Thursday, September 24, 2009

Scene of a Crime

The other day there was a theft at our house. Now don't b alarmed the theif was caught and the boys are okay. Elizabeth and I, however, have been scarred for life. We have been left in such a state of shock that we are tempted to move to a different home. What makes the whole situation so bad is not that something was stolen, it's what was stolen and who stole it. We know the thief very well, she has actually been living with us in our home for around 18 months.
Now you must understand that this thief has stolen many things from us food, shoes, and most recently our innocence. It is not that she stole it is what was stolen. Let me show you the scene of the crime...
Please be warned if you are eating stop...

Every night before we go to bed we sit on the potty and brush our teeth. On the night in question Rowan went poo poo in the potty. We were so proud of him. It was a messy poo so I went to get a diaper on him quickly. Elizabeth was in the process of getting Samuel ready for bed. When I came back the potty was empty. I asked Liz if she had emptied the potty, because in our house ofter we poo we say bye bye as it gets flushed down the toilet, and this would have been a serious faux pas. She had not and the potty was completely empty. This potty was frankly as clean as the day we bought it. It quickly dawned on us that our dog had eaten or child's turd.

Now I get that some dogs eat turds, and I get that my dog has eaten other dog turds. There is a line when my dog starts eating my child's turds. To make matters even worse our children have parasites. Don't worry most kids from orphanages have parasites. It's just that now I have to worry about my dogs and children having parasites. Ahh...the joys of parenthood.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The past 3 weeks have been challenging beyond my imagination and expectations, but looking at this face makes it all worth it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday August 13 - Court Day

First of all, thanks to everyone for all their prayers and concerns for Samuel. It appears that he must have caught a virus of some sort, thus causing a fever, and thus the seizure. He was a bit feverish on Monday, but happy to report nothing but smiles and normal temperatures since then. It's very scary to watch your son have a seizure, and then to not fully know his medical history only compounds the fear, but we were lucky, and God was watching over us, and we survived. And next time I will know that the ER at CCHMC is kept very cold, so bring a few extra layers.

And now, back to the story.

So our court session was scheduled for 10:00am on Thursday the 13th, which was 10:00pm on Wednesday the 12th in Cincinnati. We were told to be ready by 6:45am. The court session would take place in Kemerovo City, an almost 3 and 1/2 hour car ride away. As our driver was usually prompt, we, and the other couple, were ready at 6:30. Well, both times came and went, and no driver yet. About 7:00, they finally arrived and we were off.

While it was the same car, the driver was different, which was ok with us. We lovingly called him speed racer, as was made evident by the speeding ticket he received on the drive, as well as us arriving prior to 10:00am despite the late start and stop for gas.

I must admit, I slept most of the drive, but Steve tells me we were almost killed via head on collision 3 times. Good thing I was asleep.

We weren't told much about what to expect. The only thing we got from our translator was that we should not smile as this was a very serious thing. Note to self, don't smile. Fortunately, I had spoken with a friend of a friend who just adopted from the same region in Russia and got the scoop on the court session.

We arrived at the courthouse, which looked nothing like a courthouse. We went through security, and were told to site and wait. I, needing to use the restroom was escorted to the facilities. Restrooms in Russia are for the most part unisex. It's very common to walk in and see a man walking out of the stall, or visa versa. The bathroom itself was shocking. No seat, no toilet paper, no paper towels, and very dimly lit. So here I am, in the dark, trying to hold up my dress, while hovering over a hole, with no toilet paper!

About 10:15 or so, 15 individuals dressed in black robes came down the hall and filed off through doors. We were then escorted downstairs and through another maze of halls to reach our courtroom. John and Amanda went first. For 45 minutes, Steve and I sat by ourselves in the hallway praying. We prayed for the judge to show us mercy, for God to show his love and mercy on the judge, for Steve to speak fully and confidently, and for the 10 day waiting period to be waived. Bottom line, we knew the boys would be ours, there was never a question that the judge would say no. We didn't know if the 10 days would be waived.

