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.