Friday, June 15, 2007
Lynne and Milan arrived in Denver right on schedule Sunday evening. They had a great trip, Milan traveled well and everything went as planned except for their close call at Heathrow (Lynne swears she'll never fly through Heathrow again) and losing all the baggage (Lynne swears she'll never fly on British Airways again).
But who cares about baggage when you're home, especially when the 25 pound, 36 inch package you really care about arrived safe and sound?
In the brief days that Milan has been here, the best adjectives I have so far are:
sweet, funny, handsome, attached to mama, not attached to papa, in love with Jaden, no boundaries, ornery, quick tempered, smart, social, lovable, awesome, fantastic.
The time zone change made it really hard for both Milan and Lynne the first few days, but today (Thursday - day 4) is the second night in a row Milan went to bed at a normal hour and will probably sleep most of the night through.
He's great with other kids and is going to catch on to English and life in the USA in no time.
Pictures will come shortly and now that we are back, I should probably get a video up soon too.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Lynne says Milan is doing great, adapting very quickly to her and to being a two year old in the "real world" outside of the confines of the orphanage. He has a little cold, and he has the habit of sucking his thumb when he goes to sleep, and for now, that also includes a finger up his nose... that's one way to stop your nose from running.
We'll be a united family of four tomorrow and the rest of our life begins, we can't wait!
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
So Lynne lands in Almaty at 4am on June 4 and when Milan wakes up, his real and forever momma is there. He's not quite sure what to make of it, but very shortly on the first day they are re-bonded. I just spoke with Lynne tonight (June 5) and things are going really well. Milan is talking up a storm, happy and laughing, and seemingly not missing his Kazakh family. Lynne sounds great, she's taking him out for walks in the big city of Almaty (2 million people) and Milan wants everything he sees. He has to be totally overwhelmed with what is going on around him - lots of people, traffic, loud noises, stores with really interesting things and so on.
Paperwork is the final issue. When Lynne left home we were still waiting for word on Milan's passport, the last major item needed to get him home. Great news on that front too, the passport has been stamped in Kostanai, so a copy has been sent to Lynne and she can get Milan through the necessary medical exams. She should have the passport by Friday for a visit to the U.S. embassy and some type of interview and a visa and that's it, they'll be home free. We optimistically booked a flight home on Sunday, and it looks like they might actually get on that flight and be home by 6pm that same day, June 10. (It would be a shocker if everything goes that smoothly). Don't Let Me Down.
Two 8 hour flights with a very active, squirmy boy who doesn't know how to sit still will be the next challenge, but Lynne is up for it, and if needed, she'll help him "get by with a little help from her friends", that would be Benadryl.
We're almost there, about to Come Together as a family of four, the end of this Long and Winding Road is in sight. Thanks for hanging in there with us, more to come.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Lynne arrived home last night at 7:30pm. She had been traveling for 2.5 days and had about 5 hours of sleep during the trip. I know what it’s like to arrive at DIA after 2 months and just be stunned that finally, you’re back in Colorado - so far from Arkalyk, truly the other side of the world. And so far from our boy, Milan. This is incredible, the whole game plan from the start was to make it one trip, 2-3 months in Kazakhstan, and we would come home with little brother. Many families go to Kaz, and after about 2 weeks, they have their court date and they head back home. Four weeks or so later they return to reunite with their child and bring him home. We purposely decided not to do that, and especially after meeting Milan and the stress he had dealing with us the first 3 weeks, we realized how important the continuity would be. So this most recent change of plans was really a hard one. But Milan is in a great place, he is being well cared for by Habiba and Bacha, and other family members. When I called Habiba a few nights ago, she said he was great, the only adjective she really emphasized was that he is a very “active boy”. That is so different than what we saw when he was in the orphanage, but definitely what Lynne saw as soon as he was out. We are confident that when we get him home he will adapt pretty quickly.