About 11:00, John and Amanda came out, and we were escorted into the room. It was us, our translator, the social worker we met during the first visit, the prosecutor, the court reporter, and the judge. We were asked to state our names, address, and DOB. Then the judge read through some information about the boys, and us. All of the questions were addressed to Steve. Only at the end was I given the opportunity to add any comments. Steve was asked several questions - why we wanted to adopt, why Russia, if we had health insurance, what we knew about raising children since we didn't have any of our own. Then came the part about the 10 day waiting period. Steve respectfully asked for it to be waived based on the medical conditions. The judge stated it would only be waived in the event of serious medical conditions that required immediate surgery, and since that did not apply to our boys, the 10 days would not be waived. The judge reviewed additional information on the boys, including that they have a brother who is living with their birth mom. We were a bit shocked, but knew there was nothing we could do since mom still maintained the parental right to that child.

The proceedings only lasted about 45 minutes. In the end, the judge didn't even swing the gavel we are used to seeing. She said congrats, gathered her things and walked out. The translator looked at us, said congrats mom and dad, and out we went. It was a relief to finally have that over and done. I looked as Steve as we walked down the hall with tears in my eyes and said the boys are officially ours, and no one can take them away from us.

John and Amanda ended up having their 10 day waiting period waived as their little boy needed immediate surgery, and was scheduled to have a procedure done 2 days before the court date, but a head cold held off the surgery. They needed to stay for the remainder of the day to complete some paperwork. Steve and I left about 12:30 with the social worker who lived in Novokuznetsk. That's right, we got in a car with people who don't speak English, and we made it back alive.

Now, that's not to say that we didn't almost get into 2-3 more head on collisions on the way home. Steve and I didn't say much on the way home, in fact Steve slept for most of it. I think the driver and social worker forgot we were in the car until Steve sneezed really loud.

We arrived back at the hotel sometime around 4:00. This driver was not as speedy, and we again had to stop for gas. We pretty much slept the rest of the day. A huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders, but a new weight was about the be added.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


So over the past several weeks we have been experiencing the joys of adopting and 2 children. One thing they never prepare you for, nor can they, is when they get sick. Our oldest Samuel on Sunday night got sick. He was sluggish at dinner and didn't want to eat. He actually asked if he could go to bed and then immediately fell asleep at 7pm. At around 9:30pm we heard him in the monitor making a very wierd crying noise. I went to check on him and he was in a full blown seizure.
Now I have had seizures myself so I quickly recognized what was going on. However, being on the witness side, as apposed to the participant side, seizures are some pretty scary things. Until that moment in my life if you had asked me if I had ever been really scared I would have told you no. Apprehensive, worried, or nervous yes, but scared true gut wrenching fear no. My child was laying in my arms convulsing uncontrolably. There was nothing I could do and I knew it. With a seizure you just have to wait. The fear at that moment was almost unbearable the adrenaline of the situation kept me going. I also knew the worst was yet to come.
Now for the education if you ever encounter anyone having a seizure of any age 1) Lay them on the floor 2) Move everything that they could hurt themselves with 3) Make sure they are on their side not their back and breathing 4) call 911 Do not put anything in their mouth!!!!! The movies always show people putting something in between their teeth to prevent someone from biting their tongue. Guess what Hollywood got this wrong.
When you wake up from a seizure you are exhausted, disoriented and frankly quite grumpy. I also was aware that a trip to the ER was soon to come. We were going to get asked about family history, who are pediatircian was, what are the bruises from, why doesn't the child seem super comfortable with you. Now all of this can be answered with, "we just adopted him 2 weeks ago" but it puts us on the defensive right off the bat.
Fortunately our children's hospital in Cincinnati is top notch, shameless plug I work their, so they handled everything really well. Our oldest is now doing much better. He is still sick but we are over 24 hours seizure free and counting.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wednesday August 12

