Friday, September 28, 2012

A Taste of Our Daily Life

I thought it was high time I gave a glimpse into Ruslan and Nastia's new normal.  I'm not sure this will be of any real value to those who will be coming to this blog to learn what it is like to adopt internationally, but it might at least be amusing to those of you who might like to see what it's actually like here now.
To understand all of this, you would need to understand our philosophy on raising children.  We both feel very strongly that our society is spiraling in the wrong direction and that this disintegration is due not only to indulgence and attitudes of entitlement, but also to a waning work ethic on the part of our generation and those who are up and coming. 
Our society has bought into the idea that entertainment is a need, not an indulgence that should be carefully monitored and rationed.  It has accepted the idea that technologies are playthings, not tools with which to better the world.  America's children hold in their hands the smallest of devices with the most powerful ability to entrap, indulge, addict and enslave anyone who is not mature enough to recognize that power.  These children are using and abusing technologies with our consent, even our facilitation.  We parents are enablers for one of the most destructive forces a generation of children has ever seen in this country, perhaps in the history of the world.  These forces come packaged under the Christmas tree, in birthday wrap or thrown into the shopping cart just for the purpose of keeping our kids occupied so we can "have some peace and quiet".  
If we wouldn't gift wrap a roofer's nail gun and give it to a seven year old, why would we give them a pocket-sized device with access to all the media, internet or anonymous social situations the world can provide?  Why would we be so concerned about their physical welfare and think ourselves such "responsible" parents when we take absolutely no thought for their tender spirits that can be so easily and irreparably damaged?
 This is to say nothing about the work ethic that is so quickly fading into the past generations as if it isn't even necessary anymore.  The media and our materialistic, self-indulgent culture has fed us the idea that it's better to find the easiest path, work the least amount we possibly can and still feel the need to vacation from the little work we do subject ourselves to.  
The fact is, we are not our society.  Our society, our fads, our money, our homes, our material possessions aren't real.  When we leave this life, we will realize that all these things were as valuable as we now see Monopoly money and the little plastic houses we move around on the board.
We are children of God; here to learn to become like Him, here to prove that we will follow Him, here to work and hurt and sweat and struggle and turn to Him when we have to do that.  We are here to prove that we can look beyond this illusory situation and see into eternity, struggling daily to remember our divinity and our purpose in this temporal, and temporary, situation.  Struggling, basically, to become like Him in every thought, in every action, in every decision.
So, we live on a farm.
We wanted our children to know what it was like to get up every day and care for something living; whether they wanted to or not, whether they felt like it or not, whether it benefitted them immediately or not, whether it was fun or interesting or entertaining...or not.
Because that is what it is like to be a parent.  That is what it is like when it's the second day on the job and the third and the fourth and the ten thousandth.
In a child's mind, are their immediate rewards for feeding the chickens?  Nope.  But, over time they realize the benefit it is to the family...thus, themselves...and they learn to love their contribution to the welfare of the whole, rather than seeking solely for their own pleasure.
Does living on a farm require a lot more work on the part of the parents?  You'd better believe it.  Does that bother us?  Not in the least. 
See, we know what we're doing here.  We know why we're here and where we're going.  And when I say "here", I mean on Earth.  We also know that we are not going to be here long...just a sliver of time, really.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to win a shopping spree?  It seems like a long time ago we saw one actually happen on TV.  A lady was given a shopping cart and she had to run through a grocery store and grab everything she could in some insanely short period of time.
She scouted out the store ahead of time to figure out where the best stuff was to make sure she knew which isle she wanted to start with to make the very best use of the short minutes she had.  When the time started, she ran as fast as she could literally throwing things into her cart, sweeping the shelves with her arms, trying to get as much into the basket as possible.  She missed the cart sometimes as products fell on the floor because her aim wasn't the best, but she was trying her best and, most importantly, she was using her time as wisely as she could...because she knew it was going to end sooner than she could imagine.
That is the way we want to live life.  We have been given this incredible opportunity, full to overflowing with possible joys and experiences and opportunities that will benefit us for eternity.  
When the buzzer went off, the lady had to stop gathering her treasures, but she looked so happy.  She was trying to catch her breath and could hardly talk for the interview afterward, but she was happy with what she had been able to accomplish in her tiny amount of time. 
We'll be the first ones to admit that, like her, we don't always get everything into the basket.  We overshoot the cart and make mistakes and miss the joys we could have had.  We mourn the loss of them, sorry for our wrongs, wishing we could do better.  We feel that way every day.  But we'd rather miss a few joys because we were working so hard at our goal than miss the shopping spree altogether.
So, that is why what you are going to see in this post is different than the typical American family.  We feel we need to be different.  We need to find a way to be better than we are or have been, work harder, play less and learn to love the eternal principle of work.  Once we learn to love what we have to do, what God has asked us to do, we will be content.  We won't need to escape or vacation because our daily, hourly, minute-by-minute demands will bring joy.  And that, we believe, is the secret to a joyful life.

Grandma watches as Dad and Nastia skim the fresh goat milk supply for the day.  We make butter almost daily with the cream and also use it for ice cream and whipped cream.  We make cheese and soap out of our milk, too.  The buttermilk that is leftover from making butter is used in all our recipes because I try to make most of our food from scratch.  And, yes, Dad goes to work after doing this every morning...after running two homeschooled teenagers to and from 6:30am seminary.

Though the kids work more than most kids their age, there is certainly time for play.  Above, the girls enjoy playing during their short soccer season.  Ruslan's team had our oldest son as their assistant coach.  This is our little town's soccer league that only plays through the month of September.  I can't imagine playing a sport for several months.  It takes too much time away from the family to be gone so much, but a month out of the year is fine and the kids all made new friends and learned great new skills.  Thank you to our wonderful, volunteer coaches that made this year such a great experience!

Ruslan is the class clown here at home!  He always has us rolling in laughter.  The kids can always count on him to be entertainment.  Just recently, our second-youngest son told his grandparents, "We don't need TV, we have Ruslan!"

While Grandma was visiting, Dad took everyone up the nearby canyon for a jaunt.  Mom stayed home to get something done...funny, I can't remember what it was.  Guess I missed the cart that time.

With eight children, you'd better wait for "$2 Tuesdays" at the Museum of Ancient Life!  There are a million pictures from this outing, but I won't bore you with them.  Just know that we have two 15 year old budding archaeologists on our hands who wanted photos of themselves with each and every facinating artifact!

GOTTA watch the BYU football games at the grandparents' house!  This is exactly why I am able to write this post tonight...there is rarely down time or uninterrupted time here at home.  Tonight is a rare exception because Dad took all the kids to watch the game...and we won 47-0 so everyone has come home happy!

Princess Lu with her entourage.  Don't tell me farm kids dont' have time to play!
Notice the computer center behind the kids...all our computers are in the most public place in the house and are connected to the internet through a small device we take with us when we leave the house or go to bed.  Computers are not allowed in bedrooms or in private areas.  It is our philosophy that as the children learn to navigate within boundaries that are safe, they will be prepared to take on the responsibility of using computers and other technology when they are mature enough to handle it.  Until then, it is carefully monitored and time with technology is carefully rationed. 

We liken the use of internet and other technologies to a highway.  We would never let an untrained driver or any of our children, no matter what age, run around on a busy freeway.  They are sure to be killed.  They run the risk of spiritual death being allowed to "run around" on the internet just as easily as physical death on a highway.  However, we as adults can safely navigate the freeway because we are trained, know the rules and have enough self-discipline to follow them.  There is a time and a season for all things and childhood is not the season for technology or unsupervised internet use.

Peach canning!  Ruslan is sporting his favorite Ukrainian soccer shirt.  Look at the concentration on their faces!  We ended up with 26 quarts of home canned peaches.  

One of our potato plants died early so I brought Ruslan and Nastia over to dig up the treasures underneath.  If you've never harvested potatoes, you haven't lived!  There were squeals of joy as they found more and more as they dug deeper and searched around finding different sizes of Yukon Gold.  That early in the year, the skins are thin and steam up wonderfully.  They were so proud to eat their harvest!

Our fabulous friend, Bob, shows the family how to replace the master cylindar for the brakes in our old farm truck.  We hoped this truck would be a great way for us all to learn how to fix engines. 
We can't just be good, we've gotta be good for something!

