Sunday, December 4, 2016

Trip Journal: Day Two

Today was gladly uneventful. We did our best to sleep in but that plan was foiled when I forgot to turn off my ringer and my phone received a number of messages from a family group text. I woke up at 0400 and talked to Valerie and checked email for a while before Maren got up at 0500. We putzed around the room a bit and got ready for the day and at 0600 we went back to bed for two hours. At 0800 Maren told me it was time to get up so we got rolling for the day. We had the traditional breakfast at da ‘Pest and met another family from Texas who had picked up their son and was waiting to go home. After breakfast we were planning to talk to the park and people watch before church but we quickly discovered that Maren’s jacket was not going to be warm enough to get her through the cold days here so we went to the Market and she bought herself a jacket for 55 lev. Once we did that we had burned up our free time so I ordered a cab using Taxi.Me and a few minutes later we were headed to church.

Unbeknownst to us, it was branch conference (I think) today so the meeting was two hours long – a bit longer than Maren could handle given the jet lag but she was a trooper. After the meeting I said hi to the American missionaries and got their number so we could get together next weekend for dinner. After church we took another taxi back to the hotel where our professional driver and all-around awesome guy Marti picked us up and drove us out to Toni Vladamirova’s house where we spent several hours chatting with Toni about adoption, our children and the plans for the next two weeks. Toni has become a member of our family over the years and we are eternally grateful to her for her hard work and dedication to the children of Bulgaria whom she has helped serve throughout the years – she said she’s placed maybe 250 children over the years – quite an impact for one woman and a supporting cast of wonderful family members. I could not imagine working with any other agency in Bulgaria and I’m glad that fate brought us together years ago.

Marti drove us back to the ‘Pest and we cashed out our bill from the ‘Pest which was 70 Euro/137 Lev a night then ran a few errands to Billa and a drugstore to pick up some medicine and other odds and ends for the upcoming trips as well as presents for home. We ran across another family from Virginia who is picking up a child tomorrow and talked with them a bit about the clinic experience and their history of adoption as well as ours. While we were out, we also picked up some hot chocolate mix and got some steamed milk from the hotel bar, so during our nightly journal time we’re enjoying a chocolaty treat.

The game plan for tonight is to stay up until at least 2100 and then get up at 0600 to hopefully get over jet lag. Our facilitator, Maria is due to pick us up at the ‘Pest at 0800 and we will drive directly to Panagyurishte and meet with the girls by lunchtime before heading to the hotel. I am beyond excited about the visit as I was able to get more details from Toni’s mother about their visit when the girls advised that they did in fact want to be adopted by us. I will take lots of photos and some video during the visit – look for updates tomorrow afternoon… g’night y’all.

Note to self, need to bring a multi-tool on the pickup trip. Stupid plastic packaging.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trip Journal: Day One

The day started early as we were on a 7am flight from Dayton to Chicago-Midway, free of charge because of all my travel miles – this made our tickets from Chicago to Sofia only $500 each instead of around $750 each. All things considered, it was an easy day, just long and tiring. After reaching Chicago-Midway we collected our bags and sat around the baggage claim area while we waited for the hourly bus that runs service between Midway and O’Hare. The bus showed up on time and $25 and an easy ride later we checked our bag for the international flight and were ready to kill about 4 hours before our flight boarded. Another benefit of all of my business travel is that we scored a free upgrade to EconomyPlus on the Chicago-Frankfurt flight, and because of my travel I also have a membership to the United Club Lounge so we were able to go to the lounge for three hours and enjoy some free food and drinks while I got a few hours of work done.

Once it was time to go find our gate we ventured over to the correct terminal and then swapped our shoes for slippers and got our blankets out so we could be comfortable on the flight. Boarding went as scheduled and before you knew it we were onboard, with the only adjustment being that we swapped seats around for a young couple nearby to be able to sit with each other.

The 8-hour flight was pretty easy, with the food being decent and the selection of movies being awesome. I spent most of the time on the fight working and listening to music and then near the end I watched a movie, being unable to sleep much because the flight was pretty early in the afternoon (230 pm) to be trying to sleep.

Once we landed in Frankfurt we deplaned and sat around the airport in a comfortable lounge area before finding our connecting gate and stretching our legs a bit, loading up into the buses and driving out to the plane is something we’re used to now and we made sure we were last on board so we could snag an entire row for the two of us. The flight went great and Maren slept through the entire flight, waking up near the end. All the hours of travel caught up with Maren and she got some motion sickness – necessitating we make use of the puke bag in her seat. Fortunately she had eaten so little due to an upset stomach that it easy to contain and the attendant was Johnny-on-the-spot with a backup bag.

