Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Harder Day

While yesterday went inordinately smoothly with Toktogul, today was a bit rocky, at least during the morning and early afternoon. We went up to the mountains with Kuba, whom we all adore, and I felt more like Kuba was visiting us in Colorado rather than we were visiting withhim in Bishkek. It was so much like the mountains around our area that it was almost unreal. Beautiful snow capped mountains with fast rushing runoff from the snow pack melting. We saw a couple of groups of native Kyrgyz out picnicking and fishing with the longest fishing pole I have ever seen. The runoff was so clean and clear, and not muddy as it is at this time of year near us. One surprising thing is that it was so close to Bishkek, with a million people residing there, and yet almost no one was up there enjoying the cooler weather and the great outdoors. I would have assumed that people would flock up there to get out of the city, but I guess not. The one huge difference was the piles and piles of trash in areas surrounding the stream. So sad to see and made me better appreciate the laws we have in the US to protect environments such as this.

Toktogul did not understand why we were going to the mountains, and was a bit bored with it all. He was also mad that he didn't get the window seat, which of course is an age old cause for arguments between siblings, and even when we told him Matthew got to sit by the window on the way up and he would get it on the way down he was not happy. He did giggle and have a little fun when we were out of the car and playing around throwing rocks in the water. But things rapidly went downhill (no pun intended) from there when we were driving back to the city and he kept hanging his body out the window of the car and we told him over and over agin to sit down and then suddenly he lost a small battery out the window that he had been carrying around with him. He kept insisting we go back and get it, and we of course declined to do so. He got angry. About 10 minutes later he opened the car door while we were doing about 50 mph, and Dominick, who was sitting in the back with the boys raised his voice and sternly told him not to touch the door anymore. Then Toktogul got REALLY upset, and continued to pout much of the rest of the drive back to Bishkek. We went to lunch and he improved a bit, but we had decided that when we returned to the hotel all 3 boys needed to take a nap. Ohhhh boyyyyy, that did not set well at all with him!!! He was extremely mad at this stage, and I know didn't understand our reasons for wanting him to rest...he thought only Joshie should nap, and then he purposely made as much noice as he could while lying down, singing, banging the walls a bit, etc. So Dominick moved Josh to our bed, and separated Matthew and Toktogul into different beds, and he then sat in a chair in the room to play Sleep Monitor for them :-) The funny thing was, the minute Toktogul got the idea that he wasn't winning this battle and quieted down, he fell fast asleep, easily proving our point that he was overtired and overstimulated.

When he awoke about an hour and a half later, I was sitting next to him on the bed and his eyes popped open, and then this look of sadness came over him and he started to weep a little, and when I bent over to kiss him and ask if he was ok he really started to cry hard. I pulled him up onto my lap, and he did not resist and in fact melted into me a bit, and he cried for awhile while I gently whispered to him. Dominick came in and sat down next to us and Tokie went to him as well and Dominick explained he loved him very much and we pantomimed as best we could that EVERYONE had to take a nap, not just Tokie, and that he had slept a long time and was tired. He had stopped crying at this point and as we joked a bit about how tired he was a slow grin crept into his face and we knew then that he understood.

It brought sharply into focus just how confusing all of this must be for him, how overwhelmed he must be at times...how difficult it is to understand the rules and authority of parents if you have never had them before. He looked so sweetly sad and vulnerable lying there as the tears fell, and my heart felt his confusion and sorrow. The language barrier alone must be so frustrating and then throw in all the other areas where he lacks any kind of knowledge and it is a recipe for anger and resentment. Actually, if I were in his shoes I would be throwing tantrums day and night! We have a long and challenging road ahead, and it will be filled with curves, valleys and hills...it will not be a straight line by any means. We expect there will be progress and backsliding for a long time to come. Grief will also have to be worked through as it hits in waves, and I am hoping that having a firm yet loving guiding hand will give him the security he needs to express that when it arrives. He will know we will stand with him, hold him and be there for him, and that we want the best for and from him. And that grief WILL come eventually, and perhaps we saw a smidgen of it this afternoon. A child can not leave everything that is known and step into the unknown without feeling some sort of loss. I have a great deal of respect for how well he has handled everything thus far.

But then there was the little guy we had the rest of the afternoon...the smiley, excited, cheerful little boy who showed what a resilient spirit he has. There was the little boy who ever so proudly surprised us by taking a notebook and pencil, and writing for the first time and from memory of seeing it written only once "Mama" and "Papa". He wrote his own name in English as well as Matthew's name, and grinned so broadly as everyone applauded. There was the little boy who sat nestled on my lap as we waited patiently for over an hour at the Kazakh Embassy for our visas. Toktogul is also one of the most outgoing kids I have ever met, saying Zdrasvutya to everyone he meets from taxi drivers to waitresses. He already has the makings of an outstanding salesman! This is not attachment related at all, this is all personality. We have all met those who seem bolder than others and wished we were a bit more like them in approaching people, well it is easy to see that Toktogul has the "it" factor where that is concerned.

We spent the late afternoon and dinner with our new friends, Wendy and her kids, and it was the perfect way to spend our last evening in Bishkek. If you can believe this, we had refried beans and homemade tortillas in Bishkek, something that just a couple nights before we had joked about. We have a photo of Tokie eating his first burrito :-) Matthew and Joshua also had a blast playing with their boys, and it was really a sad and forlorn goodbye that was said as we realized odds are we will not see one another again, or at least not for a long, long time. It is so nice when you meet people you instantly connect with, and it is sad when circumstances don't allow those relationships to blossom. However we all made a promise to remain connected and with technology as it is that might not be as hard as it once was.

So here we are on our last night in Bishkek, halfway done with our trip. As I emailed my mom earlier, this may sound nuts but I think we will all miss it here when we leave tomorrow. Our stay here has been filled with emotional highs and lows, and with meeting a lot of really special people. It was all I could have ever wishsed for and more, and we will have lasting memories of our time here. Funny how it only takes a few days to begin to feel settled in someplace, and the relationships along the way make it that much more special.

We are on to Almaty tomorrow where we finish at the Embassy, and then I fly to Petropavlovsk to meet Angela and Olesya, the two sisters we sponsor through the Antares Foundation. I will so enjoy seeing Boris again, the program Director in Petro and I will get to meet his wife Sveta as well. I will tour a couple of the orphanages, including one for the handicapped, so although part one of our adventure is over and our true goal has been obtained with uniting with our very special new son, the adventure is only half over.