Who said corn harvest can't be fun?
Now that harvest is pretty much over, I can tell you that many of these corn stalks were fed to our goats, but several dozen of them grace our front deck with pumpkins in between.  We grew indian corn with all those fabulous colors, but our sporatic watering, thanks to several weeks to and from and in and out of Ukraine, made for very small ears.  We left them on the stalks and, if observers look closely, they are part of our fall decoration out front.  The girls were just thrilled to open and expose these little, colorful cobs on our huge corn stalks.

The girls are shucking corn and preparing it for blanching, kernel removal and then freezing.  The next several batches of peaches and the first tomato harvest are waiting while the day was spent on the corn.  We did get to it all though...dozens of quarts of peaches, tomatoes and stewed tomatoes (with peppers and onions from our garden) as well as gallons of frozen corn were part of our harvest that weekend. 

And that is a glimpse into daily life here as the summer winds down.  We've been home about two months and this is what we've spent a lot of time doing...working together.  The kids have all started piano lessons and homeschool classes and there is news to share and more to come! 
Just not tonight... ;)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What a Year of Prayers Will Produce

Our sweet four-year-old son has been praying for a year that Ruslan and Nastia would come to live with us and that the "paperwork would be okay" or that "the paperwork would get to Ukraine".  It was during this year that his prayers turned from the kind where Mom and Dad feed him the words to say, or the kind where he says the same things in every prayer, into the thoughtful, heartfelt pleading with God to bring about the desires of his little heart.  I think I could say that this little man has come to know his Heavenly Father much better during the course of this adoption as he has asked for blessings and seen them come to fruition in miraculous ways.  And that would be true of all of us.

Because the blessing of having his new siblings with us has been realized, his prayerful requests have changed a little.  He now prays in gratitude for the fact that Ruslan and Nastia are here and that they are "nice to us".  Occasionally, he will pray "for the paperwork" and one night I found out why.

A few weeks ago, after I had listened to his nightly prayer, I was sitting on his bed talking to him when he said, "Mom, when Ruslan and Nastia go back to Ukraine..."  I can't remember the rest of what he said because I was so surprised to realize that he thought they were not going to stay.

When we moms suddenly receive the understanding that our children don't see life or the world or us the way we thought they did, it is a humbling and disconcerting feeling.  I asked myself what impact it would have to explain to him that they are never going away.  Fortunately, four-year-olds are resilient and positive about life and this little man is so loving and so open with his love, that I didn't have to be concerned for more than a moment. 

His response when I told him they were never going back?  A surprised smile...and then he went on to talk about how much he loves Ruslan and Nastia. 

No wonder the Savior said to become as a little child.

Now that he understands that they are going to stay, his prayers have changed yet again.  Tonight, he prayed "for the paperwork to stay in Ukraine".  I figure it was his attempt to ask his Father in Heaven to keep things the way they are and make sure he gets to keep two people he loves so much.  It amazes me that this child is still praying so faithfully about this topic.

So, what does a year of praying produce...besides cute four-year-olds and mommy hearts that melt?  I think it produces miracles.  How can a God ignore the voices of His little ones?

It produces faith, even in a child this young.  It produces a relationship with God, a vision of His purposes and an understanding of His ways.  I think my little man has learned that his Father in Heaven is actually listening, literally cares and guides our lives according to His divine will that has our best interests at heart.

There is nothing I would want more than to have my children know their Heavenly Father intimately and desire to go to Him in prayer and pour out their hearts to Him.  If a four-year-old praying for a year can produce all of that, imagine what decades of it can do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuberculosis and Other Medical Wonders

We spent the day before the doctor exams telling the kids how much better it would be here than in Ukraine...nicer doctors, prettier rooms, skinnier needles.  "Oh, it won't be as bad as it was over there!", we assured them.  So the morning of the appointments, off we went...20 minutes late.

See, just before we were to depart, Nastia went into the garage for a while.  I noted that she was out there and wondered what she was up to, but I was racing to get all 8 kids out the door (we were doing flue shots, point in trying to make two trips to the doctor's office, right??) so I didn't go check.  She's responsible and very smart, after all, so I wasn't worried.

After sending the big ones out to get into the car, Ruslan came hurrying back in and said, "Keys.  Car, door, no" and shrugged his shoulders as he gestured that he had tried to open the door to no avail.  Dread set in as I realized I had left my only set of keys IN the car so they would be there when we needed to leave.

I went out to the garage, my mind racing with possible solutions and that hopeful-yet-doubtful thought that maybe, just MAYBE, one of the other doors was unlocked.  Alas, the doors were locked.  ALL of them.  It occurred to me that I had never shown Ruslan and Nastia how automatic door locks work and where the button was that did it.  Oops.

I went back into the house, called Marsh (who was 30 minutes away with the only other key) and then decided I better take matters into my own hands.  I called the police (which was a humorous experience considering we live in a very small town) and then I called the doctor's office to tell them we'd be late.  They were willing to wait through their lunch hour for us!  Sweet people.

All the while, my intellegent children were out in the garage, jimmy-ing open a window that has a lock which doesn't always work very well.  Within a few minutes of me joinging them outside, they had squeezed Ruslan's long, skinny arms through the window.  He had no frame of reference for where the lock was or what it would feel like.  Oh, boy, we were learning so much so fast!

So, Emma reached HER long, skinny arm through and unlocked the door!

Just then, the police officer showed up.  He sat there in his car with a look of either interest or suspicion as all these children were running around, celebrating and piling quickly into the car.  "You got it open?", he said.  "Yes, the kids just broke into the car and unlocked the door!", I said and then realized that I had probably not chosen my words carefully enough considering my audience.  We laughed about it and he pulled away just before we did.


It was a good thing I had notified the office that we would be late, because they were already in the mental mode that they were going to lose their lunch break.  We arrived 20 minutes late and then, it took us two hours to get through both kids' immunizations and physical exams.  It was all the typical stuff, including weighing, measuring height, checking for scoliosis, etc, but it seemed to take a loooong time.

The eye exams were something I hadn't thought through...the choices for the posters the kids are supposed to read are either objects or English letters.  Now, if your child knows the names of the English letters, you're okay.  But, if they don't, you're up an interesting creek.  And don't count on understanding what they are staying when they name the objects, either!

If you're taking your child in, review the names of the letters or find out what objects are on the poster and learn the Russian names for them. :)

Typically, the children from Eastern Europe will be tested for TB.  Their test will most likely come back positive because (as our pediatrician explained to me) they vaccinate for TB over there...we don't do that here.  So, their bodies will naturally react to the test because the vaccination is in there.

Another important note...the TB test is to be read 48 hours after injection.  Make sure you plan on going back for the 48 hour don't do things like have your appointment on Thursday so the 48 hours falls on Saturday and then forget that the doctor's office is open on Saturdays.  Oh, and taking pictures of their arm at the 48-hour point doesn't cut it...the doctor has to feel the location as well as visually examine it.  They'll just have to retest if you do silly things like this.  Ask me now I know.

The lady who brought in the TB testing stuff had little lollipops in her caddy.  I think every needle-wielding medical person should be armed with lollipops.

To catch up on immunizations, Ruslan had 5 shots and Nastia had 4.  Needless to say, there were tears from Nastia at the reality that she would be shot so many times.  Ruslan also had his blood taken.  Prior to the shots, I requested that they use Emla, or something similar, to numb the injection sites so the children wouldn't have too much pain.  Emla is a topical cream that numbs the skin 20 minutes after application.  The only problem is that they cover the area with a tape-like bandage to hold the Emla on.  Nastia was crying over the removal of the tape before the injections even started.

Lollipop, anyone??

Ruslan tensed up so much during his turn, that the nurse couldn't get the fluid injected into the muscle with one of his shots.  And he was being SO very brave, too...taking it like a man, even with his lollipop hanging out of his mouth.

Later, when Marsh talked with them about their experience, Ruslan said that in Ukraine they inject directly into the vein rather than being shot right into the muscle of the arm.  He prefers the Ukrainian way, apparently.  So much for it being better in America...even with the Emla.  Hey, at least we have lollipops and nice, bright colors on the wall, right? 