When we arrived in Sofia getting through passport control was easy and our ride was waiting for us, being very confused when “Richard Rieben” showed up instead of “Valerie Rieben” which was on the sign for us. Our driver was a nice gentleman and his daughter who spoke fluent English was with him as well. Unfortunately, Maren got sick again and we had to pull over to let her do her thing on the side of the road. I patted her back and wiped her face like a real pro and then we were back in the car and headed for the hotel.

We got checked in and our wonderful lawyer, Toni had an envelope waiting for us – inside was 200 USD worth of Bulgarian currency, the Lev to get us started as well as a Vivacom SIM card for me to put in my unlocked LG Stylo, which I brought in addition to my Nexus 5x on T-Mobile. I also have a FreedomPop global SIM which worked really well in Germany during the layover (as well as T-Mobile which also worked just fine). We have stayed at the Hotel Budapest (or as we frequent flyers call it, “The ‘Pest”) numerous times and it is a very modern hotel, nicer than many that I stay at back in the states. The rooms are comfortable and the bathrooms have awesome deep tubs which are great for relaxing. It’s not located conveniently to downtown, but that’s nothing a 15-minute walk can’t solve – and that’s exactly what we did. There’s an open-air market a few blocks away so we walked through there and then walked to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which is my favorite destination within Sofia. From the cathedral we hailed a cab and took a cheap (3 lv./1.5 USD) ride back to the hotel and then walked 2 blocks to dinner at a traditional bulgaraian restaurant which we’ve eaten at several times before. Maren and I shared a simple and delicious meal of a Shopska salad, bread, pork kabob cooked over a fire and fried potatoes – very tasty and very filling. The meal was about 30 lv. 15 USD so meals are very inexpensive here.

After dinner I hailed another cab and we drove to a nearby supermarket, Billa. We picked up a few basic items like water, juice, snacks and chocolate. After doing our shopping I used a neat app called TaxiMe to call a cab – it works much like Uber but works with traditional cab companies – a few minutes later the cab showed up and we headed back to the hotel for the night.

After washing up, we pretty much crashed at 8pm… hoping to sleep until 6am or so…

Monday, August 15, 2016

Start where you are. . . Part II

When it has been EIGHTEEN MONTHS since you last blogged, where do you even begin?!

This looks like a good place to start. . . . . .

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Richard Here: A Few Days Later

I wanted to take a few minutes to post a brief update about the boys and their status since they arrived home. 
Gabe - After a few days of strongly disliking Valerie for the grief he has caused her, he has started to open up quite a bit. The first two days he was here he barely ate and had a hard time staying awake. After letting him rest up fully, he is starting to get back to his normal self. He is eating very well and is communicating effectively in Bulgarian. He's started to crawl around the house, exploring his new dominion and he enjoys watching Bulgarian children's songs on Youtube. He has bonded especially well with Joshua and Maren, with Joshua being his official "cuddle buddy". Aside from the normal anxiety leading up to the doctor visit today, he did very well at the doctor. He is going to have several referrals including the CP clinic, GI, Neuro and Vision. The biggest variable in his status right now is his vision - aside from nystagmus we think his vision is actually very poor - and we will not be surprised if he is found to be legally blind. He seems to be able to track objects, but beyond a few inches from him, he does not appear to be able to see well at all. We'll know more once we see specialists, but we're optimistic about his ability to progress within his realm of ability.

Eli - Eli is excited about learning English and he has been practicing by copying English words into a notebook, just like his brothers and sisters have. He is feeling the pressure of the transition and among the three boys has the most difficulty dealing with his internal feelings and emotions - he had a difficult episode Tuesday but Valerie helped him work through it and it was a positive sign that he's beginning to understand that he has parents who are here for him. He tests boundaries and sometimes has difficulty listening to instructions (but to be honest, his obvious hearing impairment probably doesn't help with anything involving "listening"). He likes to play with the other kids and loves listening to music (very loudly).

Jesse - First of all, Jesse is convinced that Valerie and I need to have another baby. Unfortunately, Valerie doesn't know the vocabulary to explain her complete lack of a uterus and the impact that has on our ability to procreate. But moving on... boy this kids loves to..... clean! That's right... women talk, men go to caves, but this guy cleans! When he's stressed or feeling anxious he has to clean something, ANYTHING! So far he's cleaned the boy's entire room (twice), Valerie's school closet, Valerie's desk, the entryway (imagine all those shoes lined up neatly by size) and tonight I cam home and he had organized... the trash cans on the back porch - all in a neat line in a pattern of trash and recycling cans. Jesse is also working on his English (and his was better than Eli's to start) and he's starting to pick up simple phrases. One other thing about Jesse is that he's been through a lot from a medical/surgical standpoint. His medical records are still being translated, but from what we've been told so far, his surgical record shows that he's one tough guy, but probably has some significant anxiety attached to medical events. So it was no surprise today when he sobbed through getting blood drawn as part of his physical.

