Saturday, December 10, 2016

Trip Journal: Day Seven

We Do Hard Things… And We Love Them.

And among the hardest of hard things is saying goodbye. The final day of the visits is tough, especially when you’ve made great progress and everyone has gotten into a routine.

However, we shook things up a bit. Since we are so close to Christmas, Valerie and I thought that it would be a great idea to give the girls a mini-Christmas and include some of our family traditions with them. Maren and I did some shopping over the course of the week and picked up a few items that we felt the girls would appreciate and enjoy. Even before coming I knew I should bring Donika a soccer ball – she had talked about me playing soccer with the boys on my trip to visit Jesse and Eli, so I assumed that if something had imprinted that much, then it was important. I’ll also point out that when I talked to the girls on Thursday about what they wanted to do on Friday, Donika said “go to the school and play soccer”, so our guess was spot-on. For Elizabeth I picked up a nice necklace and a small set of dolls, which had come up as being what she wanted for Christmas when she spoke to Valerie earlier in the week.  I also bought each one a new bag, a messenger bag for Elizabeth since that is more her style and a sports-style backpack for Donika.  Last but not least at all, we picked up a pair of comfy slipper socks for each of them and enough things to cram them full of candy, lip balm, nail polish and an orange. The socks are a big tradition in our home and the girls loved it. When I first arrived I had the girls go into Donika’s room and wait while I set up the items around the small tree, leaving a pile on each side for each girl. I went in and explained to them about how we read the story of Christ’s birth and spend the evening with family on Christmas eve, and then on Christmas day we open presents, starting with the stockings.

The girls came out and their faces lit up as would be expected – I suggested they start with the stockings and they took their time pulling each item out, asking what some of it was and showing the staff their treasures. Donika’s eyes grew wide when she saw the soccer ball and she stopped everything to inflate it and show it off. Elizabeth was most impressed by the necklace given to her by her mother and she showed it to the staff. The necklace also came with earrings which Elizabeth can’t currently wear because while she once had pierced ears, they have healed over, so I gave permission for them to take her to have her ears pierced again. Donika spent the day carrying around the soccer ball and Elizabeth played with a set of dolls given to her by Valerie whenever we were at the home.

After the Christmas festivities, we had to stick around for a bit to wait for the social worker to provide another observation period and have us sign paperwork – during that time I provided copies of all of the digital photos I had taken during the week to the girls since Donika has a computer in her room. While Elizabeth loves taking pictures with the phone, Donika loves looking at the photos, especially any of her in Sambo/Judo class.

Once we finished up official activities, we headed down to the school where we played soccer for about an hour, with part of Donika’s class joining us. I think she was mainly interested in showing off her soccer skills as she really is very good, though I think some of it was also wanting to show off her father, but I’m not a psychology major. While we played (the game ended in a 2-2 tie) Maren and Elizabeth walked around the block and chased stray dogs.

After soccer, we headed over to the restaurant and enjoyed a nice lunch for the last time in Panagyurishte. I’m still not eating much and still not sleeping well, so I finished off half of a tarator and called it good. The girls have tried a good selection of foods during the week and we’ve determined that tarator and anything covered in corn flakes is a good bet.

Following lunch, we headed back up to the house where Maren and Elizabeth played with the dolls that she had received that morning while Donika and I watched some TV together and basically sat around talking. I had some additional discussions with Donika and Elizabeth this afternoon, not a complete rehash of the previous night’s discussion but a reinforcement of “the big picture” as it relates to life, family and the future. I am not great at these discussions, but I’ve had to get a lot better at it this week. Again, it was a good discussion and while I don’t think the depth of all topics was understood, it got across the basics of the situation, laying the foundation for the path ahead. After a bit more TV, we played two games of Uno with the other kids in the orphanage (including two older boys whose stories make your heart break as they are good kids, punished by their age and the situation they find themselves in.)

After a few games it was time to go – we shuffled outside and I took one last photo with the girls before saying goodbye and leaving them with some fatherly words of wisdom which will hopefully build them up in the weeks to come before we see them again. The girls remained at the glass door, waving and blowing kisses as we left.

It’s hard to say goodbye.

Making our way back to Sofia, we stopped by our apartment, an AirBnB near the cathedral and then caught a taxi to the pest to have dinner with and visit with Toni, who was there for her traditional visa dinner with families preparing to go home the next night. I can’t wait until the six of us will be sitting down with Toni and enjoying that last meal.

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