I don't know what kind of internet access we might have from here on, as we are staying in an apartment rather than a hotel in Almaty and that doesn't have access. I don't know whether the hotel I am staying at in Petro has it or not, but I will try and blog as I can from wherever I can obtain access...so stay tuned...more is to come, it just might take some work for me to get to share what is going on! Thanks again to everyone for walking this journey with us :-)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Imagine

Imagine the fascination of an 8 year old boy as he touches a man's stubble for the first time or watches his Daddy shave for the first time.

Imagine a child so fascinated with the world around him, so limited in his life experiences, that zippering and unzippering every compartment in a carry on suitcase can keep him occupied for 10 minutes as he explores.

Imagine the expression on that child's face the first time he knows he can ask for another kiss at bedtime, and he gets that AND a hug, and can get it anytime he wants for the rest of his life.

Imagine having a McDonald's toy, which usually entertains American home gown kids for about 5 minutes, entertain that child for an hour?

Imagine watching that child's head whip this way and that as he is out in the world really for the very first time seeing traffic and stores, restaurants and people.

Imagine that child's delight as he is held, Oreo Cookie Style, between Mommy and Daddy and hugged as if he is cherished...and it is the first time that has ever happened in his 8 years of life.

Imagine having the freedom to do what you want, when you want (within Mommy and Daddy's guidelines), for the first time in your life. Imagine not having every moment of your life scheduled, of being able top press for 10 more minutes watching TV and know you just might get it :-)

Imagine knowing that in a week you will fly on an airplane, a dream that most of your friends will never fulfill in thier lifetimes.

Imagine discovering two brothers who will always be there to play with you, laugh with you, and help you.

Imagine you can sit down at a table and actually eat and eat and eat and eat until you are full...for the first time in 8 years.

Imagine playing with a flashlight for the first time and wanting to be in the bathroom in the dark all night!

This is not imagination for us, we are participants in the new reailty and wolrd of wonder that Tokotgul is experiencing. What a gift it is.

Why?

Today was a day filled with kindness and sorrow, with joy and pain. This morning we were up early (as you can tell from my previous post) and were off to Sokolok, the orphanage that Toktogul has resided at for the last year of his life. It is a specialized orphanage where he was receiving spech therapy along with several other children with cleft lip/palate. On the drive Saule and I had such a nice visit, and we both admitted to one another that we felt more like friends than client and coordinator, that we each felt instantly comfortable with one another. She is a beautiful woman with a wonderful heart and spirit. If we lived nearer one another we could easily be fast friends, and I will work at keeping this friendship alive.

We arrived at Sokolok and Tokie was obviously excited to be there. We were met immediately upon entering the building by the Director, and what a warm and open woman she was. We felt very free to ask questions of one another, to learn about Toktogul, American foster care, why we would like "black" children (as she called our asian sons), and what the orphange was like. There was no worry about offending one another in translation, just an understanding that certain things might come out wrong when interpreted but nothing offensive was meant. I truly enjoyed the couple of hours spent in conversation with her, and couldhave easily spent more time there chatting with her and Saule.

While we were visiting, two of Toktogul's best friends came in, Turat and Askar. Both are 8 years old, although Askar is barely taller than Joshua. Askar was mentioned on a post on my blog awhile ago which I removed. I had seen him on a couple of web sites before. Askar is hard to miss as he has a large tumor growing in the upper part of one side of his face. He has the most expressive eyes, and is a very tender little boy who is intelligent and kind. Turat has a repaired cleft and he too I had seen before in older photos I was lucky enough to get of Toktogul. Both bhoys are availabvle for adoption. As I sat in that room on those too small children's school chairs watching 5 little Kazakh and Kyrgyz boys, I asked myself a question...

Why? Why are these dear sweet little boys overlooked by everyone? Why have they never known a mother and father's love? Why does God allow this to happen? Why does their gender and race make them less adoptable, why does their facial deformity and age automatically relegate them to unconsiderable status? As I asked how old Askar was and was told he was 8, the Director said he was so small because he had no one to love him, that he needed love to grow in all ways.

Why? Why can't someone look at our boys and see that maybe, just maybe, they aren't all so bad and they should take a chance. I saw in each of these boys a wonderful son for someone, and believe me, if I were wealthier I would head home and start paperwork tomorrow. These boys are like Toktogul, totally adoptable and adaptable in every way and yet warehoused where no one can see their light, their hope.

And once again, I was in tears...this is so hard...to see children, to hold them and hug them and see their shy little smiles knowing they are hoping against hope that they too can one day have a family. It is hard to have seen photos of a child like Turat as he grew from an infant to a boy, seeing him in the background of photosof your own child knowing that he will remain behind. As I put Toktogul to bed tonight, as I kiss him good night with his big grin, I will see Askar and Turat in my mind and I am sure I will have a hard time sleeping tonight. Why can't an older set of parents look at these 8 year old boys and say "Hey, I have ten years to give..." or why can't a younger couple say "I am willing to do it...they deserve me as much as any other child...".

I found myself thinking of them over and over, realizing I will never forget them and wondering what in the world I could possibly do to help them. I could raise money for Askar's surgery to remove the tumor, which we have already committed to do...but after the surgery, what next? He still goes back to the dreary confines of an orphanage, to a desolate life filled with yearning for love, yearning to be special to someone. I took photos of both boys and will put them on my fridge, and if it give me a little stab in the heart each day, so be it...it is nothing compared to the loss and pain they must feel each and every day of their lives. I will hold them up in prayer and in my heart, and trust that God has a plan that I don't know about and that He is carrying them. I will never, ever forget them.

We then spent the afternoon visiting with Wendy and her family, one of the missionaries we carried items over for. We had lunch with them yesterday and our sons connected and really enjoyed each other so she invited us over for the afternoon to visit, do laundry, and just share some time together. What a wonderful family this is, the kids are innocent and wholesome, and were so pleasant to be around. We stopped by the school that their daughter attends, a private school here mainly for missionary children and it was wonderful. We enjoyed seeing it. Then we were invited to another family's home for dinner where we also met a woman who had visited Toktogul for a year in his orphanage at Belovodske and learned she had prayerfully considered adopting Toktogul as a single mom. She is a kind Kyrgyz woman whose English was fairly good, and she explained that Tokotgul's one dream had been to have a mommy and a daddy, that he had told her that more than once. She said that she ultimately decided not to adopt him because she felt God was telling her He had a family in mind for him with a mommy and a daddy, and she said that when she learned of us and our decision to adopt Toktogul she was not at all surprised, as she had already felt it in her heart. When we all took a photo together before we left, she had a hard time holding back her own tears.