As Dr. Peterson talked about the use of flouride for Nastia, I told him I thought maybe it was a little late for that.  He turned and looked in her mouth with his flashlight and said with a wry, big-brother-like smile, "Yeah, you'll be wanting a dentist."

Next, he referred us to a pediatric surgeon that would examine Ruslan for a physical abnormality he has.  He wanted to make sure it wasn't going to affect his future life, so he suggested we visit a specialist.  He described the surgery that would fix the problem and said we were going to be very grateful that we had insurance.

At that point, I started to cry.  Just a little.  Just the "Oh my goodness I am totally overwhelmed with what just happened and what is going to happen and I just can't do anythign but cry about it" kind of cry.  I laughed and said, through my unwelcome tears, "Anyone know an investor who would like to help the Morfords??"

And then I suddenly realized how totally unfaithful I was being at that moment.  Why should I worry about where the money would come from to take care of these children when the Lord provided the entire means to get them here in the first place?  He didn't bring them here to not receive the care they need.  He brought them here for His purposes and He would see to it that they were cared for properly.  And anyway, He had just provided extra income that would cover the expense of our other son having his wisdom teeth removed and there were other blessings to note.  Why would I question Him now?

I apologized and choked back my tears and said, "I do have faith, really I do!  The Lord will provide!" to which Dr. Peterson said, "Yes, He will.  And, actually, I have a brother-in-law who is a dentist.  Let me see what I can do."

Whether or not that specific help actually pans out, doesn't really matter.  I needed the moment of realization that I was not exercising my faith and that I needed to trust the Lord to follow through as He had so many times before.  Lately, He has taken care of so many things.  There are miracles and blessings happening all around us all the time.  We just need to open our eyes to see His hand.


Now, one thing that is better than Ukraine is that we have cool stickers at the door of most doctor offices.  Dr. Peterson's is no different.  We left with neat-o stickers and tasty lollipops and smiles on our faces.  They may have been smiles for "glad that's over" rather than "that wasn't so bad", but at least they were smiles.

We saw the pedatric surgeon today and he doesn't believe Ruslan's condition is life-threatening, but we will do a few more tests to make sure he won't end up with problems later in life before we toss the idea completely out the window. 

As Marsh and I sat alone today with Ruslan waiting for the surgeon to come in, Ruslan asked why this was happening when he was perfectly fine.  We were able to explain to him that this condition has been something he has dealt with his whole life and he may not even realize that it's causing him problems.  We also told him that we are his parents and we want him to be all he can be and do all God wants him to do in this life.  We assured him that we loved him and wanted him to have a happy, full life.  If that appointment was only for that conversation, it was worth it.

In the meantime, both kids won their soccer games tonight and are now resting comfortably as some of the big hurdles are over and life is rolling along.  Their English is improving and they are healthy and happy.

Really, we couldn't ask for anything more...cavities, physical abnormalities, shots and all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Doctors and Dentists

Prior to leaving Ukraine with the children, it is required that the children have full physical exams, blood work, x-rays, the whole gamut.  Their records were put into sealed envelopes...and when I use the word "sealed", I mean glued shut with a seal where the flaps meet.  Those envelopes were given to the embassy, never to be seen again.

I did receive Ruslan's chest x-ray which was carefully packed and brought home with us along with their immunization records which are, of course, incomplete according to US standards.  There was only his x-ray because he has metal pins in his rib cage.  He was shocked to realize they were there and decided immediately that he was "Bionic Man" since he was made of metal.  We've had a good laugh about that and continue to tease him over his bionic-ness.  He absolutely loves the attention and since he's so skinny and frail compared to his American familial counterpart (strapping young Chris who is now taller than his mother and just about as strong as his dad), it gives him a sense of strength.  :)

I wasn't really happy to know that there would not be any health information coming home with us than just the immunizations and that one x-ray.  However, there is a lot of comfort in the fact that our favorite pediatrician will be the one to give us all of that information now that we're home.  Tomorrow is the day we visit him and Nastia is especially dreading catching up on her immunizations.  Because of Marsh's experience with the healthcare in Russia and Ukraine, we are sure Nastia has more anxiety than is necessary now that she lives in America.  She described having to lie on a table and receive many shots when she arrived at the orphanage.  It was terribly scary for her and without her mother there to comfort her, I'm sure it was that much worse.  We have tried to assure her that it will be better here and tonight she told us she wasn't going to cry when she got her shots.

 (Once again, if you are an adoptive family, don't hesitate on the health insurance.  It is only now that we are able to go see our pediatrician because I waited until the second week to get that ball rolling!)

Marsh wishes we had weighed and measured the kids as soon as we got home so we could see what one month here might have done for them.  I know Nastia has gained weight and Ruslan's bicep actually has muscle and definition now (thanks to carrying water buckets to animals twice a day and working out with his new big brother).  This bicep definition is not something he cares to hide, of course.  Quite often we have received a very proud showing of the weekly improvement.  :)


Yesterday, Chris had his wisdom teeth removed.  This created quite a stir among all the children.  Since then, there has been a lot of focus on teeth and tonight, flashlights were used by younger siblings to check out Chris' battle scars.  He is doing remarkably well, but has still had to recuperate and is careful when he eats his mashed potatoes, ice cream and yogurt.

Nastia has watched with concern as he has been dealing with all of this.  Sometimes the look on her face seems to show that she is hurting for him.

Then, tonight I made a major momma boo-boo. 

She had curled up on the couch and put her head on my lap, happily resting in her PJ's after their first soccer game win.  She was showing off her just-brushed teeth, so I took the opportunity to use one of those handy flashlights to check out what was going on in there...something I hadn't done yet.  As far as I can tell, she has about six cavities, all of which are visible and one that looks like the entire tooth will need to be removed.

Now, I may seem like an irresponsible parent for having waiting so many weeks to take a look inside her mouth and if you feel like it, go ahead and judge me.  But, this is one of those cases where you've got to walk a mile in someones moccasins before you can start passing judgment.  I know that if I were not the one traversing these waters, I'd probably think I was either irresponsible or lazy, so have at it.  It's tempting to go on with my way-too-long list of reasons why I haven't done that yet, but let's just say that if you've never lived on a farm while homeschooling eight children (two of whom don't speak your language) during harvest time while adjusting to two children from another country while they adjust, too, you might want to slip those moccasins on for a minute and come on down...

So, back to my boo-boo.  After taking a good long look all around in her mouth, I made the monstrous mistake of telling her that it looked to me like she had six cavities.  (Honestly, it could be more.)  She curled up in a ball and just burst into tears. 


Chris tried to comfort her by showing her how well he's doing and reminding her that his surgery was just yesterday.  She looked at him and said, "You, four.  Me, six!" and went back to her tears.  We tried to explain that Chris' dental work was totally different from what she would need done and that they would likely let her sleep through the procedure.  She wasn't comforted.  Language barrier, maybe??

Marsh and Ruslan were gone at the time, so I just stroked her hair while we waited for the family translator to come back and clean up my mess.  Not long later, Marsh returned and explained everything.  She calmed down after family prayer.  We reminded her that the Lord promised us His spirit as our comforter and that she can call on Heavenly Father to help her not worry so much about these things.

In a while, all of this will be history.  But, today, we are still dealing with a child who is afraid of the unknown.  All she has to rely on are her memories of life in a country where everything (and I mean pretty much EVERYTHING) is worse than here in the blessed United States of America.

If I had my wits about me (and I share this in hopes that it might get some mental wheels turning in families that are in the process of adopting from a foreign country), I would have taken them on a field trip to the dentist's office or the pediatrician's office before announcing that they were going there for some undesirable activity.  Unlike in Ukraine, the offices here are often colorful, entertaining and inviting.  This kind of environment would immediately comfort a child like Nastia who would be enchanted by the attractiveness that is so absent in her native country.  Nothing seems as scary when there is familiarity and fun attached to it.

After tomorrow, her anxiety will decrease because she will have met our wonderful pediatrician and that hurdle will be cleared.  But, maybe I'll take my own advice and head over to the pediatric dentist's office prior to check ups and such. 

Nothing like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down...right?

Hair and Siblings

Tonight, Nastia asked me to wash her hair.  ASKED me to wash her hair.  I'll tell you, I don't think I have felt more important in a long was like having her give me a gift.  I had no idea I would feel that way about such a change in her desires until the moment it happened.  It felt as if there was another wall suddenly crumbling and she let me in even more.  She opened a door I think I only subconciously realized was closed.

