Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Short Owen Update

As I left the hotel room to blog in the lobby, Owen was singing himself to sleep "bah, bah, bah, bah." Maybe we actually do see sheep and then knowledge of the world replaces them with our hopes and fears...

(shakes off that philosophical mindset and gets down to what you all our waiting for!)

Today I went to the US Embassy alone and - although gone an hour - only spent about 10 minutes accomplishing what was necessary. Tomorrow we go back as a family for our interview and to receive Owen's passport with visa documents. Since Alexa has been begging to eat "out", we went to the lobby restaurant and gave Owen his first dining experience. Owen sat in a high chair calmly while we waited for our food and then freaked out inexplicably just after starting to eat. My theory is that the mashed potatoes he was shoving into his mouth with his baby utensils (i.e. hands) went up his nose and caused a most uncomfortable sensation. Whatever happened, we all got to see his first inconsolable meltdown! Tracy eventually had to take him out of the restaurant and let him finish for about five minutes. Once he came back, a spoon seemed to work better (Owen actually is pretty good with one - although he periodically tried to use the wrong end) and he proceeded to eat an entire bowl of the stuff! Seriously, I may have had trouble finishing that much. Of course, his diapers for the rest of the day reflected the prodigious consumption...

The rest of the day went very well for "Owen moments" (although we do give him eye medicine a couple times a day and it is a pretty horrible experience for all involved - of course he is scared and uncomfortable as we simultaneaously hold down his arms and head, pry his eyes open, and put medicine the consistency of Neosporin in there). The first moment came when Alexa and I were having a pillow-fight on the bed (her idea). Owen was watching us with great interest, so I lightly brushed his face with a pillow and he started cracking-up! He wanted me to hit him so he would be knocked off-balance like his sister. I obliged and he loved it every time I "hit" him! The second moment once again involved inspiration from Alexa. She kept asking me to flip her over on the bed, and after a few times Owen had to join the fun. He was sitting on Tracy's lap in a chair watching and suddenly started leaning back. Tracy adroitly turned this into a back flip where he mostly landed on his feet with an occasional assist from his head. Owen could not get a enough of this! He must have done it 15-20 times and Tracy had to put a stop on it. The last moment I will share is his latest bath exploits. The newest addition to his antics is purposely slipping while standing and then rolling over in the water. The back of the bathtub is slanted, so I use it like a slide (don't worry, his feet are almost to the bottom of the tub when I release him!). This would cause him to rollover when his butt hit the bottom (is that redundant?). He decided he didn't need the slide part. He would just drop from a standing position and sell the landing with a roll that caused his head to go under water momentarily. It was hilarious - both the act and his laughter afterwards plus how quickly he would do it again! I took some video that I'll post eventually...

I'll leave with that. We have one more day in Moscow and then leave Saturday for home. I'm not looking forward to the flying, but getting home will be so nice...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Owen Day #3 - Getting out

Today was a free day with no adoption-related tasks. The new Kosofsky Family decided to grace the local park with its presence. Unfortunately, Owen didn't have a great morning - acting very ornery and tired. He had a major meltdown when I forced him to allow me to put on his shoes and even gave Tracy some 'tude. I should have known things wouldn't go well when the money exchange office was closed due to technical problems. The plan was to get money, go to the park, and then stop at the grocery store to pick-up a few things. Now, I would have to walk to the bank and then walk in an entirely different direction to the store. Still, we pushed on and walked to the park. It was a beautiful day and Owen seemed to enjoy going on the slide. However, he really never warmed up and didn't appreciate it when I wouldn't allow him to eat dirt - I know I'm a terrible helicopter Dad! Tracy had had enough as Alexa was also in a bad mood, so we went back to the hotel all a little grumpy. Alexa is generally good with Owen but is clearly a little jealous of the attention. This morning Owen was working his way off the bed and Tracy asked Alexa to help him - her help was letting him fall to the ground face first! Lots of yelling and crying followed (by kids and adults respectively). Once things settled down, I headed out on my walkabout as naps seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