And thus ended our day. We had not a single power struggle with Toktogul today, nothing at all out of the norm for a typical 8 year old boy. He was funny, engaging, and feeling more and more like he is truly ours each and every day. He and we were around several people who had cared about him and his future.

And yet, here I am, thinking about two more little boys who need exactly what Toktogul is getting. And wondering...why?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Morning Has Broken...

So it was 4:30 Am when I woke up this morning, my back aching from the too firm bed (it's not bad, just I like it squishy!) and I thought I'd shower and come down and share a bit about what our surroundings are like. I realized that I have done very little of that on the blog, mainly because it is not all that new feeling to me but I assume most of you reading have never vacationed here in Bishkek :-)

As we walked down the street last night, just 3 blocks or so from our hotel, we heard the call to prayer blaring out of speakers at the local mosque we found on the corner. We walked past bins overflowing with trash, dirty diapers and used condoms on the streets, and garbage of all sorts just about everywhere. The roads are in very poor shape with crumbling asphalt that in some spots can barely be recognizable as asphalt...and then the main thoroughfares are in decent shape. Some areas of the city are cleaner, but much of it is like this. The agiung, crumbling soviet style apartment building is the norm for people to live in, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where that is concerned...they all have the same styling, same dark and stark unlit entries with many of them having the traditional blue hallways. Interestingly, people here spit all the time and the sidewalks are covered with it! Where we are, which actually seems like a little oasisin the city, just outside the gated "compound" of the hotel there are many homeless dogs running around, a starving cat or two, and of course the railroad tracks that run just in front of the hotel. We have enjoyed seeing the traingo by and it doesn't bother us at all.

The sad thing is, that this could be a a BEAUTIFUL place to be if the buildings were in good shape and the garbage cleaned up. You have never been in a city with such greenery every place you turn. Large, old trees line every street, and fill every park to the point it feels as if you are in a forest. The sky here is fairly clear and far freer of pollution than Almaty, which sadly is so bad you can hardly see the stunning mountains surrounding it...nothing but brown as far as they eye can see...and this coming from someone who lived in Southern California during the 70's when pollution was at it's worst there...it doesn't even compare to Almaty's air disaster.

There are shops lining every street, not necessarily in buildings but in metal shacks that we would consider starage sheds for our back yards, and you can get anything from cigarrettes to liquor to milk, to fresh fruit and flowers at them. We laughed when we saw one selling used garments titled in English "Babushka Incorporated", and Dominick asked me if he thought they were a subsidiary of an American company.

There are people, people everywhere! Walking mostly, driving, talking, shopping. We were told there were over a million people in Bishkek, and I believe it! I have found we are a bit more comfortable here than in Kazakhstan when interacting with the folks in stores, etc. or maybe it is simply that we are more comfortable now on our third trip to this area with the cultural differences in the way people interact with one another and it doesn't seem so, well, foreign to us.

There is very little new construction, although we saw some nice apartments being built out towards the American Embassy, but with few exceptions almost everything is at least 50 years old, if not much older. Many of the sidewalks are not concrete but are pavers, some old and crumbling, some having been recently replaced with newer ones. As usualk, almost every park has some sort of war memorial or another.

On the drive over from Almaty to Bishkek we felt right at home, vast open areas that were greener than you can imagine and remindedus very much of driving from Montrose to Grand Junction. The landscape that was ocassionally rolling was punctuated with small cemetaries, and we almost hit a horse or two. In fact, Dominick even saw a dead horse laying on the side of the road as we drove to the orphanage the other day, luckily I missed that one :-) Outside of Bisheke there are animals galore, wandering around the homes. Goats and sheep and cows and horses are everywhere, grazing in areas you would never picture them grazing in. On the highway into Bishkek and out of Almaty vendors pull up on the side of the road, build a small temporary shelf and put auto coolant on it to sell. The gas station we stopped at halfway here required 20 tenge to use the restroom which was a floor toilet, which for the uninitiated is a basin of sorts in the floor...no seat...you squat. We have encountered a few of those and the boys think they are fun and mom thinks they are not so fun. Oh yea, and the 20 tenge didn't include the sheet of toilet paper.

We bought a small amount of groceries two days ago and it was over $50. Meals out are not inexpensive either, and I wonder how in the world anyone survives here on the wages they earn. Of course, they don't eat out and the restaurants are filled with foreigners, not locals. But staples here are not cheap, and even feeding your family must be a struggle on the below-poverty-level wages. It is quite easy to see why so many children in this part of the world end up residents of orphanages, at times it may be the only way a parent can insure their child's survival. And we are in the city, not in the tiny villages where life is even harder...less than a few miles from where I stand even having indoor plumbing is a luxury and on our drive in we saw many people hauling water to their homes.

So as I stood over the sink handwashing underwear for 5 of us, wet socks and bras dripping on my head from the shower curtain bar, I realized I had nothing to complain about having to do my washing by hand for once. It sure puts life in perspective for you, walking around here and recognizing just how luxurious our life is back in America.

And yet...it is the relationships that matter when life is so hard, and is that a bad thing? Could it be that we are missing out on much due to our lifestyle of relative wealth and privilege? People in America don't have time to get together to visit, to break bread, to share time together. They are too busy running around, being busy, acquiring stuff. We don't make the time to create lasting friendships of depth, then wonder why we feel so alone. We are not willing to give enough of ourselves, to share our hearts, because we can chase the American dream and comfort ourselves...and yet still our souls are empty. We have been fortunate to find those friendships, to have those ties that make everything else seem less important. We have friends for whom "stuff" isn't as important as "time" is. Like everyone, we have had friends in the past who have tried to fill the emptiness with vacations, alcohol, drugs, and material things. As I walk down these streets hand in hand with my family, I wonder if I would really be all that unhappy living here, or if life would be pared down the way it should be to keep things in their proper place.

Our hotel is not theHyatt, by any menas, but is neat, clean and actually homey as it is actually a "guest house" and not a hotel. We can run down to the kitchen to get a knife and a plate or use the microwave, we can use the tables in the dining area to play games in the afternoon rain, we can sit outside surrounded by the beuaitful garden and pool and use the covered patio area. Our room is small for 5 of us, but it works and feels about the size of a large tent with us walking over suitcases and toes and Matchbox cars. It is very simply furnished with a pine desk, wardrobe and bench seat with a folding couch that is a bed for Tokie and Matthew and a cot brought in for Josh. We have a small fridge and small TV which was used for the first time last night to watch Russian language cartoons, and surprisingly all 3 boys were enraptured and threw a fit coming almost near tears when we had to turn it down for a phone call during the "best part"...I guess you don't need to understand the language at all to be entertained by a cartoon! But it was funny to see Tokie laughing at certain points while Matt and Josh were silent, only he could understand the jokes in the plot! I figured this was good for him as soon the tables will be permanently turned.