I have to share on Mother’s Day how strongly I feel about Lynne and how much respect I have for her as the mother of my children. The job of parent is probably the hardest job in the world (well except maybe for the job of husband). Lynne does a remarkable job. She has taught me so much about parenting, and these last two months with the three of us living together 24/7 in close quarters with nothing to do and no where to go has certainly given me a new perspective on what I need to do to be a successful parent. Jaden was unbelievable for the whole trip, especially when he had to be, such as our daily trips to the orphanage. He was able to entertain himself there most days for most of the time. But those of you who know Jaden know that he never stops talking, always asking questions, always wanting to know exactly what’s going on, always wanting “just one more minute”, “just 2 more pages”, “let me stay up 5 minutes more”, “let me sleep 10 minutes more”, everything is a negotiation, and he doesn’t always negotiate fairly. When you think you have a deal, the rules change. Typical 6 year old stuff. This is where the real need for patience comes. More than anyone in my life, Jaden has taught me to be patient, but he was pushing it at times during the trip. Lynne was there to really put the perspective on it and to help me avoid over reacting and to see how a calm approach will always win. Lynne is stricter with Jaden than I am, but she has just the right touch going so that she can be strict and never push him over the line. It’s amazing really, the way she is with Jaden and the great relationship they have. Lynne determined we were going to practice attachment parenting before I knew anything about it. She was my teacher to understand the basic tenets about putting your kids first, always paying attention to their needs and responding to those needs, and building such a strong attachment that they will be confident going further and further out on their own when the time is right.
Seeing Lynne with our new son is more of the same. She learned enough Russian so she can truly communicate with him. She made sure we read books about attachment in adoption which has helped us in a few basic ways already. Watching Lynne first give Milan a bottle, and then two days later to see him looking for the bottle and wanting to sit in her lap so she could feed him the bottle – it was like magic was happening. This boy who cried every time he saw us for almost three weeks was all of a sudden letting us into his world, and Lynne was starting the attachment process. The books say attachment at this stage should take about 6 months. We’ll see, but I don’t think its going to take that long with Milan. The way she spoke with him, interacted with him, played with him, you could see the mutual love beginning.
Lynne – you have taught me so much, I am a better parent because of you. I can’t wait to have 2 boys for us to play with, laugh with, love with, live with.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
So while it was wonderful to have that piece worked out, it was also wrenching leaving. It was abrupt and felt unfinished. I packed hurriedly, and tried to explain a little to Milan. I wasn’t sure he was really getting it, and even just before I left he didn’t seem to have much response to the idea. Then, as I was getting ready to walk out the door, he wanted to be picked up. He clung to me tightly. I kissed him and hugged him, and had Habiba tell him repeatedly that I would be back for him. I put him down and he started to cry and grabbed me. I picked him up again and he wrapped his arms around my neck and cried. Unfortunately, we left no time for this in the schedule. We needed to leave for the train station. I was sobbing by now, and had to pull him off of me and hand him screaming to Habiba. I could hear him all of the way out of the building, and it was horrible. This child has nothing but upheaval in the last months: moving from one group to another at the orphanage, having us show up, then when we take him from the only home he’s known, his papa and brother leave. A few days later, the other couple adopting brought their daughter to spend a day and night at the apartment. Milan loves her. He spent days afterwards asking about her in a plaintive voice, and crying when I told him she wasn’t there. Then the other couple left. None has returned. Now his mama leaves. What reason does he have to think he will ever see me again? I feel I have broken faith with him, and feel torn by the choices I felt I needed to make. I know he is resilient though, he has proven that, and I know he is in good hands.
In the meantime, I must focus on the situation at hand, (which I am going to superstitiously refrain from describing here) and put my energy into the best possible outcome. Any positive thoughts and energy you all can send our way will be gratefully accepted and appreciated (as if you haven’t been doing so for months already!). I hope to return to Kaz sometime around the 27th or 28th of May, and be home around June 6th. I may ‘backfill’ the blog a bit while we are home- there are a number of posts I simply never had the time to write while we are there. If you wish to be notified when we resume posting, please sign up for notification in the “Blogarithm” box on the right side of the blog homepage. Also, I have changed the blog settings so that anyone can post a comment, you don't need to register (sorry I didn't figure this out sooner!). They comments will not appear immediately as they need to be approved to prevent people using this as their personal marketing tool. Thanks for taking this journey with us this far, and remember that it ain’t over ‘til it’s over!
