--we depart this Friday, March 23rd, and should return with Maggie and Sam on April 5th. What a long wait it has been, wondering if they are healthy and if they remember us and if they are still excited about coming to America. Though time has passed slowly in some ways, in others it has flown by--it has taken time to put into place new household living arrangements, doctor's appointments, dentist appointments, child care plans, clothes and toys for a girl (in a household with plenty of boy-stuff), etc. But the packing has begun and we're looking forward to our departure.

    Here is how this trip will go, to our understanding--we arrive on Sunday, on Monday we go to the embassy to do paperwork, on Tuesday we go to the orphanage to pick up the kids. On Wednesday it's back to the embassy for additional paperwork, with kids in tow, then Thursday through Sunday is waiting, waiting. On Monday we are driven to Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, where there is a more full-service US embassy. The children are examined in the medical clinic there (for communicable diseases that would prevent their entry into the US), and if all is well, on Wednesday they are issued a visa to enter the US. They will actually travel with a Kyrgyz passport, but as soon as they clear immigration at their first US port (Atlanta), they will be US citizens. Whew! I know you've figured out from this that, like the whole international adoption process over the past year, there is a lot of "hurry-up-and-wait". Also, you've probably noticed that we will have Maggie and Sam with us in Bishkek and Almaty for over a week, in various hotel rooms. That should be pretty interesting, learning to parent two kids we can't communicate with in a couple hundred square feet of space! We hear, though, that the weather there is much improved, so we hope to be able to take them to the park or for walks, as much as possible.

    You should know that the world of Kyrgyz adoption is quite small at the moment; I would guess that less than 20 families have travelled there to adopt children so far. It is a country that just opened for adoption last year, so there are only a very few agencies doing adoptions there and the number of people who have completed their adoptions, or are waiting to adopt, is still fairly small (but growing). Many of us who are working through this process are internet/email buddies--it helps with the waiting and the dissemination of information, etc. An example of how small this particular world is are some of the photos on this particular post. They were sent to us just last week by our friend Tina, who has been at Tokmok meeting her infant girl for the first time. She and her husband took their 4-year-old daughter with them, and, during Mom and Dad's bonding time with the infant at he orphanage, her daughter was allowed to play with--you guessed it--Maggie and Sam. So Tina talked to them at length about us, how we were returning soon, brought them fruit to eat, and sent us several photos of their time with her. It was so great to be able to "check in" on them from a distance, and remind them that we are indeed coming back for them.

    Well, the new children's room is ready, we are frantically packing for us and two kids who we barely know, and Zachary is stressing out big time (suddenly worried about sharing, sleeping arrangements, and being left behind on the trip). Please keep us in your prayers as we travel again, and we will post as often as time allows once we arrive. The journey continues....
    Love to all...

    Sunday, February 18, 2007

    And then there were five...

    "Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love... " ---Mother Teresa

    We received news from our adoption agency a couple of days ago--the court date in Kyrgyzstan was on February 13th, and our adoption is now final! We really didn't expect there to be any hitches, but you never know. Now there is a 30-day "appeal" period, but again there is rarely any issue that would reverse a court decision. So, we should be able to travel back to Kyrgyzstan about mid-March, to pick up the kids. We thank God every day for what can only be His divine intervention in connecting us with these children. It has taken so long to get to this point, and finally the end is in sight....or, should I say, the beginning...?

    Our son Zachary, pictured here, is pretty excited about having a brother and sister. He understands all this in whatever way a 4 1/2-year-old can understand. We fear that he really thinks that this is a big sleepover, and that these two kids are going home in a few days.... We're sure we are in for quite a period of adjustment, for all of us. Zach has been the "king of the roost" for a while now. But--the truth is that he has wished for "two brothers and two sisters" for a very long time, so we are hoping that one of each will, eventually, be the best thing that ever happened to him.

    Monday was President's Day, and we took advantage of furniture sales to pick out new bedroom furniture that will accommodate our new family. We plan to put the three kids in the same room initially, and see how that goes. So Zachary (and his best frog-friend Hoppy) helped us pick out a blue bunk bed for the boys, and we picked out a nice white, "girly" bed for Rita. There is still a lot to do before their arrival, from buying clothing, to making travel arrangements, to figuring out appropriate schooling, and time is moving quickly.