The hotel manager gave me directions to the bank saying I would see it on the way to the Metro station - plus I asked about a grocery store and was told I would see it as well. So I setoff with grand delusions of a short walk and two successful transactions. I found the sign showing the different exchange rates and turned to look for the clearly marked door to the teller. If you've never been to Moscow you can't appreciate how much some places of business work NOT to advertise themselves! The door under the sign was dark gray and blended in with the surrounding wall. It was the only door within 30 feet, so I gave it a try and it actually opened. In my mind, finding the door should have been the last hurdle before my success transfer of dollars to rubles. Instead, I was looking at an entry area with stairs going up and down. There were 2-3 unintelligible signs with no indication where to go. A man was standing in the stairwell and I bravely looked at him inquisitively saying "bank". Seeming to understand me perfectly, he pointed down the stairs. Again my optimism returned and I headed down...where I found 3 more doors that didn't open from the outside. Ugh! While looking back-and-forth between the doors, a voice came out of a speaker in Russian of course. The person was obviously telling me to do something, so I pushed some steel buttons on the door producing the voice and tried the door. No luck. Eventually, I heard that typical buzzing noise that alerts you that a previously unopenable door well now comply. Another man came out of the door and I went see a teller type window that clearly did not perform my intended transaction. The man behind the glass started talking to me in Russian and I gave him the international signal for "I'm a stupid American walking around your country with basically no knowledge of your mother tongue and expecting everything to workout because the world is a friendly place that can't wait for yet another American to visit and expect everything to work like it does at home" (i.e. I shrugged my shoulders, tried to smile, and pointed to my mouth). And thus came my worst moment ever in my five trips to Russia - he gave me a disgusted look and performed the "shooing" gesture. Fortunately, I didn't act like some Americans I've heard about traveling abroad. I quietly made my exit knowing that he was totally entitled to the opinion he had of me and hoped I would find a bank. Another block down the street, I found such a bank with nice glass doors and the kind of tellers I was accustomed to! The teller was friendly and gave me the correct currency. My optimism was restored and I headed for the grocery store. I won't give you all the details but essentially the store near the bank was a little convenience store and didn't have what I needed. I walked another 20 minutes to the store our coordinator recommended and had an excellent experience with friendly employees and successful purchases. With that, the great part of the day started...

When I got back to the room, Alexa and Owen were out cold after an abbreviated lunch. Tracy let Owen cry himself to sleep because he obviously needed the sleep, but apparently it was some momentous crying and screaming! Tracy fell asleep a few minutes after I returned so I went down to the lobby to check email. When I went back up, I was exhausted and took an hour nap until Owen woke-up (Alexa is a little under the weather and stayed asleep for awhile plus fell asleep before everyone for the night). I fed Owen and he ate his lunch and most of dinner too. The signs boded well for the rest of the day and Owen delivered!

Owen has really warmed-up to Tracy, which is natural for a boy who may never have seen a man before I walked into his orphanage. I can honestly say I was a little jealous at the way Owen walks up to Tracy asking to be held and will smile at almost anything she does. That isn't to say he never lets me hold him or never laughs when I do something amazing. However, if Owen is upset or needs some affection, then Tracy is the go-to parent. Today I felt a much better connection with Owen! He seemed to be looking for me more and laughing more often and easier at my antics. I've found that not trying too hard works better and just allowing him to make a lot of eye contact while approaching me when he wants.

The highlight of the day was bath time! In the last 24 hours, Owen's balance and tolerance in the bathtub improved exponentially. After a few minutes, he could walk around and successfully sit down and stand-up (something he does almost non-stop). He also loved Tracy pouring water on him and didn't mind the washing at all. The first time he slipped and went under water (well the water was only three inches deep so it was mainly up to his ears) he thought it was hilarious. By the end of the bath he was purposely falling and rolling in the water - this from a baby that was screaming bloody murder two days ago when the water touched his toe! We have tons of pictures and video to be posted later...