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
During this time, I have journeyed further into the heart and soul of this child I now call ‘mine’, although the paperwork to confirm it is still 7 days away, and the bureaucracy to allow him to travel freely in the world of which he is a citizen will impede us for weeks beyond that. He is not the child we thought he was. It is as if he held himself back those weeks we spent with him in the orphanage, unwilling to divulge his true self until he was certain ours was not a passing interest. He resists still to a degree, tipping his head to the side in a gesture that is negative of whatever the current question or request asks of him, broadly denying his willingness to engage, exploring whether that will be enough to distance me from him. Other times (most times) he is happy, playful, walking from room to room singing songs to himself in baby Russian, songs that I cannot join him in.
(The bath water before the bath...)
Regardless of his mood, the child who sat for endless hours on my lap with his thumb planted firmly between his teeth, or quietly playing with toys next to me, hardly looking at us, is gone. He is filled with boundless energy, often undirected and undirectable. Balls are interesting to an extent, but blocks are not, coloring is not, reading only occasionally. He has firmly attached himself to a stuffed dog that another family gave to Habiba at some point, which is also a puppet. It barks with the aid of batteries and mommy’s hand. He wants the dog with him at nearly all times, and will hand it to me saying ‘ah-nee, ah-nee,’ which I am told means nothing in Russian, but distinctly means “I WANT …” in Milan-ese. The biggest fun is for me to chase him around the house with the dog, barking and trying to ‘eat’ him. He will giggle and giggle as he runs to one side of the table and I to the other, trying to get around it quickly enough to catch him before he runs back down the hall to the bedroom, crashing into the bed itself at full speed. He holds up fingers for the doggy to eat, toes, his belly, pulling his shirt up. He is learning the names of his body parts in English by virtue of a hungry toy.
(Making a run for it....)
The most fun though, is getting into stuff. He loves the kitchen, which presents innumerable safety hazards that he does not yet grasp, and so he is banished, locked out of the room he most desires to be in. He has no sense of ‘do’s and don’ts’, as the boundaries imposed upon him in the orphanage were so far removed from those of the real world as to be utterly useless to him now. He will come immediately for a bath, even as he doesn’t want to take one, but touch something deliberately just because he was told not to. He is has the most devilish gleam (illustrated well in the last post in the photo of him not going to sleep), with mama’s ‘no’s’ giving him all the more incentive. With the exposed wiring in the house this is developing into a battleground, a war it is crucial to win and impossible at the same time.
All of this dances around a fundamental question I face. How do you begin to identify with a child in a deeper way, not just in a more elemental way for him but for you? When Jaden was born, we were handed a tiny infant, with no as-of-yet definable personality and with limited needs. I know some adoptive parents will wince at this. It seems many wish to think that something magical happens and suddenly your new child is slotted right in to your life. But the fact is, nothing about this new child is familiar. We have seen him every day for over a month and a half, but it isn’t that. It’s all of the little things that evolve with a new born that don’t come neatly wrapped when you bring an older child into your life. Those hallmarks of familiarity that are beyond intellectualization, those that dwell in the realm of intuition and senses.
(OK, not so bad... )
There is the weight of your child, his heft. How you know just where to grab him around the middle as he tries to run past you giggling to avoid putting on jammies, timed perfectly so that you stop him, but don’t hurt him or yourself. There is the smell of the child, sometimes sweet, sometimes not, but familiar in some reptilian part of the brain. There is the feel of them- the texture of hair, of skin, the way little arms wrap around you or push you away, the way they wiggle squirm. And there is the sight of them, every scar, curve, mark, line. Memorized from the moment they were put into your arms, cataloged with each new addition, and subconsciously inventoried every time you look at them. It isn’t that these things won’t come, it is simply that they don’t come in the instant they become your child. You start out steps behind, reaching to reconcile the notion that this is your child, this unfamiliar being, even as you take them into your heart your other senses do not come around as quickly.
