Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Russia Update - OLG visits

Okay, now for the good stuff!

Day #1, visit #2

When we last saw OLG he was outside, a little unsure, and not so lively - partially to blame on the obvious cold he was fighting. We returned to the orphanage after his dinner and our late lunch - this time indoors in a nice, large playroom. As a gift, we got to where attractive blue booties to cover our shoes - this was standard procedure in the orphanage when inside with the children. I quickly scoured the room for good icebreakers and settled on a big stuffed ladybug and a ball - in addition to the musical toys we brought - getting moderate success. Initially, there was more thumb-sucking and long stares that said "Okay, who are you again and why should I give you my time?" Tracy broke the ice with some tickling that drew smiles with thumb still planted in mouth. By the end of the visit, OLG was playing with toys, crawling around, and using stationary objects to stand (and looking like he could stand on his own). He clearly had good strength and coordination in his hands and legs. We were hooked! After saying goodbye, we went to the orphanage director's office and were asked if we accepted our referral. Hmmm, let's think about this - YES!!! Let the paperwork begin...

Day #2

The visit started with a little bad news. Not shockingly OLG had a cold and this meant he couldn't be exposed to us for more than one visit. However, we were told we could only visit for 15 minutes!! Like a good Russian we accepted this news with stoic resignation - and I think that worked to our advantage. We did get the pleasure of feeding him lunch! Tracy and I were a little out of practice in general, and certainly not in orphanage-level shape. More food ended-up on his face and clothes (and everything within 3 feet) than in his mouth. The good news was that he gets way more food than Alexa did and thus doesn't cry like she did if the spoon stopped moving.

(A little background: Alexa's orphanage was terribly underfunded and food rations took the brunt of it. This is not an exaggeration - when feeding Alexa (at 10 months), the caregivers would hold the top of her head back so her mouth opened as wide as possible- and then they moved the spoon between her mouth and the bowl as quickly as possible. Before seeing this demonstration, we had the chance to try feeding Alexa, and she would cry if you hesitated a second between mouthfuls - this was because hesitation meant your turn was probably over! Oh, and the spoon was a large tablespoon that seemed like a shovel. When we first gave Alexa Cheerios, she would stuff her mouth like she was playing Chubby Bunny and then put as many as she could in both hands (and you could see her mind working to figure out where she could put more!)

Anyway, OLG gets basically twice as much food and much more substance to it. Maybe it was done subconsciously, but the feeding alone took 15 minutes- how could they send us away without any playtime? We ended-up getting another 30 minutes to play with him! Another bonus, the feeding did the trick in perking OLG up. He was 100% more animated and interactive - and even made some baby noises telling us he felt more comfortable. A few minutes into playtime we were informed that OLG actually took his first steps in the morning! We tried to recreate them and he took about 2.5 mini-steps that we're going to count (we have the video proof). Needless to say, the rest of the visit went very well. He was completely mesmerized by me - he probably had not interacted with a man since he entered the orphanage at 18 days old! There were periodic coughs and our visit for the next day was in doubt. This made leaving even more difficult...

Day #3

Things were left that our coordinator (actually her assistant) would call us in the morning to let us know if the visit was a go. We got up early and waited for the phone to ring. When the call came, we were informed things would work like the previous day and then we were asked if we wanted to visit. Yet another softball question...

In addition to having two previous days of interaction, OLG received some medicine the night before and the results were obvious. Today he was a downright riot! We didn't make it in time to do lunch, but I'm sure he was well fed. The biggest change was his noise level. He was playing with a couple cups and loved banging them together. We started saying "boom, boom, boom" when he would do this and he was fascinated. He would watch our faces, studying how we were making our noises. Suddenly he made a sound like a "B"! Obviously liking our reaction, he moved on to a full rapid-fire raspberry sound. Later, we held him up to a mirror, which he couldn't get enough of! He would try to climb the sofa to grab the mirror - all the while making his new sound. The only thing slowing him down was the occasional cough or sneeze and Tracy trying to wipe his nose (he hates it but doesn't hold grudges). We got a ton of wonderful video! We really felt like a family today - even if it was only for 30 minutes! We said our goodbyes with him smiling back and melting our hearts...

I'm going to watch some of his videos and try to forget the date. Thanks for following along and come back for more updates soon on Alexa who has had a busy few days!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Russia Update - Remaining process

Before I continue the encounters with OLG, here's the process going forward:

- Our coordinator needs several documents for our court dossier so a date can actually be set. This paperwork is in various stages but should be sent to Russia by this Friday.