And speaking of Tokie, this little guy is little...scrawny. I took some "before" photos so we can compare in a couple of months and he was showing off his muscles, and he is all elbows, knees and ribs. When placing your hands on his shoulders you feel mostly collar bone. But with the way he is eating...and eating...and eating...it won't be long before that has changed. Last night he ate 3 "sausages" (hot dogs), an entire apple, a yogurt, bread, 5 glasses of juice, a few cookies, some tomato, a hunk of cheese, and still wanted more but we had to stop him before he got sick! This was only 4 hours after having a platter...not a plate...of chopped chicken and rice. Whew! I can't imagine what my grocery bill will be for awhile until he gets the idea there is plenty of food around always. I've explained his needs to the boys and told them not to get any ideas, they can not eat like that to which Matthew responded "Don't worry Mom, I couldn't even eat that much anyway!".

Well, the sun is now fully risen and I must return upstairs to begin the day. Talk to you all later!

And Yet Again, God Amazes Me

This morning we had the distinct pleasure of attending the International Christian Church here in Bishkek. We were invited by a new friend who we carried some items over for, and then went out to lunch with her and her wonderful family. As you can imagine, Christianity isn't exactly a booming religion here, so this is a gathering place for those who wish to practice their place while living in a far away land from their home. I have NEVER been in a room more diverse than this, and our family fit in perfectly. There were literally people attending from every corner of the globe...Portugal, South Africa (Go SA!!), India, Ghana, America, Scotland, the Netherlands, Pakistan...and even more.

We were surprised to learn that today was their children's service signalling the end of their Sunday School year, so many kids were in attendance and it was all geared towards the kids, which was perfect. We had no idea how Toktogul would handle a more typical church service, but figured we could always take him outside if it didn't work out. But this environment was well suited to his current abilities and we felt very comfortable.

They then got to a portion of the service where they asked for any children to volunteer to come up front for a special portion of the service, and there isn't a shy LaJoy child in the world so all 3 walked up front. Then they had a blow up globe and said they were going to have each child hold it as they prayed for children in different circumstances around the world, and they would keep passing it down the line to the next child. How loud does God need to yell at me, I sometimes wonder? In an unplanned event this little globe being passed from the hand of one former orphan to another...and those children are my own. No one could have imagined that part of the service would play out like that, that God would speak in such a clear voice. When they got to the prayers for the children here in Kyrgyzstan who need hope and God's love, I just couldn't help it and the tears began to flow. I can not believe how often I have been so moved lately. So did the friend who invited us, for she knows our story, and she too has spent hours and hours in the orphanages here tending to forgotten children.

Throughout the past several months God has shown Himself over and over again to me in the most amazing ways. I have had my faith reinforced in a way I never thought possible, and it has been such a wonderful time in my life to feel this in tune with God and his desires for us.

Later in the day Toktogul learned that Arrid Extra Dry is NOT air freshener, and we all had a good laugh over that one. He also learned that "Papa" as he is calling Dominick, does not take kindly to being ignored and pulled away from, and was promptly marched up to our room to lay down and think about it for a few minutes. We are working on being firm about politeness with each other, as honestly our family really does treat one another with a lot of respect. We don't allow our sons to be mean or unkind to one another, we insist on them saying please, sorry and thank you even with each other, and generally treating each other as we would treat those outside our family. We have been encouraging Toktogul to say "Please" when asking for something and "Thank you" when he receives it, both to begin training for how we live and to practice a very few first words in English. He seems to enjoy it and when at the restaurant today he told the waitress "Spasiba" at the end of the meal, and then asked me how to say it in "Amerikanski" as he had forgotten, then after being told he chased her down and proudly told her "Thank you"! He also prompted Dominick today when Dominick asked for something looking him straight in the eye and saying "Papa...please..." trying to get him to ask with a "Please"! It was a hoot and showed that this little guy has a real sense of humor.

For all the challenges with behaviors, I think this is all going far better than I had anticipated. Of course, I was really prepared mentally for the worst case scenario, but Tokotgul is a remarkable boy who, although bristling at some requests, will not stay mad for more than a few minutes and doesn't really "blow up" at all. It is just those small control things like refusing to answer when we call because he knows he won't like what we want him to do, or not letting go of items when we ask them. He will test us 7 or 8 times like a toddler, reaching out to touch the "forbidden fruit" over and over, waiting for us to turn our back. But we are on to him and I think that is frustrating him :-) But really, it is small things overall, they can be aggravating but are really very easily handled. And I am sure he is sick and tired of being parented 24/7 since that is new to him. He has never had so much individual attention on him, and we are picking our battles carefully. However, we are trying to curb certain behaviors quickly before we are wandering around international airports and he has the chance to really get hurt or lost. We are also interjecting lots of rough and tumble, belly laughing play to try and defuse things when it gets to be too much. So far, it seems to be working fairly well.

Toktogul also got his first boo boo with us today, falling down hard on the rough, patchy asphalt and skinning his elbow pretty good as well as a knee. It was just me and all three boys out about a block from the hotel so we all helped our crying, crippled little brother home and rushed him upstairs to our room where every one of us fussed over him and cleaned him and bandaged him up as he giggled wildly at all the attention. Dr. Matt and Dr. Josh asserted that sutures were not needed and proceeded to select the proper sized bandaid. Mommy then soundly kissed knees and elbows, and was prompted to kiss them one more time by Tokie as he grinned widely.

It is these little moments that are really the baby steps towards real bonding. The comfort level with each other is already there for all of us, which is such a great gift considering I assumed I would feel like I was babysitting for many months to come. But already, in a mere 36 hours, he feels like he has been with us much, much longer. There was no discomfort the first time he disrobed, no awkward moments with goodnight hugs and kisses, just a settled in feeling which can only be from God as it is not normal with older children being adopted. I am very grateful for that. And there are these precious spontaneous hugs from him where it is as if he is having a hard time finding the words to say what he is feeling. And just before I came down here to write this post, all three were out of the bathtub and we were putting lotion on, cleaning ears, etc. and then as I always have to do with Matthew and Joshua I was putting special cream on their faces and I sing this stupid little song from Bugs Bunny cartoon...it is sort of a tradition and I HAVE to do it every time. Well, already Tokie grabbed the lotion and looked at me expectantly, pantomiming me putting it on him and he hummed the stupid song!! He WANTS to be a part of it and already has come to expect he will get the same thing as Matt and Josh, and I love that.