(Playing a quick game of 'hide the shoe')
I am sure the reverse is also true, but I cannot write of Milan’s experience, I can only guess at it. While I imagine what he might feel, I try to be cautious about assigning my suppositions as his truth. Does he throw a fit when I say ‘no’ to something because he is rebelling against the idea that this interloper is now in charge of him, or is it because he is two and he wants what he wants? Does he fight sleep for hours because he wants to stay awake, or because sleep was fraught with risk and peril at the orphanage? Does he resist sitting to eat because he is not hungry, or simply because he can? It wasn’t simple with Jaden at this age, but much more so. I knew his moods, his gestures, what he wanted to communicate, for the most part. It’s as if this child fell from the sky, skin and bones and flesh, sweet and beautiful, but a total stranger. You need not assure me it will change. I have no doubts. The path through it though is a trip to a foreign land, exciting, fascinating, marvelous, and exhausting.
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Wednesday at 5:40pm we leave the flat for the train. A very stressful departure as Lynne described, we just didn’t have enough time after Milan’s arrival (I’m making the name change official in all of my communications). As soon as he got to the flat, it was basically time for us to leave. It was really hard for Jaden, but we got to the train, and he was very happy and surprised to be met by his friend Ruston at the station. Ruston is a great kid, and we really hope to be able to have him visit us for an exchange program when he is in high school. Anyway, as the train pulls away from Arkalyk, Jaden is crying saying “bye Arkalyk” and I think he’s crying because he’s sad about leaving his mom, but it’s also that he is going to miss Arkalyk and he’s sad to leave. I didn’t have the heart to question him about this, wondering what does he possibly think he will miss about Arkalyk where his only playground was the glass strewn rocky, muddy, 20 yard by 20 yard area in front of our flat where he would play soccer or monkey in the middle with some of the kids in the neighborhood? He feels like he made “lots of friends” which is a big part of it, but in reality there were only two kids that he spent more then cursory time with (Zhana’s son’s Darchon and Ruston) – it’s really interesting the perspective he has of his time there versus the reality, at least from my vantage point. By 6:30 on the train, we’re out of town and into the endless Steppe of Kazakhstan, and Jaden is fine, ready to play games with the friend he spent most of his time with in Arkalyk, me.
This train ride was so much easier than the first one. The main reason is that we were in the right time zone, so when the sun set, we watched a movie on my laptop (Robots – for all you parents out there, if your kids haven’t seen this one, its one of the best kids movies I’ve ever seen and Jaden thinks it’s hilarious). After the movie we went to sleep, and Jaden didn’t wake up until about 8:00am, so a full night’s sleep versus the 3-4 hours we got on the train ride in. We arrived in Astana at 10am. Our flight to Almaty was at 3:40pm, so we had a lot of time to kill, which was a common theme on the journey. Our Astana coordinator took us to the downtown area and we visited a few sites and had a nice outdoor picnic lunch of the tuna sandwiches we packed. Astana is a really interesting story. The President of Kazakhstan decided about 10 years ago or so to change the capital of the country from Almaty (the only real city in the country at the time) to Astana to create a second major metropolitan area. So Astana is this completely planned city with an incredible amount of new development going on. Everything has been built in the last 5 years, including a world class international airport that is two years old, a new Presidential residence (the building with the dome structure) that is used to meet world leaders (because the President and most of the politicians still choose to live in Almaty), new office buildings (the gold structures are two examples), deluxe condos, new buildings for
the Ministries of Education, Transportation, Health and so on and so on. We went up the big tourist attraction, which is a tower that is the highest building in the city specifically built to provide the view of the city, and from there we could see the old, the new, and the future (on the diagram showing the completely planned city that will be complete in another 5 years). There is a ton of money flowing into Astana, mostly fueled by the fact that Kazakhstan is sitting on a huge supply of oil and they are starting to realize the economic benefits. So anyway, we then head to the airport and get there around 1pm for our 3:40 flight. Enough time for me to drill through all possible options to get Milan home with the Lufthansa office at the airport. There are much better fares available from there then trying to book him from home, so that was time really well spent, and it gave me some ideas to change Lynne’s flight as well to save her from the multiple connections we were about to endure.