That's it for now. So far, things are going "as well as to be expected" and we've seen no major surprises. The boys are integrating well into the family and we are optimistic for the future. As always, thank you for your love, support and friendship

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Richard Here: Day Nine - The Late-Night Drive Home

After spending the day cleaning up the house I left for the airport around 9pm amid snow showers and light rain. Their flight was already in the air so I knew nothing was likely to go wrong at that point. They arrived a few minutes late and we greeted them with smiles and hugs.
After waiting a while four our bags (and did we mention there were a lot of them?) we headed for the van!
Once we loaded up, the boys were too excited to sleep much on the way home.

We finally arrived home around 3:00 AM Sunday morning. The kids got up and said hi while we prepped the boys for bed and then we all slept for a few hours.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Valerie Here: Day Eight - The Long Road "Home"

Our first flight was a success and we are now sitting at the airport in Frankfurt waiting for our connecting flight. The boys have done well so far. We got off to a rough start with vomit and upset tummies prior to leaving the hotel, but once we were at the airport everything was smooth sailing. Gabe cried momentarily when I told him we were going to Germany first, but once I assured him that America was our next stop, he was a happy camper! Jesse and Eli were so excited they could hardly contain themselves. I wish I had taken a picture of their faces at takeoff. Pure joy. Priceless! Excitement, exhaustion and nerves also resulted in a lot of drumming, but so far, so good!

Meanwhile, Richard's perspective and update...

When I talked to Val at 0430 ET this morning she said that the boys actually did fine once they got to the airport. They were escorted through security, onto the plane and got the same escort off the plane in Frankfurt and between gates. I'm hoping they'll be able to get a similar escort at IAD, but I don't know how all that works with immigration/customs - I told them they should demand it.

Either way, it sounded like the "bark" (anxiety) was bigger than the "bite" (the actual experience) and that they did well on the first flight, aside from the obvious nervousness in the pictures and video.
The real question now will be how well they do on the long haul - it looks like the flight is about an hour behind, probably due to the jetstream responsible for the storm we're about to get at home. If the boys get some sleep, then perhaps they'll have the stamina to last until tonight - but if not, it could be a rough layover.

Meanwhile, here at home some of the kids are helping my mother and I give the house one final cleaning before the boys get home. Hard to believe that they're probably going to be home in 12 hours.

A few hours later we heard from Val again...

So, our international flight wasn't a total nightmare. . . .but it was relatively close. Due to the configuration of the plane, we had to do a 3-2 split with myself, Jesse and Gabe in one row and my mom and Eli a few rows back. Eli was not a fan of being separated from mom and brothers and spent the good part of the 8 hour flight trying to escape to our row. My mom may need a week-long nap after that. And then Gabe got tired. And when Gabe gets tired he likes to scream and rage for about 2 hours until he exhausts himself. He has done this almost every night this week and he didn't disappoint on this flight. Two hours of inconsolable screaming and crying. After about an hour of trying to calm him and realizing that there was absolutely nothing I could do, I cried too (silent tears of frustration) and I'm pretty sure a few of the people around us might have as well. And right before he settled down, he vomited. Thankfully, I am an expert catcher of vomit and managed to get most of it into the provided bag. He slept fitfully for the rest of the flight and is currently sleeping on a bench at Dulles while we wait for our connecting flight. We are hitting the 24 hour mark and we still have several hours to go so please pray that this last flight will be uneventful (not to mention the 2 hour drive we have after that).

Friday, January 30, 2015

Valerie Here: Day Seven - Packing Up!

