Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Adoption US style

Today we went to the court house downtown for Maryna's "re-adoption".  This is an optional step which basically just files her Ukrainian documents into the US system and recreates them in their US formats.  So she now has a US decree of adoption and a New York State "certificate of birth" (not quite a birth certificate) which will also be on file in the local county clerk's office.   This means that when she applies for a driver's license, or a job, or a college and needs a copy of these things, she can get and submit something from our local county.  We have a few spare copies in a safe place here, but if they were to go missing she'd be stuck requesting a copy from her home region in Ukraine, having it officially translated, and then dealing with the guaranteed confusion that would come from that.  Not to mention how much all of that would cost!  

We had the same judge that did Jorge's in 2009.  He's actually first generation Ukrainian-American and greeted Maryna in Ukrainian.  After the short signature portion of the morning, his assistant (also Ukrainian) took Maryna for a tour of the court house while Judge H talked informally with me and Rob about the Ukrainian community here, the churches, some upcoming events, and a few key contacts we'll be following up with.  

Our Family
As with Jorge's process, we were welcome to stay and play a bit.  The staff took lots of photos with my camera and played with the kids.  Sadly, these days are a rare happy treat in a family court setting.  Most of their days are spent dealing with families in crisis and coming apart.  So the whole staff was smiling as they listened to the younger 3 rattle on about school and books and their extended family while Maryna, Rob, and I chatted with the Russian and Ukrainian speaking court crew.

Afterwards we went to the Polish restaurant which has food pretty similar to Ukrainian.  The kids all rattled around the house all afternoon, Maryna made dinner (Wednesday!), and bedtimes are done.

I think, overall, the day was good.  Maryna seemed nervous or annoyed or otherwise out of sorts this morning.  In retrospect, I realized I had not actually given her breakfast.  We're working on the "help yourself" thing but she's not quite comfortable with it yet, so we tend to make her a breakfast plate and hand it to her.  I was trying to get a little work done this morning and Rob was out of the house until 10, so I dropped the ball there.  She was far happier after court and lunch.

Oh, the eye roll.  She takes her responsibilities as a teenager very seriously.

On that note, I find myself struggling with how much and what to write here these days.  I want to share all the ups and downs of integrating the newest member of our family and that dominates most of our energy and attention these days.  But I am also plunging into the world of teen parenting and teen boundaries.  With a baby or even a little kid, the goofy things are as much or more about the parent as the kid.  Babies aren't doing things intentionally, and so sharing their hard days isn't about privacy and respect, it's about the parents venting.  With a teen?  Yea, I'm not going to vent.  Whatever difficult parts of a day I have, I'm sure it's a cake walk compared to the average stress level in her day.

I love this girl so much.  I mean, just... this gets the "I can't even..." trail off.  We went to an event last week with a bunch of people that do speak her language and are from her culture, and they immediately started speaking to me in Ukrainian and Russian, too.  I quickly answered that I don't speak either language and they were visibly confused: how do you talk to your daughter? How could you possibly communicate and know each other?

And I looked at this beautiful girl that I have come to love with my whole heart, who I can exchange weak conversations with through a few gestures and carefully chosen nouns and verbs, but meaningful conversations via texts and translate software.  I thought of how much we love tiny babies before they know how to talk to us, and I didn't know how to explain it.  I just do.  I love my daughter.

Difficult days?  Of course.  Misunderstandings?  That's our life.  And Love?  Speechless.

Judge Maryna

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Life continues to roll on. Maryna and Rob have been home for just over 2 weeks and things are going as well as can be expected.  There are days of homesickness, frustration, and general overwhelmedness on everyone's parts, but especially for her.  She's working hard to learn English.  I'm impressed every single day by the bravery and optimism she finds to tackle the day.  The kids are including her more in their invitations to go for walks or play games.  August is finally doing his charming self and giving her hugs and kisses which no one can resist.  He was "shy of her" until about last week.

School is still not started, a topic which causes Maryna and me endless frustration and anxiety.  Every single day she asks when school will start, with increasing dread and fear on her face.

We called the school district about enrollment the day after they got home and left un-returned messages on Thurs and Friday (Oct 2 and 3).  We left voice mails and emails on Monday and Tuesday the 6th and 7th before finally reaching someone on the afternoon of Tuesday the 7th.  They told us where to get the forms and where to take them.  On Wednesday  the 8th, before 9AM, we'd filled out and submitted the forms to the necessary location and were told to wait 3-5 days.   We heard nothing else that week.

Monday the 13th was no school, and then Tuesday afternoon we got a call saying the medical stuff was ok'd and we'd finally have her papers fowarded to the guidance counselors.  Later that afternoon, we got a call saying we needed to bring her in within the next 30 minutes for her English test or we'd probably have to wait another week for that step.