Departure from Astana at 3:40pm, arrival in Almaty at 5pm where we are met by Ugin, an elderly coordinator (actually the father of the main Almaty coordinator). Ugin tells me he speaks English fine, and his English isn’t bad, but is still the typical “yes” to a lot of questions he really doesn’t understand, so I was never quite sure what the answers to my questions were. Ten hours to kill. Ugin is prepared to take us on a tour of the city. Almaty is a real city, over 2 million people in the metro area, and as Ugin says, still “really the capital of Kazakhstan”. We drive through the city, and there is a lot of traffic, and not a lot of “scenery”. Since I’ve heard that the city is surrounded by beautiful mountains (can’t see them today as it’s overcast and foggy) I suggest we take a drive up as I’ve read they’re only about a half hour away (turns out, that is without the traffic). It took Ugin awhile to figure out what I meant, but he finally got it and we headed up towards the mountains, where the famous skating rink is, and beyond that the ski area, which has over 3000 feet of vertical and over 600 inches of snow per year! Driving up towards the mountains we go by the most beautiful area I’ve seen in the country so far, with mansions behind gates on both sides of the road for about 3-5 miles, some really attractive looking houses in wooded areas. Then we went through a gate ($2.00 entry fee) into the park area of the mountains. Our destination was this famous skating rink that I had read about, I thought it was indoors, it wasn’t, it’s a huge outdoor stadium with a speed skating oval. I can’t imagine how cold it is there in the middle of the winter, sitting in the stands watching the “excitement” of long track speed skating in sub zero temperatures. I have to assume there’s a lot of vodka being used for heating purposes. By now we can see 14,000 foot peaks and it is really beautiful, definitely worth the ride. It didn’t make sense to go further up the hill to where the ski area was. Not skiing in Kaz is one of my few regrets from the trip, although we had our chance 2 months ago.
Almaty strikes me as a modern and hip city, a part of Kazakhstan that is more like the western world, while I think it remains foreign to a lot of the rest of the country. Most people in Arkalyk haven’t been to Almaty, and I think most of them would be shocked at the traffic, the pace, the variety. The difference is really striking to me as I think about the many people in Arkalyk who have never ventured out of that very small city/town.
Now we arrive at Almaty airport at 10pm, 6 hours before flight time. Somehow Ugin finds this room that is titled “for women and children”. This room has a women caretaker and about 5 cots and a sleeper sofa and private bathroom. It is specifically reserved for women and their children who are waiting for departure. The room is empty and Ugin convinces the caretaker to let us stay there. She agrees but says she’ll have to lock us in so no one knows we’re there. She’ll be back to wake us up at 12:45am. I wonder what I do if she doesn’t come back. First of all, I don’t have an alarm clock, so will I get up, and then, if I do, and I’m locked in, will I just break down the door? Hmmm. This is a clean and private room, so much better than our expectation of crashing on airport chairs for these hours, definitely my biggest concern for the whole trip. This is a complimentary service of the airport, but Ugin tells me he told the caretaker we would give her some $, which I expected of course. He says to give her 200-300 KZT (about $2.). I only had one KZT bill left, it was a 1000, which is about $8, plus about $3 in coins. So when we left (she showed up as promised), I gave her the rest of my Kaz money. She insisted I shouldn’t give her any money, but I would have no more use for this currency, most likely for the rest of my life and I was happy to “tip” her an amount that was probably about a day’s pay for her. Waking up Jaden was really hard. He only had 2 hours of sleep and he didn’t want to wake up. At 75 pounds he’s now too big to carry and I still have all of our luggage at this point, so I force him to get up and he’s definitely not happy. He’s crying and just on the edge of control. I get him through check-in and to the gate, and now we have about an hour and a half until our flight, so we find a good row of seats where he can lay down until its time to board. Again I have to wake him up, which he’s not happy about, but he gets on the plane and quickly falls back asleep.