So this was the day we would finally get to see the boys, but first, a morning to ourselves. After the previous 3 days, we actually slept in until about 9:30am. We discovered we had ESPN America as one of the TV stations, and it was actually in English. We could catch a live baseball game in the morning, but usually got replays of memorable games throughout the day. About 11, I was out in the hall looking for something when John and Amanda (the other couple traveling with us) came by. We invited them in and struck up a conversation. They were adopting a little boy, almost 2, from a nearby orphanage. Six years prior, they adopted a girl from Russia. We talked about what court was like, what to expect when we get home, when to start using the boys new names, how best to transition foods, all the stuff that only another couple who has adopted would know. We also talked about the shops around the hotel, where to eat and what to eat, and of course, how long 24 days in Russia would be.

Around 2:30 we headed downstairs to meet our translator. We would be leaving at 3 to visit the boys. Upon arrival at the orphanage, we were told to wait in the van. Shortly after, the translator returned with a packet of papers and we drove off. Steve and I just looked at each other a bit befuddled. According to Russian law, we were required to visit the boys prior to the court session. I spoke up and asked why we did not visit the boys. Turns out, the boys, as well as all the children in the orphanage, were at the "summer camp" a few miles outside of town. The children spend the entire summer there, and we would go to the camp to visit there.

Well it turns out the summer camp is about an hour drive from the hotel. Along the way we passed one of the largest steel mill in Russia. The plant, primarily on one side of the road, but at points was on both sides, spanned a 3-4 mile stretch a highway just northeast of town. Twice a day, once going and once returning, we were greeted by many a tall smoke stack spewing blue and copper colored smoke. The environmentalist in me cringed. Another 15 minute drive put us on a one lane dirt road that lead up a steep hill. As we drove up the hill we passed through a small village. Think Fiddler on the Roof...plots of land the size of my house, and houses the size of my living room, all with steep roofs that looked like they were original to the houses. Some were brightly colored with well maintained gardens. Others were as old and worn as the owners. I wasn't entirely convinced the village had electricity or running water until we came upon the summer camp at the top of the hill.
We drove through a large gate that at one time had been painted, but was in obvious need of touch ups. A bit further of a drive led us to the actual building. This was a 2 story brick building, about one quarter of the size of the actual orphanage. What we don't know is how many kids were actually at the summer camp.
We were escorted into a small office and greeted by the director of the "baby house." She scurried off to get the boys. Samuel was the first to enter. Just as in April, he seemed very unsure about the introduction. The orphanage workers who brought him reassured him that we were momma and poppa. Rowan was next, and entered screaming. We didn't quite expect this, as the only time he cried during the first visit was when he saw Steve for the first time. He continued to scream for about 30 minutes, open mouth, tongue shaking, tears streaming crying. After a couple of tissues worth of tears, he finally calmed down, and we hope, realized I was not going to hurt/leave him. He spent much of the time clinging to me with the tightest grip ever. He did not smile, he did not talk, he quietly ate some Cheerios with his head down.

Samuel seemed to be the same Samuel we met in April. He was a bit bigger, but not much. His right side seemed to be a tad more developed as he seemed to be using it more than before. He was a busy body. He wanted to sit at the small table and chairs, then wanted to move them, then back in that chair, then on the couch, and back to the small chair. We brought some paper and makers (thanks Brooke!) for him to color. He colored all right, all over his lips. We quickly learned that Samuel did what he saw, and most likely saw the ladies putting on lipstick or gloss. The markers were about the right size for that. Thank goodness for wipes. The worker with us thought he was quite funny with green lips. We also learned that Samuel called all the women in the orphanage momma, and really, every woman he had ever seen was a momma. I gathered that all the ladies told him they were not momma, but that I was momma, eventually pointing at me. He brain just did not compute.