Once again, I've gotten carried away blogging. Can you tell I just recently got custody of my baby boy?! Oh, if some of you are wondering why no pictures have been posted here, I've been putting them on Facebook since loading them is slow here and I'm terrible at formatting the blog with photos. I'll take that on when I return home (or this can be your incentive to join Facebook!). Tomorrow I go to the US Embassy for a brief visit and then we'll probably do some more exploring.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Owen Day #2 - Some Surprises & Improvements

When I left off yesterday, I had high hopes of Owen going to sleep in the near future. The near future turned out to be 12:08am! So, he was awake from around 9am with only a 45 minute nap. The good news was that I was able to move him to the crib once he fell asleep without any trouble, and he never awoke during the night. Unfortunately, we all had to get up by 7:00 to meet the driver by 8:00 and go to Owen's medical exam. As we were getting up, Owen blinked awake and greeted us with a smile. He rolled around for a few minutes and was ready for breakfast!

The medical exam went as well as possible.
The doctor spoke very good English and was really good with both kids. He said it was obvious Owen was an orphanage favorite - a fact mentioned by our coordinator, something that seems to happen frequently at each orphanage and was most likely true for Alexa. Owen had no trouble with the fact the doctor was a man (Alexa still has issues with tall males other than Daddy!) and never showed any discomfort during the exam. Oh, the vitals are in: 20 lbs, 29 inches at just under 14 months, which is about 5th percentile on each (for comparison, Alexa was not even on the charts and it is rare for a Russian baby from an orphanage to be on the US charts). He wished he had something to complain about but he couldn't find anything!

Tracy asked me what I found most surprising about Owen now that we have seen him for 24 hours. I immediately said how vocal he is and she quickly agreed. I'm sure that is part of him becoming more comfortable with us, but he just seemed like a baby that loved to observe and then try to imitate. Well, you know what they say about assumptions! Owen really seems to be trying to talk to Alexa. I'd say he makes at least 5-6 consonant sounds (e.g. guh, da, ba) and all kinds of tongue and raspberry noises. He's really a funny kid! The next biggest surprise is how strong-willed Owen can be. When he doesn't like something he will express his displeasure! Again, he never did anything during our visits to show he was unhappy. Could he be smart enough to know he should be easy during the visits until the adoption was final;) This has been a good lesson because we got the crazy notion Owen would be the lowest maintenance baby ever. To his credit, now that the shock of his acting like...oh, I don't know...a baby(!) is over+, we're realizing he usually complains for a good reason. Yesterday, we just kept assuming he was tired, which he probably was, and writing it off. Now when he mysteriously becomes cranky, it is probably due to a wet diaper or something like his bottle leaking all over him. About the wet diaper issue, Owen has EXTREMELY sensitive skin! During our visits, his face would end up with red areas mostly where we held him against us. Now that he has been around us and gotten to fall a lot, we've seen that he always gets red spots that will go away in a couple hours. He also has some angry looking diaper rash - Desitin to the rescue! - that the doctor mentioned but had no concerns. My point - that you probably lost during this rambling - is that he tends be cranky due to experiencing skin discomfort versus some "character flaw" like being a spoiled baby. The other surprise is his activity level. He was trying to run with Alexa in the halls of the hotel and would crawl fast when gravity one a brief battle. He did this long enough to make me and Alexa tired! I'm sure this is no surprise to those of you who have little ones, but Alexa wasn't really close to walking when we took her home at 13 months. And I'm guessing the "boy" factor is playing a part too...

There have been some majors improvements in a couple key areas today. Things have been better today in terms of sleep - Owen took a 3 hour nap
(we all slept a much needed 2 hours) at 1:00 and finally fell asleep at 10:15 - but he was in his crib for an hour without really complaining. The other "big" news was a successful bath. He was really freaking out yesterday when Tracy tried one- like full-on panic! Today, I suggested starting a bath with Alexa and letting him watch. After a few minutes we put him in and after some minor complaints he was hooked! The only problem was that he wanted to constantly stand-up and then sit down and the bath was super slippery. He also wanted to taste everything - like the shampoo bottles and even the soap. The soap was funny to watch - he took a big bite with his 5 teeth and had had enough of that! Although he did leave a nice imprint for his dental records:)

With that, I'm going to go to sleep. Tomorrow is a free day and we plan to go to the park, a grocery store and possible shopping at Arbot Street downtown. I'm sure Owen will add to his list of surprises and hopefully improvements too - not that he needs many!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Owen is ours!!