We leave Almaty at 3:40am headed for Frankfurt (7.5 hour flight). We land in Frankfurt at 7am or so and have 2 hours until our flight to London. Jaden is doing fine now, we both slept almost the entire flight. Our flight to London leaves on time and we arrive in London at 9am. Now we have our next layover, as we don’t leave London until 3pm. After going back and forth, we decide, yes, let’s take the airport express train (15 minutes) to downtown London and spend the time checking out the city. I’ve never been to London and was really interested to at least see the city. Jaden was psyched for his second double decker bus tour in Europe (first one was in Berlin in early March). This was a great decision, so much better than sitting at the airport. But good thing everyone spoke English as we needed some help navigating the tube (underground trains) to get to where we wanted to be for a bus tour. We saw some of the sites and then the guide said we could hop off the bus and catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, so I decided that we should check out this thing I’ve always heard about. That was a cool experience, although we were too late to get the best viewing areas near the gate and 75 pounds on my shoulders was rough. At this point, hunger is setting in for Jaden and the clock is ticking towards our required departure time back to the airport. We hop back on a bus and get off for a transfer to the train station and a quick lunch. A minute later I ask Jaden where his back pack is? Oh no, it’s gone! This back pack has all of his activities for the flights, but more importantly his stuffed Cow and Mickey that Jaden has slept with since he was 2 and 4 respectively. Of course he is freaking out. To make a long story short, the bus company – “The Big Bus Company” – had a great staff, and they were able to recover the backpack. It killed the last hour of our tour, but we got the pack and had a fast food lunch and made it back to the airport without having to stress too much.
On the flight from London to Chicago Jaden watched the same movie twice and I watched a few good movies. I got almost no sleep and Jaden didn’t fall asleep until about 4 hours into the 7 hour flight. So when we land in Chicago he doesn’t want to wake up. I mean literally, he won’t wake up. We’re the last ones on the plane and he’s screaming and crying and telling me I’m the meanest daddy in the whole world for making him get up. I finally get him off the plane and we have to go through passport control and customs. He’s still out of control, hitting me and crying loudly, that looks great for the passport officers, why is this kid screaming at you? Please Jaden, please, calm down. We get through. A dear old friend of mine who lives in Chicago is planning to greet us at the airport as we have another 2 hour layover. Larry and his daughter Jessie bring Jaden’s requested bagels for us, our first “American food” in two months. But Jaden isn’t ready for people. He is dead tired, and sleeps through most of the brief meeting. Now of course, I have to wake him up again. This time, Larry offers to carry the back packs and I carry Jaden. After a few minutes, Jaden wakes up enough so he can walk through the airport to our departure gate. He’s asleep before takeoff and wakes up 5 minutes from DIA. We land at 9:30 where Lynne’s sister and her family (Jaden’s cousins) are there to pick us up, what a wonderful sight seeing Hilary at the baggage claim area! I figure Jaden will sleep on the way home and be in bed by 11pm, so maybe the time change transition won’t be too bad. But no, once in the car, Jaden starts talking to his cousin Bailey and they talk all the way home to Boulder. After calling Lynne, we have breakfast at midnight (noon Kaz time) and Jaden is wide awake. I’m ready to crash, so I do. I don’t know what time Jaden falls asleep, but its 5:30pm on Saturday and he hasn’t awakened yet. So the next few days will be very interesting as Jaden will be on Kaz time, but I’m feeling fairly adjusted to Colorado time.
It is so nice to be home, but so bittersweet. Having Lynne and Milan back in Arkalyk is really hard for both of us. Its not home here yet in the true sense of the word. That will be in early June, until then, we’ll be more than happy to be here, but we’ll be longing to have our whole family, our new family together, here, in beautiful Boulder, Colorado.