At one point, we saw another challange...doing things to get attention. Any time the door would open, Samuel would run over and yell momma. When the woman left, he would do the same thing. Samuel wet himself twice in 5 minutes, and we a pretty sure he did it the second time so that his "momma" would come back and get him. Samuel waved bye, and was off. Shortly after, Rowan wet himself, and was wisked away.

Here are photos of the boys from that first re-meeting.

We left the summer camp and drove back to the hotel. After a quick dinner at the resturaunt upstairs (with English menus), it was off to bed. Court was the next morning, and we were leaving at 6:30am.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tuesday August 11th

We arrive at the hotel sometime around 8am. Much to our chagrin, we stayed at a different hotel. A much nicer hotel. We had traveling companions again, who happened to stay at this hotel on their first trip, and were more than happy to show us around. Since we were unsure what hotel we would be staying at, we prepared as if we were staying at the same hotel as the first trip. While we packed a ton of food, we also had to bring 16 nights hotel stay in cash, which was close to $3000, as the hotel from the first trip only accepted cash. Upon check in, the new hotel only accepted credit cards, even though I asked to pay in cash. The room was fantastic - 2 double beds, separate living room and work room, full bath tub (Steve was very happy). The room also included breakfast at the restaurant on site.

After we checked in, we were told to be ready by 9am to head to the hospital for our medical exams. In our region, we are required to complete a medical exam by a panel of Russian physician prior to our court appearance. Keep in mind, still no chance to sleep. It's quickly approaching 36 hours of travel with minimal sleep.

We arrive at the hospital, and place our bags in the office of the person in charge. The four of us (Steve, myself, and the other couple) all receive our forms, and are directed where to go. The guys head off in one direction, while I'm directed to see the dermatologist, followed by the phlebotomist. As I exit, I take a seat next to our translator on a small bench outside the office. I should note that all offices were set up like this. Each office had a small bench outside, and people came and went without really needing to check in with anyone.

As I sat, trying to relax, the translator was called into the room where the other woman was. She left her purse on the bench. As it appeared there was some commotion, several other hospital staff members also entered the same office. About that time, a man sat down next to me. He did not speak to me, and I didn't think anything of it. About a minute later, he got up and left. As I looked over, I noticed the purse was gone from the bench, and saw the handles tucked under the arm of the man who just left the bench.

I freaked. I'm in a foreign country and just witnessed a crime. I immediately ran into the office to tell the translator, the only other English speaking person there, what had happened. Once I alerted her, I started to head after the man, but was quickly pulled back in by the hospital staff and questioned about what happened. I explained everything that just happened and was questioned about why I didn't run after the man (Of which I had 2 responses in my head - 1, robbers in American carry weapons, and 2, I tried, but you stopped me). The translator, extremely pissed, went running outside to find the guy, while the physician we were working with took me all over the hospital to try and find him. After about 20 minutes of searching with no luck, I was lead back downstairs, and then lead upstairs with the other woman for more tests. We passed Steve and the other husband along the way. There was no time to talk, but Steve knew my facial expression meant good things did not just happen.

After another 45 minutes of visiting different offices, we finally met up with our husbands and explained what happened. In the meantime, I had learned that the translators passport was in her purse. In Russia, the passport is the national form of identification for all citizens, much like the drivers license in the US. She would need the passport in order to complete much of the paperwork to complete our adoption.

Around 11am, we headed back to the hotel, the mood very different at this point. The translator asked me to accompany her to the police station. I agreed and asked Steve to come with me (still no sleep for either of us). We arrived and finally found an officer to take our report. Steve and I sat in the hall on a very hard bench for about 2 hours. All the while, the clank of high heel shoes pounding on stone tiles echoed the halls. Steve curled up in the corner at one point, but was quickly reprimanded in Russian by a station employee. Russians do not appreciate shoes on furniture, even if it is a beat up old bench. About an hour into the sitting, a flurry of activity started happening via cell phone. Several officers were in and out of the office, but we remained in the dark. Finally they called me into the office for my statement, which was more of an interrogation. Yes, I was asked about what happened, and what the guy looked like, but the officer pushed pretty hard about why I didn't try to stop the guy. I stayed calm and explained that it wasn't until he was almost out that door that I noticed, and that I informed the one other person who spoke English because I was unsure if anyone else would even know what I was yelling about. The officer seem satisfied.