Tomorrow we go to Sokolok, which is the actual orphanage Toktogul has lived at for over a year. We are going to say good bye, and hopefully I will get some school records or something to assist us in evaluating where we should put him for grade level. I am not sure what else the day will hold for us, but it seems that each and every day here brings more surprises, more tiny gifts to cling on to. Talk to you all again tomorrow...for now, good night, and I miss all of you!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

PS

I realized I forgot to add something to my last post and I didn't want to let anothermoment go by without thanking everyone who has emailed or posted on the blog. Your support and love mean so much, and I am sorry I haven't had time to email all of you back...I don't have long enough access to do so. But I have read each and every one of them and you have made me smile with your caring. Thanks!

Hiney Bonding

From the title of this post you are probably scratching your head asking "What gives?"...hahahaha! Day two as a family of five was, in short, awesome. I awoke at first light to Toktogul snuggled in bed between Dominick and I, who had gotten him out of bed to place him with us while the other boys were asleep. After a few minutes he hopped out of bed, and proudly went to the wall switch calling "Momma...ON...OFF" showing me that he remembered our lesson of the night before. His grin lit his face and the grins from the bed weren't far behind.

Today we went to visit Toktogul's Baby House, the orphanage he started out at (He has lived in 3 thus far) when an infant. We toured the outside and at first were not allowed insi until our coordinator, Saule arrived. While we were still outside, one of the caretakers popped herhead out the door to check out the strange entourage of 2 Americans with 3 little Kazakh/Kyrgyz boys and their interpreter following along, and suddenly she said "Toktogul??" and he went to her and she gave him a big hug and was SO glad he was being adopted. She shared with us that he was a very good boy when he was there, always active and "big heart". She also revealed that there was a caretaker who no longer works there who was so in love with him that she wanted to adopt him herself, but couldn't afford to raise him. That caretaker sobbed when he left the babyhouse, and she said she wished she could let her know that he did indeed now have a family..she then proceeded to thank us for adopting Toktogul as well as Matthew and Joshua, and said she wished others would see what beautiful children they are.

Not long after as we were getting into the car, Saule arrived and got me "inside". Man, what fun I had! I took several photos of the building, met the Doctor and a couple of others who came out to the car to see Toktogul and obviously cared very much about him and his future. Then...my biggest joy for that hour, at least, was that I had the priviledge of holding 3 other babies destined for families! I met Michelle's Zebastian, who by the way is a total doll and if it weren't for Michelle adopting him might just tempt me to adopt a baby again even at my advanced age. I met a little girl with a bilateral cleft lip just like Toktogul's who is beautiful and eyes shining bright...and I can't remember the name of the family who is adopting her. Then I met another little girl for a family with our agency scheduled to travel next month. If any of you are reading this blog, contact me, as I have pictures of each of your kids that I'd love to share!!! So, I got my baby fix, and honestly, that was enough to last me for awhile...I have enough on my plate now :-)

I was struck by the differences between Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz orphanages I have now visited. Frankly, the Kyrgyz orphanages I have seen are better than Kazakhstan's, and there feels like there is life happening in them. I have often described Matthew's and Joshua's orphanages as silent, even with 70-200 babies in them, the fact is the babies learn itis pointless to cry as there is no one to come help if you do. This orphanage today was filled with noice and activity, kids playing...lots of toys, babies crying and fussing, and lots of caretakers everywhere. For what it was, it was a cheerful and bright plae, and I think much of the credit for that goes to Saule, who has spent an enormous amount of time establishing programs there, training staff, getting Manas AFB staff to participate in upgrades...this is a woman who is NOT in it for the money at all, but is trying her best to make a difference. Again I go back to that theme that one person can change the lives of many with action.

I returned to the car where all the men were, and then we were off to Zum, the mall with souvenirs that are traditional. There Toktogul had his first escalator ride and had to learn that you stand only on one step. His head was going every which way as we went through this bustling mall filled with small stalls with individual vendors. You can not begin to imagine the stares we got with our little Kazakh/Kyrgyz crew...and one kind younger Kyrgyz woman asked me about our family, a bit about the process, and then stopped and said to me "You love your children very much..." as if a bit surprised, to which I replied "More than you'll ever know". The attitudes about adoption here by the native population is partly what keeps so many children languishing in orphanages, and if others can see us out and about with happy, bright kiddos maybe someones mind might be changed, even at the expense of being stared at constantly.

We then ate at a great little pizza place with close to American style pizza, and while there we took the opportunity to have Kuba explain some things to Toktogul about how our family works...that we don't yell at each other, that we never hit one another, that we expect him to acknowledge us when we speak to him, stuff like that. We explained that he may think we are mean, but we are not...that we care about him and know about dangerous things that he does not yet know about. We told him that he has the same rules that Matthew and Joshua have. We then asked Kuba to find out how he feels about everything so far, if he was comfortable with us and if he was mad at us for saying "no" so much. He told Kuba he was very happy and that he understood, which frankly surprised me as I figured he was pretty ticked off at us by now because of all the firm responses he had been getting from us about many things. He is quite insistent when he wants something, and doesn't let up easily (and that is putting it a bit mildly) but he doesn't yell or get obnoxious once he finally does give in so it is definitely workable...just tiresome at moments, but already we are seeing slight improvement and more acceptance by the hour of our guiding. Funnily, when I asked Matthew what he thought we should be teaching Tokie first, he replied "Commands Mom, so he understands things like 'stay' and 'stop' because he could get hurt!"

As the day wore on things just kept getting better...and I actually got my first kiss today, a real one, not a fake one, and it was a spontaneous "mom" kiss. All three kids are riding around a la 60's style in the back of Kuba's station wagon...you know, like we ALL did when we were kids, as there are no seatbelt laws here and no way to transport this many people in a small car if you did have such a law. As I got in the car all three boys were hanging over the seat calling to me and Matt and Josh each leaned over and gave me kiss, and then I hear this high pitched "Mama" and turn around, and there Tokie is puckered up waiting for his :-) Of course, at this stage, we are pushing nothing physical as that comes with time, but he is very open to much of it without yet causing me worry over attachment related issues with overt friendliness with strangers. This is just a kid who has been fortunate enough in this environment to have a few special people in his life who loved him, and showed him how to love, so he has an open heart to accept and give it.