The truth is, there is a surprise around every corner.  I feel like I should have expected that this might happen one day, but I didn't.  I have decided I can't ever feel like I know what I'm'd think after all these years I would have already figured that out.  I'm sure I'll go full circle and end up needing to figure it out again in some fairly short period of time.  But, for now I'll just try to enjoy this moment and work to make sure we keep moving in the direction of tearing walls and building doorways.

Now, about siblings...

Months ago, the thought had crossed my mind that there might end up being some tension in the heavenly brother/sister relationship Ruslan and Nastia had in the orphanage.  We were, after all, taking them out of a situation where they spent very little time together and could find safe harbor with friends if they ever got on each others' nerves.

In the orphanage, they slept in separate areas, went to public school in different grades and played with different friends on the playground outside.  They ate together when they felt like it but rarely interacted the way brothers and sisters usually do.

They have been through the greatest of life's trials together and Ruslan was the father she was lacking.  This is very common among sibling sets in orphanages and some older children embrace the role while others shun it.  Ruslan embraced it.  When we were in Ukraine, we watched him take sweet and gentle interest in what she was doing, complimenting her and encouraging her.  We knew of their private decision to not allow one to be adopted without the other, even deciding that since their chance of adoption together was so slim, after Ruslan "graduated" from the orphanage, he would find work and support her until his support was no longer needed.  They had planned to find an apartment together and Ruslan would find a job to provide for both of them.  It was storybook enough to take our breath away.

Then we brought them here.  The dynamics of their lives and their roles were literally changed overnight.  Ruslan became a younger brother, Marsh took over the father role and Nastia, rather than being the baby of the family, suddenly had younger siblings and a mother again.  Never mind changing the culture, language, expectations and living conditions.

We homeschool and live in a fairly rural area with a little farm on 2.5 acres.  We work together, eat together, play together, pray together, do everything together.  As you and I well know, that is recipe for angst occasionally.  :)  And Ruslan and Nastia are not immune to the typical brother/sister relationship we so hoped they would somehow avoid!

It didn't start until about the end of the second week we were home.  A few days into week three, Marsh asked me if I realized that Ruslan was saying things to Nastia that weren't all that nice and that Nastia was doing things that irritated her brother.  Of course, it was all happening in Russian so I had no idea it was going on.  Marsh was able to talk with both children about the issues and began working with them to resolve some of the concerns.

I have since begun to tune in to the little Russian comments happening between them and can put a stop to it myself...amazingly.  I also had a full conversation with Ruslan in Russian about how much he liked my cooking.  (I was quite impressed with myself...but then I started to wonder why I'm learning so much Russian if he's supposed to be learning English...)

So, the reason for my writing this post was because of what happened in a brother/sister squabble between the two of them made me smile so I had to share.

Nastia was doing something irritating to Ruslan and Ruslan pushed the door closed (or something like that) so Nastia, who was perfectly fine, tried to cry about her arm hurting and blame Ruslan, claiming total innocence (like I've never seen this act before).  I, of course, went to Ruslan to get his side of the story and he claimed innocence as well. 

At that moment, Nastia came out of the girls' room and started talking to Ruslan about what he had done to her and then he came back with his rebuttle.  I stood there smiling was all in ENGLISH.  It was the first time I had ever heard the two of them speaking English to each other and it was in an argument.  Hilarious.  And it probably shouldn't be too surprising, either.

Upon mention of the fact that they were speaking in English (and bringing to light the fact that they were both at fault in this case) the issue dissapated and that was the end of it.

So, as much as I dislike the brother/sister issues that occur, maybe they have some grand purpose for these two kids.  If nothing else, they will learn to speak the language because they had no other way to get their way or be heard in a moment of heightened emotion.  Nothing like necessity to encourage survival.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Post-Adoption Paperwork

Arriving home gives the false impression that the paper chase is over.  It's not.

There is the necessary registration with the adoptive child's embassy, adding them to health insurance, getting their social security number, updating their immunizations and so on.

Registering with the child's embassy requires the sending of their actual passports to the embassy that is most likely in another state as well as copies of the ID portion of their passports and yours.  You must also send the original court declaration with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the return of all those important documents.  All of this must be done within the first 30 days...which may seem like a long time, but it's not when you are adjusting to a new family structure.  The time literally flies by.

When I sent all these important documents off, I stood in the post office, hesistating to seal the envelope, trying not to think of the stories I have heard of postal workers hoarding packages and such.  There I was again...the same situation I had been in over and over during the past year...praying over papers going into the hands of total strangers!

But WAIT!  Sending off the court declaration before contacting your health insurance company may not be the best idea.  I needed to submit a scanned copy (over email, thank goodness) of our court declaration (actual signature page on the original in Ukrainian and the English translated version of the entire document).  If I had sent on the original to the embassy before scanning it for my health insurance company, that might have been difficult.

These are questions and situations that can be addressed long before you even leave to pick up your children.  You can call companies, prepare envelopes with addresses and find out the requirements so it's easier on you when you get home.

Our health insurance takes 10 days to kick in after submitting the forms, documentation and request.  If they decide we don't have adequate information, they can request more paperwork and documentation, extending that waiting period.  This registering of the kids with the health insurance company also HAS to be done in the first 30 days after their arrival home.

Obviously, I didn't jump on this as quickly as I should have.  I focused on our family and our harvest and all that came with bringing the children home...and put off the paperwork for two weeks.  I didn't miss deadlines, but our health insurance still hasn't kicked in yet and I would really like to get them in for their check ups. 

Don't put it off.  While you're waiting for your travel date, pass the time by getting all the facts up front on all the post-adoption paperwork.  Call your insurance company, at least, and get the forms and fill out everything you can.  We could have done everything required for health insurance except sending in our court declaration.  It would have been so easy to do that small step once we got home if I had had everything else taken care of!

Hygiene Hijinks and Other Adventures

I am marking our four-weeks-at-home day with a blog post!  Yay!  I thought it might be amusing, and hopefully useful, to share some vignettes of life here as we get used to the new normal.

 One of the "transition" issues we have dealt with here is the new expectations when it comes to hygiene.  It seems to me that though this orphanage was extremely structured and supportive of the children in many ways, there doesn't seem to have been much in the way of hygiene education.  In other words, no one paid attention to whether or not certain places and parts got washed at vitally important times and no one spent much time teaching hygiene techniques.

Now, don't get me wrong...I'm not being judgmental or disappointed or even disgusted.  The fact is, if I had 150 children to take care of, there would be holes in my training.  Hey, I have eight and there are holes in my training...

So, after several days it became apparent that a certain 10 year old wasn't actually washing her hair.  It was wet when she came out of the bathroom, but it didn't look like it was anything but wet.  Being concerned about her feelings and not wanting to embarass her, I didn't address it at first. 

A side note...the reality with the language barrier is that misunderstandings can happen fairly easily and feelings can be hurt when that was not the intention.  There is only so much that can be said and explained when there are only a few words in the working vocabulary.  Forget heart-to-hearts and long, detailed explanations about why things are the way they are.

Yes, I have a major advantage here because Marsh speaks Russian.  But, the day-to-day responsibility of communication is up to me...and I couldn't be more grateful for the weeks I spent with them in Ukraine.  I honestly don't know how I would have fared these last four weeks if I hadn't had that time to focus on them, learn more about them and get a feel for what it would be like once we were at home, without the requirements of the younger children taking my attention.  As much as I didn't want to be the one over there for those 22 days and as much as I didn't want to leave my little ones yet again, it was a necessary experience and I had no idea how valuable it would be to the peace of our family and my own ability to function properly as the mom to each of these important children.  The Lord knows what He is doing, my friends, even when we think we have it figured out.

Finally, Marsh asked me if she was washing her hair.  I confided that I didn't think so but I didn't know how to go about helping her with that.  I felt badly about bringing up yet ANOTHER point that she needed to change...the change to our lifestyle, our schedule, our culture, our farm, our work and just the fact that they now had parents who had expectations of their behavior, dress and attitudes seemed overwhelming to me when I looked at it from their perspective.

