Thursday, August 14, 2014

Richard Here: Day Four - At Least It's Not 103 Today...

Yesterday was hot. So hot.

But back to the adoption... Yesterday went well and the visits continue to be what I consider to be positive for all involved. In case I hadn't made it clear before, our visits in the morning are with Gabe and his FGM and in the evening we visit with Gabe and his FM (his FM works during the days at the orphanage as a physical therapist.)

Yesterday afternoon we met him at his apartment building and went for a LONG walk around the park, along the Danube River and back up the middle of the park to one of Gabe's favorite spots, the swings. He could swing all day I think.  Being able to interact with his FM has been a very positive experience and is a real change for us compared to our past adoptions where we have had little background information, if any that was really reliable. We talked about Gabe and how he has been doing this week. He is happy to see me when we arrive and after crying the first few times when I leave we've settled into a routine where I say my goodbyes and then we leave him at the steps to his apartment with his FM or FGM. He has not napped at all this week because he has been so excited but instead he sits in his chair and "waits" for our afternoon visit. During our walk his FM said that he has been asking about his future family members so we sat down on a bench in the shade and I went through the photobook that we gave him with Bulgarian descriptions of our family and our life in Ohio. He is able to recognize Valerie and I by name and he is able to remember some of the kids (can't fault him for not knowing all of them already!) but most notably he is able to easily identify Joshua. I hope his familiarity with Joshua is a good example of how to not let physical impairments dictate who you are and what you can do.

After our meeting yesterday we went back to the hotel and let the sun go down before we went out for dinner as it was just so hot out. I enjoyed a pizza and some potatoes with feta and then we headed back to the hotel to cool off. Instead of going for an evening walk as I normally do, I stayed up late and spent about an hour Skyping with Valerie and each of the kids took a turn talking to me. Most of them were non-chalant about my presence (they're used to me being on trips for work) but Alayna showed particular interest in my activities including where I'm staying, what I'm eating, and how Gabe is doing. Lily has shown interest, but only in the two boys in Stara Zagora, so Gabe is unfortunately not on her list of priorities for this trip.

I slept in again this morning but not as late as yesterday - the heat has really sapped the energy out of me along with all of the walking. I started off the day by calling the missionaries in Stara Zagora where I spoke to Elder Brown - I introduced myself and told him I'd be there this weekend and would like to go to church on Sunday if possible. We're going to work out the details, but I'll be calling them Friday when I get to SZ and we'll meet up on Saturday.

At our usual meeting time we met downtown at a zero-depth water feature that kids often play in. Gabe's FGM had promised him a water (squirt) gun so we went on the hunt for one in the city center shops. After finding one we filled it up in the fountain and Gabe sat in his stroller firing off shots of water in the air and at us. His fine motor skills are better than to be expected and while they can use more work, I've been surprised overall with some of his physical abilities. 

After sitting at the fountain we went over to the therapy center to see if they could fit him in since his normal slot had been moved to 2pm - unfortunately they could not because the schedule was too full but we spent several minutes talking to the girls there, Ellie and Rougia (pronounced Rouge-ah - it doesn't translate easily). Apparently word has spread quickly between our friend Kelly and the agencies supporting the therapy center and the girls have already started reading our blog - Rougia took my hand firmly and said "I am an occupational therapist, not a physical therapist" as I had incorrectly identified her as a physical therapist in my previous post... Either way, they are both very nice girls and we thank them for the work they have done with Gabe any many other children who benefit from their work. I told them to friend Valerie on Facebook (so you'd better do it!)

We said our goodbyes and walked back towards Gabe's home but first stopped at the swings for a bit so Gabe could relax on the swing. (I will need to build a new swing at our house, I think.) After 15 minutes on the swing we walked them home and said goodbye after making our plans for this evening.  We will meet at five for a short while and then at seven Gabe's FM is going to accompany me to the local building for our church where they teach English lessons twice a week. My hope is that if she is able to learn more English, she will be able to help Gabe do the same. Her English is at the basic conversational level but her vocabulary is focused on orphanage and child-centered areas. So let's just say that her English is far better than my Bulgarian.

A little more about Gabe...

Gabe's personality overall is pretty mellow, he is not overly excitable and balanced in his responses. He gets upset when he doesn't get his way but does the normal crying/complaining that you would expect of a child roughly his age. He really is very verbal if you can get him to use his words, so I think Valerie's studying of Bulgarian will come in handy when it comes to helping him transition. Gabe will be a new experience for us because we've never had the benefit/difference of having a foster family in the picture, and in his case he has obviously formed bonds with his FM and FGM but also has appropriate relationships with other women (mainly friends of his FM and FGM) who see see on our daily walks - which is also an indicator of how much time Gabe really does spend outside the apartment. He does have some institutional behaviors (mild rocking) but he also has some healthier ones (thumb-sucking) which can be seen to help him calm down. When he gets excited he tends to clap his hands and make noises of excitement but when he gets upset (like he did today during the visa photos when he thought we were in a hospital) he cries and expresses his concern verbally (saying he doesn't want to see a doctor) but can be soothed by holding him and talking to him - after a 5 minute breakdown he calmed down and we got a good visa photo for him. He communicates proactively and asks questions in full sentences and expresses his desires. I look forward to seeing continued progress after we bring him home and while his physical challenges may take some time to resolve, I think his emotional and psychological transition will be bearable for him and us. Overall, Gabe's situation is far better than I had expected based on the early photos and videos of him which I used to commit to him. I think Gabe will be an excellent part of the Rieben family and we look forward to having him come home to us.

I'm sorry I don't have many new photos or videos, but since we're spending most of our time walking I don't have as many opportunities. I will try to do better! :-D

Here are some pictures for today:
Always Happy on the Swing

...If you could just hold still I'd like to shoot you...

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