And now we come to "Hiney Bonding". Yes, I have boys, and those of you with boys around this age will totally get it...and those of you with no experience with the wonder that is a boy will think this is ridiculous and perhaps even in poor taste. Oh well, jump to the next paragraph if you choose to. Toktogul brought with him in that blue shopping bag one of those ghastly little kewpie doll things with tall wild hair, and it was clothed. Well, we are beginning to work on vocabulary and Joshie was playing with the doll and pulled his pants down accidently. I know of at least one mom reading this with 3 boys who already knows where this is leading...hahaha! Joshie laughed a bit and Tokie laughed a bit, and I pointed to it's bottom and said "Hiney", which made them break out in hysterics as Tokie tried out the new word, Matthew then joined us and pretend spanked Joshie's bottom and said "Hiney"...and I think at that moment they all began the real process of becoming brothers as they chased each other around this tiny room for the next 20 minutes pulling pants down and patting each others hineys while laughing up a storm. Suddenly, things looked different to all of them and they realized just how much fun they could have together even without a shared language yet.

Already you can see Toktogul blossoming with any praise at all. Joshie did his little scribble drawing this afternoon, and I made a big deal out of it as usual saying how pretty it was...and then Toktogul started with fierce intensity on his own drawing (Thanks mom for those magic crayola markers) and when he was done presented it to me with a look of such naked expectation on his face I almost wanted to cry. After much making over of it by mommy accompanied by huge hugs, there was a new light in his eyes..one of joy at being noticed...one of his soul very, very slowly beginning to fill up. Can you imagine what this feels like right now, being a part of this, standing by and watching this child unfold into the flower he will some day become? I can't find the words really to express it.

Another interesting thing is that Toktogul has bugged us and bugged us about phoning his mama from the orphanage, the one who cried so much when we left Belovodske. We tried tonight but couldn't getthe call through so will try tomorrow. But I have been so pleased to see his attachment has formed to this woman so strongly, as it means he will eventually have thje ability to attach strongly to us.

This evening I went to the Hyatt to visit with Tina, another adoptive mom who has a BEAUTIFUL baby girl that I got to spoil for a few minutes...and we talked and laughed, and it was so nice to be with someone whose life experience mirrors mine at the moment, even if the age of the child is different. Tina is an incredible mom and feels such a blessing has dropped into her life, and it has. After being spoiled with Coke Light and real internet access so I could post the recent photos, I returned home where the boys were all still awake. As I approached the room in the hallway I heard giggles, and lots of them. I opened the door and was quite literally pounced on by first Tokie and then Matt and Josh, 3 boys and about 180 pounds of bustling, giggling, hugging and kissing cyclones all yelling MOMMYYYY!!!.

Damn guys, it just doesn't get any better than this. I KNOW we have struggles ahead, I know he will challenge us routinely for a long time to come. But as I tucked them all in bed tonight, Matthew and Tokie whispering under the pillows in Boy-ese that needs no translation, and Joshie on my lap with his head buried in my chest, I knew that this was what God made me for...this is what I am supposed to do with my life. It may not be earth shattering and it surely will win no Nobel Peace Prizes, but it has made a difference in the lives of 3 precious little boys and a difference in all of the lives they will one day touch. Thank you God for giving me this opportunity, to watch my sons go from being unloved castaways to cherished children. Thank you for giving Dominick and I the courage and strength to do this. Thank you for never allowing me to become pregnant. I "get it" now in ways I never have before.

Until the next episode of "The American Kazakh Kyrgyz Klan in Kyrgyzstan", good night!

Here it is, what you've all been waiting for!!!






I don't think that any words are needed, this is my family...and it is beautiful.

More Pics







Here are some pictures of how tired we were upon arrival in Frankfurt, as well as shots at the castle...yes, Matthew lived out a dream of all little boys!

Finally...Pictures!!!!



Here we are at the airport, anxiously awaiting the flight to Frankfurt! I have to upload just a couple at a time and am grateful to Tina for letting me use her access!! She also plied me with a Coke Light which can't be found anywhere in Bishkek!

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Big Day

Today was the Big Day, and it started off with Matthew and I again awake at barely 4:00 AM...wish this jetlag would leave us behind! We all got up and dressed and were on our way to the orphanage with Saule and her son Kuba by 7:30 AM. When we arrived at Belovodskoe it was a mild, sunny spring morning and there wasn't a child in sight! The orphanage Director, a kindly Russian woman, met us outside and surprised us by knowing enough about our family to remember Matthew and Joshua's names. She led us inside and straight to her office where we were told a bit about Toktogul and then asked if we had any questions, which we did. We learned that his birthday is not October 15th as we had been told but November 15th. We also learned he was abandoned at the Bishkek Baby House about 2 months after birth and that there is absolutely no birth parent information available. He is one of the best students in his class and we were told that we would have to be vigilant because he is extremely curious about everything. We were told that he has had 4 surgeries and is "done", but later learned that might not be the case. She also said that he deserved a good, loving family and that he was a very good boy who was much loved.

We were then led down a hallway to where hs family group lived, but the room was empty. A caretaker was there and went to get Toktogul, so we all stood there quietly waiting...

Suddely, in walks our little boy accomapanied by his favorite caretaker who immediately started to weep. He walked right up to us and gave us a big hug, and then the boys as well...despite his apparent ease with everything, he was breathing so hard I thought he would hyperventilate and was obviously very, very aware that this was a big moment in his life. My first impression was that he was smaller than we had most recently thought, but that he was actually the size I had originally assumed him to be...about 3-4 inches shorter than Matthew and he wore the smallest sized shoes we brought along. His hair is short cropped at the moment and he has slender arms and legs but is actually fairly solidly built. He turned and saw his caretaker crying and ran to her, kissing her several times and hugging her, then turned back to us. The room was pretty quiet, none of us saying too much as he slowly took it all in. He was clinging on to a plastic shopping bag that contained a very few personal items...the scrapbook we sent, some candy, and oddly enough some slippers. He hadn't been around us 5 minutes before he offered us candy from his bag. We learned he had just given the Russian-English book we sent him to his best friend, telling everyone that he was going to America and would learn English therebut his friend might need the help.

After a few moments when he showed us his bed and the rest of the area, we walked down to the Director's office, past an indoor terrarium that contained a full sized banana tree, and there he changed clothes into the ones we brought him. He showed us photos and a note with his caretakers address and phone number that she had given him and he had stored inside our scrapbook. Then, just like that, it was over and we were ready to leave. We walked outside accompanied by the Director, a Doctor and his caretaker and stood there for a moment watching all 3 boys who were goofing around together already. Dominick asked them each to say something to Toktogul and he videotaped their messages to him. The all 3 boys piled into the back of the van and with more window kisses directed at his caretaker, we were off!