Frustration, thy name is public school.   We're used to private schools.  They will bend over backwards and drive to your house and email you on the weekend to make sure you're happy and settled in.  Public school apparently sees us as one more hassle with nothing to gain (they already get our tax dollars for zero services provided, so now that we actually want services we're a net loss to them).  I am extremely annoyed by their "service" thus far.  So Tuesday afternoon at the least convenient possible time (little kid school pick-up), we rushed to get the English test. Afterwards, we were told to "call and schedule a tour tomorrow".  So, yesterday, Wednesday the 15th I worked at home all morning so we could go do the tour with Maryna.  By 11 AM with no word from them, we called them and were told they could squeeze us in Friday morning the 17th.  Oh, so you mean "Call tomorrow to schedule for eventually".  I see.  I went back to work for a 12 hour day.

So today we're staring at walls for the 16th day in a row.  Tomorrow morning we'll get a tour (guess how much I actually expect that they'll arrange for a translator?) and then maybe Monday we can start school?  Super convenient considering we have an adoption court appointment on Wednesday.  When we scheduled that, I assumed she'd be two weeks deep into school routine before we disrupted a day, but two days is about the same, right?  ANNOYED.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Kids














All 4 of them.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Maryna loves to cook, and she isn't particularly fond of much American food yet, so she really loves to cook traditional Ukrainian and Russian foods.  So we all win.  And we all gain weight.

Tonight: fried potato piroshki and an apple sharlotka.   August ate himself to sleep.  He fell asleep dreaming of how many he'd eat in the morning.

And there were leftover mashed potatoes, which means when we finally finished gorging, there was the first stage of the secret family recipe for cinnamon rolls.  There's a step that involves letting the dough rise for 11 hours, so it's over-nighting.  Tomorrow morning we'll prep the rolls.

You'd better believe she's part of the family, now.

Eleven Days Ago

On Weds Sept 17, Rob flew to Ukraine for the final stages of the adoption.  He arrived Thursday afternoon and settled in a bit.  On Friday, September 19, he met with our lawyer and translator to go pick up the necessary finalized documents that would allow him to take custody of Maryna. 

The departure from her school was hard.  Really hard.  A lot of tears and hugs and sadness.  These have been her roommates for a year, but also friends and--for all intents and purposes--sisters.  Even though we see it as a lonely and hard way to live a childhood, this is all she's known for many years and is what she has come to trust and hold dear.  Saying goodbye was bittersweet.

They then headed to her hometown an hour north to request her birth certificate and other documents.  The school/orphanage where she spent ages 11-14 is also there, and so they stopped to visit her former classmates and teachers while they waited for paperwork to be prepared.  They also visited her childhood home.  There's a lot to the story here, but it's not entirely mine to tell so for now let's say it was a day of unexpected twists on top of the expected emotional process.

By the time they got back to the apartment that evening, the passport application center was long closed.  They spent the weekend sight-seeing.   Maryna spent most of the weekend on the phone with her friends back at school.  Rob and I talked as often as possible via Skype and facebook chatting.  Maryna was, of course, grieving the loss of her friends and worried about the reality of life in America, so there was high anxiety and frustration.

Monday was the passport office and then more sitting.  Monday night our friends flew in from America.  They were picking up two of their new kids from the same school as Maryna and were scheduled for taking custody on Tuesday, meaning we had the huge joy of overlapping with them at each step of the in-country process.  Since the kids had all been friends before any of this, they've grown closer through this process, too.  Rob was so happy to have another set of Americans to talk with, and both Rob and Maryna were anxious to have her friends around again to lighten the grief.

Tuesday was mostly sitting around with degrees of grief, frustration, doubt, anxiety, and panic.  Maryna met up with a graduated classmate who now lives in the city of Odessa, and there was a misunderstanding about expected behaviors which led to some more frustration on all sides.  The family adopting Maryna's classmates arrived back to Odessa with them in their custody that evening and life was generally better. 

Wednesday, Rob and Maryna headed by bus to Kiev (about 7 hours).  They arrived and settled into a new place and more of the same.  Thursday evening the friends from Odessa arrived to Kiev, too, and the party continued through the weekend.  There was a slim chance that they would get the passport in time to fly home Friday night, and for a few hours it looked like it might even work.  We had booked a ticket on a Friday afternoon flight, and the passport arrived Thursday afternoon so they had everything in hand Friday assuming the embassy would be quick with the visa.

They weren't.

Long story short, I was up at 2AM getting messages from Rob (9AM there) after they arrived at the embassy and were told that they would not get same-day service so they'd have to come back Monday afternoon for pick-up.  So instead of Friday afternoon, they could not reasonably expect to catch a flight until Tuesday morning.  There were frustrated tears on all sides.  My brother was getting married that weekend and we all had hoped to have the family together, Maryna had looked forward to seeing an American wedding, and I missed my husband terribly.  Plus, each day in Ukraine made Maryna even more nervous about the eventual flights and adjustment to American life.

But, there's no leaving without a visa, and no visa without the embassy, and the embassy said no.