I was asked for a form of identification. The translator escorted me to the van to get my driver's license, as my passport was being registered at the hotel (required by Russian law). On the way out, she informed me that her purse had been located, and that her passport and cell phone were in the purse. I was relieved, and again, expressed that I was sorry and how horrible I felt about the whole situation. She acknowledged my sentiments, but was more relieved.

Soon after, we loaded into the van (which already included the driver, translator, Steve and myself) with 2 police officers and a forensics guy to go claim the purse. After a short ride, we arrived at the apartment of the woman who found it. Everyone went into the building but Steve and I, and after 15 minutes, they all emerged, including the finder, purse in hand. She was to join us back at the police station for her statement as well.

After a quick survey, the passport, cell phone, bank cards, jump drive, and anything of real value to the translator were all in the purse. The total of what was gone: 500 rubles (about 17 bucks), sunglasses, a small notebook she kept, and the battery charger to her digital camera. We both sat in amazement at the items both taken and not taken.

We then went back to the police station where I was asked to create a composite sketch of the thief. I told everyone I talked to that day that I did not get a good look at his face, only his clothing and the back of his head. After nearly an hour of viewing predrawn features, I completed the best image I could with about 50% certainty.

So, at around 4pm, we finally made it back to the hotel. That's right, about 44 hours with minimal sleep or food. Rough. We both crawled in bed, and woke up the next morning. Three days down, 21 more to go.

August 9th - Day One

Well, I've finally gotten motivated to recap all the days, and Steve may come back through and add his two cents. I was asleep in the car a lot, so didn't get to see all the near head on collisions!

Really this is August 9th, 10th, and then into early August 11th - all travel just to get to Novokuznetsk, Russia. Honestly, nothing really exciting happened. We left the house at 9:00am on the 9th. Got the the airport and made it to the gate with no problems. Luggage was a bit exciting, I guess. We were going to be gone for 24 days, with a guaranteed 8-10 days with the boys, so there was all the boys related items, food for 24 days (since last time we weren't sure if and when we were going to eat), clothes for court, and clothes for us (which we really only packed about 2 weeks worth). We ended up with 2, 50lb suitcases, 1 40lb suitcase, and a 25lb duffel, which we carried on, plus 2 backpacks, which each weighed roughly 20lbs. That's right, 205lbs of luggage! We had no problems on Delta, but S7 in Russia is a story for later.

We were delayed slightly out of CVG. There was rain forcasted for our arrival in JFK, and per FAA regulations, there has to be an inclimate weather plan in the event we couldn't land at JFK. Sure enough, it was sunny without a cloud in the sky when we arrived.

Let for Moscow as scheduled. This time we had the plane with the individual video screens in the headrest, so we could watch what we wanted instead of the mass movie shown to all. We also learned that while exit row seats are great for leg room, they are not great of wider bodies, so we sat further back in the plane, skipped the exit rows, and had a much more comfortable ride. We didn't sleep very much, which was not such a great thing. It was an 8.5 hour flight, and the only one who slept was me, at a whopping 2 hours.

We learned on the flight that we would need to complete a swine flu verification card, including where we had been 10 prior to flying, and where we were going 10 days after we arrived. Once we landed, we were greeted by a doctor who was going to take every passengers temperature before deplaning. Thankfully, the temperature was taken via infrared, and nothing was probed.

Our driver arrived to get us, and head to the other airport on the other side of town. This meant a 2 hour car ride (yes, Moscow is that big) for us to sleep. We slept off and on for about an hour of the ride.