Finally, one day I found myself putting my foot down quite a few times as she was testing the limits and exercising some of her defiance.  No tantrums, no screaming, no storming about slamming doors or anything like that, but the defiance came in the form of a silent, focused stare away from my gaze.  She had decided that I was asking too much of her.  Too many chores, too much work.  The wonderful thing in my favor is that I already have two children exactly the same ages as our adopted kids who already have those chores, who already work and study daily and know they aren't allowed certain indulgences and receive consequences for inappropriate behaviors.  Even better, there are several younger children that have daily work and study requirements, too.  No one could argue that the two "new kids" were being treated any differently or given more work that is expected of anyone else in our household.

But, on that day, Nastia had had it.  She was done doing what I wanted her to do, done with all the new requirements, done with work and wanting to do whatever she wanted...which is all she had to do at the orphanage after school.

After her second bout with the silent "I can't see you so you don't exist" sort of stare, I got down in her gaze and explained very clearly that everyone works here...everyone eats, everyone makes messes, everyone works.  Period.  She never made eye contact, but she agreed and left to do the chore she was supposed to do with her sister.

I immediately called Marsh and told him, "You are talking to the wall that Nastia is beating her head against today!"  It was a new place for me...a more maternal place, really.  A place I hadn't gone yet, but a place I needed to be.  Suddenly, she wasn't a guest in the house anymore.  And suddenly, addressing the issue of her hair and anything else that needed to have attention wasn't so hard.  I didn't feel like I needed to apologize anymore.  The line had been crossed.

I determined that the best thing to do was to act as if nothing difficult had happened.  I vented to Marsh, listened to his counsel and had time to gather myself while she was outside grinding wheat with Emma. 

Just about 10 minutes after putting my foot down, she came in beaming and triumphantly carrying a full container of wheat flour.  The chore she was refusing to do was actually fun and she and her sister had a ball doing it.

Later that night, Marsh had to put his foot down with her, too.  He knew what had gone on earlier and came ready to deal with it if it happened again.  Sure enough, she pushed against his request too, in front of the entire family, and was carried to her room when she refused to go when asked as the consequence for defiance.  At that moment, I realized that she was probably scared of the things we were asking her to do.  She was most likely uncomfortable with the new responsibilities, and the number of them, and was afraid to do anymore.  However, helping her beyond that and not cottling her into a sense of comfort, helped her realize that she is stronger than the fear.  That day, she realized where the line was and has not tested those limits again.  She has since tackled everything else head-on...attending classes, parties, activities, joining the town soccer team and all other things that have been required of her. 

Oh, and her hair?  She tearfully let me wash it and condition it as she leaned over the side of the tub.  I kept reminding her gently that she was okay, using the happiest tone of voice I could muster.  It made all the difference.  Marsh and the older kids complimented her on how beautiful it looked and she has since tried to maintain the same standard, knowing I will follow up and check it when she has showered.  I know it doesn't get washed each time as well as I would do it, but she's 10 and there is plenty of time to learn how to do it better.  She is only one of eight instead of one of 150, now. 

And she has a mom again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One Week At Home

Honeymoon Period

They say there is a honeymoon period in adoption.  I think there is a honeymoon period with just about jobs, new houses, new routines, new anything.  I think it is the natural course of things and should be expected.

The thing is, I didn't go into this with rose-colored glasses.  I didn't go into this with my eyes half shut.  Apply whatever cliche you can think of...I didn't do it. 

I'm a worrier.  I went through every possible horrible scenario imaginable and prayed my way through this whole process.  In Ukraine, I forced myself not to think beyond getting them home because the idea of homeschooling two more children who don't even speak our language was overwhelming, honestly.  I knew if I looked beyond what I needed to do right then, I would lose focus and possibly lose faith.

Now, before you think that I was afraid or crazy or both, it is important to remember that our faith is what brought us to this process in the first place.  If you, dear reader, don't have your own faith in God, this may not be understandable...especially considering my tendency to worry and the possible problems we could face adopting teenagers from another country.  All I can say, after challenging you to gain your own personal faith, is to try to imagine when you have felt, to your core, that you were meant to do something.  Now, if you put all of my musings in that perspective, it might not seem so crazy.  So, knowing that we were meant, even called, to do this made it easier to put aside my fears, which are really just a lack of faith anyway.

Back to my point...I had pretty much run the gamut on concerns about what we were doing so I'm not sure there is a honeymoon period going on here.  There has been no euphoric feeling of "finally being together", no Christmas-morning-like moment of utter joy, no "new baby" has been what it was supposed to be.  And it feels very much like they've always been here...a phenomenon we have pondered with every newborn we have welcomed, too.

Life on the Farm

As I write this, or rather finish it, it is almost two weeks since we've arrived home.  I started this post on Friday night imagining I might just be so on the ball to post at the "week mark" but, just like every other night in the last week and a half, I got too tired to finish it.  And the days are too full to lend themselves to writing...especially since I can't keep my thoughts short enough.

We have spent the days since we came home orienting Ruslan and Nastia to their new lives and the expectations of living in our family and on our little farm.  We aren't raising animals or food here, we're raising kids.  The animals and gardens are for the purpose of training the children and just happen to have the little benefit on the side of providing much of what we consume.

The children all have daily chores, most of which must be done twice a day because of the heat and the need the animals have for water.  They all have chores inside the house to keep things running somewhat smoothly, maintain some level of cleanliness and make sure Mom doesn't wear herself completely out.

We decided long before bringing the kids home that they would begin right away with responsibilities.  No vacation, no acclimating, just rip the band-aid off as quickly as possible.  :)  The other kids had all helped with the planning and preparation of what each of the two new kids would be doing, so as soon as they were here, they just slid right into their roles.

You know, come to think of it, there probably is one honeymoon that has gone on.  I think Nastia has had a level of newness and excitement that is wearing off now.  Ruslan knew exactly what it was like here and nothing much has changed since last summer except his bedroom.  He's been planning for a year what he was going to be doing here and what it would be like, anticipating what his new life would be.  But, for Nastia, it's been an adventure...until the last couple of days.  I won't go into that here, but I can assure you that reality is sinking in for that girl.  :)  It's okay, though.  We all go through that with something new and she'll be fine...and stronger for it, too.

Future Posts

There is so much to share, so many new experiences, so many fun things that have happened and watching the kids see and do things for the first time.  I compose the posts in my head, but lack the time to get them down.  I'll try to be better...I even take pictures of potato digging, peach canning, bean snapping, garden weeding, corn shucking, kids on the swings in front of the sunset, Nastia teaching herself how to ride a bike.  I mean to post them...I just need to make a time to do it.

There is so much to talk about, too, for the adopting families in the future...bumps we've run into (like hygiene issues...washing hair does not mean just getting it wet and YES we wash our hands after using the bathroom), traditions they aren't used to (the fact that the TP can actually go into the toilet...and down), paperwork that needs to be accomplished (registration with the embassy, putting the kids on health insurance...all within the first 30 days...which seems like a long time but it isn't when life takes over) and the list goes on.

So, I'm off to bed...which, after a full day of peach canning and laundry with a toddler, four middle kids and two that don't speak the our language, is REALLY inviting! 

(In case you're doing the oldest is at a conference at BYU all week.  This gives Ruslan the joy of being the man around the house...a reality that he got to experience today while he hauled peaches up and down stairs for a few hours this wonder his scrawny arms are starting to show some muscle definition!  Gotta a love a farm.)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Home At Last

I'm going to hop on here quickly and let everyone know that our world travelers got home safely. The four younger kids and I cleaned the house this morning and then headed to the airport. Everyone was very excited. We met Pop and Nana (Alisa's parents), Bumpa (Marsh's dad), and a dear friend, Irina Cline at the airport to meet Alisa and the four older kids as they arrived in Salt Lake City.
As they turned the corner and came down the escalator, they noticed our greeting party and we all waved. Emma and the little boys couldn't wait to meet Nastia and see Ruslan again. Lucy and James also really ached to snuggle Mommy again.
Emma was a little anxious over how Nastia might feel about her. She wondered if there would be distance between them since she wasn't able to be there in Ukraine with her like Patty Lyn was.

As they reached the bottom of the escalator, Nastia bee-lined directly to Emma with a big smile and gave her a giant hug. Emma was ecstatic. They have been bosom buddies the whole evening and are now bunked down together.