I just wanted to give a quick update while things are fresh in my mind (something that will change quickly since I've been up since 2:30am and Owen won't take a nap). Tracy and I didn't sleep on the airplane, so we all slept yesterday from 1pm to 6pm and only stayed awake a couple hours before going back to sleep. Thus, I awoke at 2:30am and Alexa and Tracy were up within the next hour. We gave up on going back to sleep by 4:30 and slowly prepared for the exciting day. The day got more exciting when Alexa decided to play with two Barbies by the open window! The naked Sharpay decided she had had enough of Moscow and took a dive from the 8th floor- landing on the roof of the covered part of the drop-off. The wonderful Renaissance staff rescued Sharpay just before we were leaving for the orphanage- thus, preventing more of a meltdown by the already exhausted Alexa. At 9:00 we were loaded in the car with a suitcase full of presents and the knowledge that almost two months (and two years since we started this process) of waiting would finally come to an end!

Before getting to the orphanage we stopped at a grocery store to buy some candies, tea, and Nescafe for the staff. Once there, we went through a short administrative procedure and delivered the gifts, while Owen was taken to get pictures made for his passport. Alexa did not appreciate the "additional" wait and kept asking where her brother was. Finally, he arrived and things honestly could not have gone more smoothly. He was immediately comfortable with us and found Alexa pretty interesting. We took him upstairs for a quick change of cloths and said our goodbyes. In the car, he was very patient letting me get him in the car seat and loved the sights both inside and out. We made a stop at the passport office to drop off the pictures and sign the documents. While inside the office, I could hear some baby-like noises and then heard a loud one as I was coming back to the lobby. Owen was making far more noise than he had at any of our previous visits! You have to understand that he was always very attentive in the past but liked to observe - rarely making any noise for 20-30 minutes after we arrived. Then he would make some sounds mimicking us but very tentative and never loud. Well, he obviously sensed something had changed!

Once back at the hotel, Owen seemed to have fully come out of his shell. He was laughing and smiling at pretty much everything! I showed him his reflection in the full-length mirror and he was entertained for about an hour - he would hold these empty water bottles and walk back and forth from the bed to the mirror cracking up when he got to the mirror. We had a general idea of his sleep/eat schedule so we fed him and figured he would fall asleep soon thereafter. That was at 12:30pm. It's now 6:30pm and he is still awake! We've fed him lunch and dinner (plus a snack) and gave him a bath after he decorated himself in carrots. He is a pretty laid back kid and hasn't really cried yet (despite banging his face on the crib and in the bath). Speaking of the bath, that was much more difficult than I expected. He was not at all happy and resisted the whole time, which made him slip a lot and kept Tracy and I very busy. As I type, he is whining in his crib looking as miserable as he can. He is truly a boy - getting into everything and never wanting to lay still! Hopefully, he'll sleep soon and I'll post more.

In case I crash (very likely), tomorrow's schedule is to go to the doctor who must examine Owen and declare him fit to leave the country- and then ideally pick-up his passport. Wednesday should be a free day before we spend Thursday and Friday at the US Embassy...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Moscow City Trip #2 Summary

Sorry not to have written for so long! To be honest, waiting for OLG to come home takes away some of my motivation for writing. Now that we are less than a week from the third and FINAL trip, I've mustered the resolve to give you a summary of our trip.

The main purpose of trip #2 was the court appearance. We arrived in cool, rainy Moscow on Sunday and were scheduled to leave Thursday (more on that soon). On Monday we got to see OLG twice and he warmed-up to us after just 15 minutes. He started making the raspberry sound we shared on the first visit and clearly recognized us. Oh, and he walks now very steadily after taking his first steps on the previous visit. We brought a couple toys, but his favorite thing was the lens cap to Tracy's camera - he carried it all the time and it apparently tasted great! One of the other toys made noises and was shaped like a phone. Somehow he knew to hold it up to his ear! Like a true father, I think he is an exceptionally bright kid:)

During the afternoon visit, we were taking his sweater off (because he seemed hot) and the collar/zipper got stuck for a bit around his ears. He started to cry (the first and only time) and Tracy immediately grabbed and hugged him tightly. His crying quickly stopped and enjoyed a kind of hug he apparently didn't get ever or often. After that he started going up to Tracy periodically and putting his hands on her shoulders and then letting her hug him. It was a great day!

