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.