Ruslan looked tired, but very excited to be "Home".
We stopped for some dinner at a buffet on the way home and it was fun to see the kids realize that they could have whatever they wanted and however much they wanted. Nastia especially took advantage.
Then, as we were getting ready to leave for home, both Ruslan and Nastia came to me and said, "We can’t wait to get home and see our rooms." Nastia added, "I really want to see our rabbits. I love rabbits."
So we drove home, and, once there, most of us went out to do chores and show Nastia the farm. Chris was already zonked, so we helped him get to his bed. Poor guy.
Nastia was in heaven. Emma showed her the ropes on feeding and watering the rabbits (the chore she requested) and then they went to the swings. They were flying high in a matter of seconds, laughing and giggling together.
Ruslan reacquainted himself with the dogs and goats. He told me, "They remember me."
Pretty soon we all gathered at the swings. Every part of it was in use. All the swings, the ladder, the slide, and even the side posts had someone swinging, climbing or leaning. Ruslan was joking around and making everyone laugh. Nastia was swinging high with Patty Lyn and Chase. Emma was pushing Lucy in the toddler swing and James was climbing around the ladder and slide.
Nastia suddenly exclaimed, "This is so much fun to be all together doing this." It was great to hear her feelings.
A few minutes later she said, "It is such a wonderful evening. We are spending our time in a great way." I translated for Alisa. It was fun to watch Nastia find so much joy in her new life.
We finally came inside and got ready for bed, then the travelers shared their trip spoils and surprises. When that was done, we sang a song and said a family prayer, and everyone headed to bed.
Emma and Nastia resurfaced at one point to get a drink of water.  I took the opportunity to ask Nastia if she was comfortable in our home. She quickly replied, "Yes, very comfortable!"
Of course, challenges will come. We won’t kid ourselves. We know we’re just passing through one door of challenges into a whole new set, but for now, we’re enjoying the memory of our first happy evening with the faith that life’s ongoing journey will provide many more worthwhile moments ahead scattered among the challenges.  It tends to be the typical recipe of life and we choose to embrace it.
Thanks for all your prayers and thoughts that have helped us get to this point.
I should clarify that I am enjoying this evening’s memory, because Alisa has long since passed out. Jet lag. Poor kid. This has been quite an adventure for her. I don’t expect her to be up earlier than ... 5pm tomorrow J .
Alisa woke up a few moments ago and asked me to take Lucy, who had also fallen asleep next to her on the couch. Then she asked me where I was going to put Lucy. I told her I would take her to her bed. I have the TV on watching the Olympics and Alisa then asked me how we were getting KSL. We only have rabbit ears here for Television, but we usually get KSL, so it was a bit of an odd question. I took Lucy to her bed and when I returned, Alisa admitted that she had forgotten that they had returned home. She thought she was still in Ukraine, so that’s why she wanted to know where I was putting Lucy and how we were getting KSL on the Television. Pretty funny stuff.
I’m sure things will be back to normal soon.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Day 20.3--WE ARE DONE!!!

We blissfully slept in this morning...well, the kids did...I don't know what my problem is but I feel like I'm on alert all the time.  Last night, Ruslan specifically asked me what time we were waking up and was absolutely thrilled to know we weren't getting up at 6am.

Our driver came at about 1pm with the medical forms all sealed up in an envelope that was stamped on the seal.  Very official.  We went straight to the Embassy, all passports in hand this time and everyone fed and no one throwing up.  Today, we knew the drill...which was nice. 
The US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine

The same guy helped us again and he also knew the drill...which was also nice.  We were soon sitting and waiting for a bit.  The only other people there were American women who were also adopting and waiting for the visas to be all ready.  It was so nice to talk to them!  One was adopting a little 13 month old girl with a cleft palate.  The cleft goes all the way up to her eye.  This woman's children are mostly grown, the youngest of which is 15.

The other woman was adopting three children, two that were brother and sister and one that was unrelated to the others.  This is her second adoption in Ukraine and the first was a real challenge.  We talked about the amount of faith it takes move ahead when things are so difficult but we know it's what the Lord requires us to do.  This gives them six children, two of which are biological.  She was great, a fast friend and we exchanged email addresses.  Her name is Natasha Jones.  :)


The lady at the window who was finishing up all our stuff, had me raise my right hand and swear that everything in the papers was correct to my knowledge.  I was kind of surprised to have her ask me to raise my right hand and when she asked me the question, it was like a scene in a movie where you get sucked into someone's mind and they flashback through all the memories of their lives.  My mind reeled through all the paperwork and records and everything we've done this year.

Soon, we were sitting again and waiting.  Not long later, I was called up to another window and there was the same man again.  He said, "First of all, I want to congratulate you on your adoption..." and then he handed me their passports with the visa page all neatly inserted, the immigration packets that were as thick as most of my other paperwork packets and stapled shut.  He then told me that I needed all these things in my carry on bag as I went home and that these children would be American citizens as soon as they set foot on American soil.  He told me where I needed to go in customs in the airport and some other information.  I suddenly felt the weight of the responsibility I had carrying all of these documents with me! about pressure.

We left the Embassy and decided we needed a party again tonight...why not?  This is big stuff!  We have Ice Age 2 on the laptop and ice cream tonight.  :)

We will have another outing day with dear Zoya tomorrow to say our last goodbyes to Kyiv and Ukraine.  We leave at 3:45 am Friday morning (6:45pm home time) for the airport. 

I can't wait to hug my little babies again.  I'm glad we've worked out some kinks while we've been here...this has been really, really important time together.  But, it will be so good to be home.  I know Chris and Patty are more grateful for The United States of America than they ever could have been without this experience.

Thank you for all the support and prayers.  I know you are out there and that we have been included in your petitions to Heaven.  Without you, this would have been a harder time.  Your faith has helped clear and smooth our path on one of the most important and challenging journeys of our lives thus far.

We will keep making blog posts on occasion to keep you updated, but I know it won't be nearly as frequently as they have been!

Thank you again.  Thank you for your donations, your love, your attention and your prayers.  We love you all and pray for you in return.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day 19.3--Dr. Appointments and US Embassy

We were picked up at 7:30 this morning which was MUCH too early for a bunch of teens and preteens...especially when they don't go to bed on time.  Honestly, it's like a slumber party here every night and I have a harder time getting them to go to sleep than I do with my toddlers.  It's 10pm here right now and they are still wrestling and goofing off in the dark.  The Mom tone of voice is already being used ("Para spaht!" which means "Time to sleep!") so people are getting the idea that they'd better toe the mark.  After the catastrophic morning (okay, that's an exaggeration but wait 'til you hear the story), I would think they would be all over the idea of getting to bed on time.  I guess we're just too young to relate choices and consequences when goofing off is so tempting...

So, people crankily rolled out of bed at about 7:05, some choked down a little cereal, others inhaled it (give you one guess who that was) and Ruslan didn't get anything to eat at all.  He's had a little cold and I'm guessing that getting up early and being a little under the weather didn't lend itself to much of an appetite.  We were five minutes late getting out the door and I was trying to convince him to at least take a banana or yogurt but, like any Ukrainian, he stubbornly refused.  If I'd pushed it, he would have relented but he insisted he wasn't hungry.  I don't know why I didn't just take it with me anyway, but I didn't.  I was too concerned about the money I needed to make sure I had with me and the fact that we were already late.

The drive was silent.  No one spoke, no one wanted to be there.  Everyone was exhausted and kept to themselves.

The traffic was crazy.  The moment we parked and I set my foot on the ground, I had the horrible realization that I had left all the paperwork at the apartment...everything Marsh had signed and notarized so we could get their visas at the embassy.  What was I thinking???  Oh,, breakfast, Ruslan, late cranky kids.  As a matter of fact, the night before when I was setting out the money I would need, it never even occurred to me that I needed those papers.  I sheepishly called the female facilitator because, honestly, the man intimidates me and told her what I'd done.  It had taken us almost an hour to get to the medical center and I knew my forgetfulness had to be costly in time and money.  However, she acted like it was okay and we'd be able to take care of it.  It was decided that Chris would go back with our driver and pick up the documents while I was in the embassy so we could keep our appointment.  Hooray for big, responsible kids!  They are literally like having another adult around.