    Everyone has been asking, so FYI--we have decided to retain each child's given name, in some fashion. Rita's given name is Margarita, which we will keep as a first name; however we will call her by the more "American-style" shortened name (for Margaret) of "Maggie". We will add the middle name of "Mae", after John's grandmother. So, Margarita "Maggie" Mae (OK, maybe also a nod to Rod Stewart!). Sergey will be called Samuel "Sam" Sergey, keeping his given name as a middle name. I guess we will see if kids this age (6 and 4) will respond to new names! But this way, if some day they ever want to go back to their Russian/Kyrgyz names, they can easily do so.

    Well, so far we have no firm travel dates for the second trip, but we will post again when we know this. Debbie's sister Diane will travel here from Venezuela, to stay with Zachary while we go on the second part of this journey....

    Love to all...

    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Goodbye to Tokmok Orphanage

    “I’m only one. But still, I am one.
    I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something.
    And because I cannot do everything,
    I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”
    --Edward Everett Hale

    Today was our last day at the orphanage for awhile; tomorrow we start our journey home (which will take about 24 hours). It was hard leaving Rita and Sergey; they are now a little possessive and jealous when we come to visit, and they push away other kids who try to climb on our laps. “No, this is MY Mama and Papa!”, Rita says to them. They have seen other children leave the orphanage with new parents and it’s a very special thing to each of the kids there to find their forever family. We left with Rita and Sergey a small photo album of some of the photos we took during our visits, so they will have something concrete in hand to remind them that we are coming back for them. We also included a photo of Zachary, who Rita proudly introduces to others in the room as “her new brother”. She pored over this little photo album, going through it front to back, over and over again.

    And little Aigul, the infant we went to meet at the beginning of this trip? We visited her almost every day, not knowing if things would work out with Rita and Sergey and figuring we didn‘t want to go home empty-handed. We really fell in love with her--she has an adorable smile and now just lights up when either of us walks in the room. We finally asked the inevitable question--insane as it might be--could we take her too? Unfortunately, we will be leaving her behind, we were told it was impossible to take three at once unless they were all siblings. Probably for the best, but it is hard to leave her here. But she is an infant girl, and in high demand by adoptive parents, so the agency will have no problem finding her a family.

    We started the 2-week trip with three other families. One family went home after the first 4-5 days, unfortunately, because they decided that the little girl they came to meet was not a good match for them. The other two families, however, are thrilled with their little boys, both 7 months old. It has been a wonderful experience, meeting and spending virtually every moment with these other families and their new children. It has become a very tight-knit group, with potentially lifelong relationships in the making. We all travel home now, while the legal wheels turn in this country, and will return for about 10 days in March to pick up our children.

    A little about the orphanage--it is not the awful, depressing place that you might be picturing. Though it is definitely rather primitive by our standards, they do an amazing amount with what they have. The facilities are a collection of small buildings, with each area housing a group of about 12-15 kids of similar ages. The 100 kids housed here range in age from newborn to about 5 years old, with 3 caregivers in each group of 12-15 kids. The caregivers truly care about these kids, and it is clear from watching their interaction that the kids love them too. I am sure there is no abuse. There seems to be a good amount of clothing and toys for the kids, though there are no “personal possessions” (yes, this would definitely be the type of place you might want to send your own kids to take a look at when they are whining about not getting exactly what they want). The area where Rita and Sergey live houses kids from about 2-4 years old (Rita is 6 and should be in the “next” orphanage, in Bishkek, but is only here in Tokmok because they don’t like to separate siblings) is pretty nuts when they all get going--they don’t see many men, so they all adore John, and the “rougher” way he plays with them. We have gotten to know most of the kids in that group and there are some real diamonds…I hope they find their family soon. Actually three of the kids are leaving this week, their new parents from the US are coming back for the second trip to take them home. We are so lucky that we can take even a few of these wonderful kids into a new and better life than they are destined to here--so fortunate that they will be enriching our own lives…
    Well, hopefully our journey home will be less fraught with obstacles than the one here--we really miss Zachary and can’t wait to see him…

    Love to all.

    Some photo credits on this post to Scott S.