We went to lunch where we were able to sit back and watch the boys playing at a playground area, and where we could watch in awe how much Tokotgul ate. He refused to go back to playing because he was still eating...and I mean EVERYTHING. Saule made a great point that children from an orphanage will eat so much at first not just because they are hungry physically, but because their souls feel empty as well. She has been incredible, helping by our side all the while directing Toktogul to ask us or pay attention to us rather than herself. She did a lot of preparation with him for this adoption and it paid off, he was as ready as any child could be for this kind of life changing event.

Toktogul is very bright and a quick thinker, and has a quick wit and catches on to jokes fast. He is extremely kind and helpful to others, and was particularly watchful of Joshua. He has a great laugh and today we heard it often.

We also encountered resistance often to direction or telling him "no", and by the middle of the afternoon he was actually a bit angry a time or two...so,the honeymoon wore off quickly :-) The fact is, he has never been constantly corrected on a regular basis and needs patience to teach him that "no" means "NO". Understandably he also hasn't been taught the finer social graces and ocassionally grabs things from you or pushes in without a thought. There is no meanness to this, it is simply a lack of parenting and with time (and no doubt a few battles) will be corrected. Thankfully his good humor doesn't leave him angry long and his smile is quick to return thus far.

There was the additional overload on his senses that also contributed to some of it, surely, and we decided to come back to the hotel for the afternoon and just hang out quietly and eat dinner here. After some down time things improved markedly and although we still had some "selective listening" the control battles weren't as strong. We actually had a lovely evening all together after everyone had their meltdown in the afternoon...we ate a light dinner of salami and cheese and chips out on the patio deck where it felt more like we were in Southern California rather than Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The hotel has a very nice garden area and swimming pool, and we went for a walk on the railroad tracks behind our hotel just to explore. We played cards all together and laughed and laughed, and relaxed.

Things we discovered today were:

1) Toktogul had his first taste of soda today, Sprite, and was hooked!
2) He can not use a straw, and when he laughed we noticed it appeared his palate had not been closed completely...although we have not opened his mouth like a horse to check it out, but that could explain the straw issue too.
3) He had never seen a railroad track
4) He didn't know what salt and pepper were
5) He did not know how to wipe his bottom appropriately and then was absolutely stunned to learn that you actually put the toilet paper in the toilet rather than the trash can. Americans are VERY different!
6) It doesn't matter whether you speak English or not, Superman movies are cool!
7) We don't spit cherry pits on the floor in a restaurant
8) We learned "on" and "off" while playing with the lightswitch 6729 times.

In many, many ways it is like being with a toddler who has no fear of traffic, no clue about household equipment, etc. and yet there is an older kid lurking in there hiding that pops out sometimes.

Overall, it has been a day to remember forever...a nerve wracking morning, a stressful afternoon, and a lighthearted evening foretelling our future. We know it is a long road and actually, for us, the journey is really just starting. Toktogul has so much to learn, so much he has missed, and it is our job to fill in the gaps of that life experience. But I can honestly say that he IS a perfect fit for us, and although we have moments where we are struggling as we teach him new things we are completely surprised at how "right" this feels, how much he doesn't feel like a stranger in our midst, which frankly, is what I expected. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and feel differently but watching three bare naked bottoms walk past me and into the bathtub together I felt it was all exactly what it was meant to be.

Tokie is a remarkable child, and this means so much to him as evidenced by his saying his name loud and clear after dinner tonight...it was obvious he had been practicing..."Kenneth Toktogul LaJoy", from his own lips.

So here we are, a family, perfect in our imperfection.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Arrived in Bishkek!

Whew! We are finally here! Things are going well so far, and I need to catch you all up. We had no internet access yesterday and we still can't get our laptop configured correctly, but our new hotel here has access in the lobby so I can at least blog. I'll try and upload photos in a bit. Here are some highlights thus far:

1) We had a harrowing time at the passport control in Kazakhstan as they pulled us aside and questioned Matthew's Kazakhstani passport. It had expired, but we had received an extension from their embassy in the US, so it had a special stamp in it reflecting that. Well, there we are stnading off by ourselves at Passport Control with an agent who speaks no English, and she then leaves her booth to get her Supervisor. Meanwhile, every other passenger has cleared and we are concerned about our driver from the hotel thinking we had not arrived on the flight after all and leaving us behind. So we wait...and wait...and wait...and finally the Supervisor comes out and brings an interpreter and says that Kazakhstan does not allow dual citizenship and questions why we have two passports for him. Well, on this I am quite clear we are correct, but I wonder how in the world we are going to clear this up with him, as ultimately he is the Boss at the moment. We keep our cool and wordlessly Dominick and I both seem to agree that an attitude of nonchalance at this point is the best route to take, so we both feign slight indifference about the whole thing...all the while our hearts are beating 900 beats per minute thinking to ourselves "What are we going to do hear?". Smiling I explain that adopted children from Kazakhstan retain dual citizenship until 18, when they can renounce one or the other, which he did not know, obviously. I also quickly thought to point out that we had already entered and exited the country using Matt's Kazakhstani passport once before when adopting Matthew...and he then quickly turned to the other pages in his passport to verify what I had said, and thankfully that resolved it..after about 20 minutes of sweating bullets! If we hadn't been able to show a previous visit, I have a feeling we might have had a looooong night ahead of us as guests of Passport Control!

2) We had not even boarded the plane in Frankfurt when it already started....the stares. I had forgotten how intense the scrutiny was on our family when we went to adopt Josh and brought Matthew along...the stares EVERYWHERE were a bit unnerving, and this time is no exception as we are watched everywhere we go when either of them opens their mouth and fluent English tumbles out. Matthew is very aware of it this time, and although I tried to prepare him for it he felt a bit uncomfortable at first, but 2 days in and we all seem to be once again growing immune. It is not the same as in America, where we are still not exactly anonymous but at least there are smiles accompanying the stares. Here NO ONE smiles until you get to know them, and then they are actually very warm and friendly, but life is so difficult here that there really isn't much for them to smile about so it is seldom seen.