We arrived at the next airport around 1:30pm local time (5:30am Eastern for those keeping score at home). We checked in for the flight and got rid of the luggage. Remember that 205lbs of luggage? Well, on the flight within Russia, we were allowed 20kg checked at 7kg to carry on per person, which amounted to 120lbs total. The other 85lbs? We paid handsomely for it, to the tune of $300. We looked at it like this: it would cost way more to ship it, and if we had to buy all the things that we took with us, it would have cost us more than $300. Anyway, we got several looks from the airline employees as we checked 4 bags. Oh well.

We found a quiet corner to try and catch some shut eye. Our flight out didn't leave until 1030pm, so we had plenty of time to sleep. We slept off and on for around 5 hours. None of it was good continuous sleep though, and it was in very uncomfortable airport seats. About 7:00pm, we finally grabbed some dinner at Sbarro (so glad it's a universal airport food), and made our way through security. For the next 3 hours we walked in and out of every store in the airport, as well as sat in every seat in the airport. We found and outdoors store that sold the Russian fur hats, but as airports are oft to do, the price was so jacked up, it was over $1000. We didn't want it that bad.

The good news about the S7 flight - it wasn't 90 degrees this time! I actually had a blanket and was quite comfortable. We also knew what we were asking for when the food was served. Again, little sleep on the flight. It seemed to be a theme. We finally arrived in Novokuznetsk around 7:00am on Tuesday, August 11th, which was 7:00pm Monday, August 10th in Cincinnati. The rest of the day was quite an adventure, but I'll save that for tomorrow...I have a 3 year old who can't stop saying "momma."

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Wife of Noble Character

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Prov 31:10-31)

This describes my wife to a T. Without her this adoption, this blog, and anything I have done successfully would not have happened. The last verse says "and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." I live in Cincinnati, I have no city wall that needs a gate. My city gate is the Internets. The entire world should know how awesome my wife is.

To this end the other day I called my wife a baby elephant. Don't worry it's a good thing. I was watching a PBS special the other day about Herbert von Karajan (he's famous trust me). To motivate someone he called them a baby elephant. Everyone laughed at the reference and then he explained what he meant. "A baby elephant is not someting to trile with by itself it is stronger than most things on Earth. The problem is that the elephant doesn't know it yet. It hasn't realized it yet." My wife is like that. Stronger than most people on Earth.

Over the past couple of weeks I have seen her deal with three children in Russia (two adopted, and one spouse). The only times I have seen her truly frustrated is when she has so much love that she can't express it, because the kids won't let her. Our children are beautiful, but don't exactly know how to receive love yet, as they've never really had it from another human being. She is currently upstairs with them napping and my prayer for them all is that they grow in love with each other. They learn to trust one another and that the Holy Spirit come over this house and bless us all with a little/lot of extra patience and love. I also pray that my children despite the horrible beginning to their life (due to man). That from here on out their lives be blessed by the fruit of the Father in heaven. That they experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That they learn that as parents we have the best intentions but won't always get it right. That we loved them from the moment we saw them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My cup runneth over

It really does.

We made it home, about 7:30 Tuesday night. We were greeted at the airport by my parents, and the tears could not be stopped. I've dreamed of the day I would make that final ride up the escalator to baggage claim, child in my arms, but the emotions were too much.

Now the real hard part begins. The past 3 years, cake. Teaching 2 toddlers that they are loved, and it's ok, and someone will come to the rescue and hold them, or bath them, or change the diaper, or feed them, that's the challenge. The only way I can describe it is that we have literally walked into the pits of hell, and are fighting our way (and the boys way) out of it emotionally and physically. This my friends, this is parenting.

Soon I'll go back and recount the journey in greater detail, but for now, I'm too tired to even think about writing. Hang with me, and I'll post more in the coming weeks, that is, if the sleep deprivation doesn't kill me first.