So...Rob and Maryna spent the weekend with our friends and their 4 kids (two older from Maryna's school, two younger from a different school) and another family in Kiev waiting for the final paperwork to arrive for their two teenage sons.  Friday morning the 3 US kids and I headed on a 6 hour drive to Virginia that involved a car-sick August and at nearly the exact same time, a panicked call from Rob where he messaged with a friend in Mississippi who was kind enough to call me and transcribe/read a conversation between Rob in Ukraine and me on the road through Pennsylvania.  Eventually we reached the beautiful wedding venue and spent the next 36 hours with family.  It was a beautiful, exhausting, bittersweet weekend.  I'm so happy for my brother and his bride, and so grateful to have that time with my family.  

Monday I awoke to hear they already had the visa and were just waiting for their flights the next morning.  They were booked on a 5AM departure which would mean a 3AM ride to the airport.  By mid-afternoon they'd been informed that a pilot strike was re-routing them and they, instead, had a direct flight to the US that would leave at 11AM, so everyone could sleep.  

Tuesday, the flights went fine.  They arrived safely in JFK late Tuesday afternoon and then connected home at 9:45 Tuesday night, Sept 30.  The kids and I arrived at the airport with flowers and chocolates and a coke just in time to meet them.  There were huge hugs of relief and joy.  So so so happy to have my family whole and home.

Home and sleeping were the only two things on the wish list at that point for all of us.  

The past 11 days have been utter chaos at my job and the kids have been busy with school things and life in general is just insanely busy.  I'm working 10-14 hours every day, including weekends, and still falling behind which means everyone is frustrated.  Rob is trying to keep our immediate household afloat, fed, clean, and on time for all the necessary appointments, and helping with extended family concerns, too.   But we're making the most of any time we do have and looking forward to a time (I hope!) when my schedule drops back down to a 40-50 hour work week.

Maryna is adjusting as well as we might have hoped.  After trust and love, language is the number one most important thing that we need to develop in order for everything else to work: school, church, making friends, having independence....  Unfortunately, it's also the hardest and the slowest and appears to be the most frustrating or least appealing.  Day by day.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

One of those days...

when the 4 year old is so tired he just wants to snuggle all morning and no one can really argue with it.

And the bigger kids get up and argue all morning.

So they're late for school.

And everyone is tired and groggy all day.

But still, you get forms filed to enroll the teenager in high school and an English Language Learners program.  And scan her passport, visa, and adoption decree (all 14 pages of it) for record keeping.  And complete two forms to add to a copy of the adoption decree, the passport, and a photo to send off to the Ukrainian consulate for registration in the US.  And complete 3 other forms to add to the adoption decree and send to human resources so she's added to your insurance plan.  And complete 3 other forms including getting something notarized and adding a copy of the adoption decree and send it off to the NY state court system to have it filed in the US and create both a US certificate of birth and adoption so all future issues can use those.  And complete 2 other forms and add the necessary documents to send off to the adoption agency for their records.  And pay some bills.  Because there are always bills.

And then the teenager appears extra sad and you worry if it's boy trouble?  America regret?  Health?  Stress?  Anxiety?  And it turns out she's grieving a loss that can not be fixed or relieved.

And then the school kids come home and there's noise and you're trying to grade papers and manage emails and --by the way-- all day long the world has been blurry and spinning.  Standing up too fast creates a woozy spin that requires another sit.  Hands are trembling, fingers are tingly, and the whole day feels sort of out-of-body space-y.  And the exhaustion.  Oh lands.  And this is day 2..or is it 3?..of feeling this way.

So by 3:45 there's a medical appointment booked for bloodwork.  Oh, but the girl-child has an orthodontist appointment at 4:45 and the husband is out on an errand and, blah, forget it, going anyhow.

Sitting in the doctor's exam room is so peaceful, a nap is in order.  Sister calls with happy news.  Blood taken.  Nap over.

Home.  Dinner.  Crying teen.  Tucking all 4 into bed at 7:30 with hugs and kisses and I love yous.  Back downstairs for grading.

Teen returns downstairs at 8:45 smiling.  Uno.  Hot Chocolate.  A better note.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

La-la La-chit.

1 minute with August:
talking to himself: Oklahoma. Oklahooooma. I don't really know where Oklahoma is.
Mom? Where is Oklahoma? [near texas]
where is texas? can we drive there? can we drive across the united states? can we drive to texas from liverpool? what is the name of texas? why is the united states so big? what does this song mean? (sings nonsense sounds for 5 seconds) why does my tongue make that noise? i like that noise. can you make that noise? lalalachit. lalalachit. lalalachit. did you hear it? what does it mean? lalalachit. lalalachit. are we cleaning up the neighborhood? yes or no? Are katie and jorge outside? can I clean up my space? yes or no? After I go potty? Can I clean it? Yes or no? How many wipes will I need? I will need more. I don't know how many I need. How many do I need? what is two? What is two? what is two? yes or no?
Questions per minute: 27. In 15 minutes he averages over 400 questions. He's awake 14 hours per day people. 14.hours.