This will be a quick update because I have to be up in less than 3 hours to start getting everyone ready for the airport. The past two days have been great. As Richard mentioned yesterday, everything went well at the embassy and as a reward for their superb patience (there was a lot of waiting involved) and excellent behavior, we took another stroll to the store and are pizza for dinner. . . .again. After lots of late nights and early mornings, the boys actually slept until 8 this morning. We laid in bed and snuggled and watched cartoons as long as we possibly could before heading downstairs for a late breakfast. Today we took the boys on a walk to the center of Sofia. We had a great time,took lots of pictures and eventually ended up at McDonald's for lunch (not my first choice, but the boys really wanted to go). After lunch we went looking for luggage. I have never adopted a child who came with any personal belongings. These three boys have so much stuff we had to buy another suitcase to fit it all! I will have to save my thoughts on that for another day since I am running short on time, but let me just say that sorting through and repacking all of their belongings made my heart ache and I had to take a break halfway through. In short, we will be checking 10 bags and will have 5 carry ons and a stroller tomorrow. After the packing was complete we had the privilege and pleasure of dining with Toni (who has helped to bring all 8 of our sweet Bulgarians home) so that she could deliver our passports, visas and immigration paperwork and meet the boys! Oh, how I love this amazing woman! We spent most of the days talking about our trip home tomorrow. The boys are very anxious (in every sense of the word) and by this evening, those nerves were really starting to fray. Gabe screamed and cried for about two hours before he finally went to sleep. Eli became completely manic and was bouncing off the walls like a ping pong ball and Jesse's stomach was upset. Needless to say, it was another late night. We are leaving for the airport at 4:45 am and, unless we are able to move our final flight up, we are looking at about 26 hours of travel time. This is going to be a very hard, very long day for all of us so please keep us in your prayers. I am sure that Richard will keep everyone posted on our progress and I will be sure to update once we are home

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Richard Here: Day Six - Embassy Visit

Sorry everyone, but I don't have much of an update today. The good news is that everything went well at the embassy. The bad news is that back here at home the internet went down at our house this morning and hasn't been back since - So I ran some errands (grocery shopping) this evening and I'm chilling at the neighborhood McDonalds for a bit before I go back to my home-without-internet.

Val didn't do a post tonight because she's woefully behind on sleep and she couldn't find her tablet so she took the easy way out and went to bed. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have the internet at home again and I'll be able to post more pictures.

As of right now, everything is on track for them to hit the friendly skies early Saturday morning. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Valerie Here: Day Five - Out on the Town

Today was our free day (free from official, adoption-related activities that is) so, I spent the day spoiling my babies. We enjoyed a lazy morning and a late breakfast before hitting the streets of Sofia. We stopped at the bank to exchange money and then proceeded to the grocery store where I allowed the boys to pick whatever they wanted. They were thrilled at the prospect, but before they chose anything for themselves they picked out something for my mom and I (and were so thrilled to give it to us after we returned to the hotel). Once they had loaded the basket with chocolate milk, candy, sweets, juice and other fine delicacies, we checked out, then stopped to grab some pizza before heading back to the hotel. This afternoon we had the privilege of having lunch with Alayna's birth mother, Didi and grandmother, Violetta, and their friend Natasha. Didi made some amazing desserts which we all enjoyed while we skyped with Alayna and she brought gifts for the whole family. These are relationships that I treasure and I always look forward to spending time with these amazing women while I am in Bulgaria. After our lunch date we enjoyed meeting and getting to know Jerry Harris and his beautiful new daughter who came to visit us in our room. Then we skyped with Richard and Manuela before enjoying another round of showers and heading to bed. Bedtime was easy tonight because everyone was exhausted and I am hopeful that we will all get a good night's sleep! Tomorrow we have our visa appointment at the embassy. This is the last step in the process in country so please pray that everything is in order and that visas are issued without delay so that we can take to the skies on Saturday. As always, there is so much more that I want to share, so many emotions, thought and precious moments, but exhaustion has become my constant companion and my bed is calling my name! Thank you for all of your thoughts, prayers and encouragement!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Valerie Here: Day Four - Medicals

Have I mentioned how much I love these boys!? Because if I haven't, let me tell you, I am head over heels, crazy in love with them! Today was a very busy day. We were up at 6am and out the door for medical appointments by 7:20. I was a little nervous about how the boys would fare since they have all been through so much medically, but they all did just fine with only a few tears during blood draws and mandatory (yes, mandatory. . .don't get me started) immunizations. After the medicals, we returned to the hotel to relax for about an hour before meeting Manuela Maleeva (founder of SwissClinical that has provided medical care and prosthetics, orthotics, love and friendship, for Jesse and Eli for many years) for lunch. We had a wonderful time with her and Jesse and Eli were sad to see her go (but relieved to know that she is only a skype call away). We spent another hour or two relaxing and resting in our room and then took a walk to the store to stock up on water, juice and junk food (of course). I have never seen three kids more excited to go to the store! It had been such an exhausting day that we decided to eat in and ordered sandwiches from the hotel restaurant for dinner, after which we enjoyed another round of showers (did I mention how much they love to shower!? If only I could convince all of my others kids of the joy a simple shower brings)! After begging all day to sleep with his brothers, we moved Gabe's bed in with Jesse and Eli. He was beyond thrilled. After everyone was settled in bed we watched Bulgarian X Factor together. While we were watching, Jesse laid his head in my lap and promptly fell asleep while Eli and Gabe snuggled up beside me and did the same. Yes, this mama was in heaven! Tomorrow is a "down day." We have no official adoption business so we will sleep in, eat a late breakfast, go for a walk in Sofia (weather permitting. . .and it hasn't been for the past few days) and have a late lunch with Alayna's birth mother tomorrow afternoon. While everyone is doing relatively well, all three boys still experience moments (and will for a long time) where the reality of all that they are leaving behind and fear of the unknown hits them squarely in the face. They are all dealing with their grief fairly well at the moment, but we still covet your prayers. Also, if you could pray for the boy's health. Jesse seems to have a lower respiratory infection and is running a low grade fever. An outbreak of the flu started making its way through Stara Zagora a few weeks ago and it is bad enough that they have shut down the schools. There is a good chance that Jesse and Eli were exposed. Please pray that is not what this is. I cannot imagine how miserable it would be for him to travel halfway around the world with the flu!