We got to the medical center about 20 minutes late, but I determined that it wouldn't have mattered if we had been there on time because the person we were there to see didn't show up until after we had arrived. 

We sat in a long hallway, lined with chairs, that had doors all down one side.  It was like something out of a movie about the Soviet time.  The soul-draining flourescent lights flickered at one end of the long hall and women in white coats went in and out of doors, locking them as they came out and unlocking them as they went in.  The only thing that called us back to 2012 was the TV blaring an American infomercial that had been voiced over in Russian.  Since it was advertising ladies undergarments, I took it upon myself to brave the long hallway and go turn it off.

We were in there for almost two hours.  During that time, Ruslan had x-rays done and people were going from door or door and knocking and entering and leaving and speaking in hushed tones and through doors cracked part way open.  It was really uncomfortable for me because I didn't know what was going on, the kids were all exhausted, the papers were still at home and I realized that I hadn't mentally prepared for any of this.  It had taken so long to get to this point and the concerns about so many things were so long and so deep and it's just been so many days that I suddenly realized I was overwhelmed...and tired and homesick for my babies.

Later, I was called in to talk to the doctor and be present during the kids' examinations.  Nastia was first, all was well.  He filled out paperwork and explained a lot of things in English, for which I was grateful. 

Then, it was Ruslan's turn.  He came in with a bandage on his arm.  I realized he'd had his blood drawn and talked to him about it.  In his characteristically calm, "no problem" way he acted like it was no big deal and gave me a smile.  He was then examined and the doctor made the poor kid drop his pants right in front of me.  When I realized the doctor was going to request that, I hurried and carefully examined Nastia's paperwork on the desk and made it really obvious that I wasn't looking.  Like these kids haven't been through enough.  Sheesh.

Back out into the long hall, then into the cashier's office where we were barked at to wait.  I suddenly realized I needed the money I had brought and had just a little more than was needed.  I realized how unprepared I was for the experience because, though I had come with the money, I hadn't actually thought through paying it.  It felt like I was in a dream.

Out the door we went and back into the car.  It wasn't long before we were off the highway and onto a more private road.  My facilitator (the intimidating man...who is really very efficient and knowledgeable, he's just an Ukrainian man in every respect) called to ask me if Chris and Patty had their passports.  Oh yeah, those too.  When I looked back to ask the kids about their passports, I saw Ruslan.  His face was this weird yellow color, his eyes were dark as was the area surrounding his mouth, but his lips were white and his eyes were half-mast.  He looked like he was going to die.  I was shocked enough to warrant an "I fine, I sleep" from him.  My brain was putting it all food, no drink, blood drawn...and my next question to my driver was, "Is there a store nearby?"  All I could think of was to get some juice into the kid. 

One ear on the phone, two eyes on the kid getting ready to pass out and Nastia yells, "Mom!" and grabs her throat.  I asked the driver to pull over and just in time, she's out of the car before she throws up on the dirt.  I asked my facilitator to wait because I had carsick kids...and does he know where a store is???  His response:  "There is nothing around there.  You'll just have to wait.  Yes, she's throwing up.  That happens."

Okey dokey, thanks.

My driver pulls out some paper towels for Nastia which she leaves on the ground, Ukrainian-style.  I pick them up, American-style, and off we go again.

Ruslan is bound and determined to be a man and won't let this little blood sugar issue lick him so he decides to look a little perkier, but I'm scared to death the kid is going to die on me.  As I exit the car I asked Chris to get Ruslan a banana and some bread or something when he goes back to get the papers and passports, but it turns out that you can't take food in the Embassy, even for kids on the brink of death.  Great.  I'm 0 for, like, 4 at this point.


The kids and I are the only ones who could go into the Embassy.  No driver, no facilitators, nobody but us.  Oh, and no purse, no bag, no cell phone, no electronics...just passports and bodies and paperwork in hand.

I don't know what I was thinking, but I was really disappointed to find out that everyone working at the US Embassy with their American police uniforms with little American flags on their shoulders are not American.  I think I was hoping there would be some kind of know, "Hey, welcome home!  We know you are just dying to get back to The States so we thought you could use a nice, friendly American-style welcome!  We're so glad you're here!" and no one would scowl or bark or look irritated at me and wish I'd go home.  Just a little piece of American heaven for a few minutes. Nope.

We're called up very quickly and we stand at the window while the papers are reviewed and forms are filled out.  Both kids insisted on standing with me, even though I was sure Ruslan wouldn't be able to stand much longer.  His color was better, but he was blowing his nose and shifting his weight.  I never could get him to sit down.  I thought maybe it was because he wanted to be a part of what was going on.

After forms were filled out and we had kind of come to a stand-still until the other papers arrived, the person helping me sent me to the cashier's window to pay.  My facilitator had said to come back out of the Embassy about 25 minutes after being dropped off so I could get the papers from the kids.  However, just as I had received my receipt and was heading back to my helper's window, a security guard escorts Patty and Chris to me and they hand me the papers.  It was the most perfect timing of anything that had happened that morning!  It was a relief, too...everyone was safely with me again and I had everything I needed.  (sigh)

I will just step aside from my story for a minute (which is almost done, don't worry) to say something about my facilitators and agency.  I don't know how to emphasize enough that there is NO WAY I could have done this without them.  I don't have any idea how anyone could do this without people who know exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, what is going to be required, when it is required, where to go, how to get there...really, it's mind boggling. 

It's literally embarassing that I forgot the papers.  They handed me the packet which included all major adoption documents, originals and copies, birth certificates (which I didn't have to do anything with but put on my John Hancock on a few papers...didn't even have to figure out where to go or to get a driver to take me there), even two copies of headshots of Ruslan and Nastia (which I had no idea would be requested at the Embassy), all put together neatly in plastic sleeves and I LEAVE THEM AT THE APARTMENT??  I can't even be trusted to bring them where they needed to be with them perfectly complete, let alone complete them myself. 

Because of these capable people (whom I have determined work 24 hours a day/seven days a week), I am able to focus on being a mom in a totally new situation, in a forgein culture, and just make sure everyone is fed and safe and happy (if I have any control over that)...which, honestly, is probably more than I could handle without the Lord's help anyway.  So, kudos to my facilitators and coordinator and all the behind-the-scenes people who make my life easy so I can make it complicated by leaving things in places I shouldn't leave them...and then call them and beg their advice about my mistakes in the early morning hours!  You all should have a big "S" on your shirt!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled story...

We left the Embassy knowing that we needed to bring back the doctor's paperwork tomorrow afternoon (the blood work will be done and recorded by then) and finish out the process.  At that point, we're done and ready to go home.

Even though Chris and Patty brought food, Ruslan wouldn't eat.  But, instead of silence in the car, the kids were goofing off on the way home.  There was a tangible, literally physically tangible, difference in the feeling in the car.  On the way there, it was heavy and sad...on the way back, it was obvious burdens had been lifted.  Nothing changed, no one ate or had something fun or new to do...I think the big hurdle was over for everyone.

We got home and most of us napped, which helped a lot for the rest of the day.  The girls and I made olivye (Ukrainian potato salad) and there was much rejoicing (and eating) when the boys got up.
The boys on their bed.  The foot on the right is Nastia's...she was threatening to wake them up with her spoon.  Patty is crouched down in the back there because she was using the fan and paper pieces to make "snow" on the boys.  So, this shot is just before the awakening ensued, all instigated by the sisters who were anxious to have olivye!

The kitchen helpers proud of their work...and really glad to eat it!
My brother, Dave, called me during the afternoon, too, which was a very welcome connection with home.  I needed it right then because a wave of homesickness just came over me not long before.  Thanks, Dave. 

I can't imagine what it would be like to be forced to be separated from family members for long periods of time, especially one's little children.  I can't help but mourn over the things that have gone on in this part of the world that had excruciating consequences in so many lives.

Later, while grocery shopping yet again, we were picking out treats to take home to the little ones and I decided this was a party night.  We needed to celebrate that we did it all...sure, we still have to go back to the Embassy tomorrow, but that's just a follow up.  The big hurdles ended today!