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Brother of the Stranger

    “Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not.
    Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.
    Thou hast brought the distant near, and made a brother of the stranger….”
    --Rabindranath Tagore

    Well, the news from the orphanage today is wonderful--the father of Rita and Sergey has signed the papers to release his children for adoption. So, our adoption of these two kids will be allowed to move forward. Though we are excited to know that our dream for these kids is coming true, it saddened us greatly to think how this man must feel, despite his neglect of his children over recent years. He is still a father, giving up on being a father. We pray that he finds peace with his decision, and know that the burden of turning these kids’ lives around has been placed now with us…

    We have spent at least an hour a day with Rita and Sergey for the past 8-9 days, and they know us pretty well now. Yesterday the translator asked Rita if she would like for us to be her “Mama” and “Papa”, and she said, “Oh, yes! Can we leave today?”

    Love to all.

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    About Kyrgyzstan

    "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a long time...." --Unknown

    I know you might be wondering what Kyrgyzstan is like--the people, the city and countryside, the food, the weather. While we are waiting on the word about the children’s father, I will tell you a little about our experiences here.

    Centuries of migration over the Silk Road, and invasions, have ensured this area’s ethnic diversity. Faces that you see here are an interesting mix of Turkish, Slavic, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Mongolian, and Russian. I can say that, almost universally, the people we have met have been exceptionally nice and are happy to see Western travelers in their country. The principal language is Russian, and boy is it a difficult language to read, understand and speak. We have not gotten much past “yes”, “no”, “please” and “thank you”, even after 10 days. In the city of Bishkek, a fair number of residents in restaurants, retail stores, hotels, etc. speak at least a little English. In the smaller town of Tokmok, where the orphanage is, there isn’t much English spoken or understood. There is a native Kyrgyz language, but it is not evident on signage, nor have I heard anyone speak it.

    The country itself seems sort of frozen somewhere in the 1960’s-1970’s, when there was a lot of building of “Soviet-style” government buildings, apartment buildings and retail stores. In Bishkek at least (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) little has been done to maintain these buildings, seemingly since the ‘70’s, and they are slowly crumbling. With the demise of the USSR in the early ‘90’s, I think there was initial optimism here that life would be better, that democracy would bring prosperity to the area. Since the Soviets left, these buildings continue to decline, and we have spoken to a number of residents who feel they were better off in the USSR days. This region, however, remains extremely poor, with an average wage being about $30/month, and a high wage being maybe $100/month. There are a few more affluent areas of town that seem to be building new office buildings, hotels, casinos (!), and large homes. Our hotel, the Golden Dragon, is brand new, with many of the modern conveniences of typical 4-star hotels in the West--in-room internet, a business center, pool and spa, minibars in the room, a nice restaurant, and excellent English speakers among the staff, all for a reasonable rate of $95/night. We (there are 3 couples together on this trip, all adopting) have been well-treated in this hotel and plan to stay here on the second trip (yes, we have to return in 6 weeks for 10 days).

    The weather has been unusually warm. The first few days were cold--near zero, with a storm that included 6-8 inches of snow, but recent temperatures have been in the 30’s and 40’s during the day. I think we hit their January thaw. We seem to have more clothes than we need, though there are still a few more days to go and the weather is variable.

    The food has been very different, but quite good. Because of the snow early on and the fact that the sidewalks aren’t cleared very well, it has been a little difficult to explore the area surrounding our hotel to find different restaurants, at least until the last few days when it warmed up. The “national” cuisine is an interesting blend of Mediterranean, Asian, and Russian dishes and flavors. There are familiar vegetables and meats, mostly cooked together in various medleys with different sauces of curry or light creams or “barbeque”. There are a lot of potato dishes, and some meats that we don’t see much in our country, like mutton and horse (by the way, this area of Central Asia has been famous for its beautiful riding horses for millennia, so I guess the fact that horse chops are a big menu item here is an extra incentive for our equine friends to perform well). Tonight, though, we had decent Italian food, and we have eaten several times at a good Chinese restaurant, so there are European-style restaurants scattered around the city.

    This may not be most Americans’ idea of a great place to vacation, but we have been well-treated here and have had an interesting time. Two weeks is just too long, though, to be away from family and our own homes, and of course we are ready to come home any day now…

    Love to all