*** Richard Here: Back at home things are plugging along nicely. Benjamin and Thomas were back in school today so I put in a full day of work from home catching up on a number of overdue tasks for the office. The kids did art projects today and continued working on their typing, math and reading. We enjoyed a couple rounds of Uno before bed and now everyone is settling into their beds for the night.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Valerie Here: Day Three - Gotcha Day!

What a day it has been! Full of ups, downs and in between. I woke up in Ruse to a sweet boy who was physically ill from anxiety. Gabe did not want to leave his foster mom and grandmother and I understand why. They are both wonderful women who have given themselves completely to his care over the past 2.5 years. They have loved him so deeply and so well. If only all children could know such love. It was a very tearful goodbye and the grief of this separation will be felt for quite a while. I was certainly not Gabe's savior today, but a strange lady who took him away from a wonderful life with wonderful people. It will likely take awhile for him to see me as mama (and not the catalyst of his grief), but we will get there, one day at a time. Gabe cried for about an hour after we left, The fell asleep. When he woke we listened to his favorite Bulgarian children's songs on YouTube and bonded over a shopska salad (which I ordered for myself and he ate most of)! My mom went to Stara Zagora this morning and sprung Jesse and Eli from the orphanage. They were so excited to be going home that my mom said you could hear their voices ringing through the halls of the orphanage. My mom returned to Sofia before we did so when we got back to the hotel they were waiting for us. We knocked on the door and were almost bowled over by Eli who gave me a huge hug and told me over and over that he loved me! After he greeted me he gave Gabe a hug and kiss then took his hand to lead him into the room. Jesse was already glued to the tv watching cartoons when we came in, but when he saw me his face lit up like a Christmas tree and he ran over to give me a hug and kiss (before promptly returning to his show). Gabe LOVED being with Eli and wanted to be everywhere he was. Eli is such a sweetheart that he obliged. We ordered pizza for dinner and not a crumb was left when we were finished. After dinner I told the boys it was time for showers. You would think they had won the lottery smile emoticon Jesse and Eli were thrilled to use their new body wash, shampoo and deodorant (I had to demonstrate what that was for) and put on new pajamas, socks and underwear. They were in heaven. It took Gabe about two hours and some melatonin to settle down enough to go to sleep, but he is finally sleeping deeply and peacefully. Once Gabe was asleep, Jesse and Eli wanted to show me all of their things. In addition to clothes, toys, notebooks and other keepsakes, they had used their money to buy books for Richard and I, as well as my mom and step dad and lots of shoes for their brothers and sisters. Jesse and Eli were still so wound up I was starting to think they might be up all night. Every few minutes, "Mamo! Can I have some water?" "Mamo! Do you have any lotion?" "Mamo! What will we do tomorrow?" "Mamo! Look! It's snowing!" But they have finally settled in for the night as well. Friends, I am so in love with these sweet boys and feel so blessed that they have been entrusted to Richard and me! There is so much more that I want to share, but we have to be up early for medical appointments and I am running on empty. I wasn't able to take many pictures today because the boys absconded with my technology the minute I walked in the door but I will try to take more tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers! They were felt!