So, everyone one chose a candy and we headed home to make dinner.  They all pitched in.  Ruslan requested that we make the apartment look like "a restauran" where we move the table into the center of the room and eat there.  Of course, we did and Patty made it look pretty.  We are counting our kopecks so we made the Ukrainain version of Ramen Noodles, opened cans of fruit and put out the olivye.  The candy was, of course, dessert...everyone chose some kind of chocolate.

The "restauran".  The word in Russian looks like this:  PECTOPAH which, if read phonetically, says "restoran".  Learn something new everyday, right?  :)
It was a great ending to a day that really didn't start out all that promising.  We are all counting the hours until we are on a plane headed for home. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Day18.3--Recording and Benches

Wow...Day 18.  You know, I know a lot of stuff I didn't know before, thanks to spending so, so many days in this country.  I figured out that we will have spent a total of about 8 weeks here between April and now.  I am actually beginning to understand what people are saying and can answer them.  Not too complicated, of course, but I can read their facial expressions and pick out enough words to kind of figure out what they are saying.  I also don't see the letters the same way anymore.  It used to be that they all looked like our letters used the wrong way, but now I am starting to sound things out without having to think about it first.

I also know a lot about things I never thought I would know about...and most of them are things I never even knew about. 

I can navigate in the metros (as long as I don't have to change lines...just got my first experience with that today and there is definitely more to know!), on buses, in stores, pay for things, ask for things and I even know "the drill" on pretty much everything that is needed to survive here.  I also don't feel as uncomfortable or out of place.

I know how long we will swelter in an overnight train before it starts to cool off.  I know how to get on and ride a tram and how to know if there is someone to take my money or if I have to pay the driver.  I know how to pay for metro coins and how much they cost.  I know what I can cook here without the staples of flour, oats, etc.  I know how to survive on four plates, seven forks and no cups...with four children to feed.  I know what brands of milk and butter and cottage cheese are the best.  I know how to say words and describe things I couldn't even hope to remember two weeks ago.

It's been hard to transition from city to city and doing it without the help of Marsh's Russian, but the experience has been worth it.  There is no easy way to learn anything.  If you really want to know it, you have to pay the price.  And that payment is usually uncomfortable, even painful at times.  But, like all things, the difficulty will pass and you will be stronger for it and know more than you could have anticipated.

I'm not sure where all that knowledge will go, but maybe it serves its purpose just in showing me what I'm capable of.  I have to admit, the experience has required me to turn to the Lord in prayer MUCH more often than a typical day on our little farm does.  Before we even left the apartment this morning, I must have prayed every five minutes.  I needed His help with the recording session I had, I needed His help in giving me wisdom and patience and love in a trying situation. 

Perhaps He is trying to show me that it's not just in the challenges of being in a different country and mothering two children who don't speak the same language that I need to turn to him every minute.  After my bazillionth prayer, I thought about our "hearts being drawn out in prayer continually" and wondered why I don't turn to Him more often on a daily, hourly, minute-to-minute basis in the comfort of my own home.  Sure, when it's hard, I'm right there on my knees (or in my head) begging for help and His wisdom.  But, I need that help every hour, not just in the hard times.

So, that is how my day started...pleading with the Lord to help lift the burdens with which the Adversary was hedging up my way.  The Adversary likes to do that.  He thinks it's fun to watch me suffer. 

We had a lot of great experiences again today.  I'm going to take you on a picture tour of our day, but you have to imagine how we got from place to place...metros, buses, trams...all packed with people and really, really hot and humid.  If you see faces glistening in pictures, it's not an optical illusion.  We are sweating.  I have learned to accept that washing is not going to change the sweating factor.  It is only to take off a few layers, not solve any problems.

After going grocery shopping, AGAIN (nothing like feeding teenage boys and two young ladies), we went home to have lunch and then headed out to meet my sweet, sweet, sweet (I can't put enough "sweet"s in here) friend Zoya who was taking us on a walking tour and then helping us get to the recording studio where I needed to play a little part in Marsh's most recent project...

We took the metro and met Zoya at a certain stop.  We walked up and got on this tram that takes us to the top of the hill where St. Andrew's and St. Michael's and St. Sophia's cathedrals are.  This hill has a monument inside what looks like the Sacred Grove.  It marks the area where Volodimr dedicated this land for the preaching of the Gospel several hundred years ago. 

Once at the top of the hill, there is a fabulous view of the Dnepr River.

Here, the kids look at a diorama-type display of the tram track and the sites around it.

At the top of the hill, nearest the tram stop, is St. Michael's cathedral and a working monastery.  This is not the original building.  The original was destroyed prior to the Second World War to make room for a second, circular government building to match the one that is off to the left of the picture (which you can't see...sorry).  It would have created a semi-circle.  But, then the war began and not only did construction halt, but much of the city was bombed and, of course, people were put through terrible things during those years.  The government building was never built, but the cathedral was reconstructed.  Inside, there is a gated area that surrounds the only remaining original foundation and bricks.

Funny...I just realized that I meant to take a picture of the statues behind Chris and Nastia, but never did.  They are of Olga who helped bring the Gospel to Kyiv and some other people.  I became distracted from my goal when we realized the sister missionaries were standing there talking to this woman in the yellow dress.  The woman came over and offered for us to take a picture with her doves for 40 grivni which is about $5.  It told her I couldn't part with that much so she lowered it to twenty.  I finally explained that I had limited funds and needed to feed all these kids for four more days and get us home on what I had.  I don't know how it came out that I have eight children, but as soon as she heard that, she offered the picture for free.  After a long conversation about Heavenly Father and the fact that we are all brothers and sisters, I gave her 3 grivni and an Article of Faith card with the missionaries contact information on it.  :)

Thus, no statue picture.

Posing with a 350 year old tree.
Chris took this shot of St. Andrew's spires near the old tree.  QUITE an impressive picture, Chris!  St. Andrew's is right by the SDA office and is a really visible landmark on this upper area of Kyiv.

We made our way to this cute park area with statues and benches that are quite whimsical.  It was apparently started to protest the "old way" of art here, but it has become a landmark itself.  Here are some fun pictures of this children's area...

Strong brothers protecting little sisters. :)

The kids are on top of a huge set of play equipment with slides and ladders and such.  I don't know why I didn't zoom out and get the whole thing!  Sorry.  The tiles were so hot that Ruslan couldn't hold on to them so he had to keep switching hands.

Believe it or not, this is a sculpture!  It is called, "Just Like Home" or something like had to be translated. :)

Another great bench...overlooking the city and the three hills that Kyiv was named for.

Teeter totter bench!

The view of the city from the eye glasses bench.

Notice the sculpture behind Chris?

Yes, they are sitting on a bench.

At the end of the walk we found the cutest little park with sculptures all around.  I love how the big kids don't feel like big kids all the time.
 Then it was off to the bus, then to a tram, then for a walk to the recording studio...

Marsh and my brother, Dave, who is doing the voice over and engineering work for Marsh's project, Skyped with me during the recording session.  There to the right is the microphone that was placed near the computer so I could hear them in the sound booth.  Except for some technical difficulty with Skype, it was like they were in the same room.  It was so nice...I felt like I was home for a little while!

The kids came in to say hello to Dad and Uncle Dave.  Uncle Dave met Nastia for the first time over Skype.  :)

After another tram ride and two metro lines, we were home and found this optical illusion outside the apartment building...

...the cat is actually sitting on wire mesh up in the air!  It was so interesting, I had to get a picture.

Back at the apartment, Ruslan helps Nastia put in the earrings Zoya gave her.  Zoya is the best substitute grandma in the world!

And since we didn't get home until almost 8pm, dinner was sausage, cheese, bread, watermelon and the Ukrainian version of Ramen Noodles which are even cheaper here than they are at home!  All this food, and then some, was gone in a matter of moments.
We also found out today that the kids' passports are here!  Yay!  Tomorrow morning, we go for their doctor's appointments and then to the US Embassy.  We'll have everything done by Wednesday.  However, our wonderful travel agent friend, Lorie, could only find four tickets to get us home Thursday so we have to wait until Friday.  But, it works out better logistically for the family at home and allows us to arrive at a reasonable hour, rather than at midnight which is what it would have been on the Thursday flight.

Zoya was so cute when she found out that we were staying an extra day...she said we can do something fun together again.  It was a good way to respond because I was choking back tears. 

Blessed Zoya.