Tuesday was court day, which means we get up three hours early to meet our driver, get to the courthouse an hour early, and then wait until the last minute for our coordinator to arrive (she was also our translator and paperwork courier). Tracy was a little stressed plus the waiting area was very hot since we had to dress-up. Our coordinator prepped us the day before when we were waiting for OLG to wake-up. Everything went according to plan. Tracy took the podium and got the typical questions from the judge (in Russian of course) about why we were adopting and our home situation. After maybe ten minutes she was done and I had a my shorter turn getting some similar questions. The director of the orphanage was then questioned about OLG and our interaction with him. Then the prosecutor (a government representative who has to research the child's background and possible family ties) spoke very briefly. Finally, the judge adjourned to chambers to review the paperwork and returned for her decision. In less then 40 minutes, OLG was offically ours!! Well almost... In Russia, there is a mandatory 10-day waiting period after court. This is the last chance for a Russian relative or other person to ask for the child. Once this period ends, no person in Russia can attempt to gain custody of the child. Thus the need for trip #3. So we were of course very excited and yet we couldn't really celebrate. Our only reward was going to the orphanage directly after court!

(Warning: heart-melting moment coming!)

When we got to the orphanage, our coordinator was told about OLG's activity the previous night. Apparently after the hugfest the day before, OLG would not go to sleep until all of the caregivers gave him a satisfactory hug. It took them much longer than usual to get him to sleep and he had never done anything like it before! We had a nice-but-too-short visit and had to leave him for the second-to-last time.

Because our flight left Thursday, Wednesday was our last day at the orphanage until Trip #3. This time the staff was sympathetic and gave us a good two hours to visit! OLG was not used to staying for so long and he started walking toward the door about halfway through our session. I think we wore him out and he gave us some memorable moments. I started exploring the playroom and picking out more interesting toys. I brought out a xylophone and he was very interested when we made music. He quickly figured out how to use the stick but eventually preferred the taste of it. However, the highlight of the visit came when I brought out the rocking zebra (yes, a rocking horse with zebra striped fur). OLG rode the zebra on the first day but didn't seem too interested. This time I took the tail and rubbed it on his noise, which he really liked. After a little of this, he suddenly started rubbing his face into the zebra's backside and cracking himself up! We have the video, which I promise to post here when I can. Overall, it was a great visit and he really felt like he was ours. Sadly, we had to say "goodbye" and begrudgingly went back to the hotel.

Thursday was horrible - and not just because we had to leave OLG! Things started badly when our driver was over an hour late to meet us - this is a guy who was usually 15 minutes early. He explained in his minimal English that there was a bad accident making the traffic from the rain even worse. This didn't bode well for trip to the airport! We arrived at the airport still close to two hours before the flight and strangely there was no line to get to the check-in area. This was due to the fact that the flight had been cancelled (Tracy checked the flight online that morning and it was supposedly on-time). We were informed that the flight had techincal problems coming to Russia and had to divert to Iceland, where it was stranded. The driver stayed with us although he couldn't really translate. Luckily, we met a young woman from our flight who was American but spoke Russian because her family was from the Ukraine. We stood in a long line waiting for Delta to figure out what to do with us. After an hour, we tried getting re-routed but there was no good option. So, we were told the airport hotel would let us stay there and a plane would come special for us early the next morning. The hotel was kind of a nightmare! Our room smelled badly of smoke, had two tiny single beds, and there was no hot water. We'd been told the hotel would take care of food but no one knew anything. The highlight was the okay dinner we ate in the restaurant - although our server disappeared for 30 minutes after taking our order. Oh, I forgot to mention there was construction at the airport right outside our window. I'm normally a light sleeper, but I slept easily because we were exhausted from the stress! We just wanted to get out of there, so we awoke at 3:00am and went to the airport to wait until 6:00 when we could check-in. Fortunately, all went well from that point and we got home on-time (a day late).

Next post: Tracy's Passport ordeal and prep for Trip #3