***Richard here. Back at home we're doing well. It snowed last night so there was no school today for Benjamin and Thomas but the rest of the kids certainly had their home-school work to do. The day was full of math, spelling and reading. We got to Skype with Valerie a few times (mostly with Eli) and I am increasing my skill of using Google translate.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Valerie Here: Day One: Catching Up on Sleep

Hello friends! My mom and I made it safely to Bulgaria this afternoon. All flights were on time and uneventful and all of our luggage made it intact and I consider that a successful trip! We settled into our hotel and then skyped with Jesse and Eli who were with Manuela Maleeva for prosthetic and orthotic fittings. They are enjoying their final days with friends and are excited to start this new chapter of their lives on Monday. Tomorrow morning I will travel to Ruse while my mom stays in Sofia to prepare for her trip to Stara Zagora on Monday. I will be spending the night with Gabe and his wonderful foster mom, Viara as she shows me the ropes and turns them over to me. It is such a privilege for me to be able to spend this special time with Gabe and Viara. On Monday morning, Gabe and I will say our goodbyes and head back to Sofia while my mom heads to Stara Zagora to retrieve Jesse and Eli (who will head back to Sofia on Monday afternoon). By Monday evening, I will have all three of my boys in my arms! I am not sure how reliable my internet connection will be while I am in Ruse, but we will be sure to take lots of pictures and give a full report on Monday evening once we have all the boys and are settled in!

Richard Here: What Makes You Mine?

One common question we hear as adoptive parents is "how did you know that was the child for you?" or "why did you pick that child over another?" - while on the surface these questions are innocent enough, it does bring up the fact that the answer probably isn't as simple as the individual asking it thinks it is (especially when the person asking it hasn't adopted before).

We have now adopted 10 children, and the story behind each adoption is as different as each child. In a few cases there were "lightbulb moments" that convinced us that a specific child was meant to be part of our family however in other cases, the "selection" of a child was based on criteria that we were considering including age, gender, special needs, etc. Regardless of how the child was selected once the process is complete that child is as much a part of our family as every other child. Attachment and personality may create challenges, but the commitment to that child is as strong as it is for any of our children.

The really touchy-feely (and completely untrue) answer to all of this is that we both just instantly knew that every one of our adopted children belonged to us and was a necessary part of our family. The realistic answer is that this is not the case. Do spouses always agree on adoption? Heck no - in fact there's a common term called "reluctant husband syndrome" which is a common topic among spouses in Facebook groups and beyond. Which normally presents itself as "if only my husband would agree". Why is it that something as wonderful as adoption can turn into such a challenging and conflicting topic? If it's meant to be shouldn't both spouses be on the same level? Reality is that it's probably better that it isn't so simple... (and that's OK.)

Adoption is hard. Adoption and its associated baggage can really suck at times. Before anyone calls me mean names for saying that, please understand my perspective. Adoption starts with loss. For a child to be adopted, they have to have gotten the short end of the stick, either at birth or shortly thereafter. Can adoption turn out to be a great thing? Sure it can, but in most cases that's not without encountering and navigating through trauma, loss and anxiety related to the period between birth and (hopefully) settlement into the natural patterns of a family situation.

For our current adoption, the choice to adopt Jesse and Eli was both complicated and simple. We were not planning on adopting again, and especially not older boys. However, Jesse and Eli were adopted by us because they had been neglected by the system that was supposed to have helped them be adopted. Had they been made available for adoption at a younger age they probably would have been adopted seperately and split up. The way things worked out, they did not even become available for adoption until they were both twelve - and as older boys of Roma heritage, they had virtually no chance of being adopted in Bulgaria and only slightly more outside of Bulgaria. Furthermore, the chance of them being split up was extremely high - something which would be very traumatic for a pair of boys that has been together for as long as we can tell. We had known about them for years, ever since we had met them during our previous adoption trips. So relative to them we were in a unique position, we could afford to adopt them both, we could keep them together, and we could reunite them with Lily and Alexis, who grew up with Jesse and Eli as "orphanage siblings" before they were adopted by us several years ago.

Obviously we are not adopting two boys, but three. Gabe is not from the same city as Jesse and Eli, he is not the same age, and his special needs are not the same. So why did we adopt him? Because I felt it was the right thing to do. We knew we wanted to adopt three boys so after we had lined things up to adopt Jesse and Eli I started working with our agency to find another younger boy that we felt would fit in well in our family and that search ended when I saw some videos of Gabe. Gabe also comes from a slightly different background because he has been with a foster mother for a couple of years, which has allowed him to make progress and integrate into a loving home environment where he has a foster mother, foster grandmother as well as extended family. Gabe will retain those relationships throughout his life if he choses and much like our other children whose mothers are known to them (Alayna and Evan), he will likely live his life with two mothers - his Bulgarian mother, Viara and his forever mother, Valerie.

But let me tie this back to the question of who adopts when and why it can be such a conflicting topic between spouses. While I can't speak for all men, I think I can share my feelings and she some insight. Becoming an adoptive father is a VERY conscious decision - and going through the whole process isn't something that can really be done "lightly" and I think this is what historically has caused the most conflict on the topic between Valerie and I. We don't argue about adoption because neither of us cares - we argue because we both care very much. She cares about the future of our family, and so do I - both from completely different perspectives. These perspectives often conflict with each other and can be driven by fear, doubt or uncertainty. When Valerie and I have disagreed on who to adopt, or whether to adopt, it hasn't been because either of us didn't care what the other said, it was because we had our own concerns that we had to work through. Sometimes those concerns changed whether or not we adopted, or even who we chose to adopt - but in the end it all works out and the children we welcome into our family are the ones we are meant to have.