- Hopefully, we completed enough paperwork while in Russia to start the process to remove OLG from the Russian databank. This step takes about three weeks and is the primary factor in setting the court date. If everything is fine with the paperwork, the court date will be scheduled about 4-6 weeks from now. Other than a couple small items, things are completely out of our hands at this point.

- Once a court date has been set, we will be invited to travel again. Typically, you get a couple weeks notice so early June will be when we start jumping when the phone rings:)

- Unfortunately, the court trip will not be the last one - although a short one. In Alexa's case, the judge waived the "mandatory" 10-day wait period - making her ours once court ended. That rarely happens anymore and only if there are real concerns for the child's health. Instead, we will have to wait two weeks after court. So, essentially this trip will entail going to the orphanage one time to get in our last required visit before court (OLG's cold prevented two visits during the first trip), appearing in court, and one day of red tape.

- The current plan is for me (Adam) to return alone for the third trip. As soon as I arrive, OLG will be ours and he will stay with me. The next 7-12 days will be spent getting his passport, visa and other documentation at the US Embassy.

Doing the math, that puts us around the end of July for OLG's arrival home. Just writing that makes it seem so long...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Russia Update

Well, we're back from our first trip to Russia! Before I go any farther, I'll warn you that we are not allowed to post any pictures or specific details of "Our Little Guy" (or OLG, until he comes home). This is because he isn't truly ours until after the Court rules in our favor (and the 10-day Wait Period). Russia does not like us Americans to be presumptuous! However, because we have started the application process to formally adopt (essentially this means we accepted the referral and are asking Russia to allow us to adopt), we have a new name for OLG. I will go through where we are in the process and what's ahead at the end.

Other than the reason we were going in the first place, there were some other intriguing elements to this trip. First, this was the first time Alexa spent a night (actually five) away from the both of us. Second, Alexa's Dance Recital was the Saturday after our trip, which meant leaving early on Friday -something we were not positive could happen. And third, the dreaded Swine Flu (don't get Tracy started on it!) was a real concern in terms of Russia keeping us out.

The third concern only reared its head slightly as we were made to wait on the plane while health officials "lasered" our ears to make sure no one was running a temperature (above 100 we believe). As for concern #2, we made it back in time for the Recital (and Alexa did great!), but the 20 hours of travel that day are still being felt. And concern #3 started out pretty rough, so we allowed Alexa to call us each day (not cheap and once the phone rang at 4am!). In the end Alexa was a trooper, but when we got home she ran to us and broke into tears - it was so sweet!

So, I guess you all are ready to hear about OLG?! The way this trip worked was that we were invited to an appointment with the Department of Education to review a referral (child). We received some basic information before we traveled like birthdate, height/weight/head circumference at birth and more recently (no pictures or video). We had a small scare because the more recent measurements were very low - but we weren't told when they were taken. Eventually, we got better data that put OLG ahead of Alexa at the same age. We forwarded this information to a group of doctors that specialize in international adoption. Simply based upon our limited data, there were no red flags for developmental issues like FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). We were told to get some pictures of OLG and do some basic tests during our visit, so the doctors could review them and give us a recommendation (we have to make a decision to go forward before the end of our visit, so this information was sent while in Russia).

Our first task was to go to the DOE office and meet with an official who gives an overview of the child's medical history and asks some questions about us - the questions are a small preview of what the judge will ask during the court appearance (our work situation, how long we've been married, other children, where we live, etc.). At the end of the questions, we got our first look at OLG - a picture not long after he was born! We gladly agreed to meet "our referral" and our next stop was the orphanage!!

Much like this post, everything took longer than the anxious parents-to-be wanted. We got to the orphanage after the typical Russian traffic-strewn, "lanes are just a suggestion" ride - our driver could easily make it as a taxi driver in NYC. Then we had to meet with a couple representatives of the orphanage and sign some forms. Finally, OLG was brought up to see us! He was very attentive and healthy looking (despite the obvious cold he was battling). We were allowed to take him outside to the playground- the orphanages love to layer the children, so he was dressed for a blizzard! OLG seemed a little unsure but never cried, although close a couple times. We brought some musical toys to play with and he inspected them and understood how to make them work. After about a half hour, Tracy got his first smile by tickling him and his face just lit up. (BTW, we were being observed by social worker during this first encouter which was a little awkward.) After exploring the whole playground and trying a little bit on the swing, we were told we could come back after dinner and visit some more. We were asked if we wanted to come back - ummm yeah! Overall, the first encounter went well and we were hooked - not that there was any doubt of that happening. The only downside was both Tracy and I sitting on a yellow bench that apparently got painted too recently - we each had a yellow circle on our butts...

Yikes, it's gotten later than I expected! I'll continue tomorrow with the rest of the visit and the process going forward...