And as an aside, to anyone suffering through reluctant husband syndrome, hopefully it's because your husband cares - not because he doesn't.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Richard Here: Day Ten - So Long, For Now...

First I wanted to give myself a pat on the back. Apparently I am now worthy of having my blog posts trolled and I received the honor of having someone leave me a nasty comment including a variety of four-letter words and other slang for human anatomy that we won't discuss. Among other things I was accused of being a child collector... so I'll address that and then move on.

If adopting children lacking a family to love them, care for them and provide for their temporal and emotional needs makes me a child collector, then I guess that's what I am.

If setting my own personal pursuits aside and focusing on the needs of my children makes me a child collector then I guess that's what I am.

If having a strong moral foundation upon which I live my life and attempt to teach my children to do the same makes me a child collector, then I guess that's what I am.

If overcoming my own fears, concerns and hesitations to find a place in my heart for children that are not born of my own flesh makes me a child collector, then I guess that's what I am.

So, from your neighborhood child collector here is today's melancholy update:

Today was the day I have had mixed feeling about since I arrived in Stara Zagora. After packing up last night and getting up early since my presence was "required" by Eli at 0900 sharp we arrived to find Eli and Jesse waiting for us at the gate. First, we hung out on a bench and talked about their latest question assignment (I asked them to write a few questions each as a way to help them open up.) I recorded the questions and then we went upstairs to their bedroom.  I had put together a large bag of miscellaneous items that I did not want to carry home (drinks, snacks, candy, spare change, etc.) so I went through the items and gave them to the boys for them to enjoy.

We then went outside and while the boys played with Nerf guns I met once again with the director and the psychologist who have both been very supportive and helpful throughout the week. We discussed plans for the boys but mainly lamented about the slow adoption process due to government bureaucracy on both sides of the ocean. After our discussion we went back outside and I sat with the boys on the front steps as they played with some of the other kids.

I really didn't want to leave because I knew it would be hard on the boys. Ultimately the time came and we said our goodbyes. It's difficult to think about them being on their own for now, but I know that Jesse and Eli will be able to rely upon their common bond to help them get through the waiting period.

As a quick aside - we have been able to identify four other boys who were at the SZ baby house with our daughters and our boys as well as other children who have been adopted in the states. We hope to put together a longer list and see what can be done for those "left behind" during the past few years.

We then drove to Sofia and not wanting to sit down and write yet, I hit the streets and went wandering around Sofia to clear my head and do some last-minute shopping for my lovely wife and the kids back home. Shopping is done and aside from dinner and re-packing, I'm ready to go for a 0400 cab pickup and a 0630 flight from Sofia to Munich. Following my first flight I have a long (5 hour) layover in Munich before flying to Charlotte and then ultimately to Dayton - arriving home around 2130 in Dayton.

Pictures for today:
A Goodbye Note Written to Jesse and Eli From Another Child

Goodbye Picture

Goodbye Stara Zagora

Hello Sofia - Good to See You Again

Ignore the minibar selections - this is all the chocolate I'm bringing home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Richard Here: Day Nine - Tears and Fears

During these adoption visits you tend to hit a plateau. The initial andreinalin for both the child and the parent starts to run out and you really start to get to see the true personality of the child (and the parent) come through to the surface during your interactions. My days have become more and more hectic as the boys have been both enthusiastic (and demanding) when it comes to what time I show up and how long I spend with them. Don't get me wrong - I love spending time with them, but as I've said before, it is emotionally and physically exhausting. From the time I get up in the morning I'm going full-tilt until I hit the sack each evening. Any spare time during the day is spent uploading photos, publishing videos, drafting blog posts, emailing audio recordings, answering emails and skyping with my family. Occasionally I run to Billa to buy more chocolate or exchange more money. Today was probably the longest day given that I was up early and just walked in the door at 9:30pm and am just now starting my blog for the day.

Today was a great day. As I promised yesterday I picked up ice cream for the entire orphanage on the way to the visit this morning (8 boxes of ice-cream sandwiches) but it was $20 USD well spent to see smiles on the kids' faces after their lunch break - this is why some of them are walking up to me and saying "blogodaria" (thanks) in my videos today. Along with my ice cream I brought balloon rockets (great buy, valerie!) and I played with Jesse, Eli and the rest of the kids while we waited for the director to arrive and give us directions to the local photo lab. Once we got directions we headed down to the photo lab and took visa photos for the boys. I also took this opportunity to get a photo with the boys and we came away with the ugliest glamour-shot background in Bulgaria, complete with bright colors and pretty font. It's that bad. I swear that there's something about orphanage kids that requires them to be in the least flattering photos possible... but who knows.

We had some time to blow so I took the opportunity to resolve another problem: Jesse and Eli's shoe situation.  Both of them wore girls shoes - in Jesse's case it was an oversized pair of women's slip-ons, something a nurse would wear. Upon first mention that I liked his girly shoes he proudly excaimed "They were only 6 leva!" I bet they were kid, I bet they were. Eli had a similarly girly pair of sandals that featured neon green and pink trip and were easily one or two sizes too small. We wandered over to an outdoor bazaar and walked around until we found a shop that had shoes that would satisfy their needs (Jesse needs a shoe that will accomodate his prosthetic foot that is MUCH larger than his "real" foot, and Eli's feet are two different sizes due to his CP). Once we found a good selection, both boys found a new and satisfactorily male-styled pair of shoes. I played the full-on dad role by making them walk up and down the aisle, checking out how they walked in them.

Next we stopped by a fruit stand and I bought each of us a nectarine. We then walked to a nearby park and enjoyed our delicious treats. While seated on our benches a little girl came up to say hello to us, and then things just got crazy for me. She accused Eli of being a boy that beat her up recently. Given that neither Yavor nor I believed that Eli is even capable of such an action we asked her what Eli's name was... she didn't know. Then we asked a few more questions, after which she decided that it wasn't Eli that beat her up after all, but a boy that looked like him. I suggested that the next time she was being beaten she should get the name of her attacker, or at least a better look at him so she could more readily identify her attacker correctly. This incident didn't seem to deter her affection for the boys, nor theirs for her, so they all played together while Yavor went to get the photos we had ordered. I took some video and laughed to myself as that was all I could do in light of the experience.

When we got back to the orphanage we hung out for a while talking to the caretakers and other kids while Elder Kingsley entertained the kids with his drawing and magic tricks (see videos). After lunch the kids came back out and enjoyed their ice cream. At this point Yavor and I went with the missionaries to a chinese restaraunt and enjoyed a nice chinese lunch complete with enough leftovers to feed the missionaries for a week.

Needing to be back at the orphanage at 3:00pm we husteled back to the hotel where I quickly uploaded photos, videos, etc. and then skyped with Valerie to line up our plans for the afternoon. 

Promptly at 3:00pm we rolled up to the orphanage loaded for combat... with nerf guns. And who doesn't love nerf guns? No one, that's who. So I set the boys up to shoot plastic bottles with nerf guns while the missionaries and I met with the director to discuss logistics for the boys attending english classes at the nearby church building. That discussion went well and I think that connection along with the opportunity to learn some english will really help the boys. After our discussion we headed downtown to our favorite dinner spot to eat and skype with everyone at home. Unfortunately the elders of the internet were in a pissy mood and the internet was not working there, so we ate quick and headed over to the church and sat outside so the boys could Skype to everyone back home. During our Skyping, the sister missionaries who are going to be teaching the classes showed up and I was very happy to be able to introduce the boys to them before I left town so they could have that connection in place before I leave.

Finally, we headed home to the orphanage - on the way home Eli got very emotional and was talking about having a hard time with crying and knowing he was going to miss me and his family until we come back for them. He cried quite a bit, but not a meltdown, just a good, normal batch of tears from a young man who is having to deal with emotions that have previously gone untapped. I encouraged him to go ahead and cry if he needed to and when we got back to the orphanage I took the time to sit down with him and talk through his fears. Jesse was also supportive and after a few minutes Eli decided he was ready to go see the other kids. All in all, I call that a success.  I know tomorrow will be hard for him, but not as hard as tht random Tuesday four months from now when he is questioning whether he has been forgotten - but I think I have enough of a support system in place locally that we'll be able to maintain a close connection with the boys throughout the next few months.

Only time will tell, but I am optimistic. When a child has waited 13 years for a family, how do you tell him to wait another 5 months?

Pictures for today:
Jesse's Prosthesis - It is a work of art. Pure magic. He runs at full speed, stops on a dime, and you would never know he wears it unless you look at the ankle. Unbelievable - truly magnificent work.

Eli and the girl from the park. Fast friends despite their interesting encounter.

Elder Kingsley showing the boys how to draw

Eli and one of his close friends

Our daily photo

Here in 'merica we teach em to shoot quick

This is just wrong on so many levels. But it will be a great memory.

Hanging out with the kids