3) Almaty has changed a lot from our last visist amd it is obvious things are improving there, but as we drove out of Almaty this morning to cross the boarder from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan it was also obvious that things haven't changed really all that much...it is a veneer of prosperity but there are still millions of people living well below the poverty line, hauling water in large talks to their homes, old woman hawking their meager wares on street corners trying to make enough money for that days loaf of bread. It is heartbreaking to see that even here, the rich will get richer and the poor seem trapped in poverty...a level of which is virtually unknown to the average American.

4) I no longer feel like a stranger in a strange land. Upon arriving in Almaty and walking down the streets, we felt very comfortable (if you take away the "stare factor" about the Kazakh kids with us who can't speak a lick of Russian!) and strangely it has become to feel somewhat normal to be surrounded by people here whose lives are very different than ours, whose language we don't understand.

5) Kyrgyzstan, and particularly the area of Bishkek we are in, is almost identicle to Kazakhstan except Dominick and I both noticed the enormous amount of trash everywhere we walked today. Bishkek doesn't feel at all like Almaty, but in fact feels more like Aktobe or Uralsk, the far outlaying cities that Matthew and Joshua are from.

6)The boys...wow...have they been incredible travelers! I overheard a woman adopting from Kaz who was on our plane speaking with her coordinator at our hotel in Almaty, and she was saying she was amazed at how well behaved "those two little Kazakh boys" were, that she hardly knew they were on the plane. They have done so well with all of this, even though Matthew and I are suffering badly from jetlag that hasn't yet improved...we are both up at 2:00 AM this morning, snuggled on the couch watching a movie as Joshua and Dominick slept like rocks, gee...go figure that one :-) We never did go back to sleep, so you can imagine how tired we really are and it isn't yet improving. Also, I have caught some sort of bronchial thing and feel pretty lousy at the moment so I am hoping it clears up quickly and doesn't get worse...I can hardly speak right now!

7) The Hotel Kazzhol in Almaty....hmmmm...what can I say about a place that messed up our reservations, charged us $230 a night instead of the $150 we had been promised...and then, get this...we sleep on box springs...only...no mattress...and every bed in the hotel is like that! Dominick declared that he now knows what it is like to lay out on a morgue table, this was ridiculous and the floor would have been better! I don't get how they think the box spring is the "real" mattress, but needless to say we wouldn't recommend staying there to anyone else even though the food in their restaurant was recognizable and actually fairly good. The rooms were very nice, but can't really get past the beds.

8) Saule, our Coordinator - She met us as we arrived at the hotel, and what a warm and kind woman she is! Love her already! It was so obvious she felt she already knew the boys, and actually does from representing us in court and knowing all of our paperwork backwards and forwards. Although residing in Kyrgyzstan, she too is Kazakh and I think felt an instant affinity for the boys...she could hardly stand it and after about 2 minutes bent over to give each one a warm hug and kiss, and kept grinning at everything they said and did.

So, on to the Big Show tomorrow!! I admit I am feeling butterflies a bit as we are now this close to enveloping Toktogul into our family forever. This is such a huge step for all of us, and regardless of how strongly we feel he is ours the nerves are jangling a bit :-) We leave at 7:30 AM tomorrow for his orphanage and have a full day seeing 2 of his orphanages, getting paperwork done...and staring at one another as we all try and figure each other out. How quickly will the ice be broken? How stilted will this feel? How ready is he for this...and how ready are we? As exhausted as I already am from jetlag and morgue sleeping, I doubt that will improve much tonight. They put a fold out couch and small single bed in our room for the boys along with our double bed and already Matthew said he is sleeping in the bigger bed and that Toktogul gets to sleep with him....so I guess he is ready for this!

Please think of us all tomorrow as we begin this last leg of our "pregnancy". I guess the time has come to yell "Push...push..."!!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Arrived in Almaty

Hi Everyone! This is short as our friends are waiting for us and we are about to go spend the day with them. I will write a much longer post later, but wanted you to know we arrived safely and had a very warm welcome waiting for us with Salta and Ayana at the airport, and then they had come by our hotel and left baloons and a card in our room for us as a surprise :-) It was so sweet! We leave here tomorrow morning and are on to Bishkek then. Hopefully once we are settled in one place for more than a day we can get photos uploaded and posted. We are having problems with our laptop accessing any of the wireless networks...we don't know enough to figure out how to fix it! Anyone with suggestions, please email...do we need to change sttings of some sort or?? If not, no worries as we can access at our hotel in Bishkek but might not be able to upload photos,a dn I know you are all excited to see our first pics with Tokie so I'd like to get it figured out for that!

Stay tuned, I'll post later...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Castle Hoppin' and Rhine Stompin'

Today we had the nicest day, a very special one to always remember. Actually, for Matthew and I it began at about 2:30 AM when we both were wide awake due to jet lag. We both sat there playing an "I Spy" computer game wrapped up in a blanket together in the dark so we didn't wake up Joshie or Dominick. We giggled and had fun, and finally went back to bed around 4;30 Am and got a couple more hours sleep. Poor Joshie slept 12 hours plus a 3 hour nap yesterday! But he was raring to go this morning when he got up.

Dominick scored with a brand new Mercedes as our rental car, and you would have thought he had died and gone to heaven! It had a talking GPS system in it which made us far less intimidated to hit the countryside. We drove about an hour and a half to Braubach to visit Marksburg Castle. I have some great pictures but for some reason Blogger is not letting me upload from here tonight. I'll try later and see if it comes through. We wandered the streets of the tinz little village of Braubach, got an ice cream cone and then enjoyed the castle tour. The boys loved it, especially the torture room. We ate a lunch of bratwurst and french fries while overlooking the Rhine and felt very touristy.

We went back to the hotel and visited with some new friends we made who are from Illinois. Gene and Dee had dinner with us the last couple of nights and we really enjoyed their company and will miss them when we all part ways tomorrow.

This evening we drove into Frankfurt and walked along the Rhine, people watching and boat watching...it was a beautiful warm evening with the city lights reflecting off the river.

We actually really love Germany and feel so lucky we got to see a little piece of it today. It really is as green as they say it is, and Matthew asked from the backseat "Mommy, why don't they call Germany 'Greenland'?" I sure wish I could successfully post some of the photos I took so you could see it. This is a place I could see coming back to visit someday, like in my next lifetime when we have money!! Hahahaha!

Everyone is in bed now, anticipating our flight tomorrow to Kazakhstan. One of the nicest things about this trip is simply spending time together as a family with no interruptions, no cell phones, no paperwork. It isn't often that you get time like this to be alone together, and we are taking full advantage of it!

Well, I had better head off to bed myself as it is 1 AM here, guess the jetlag still has hold of me! We'll try and post more sometime tomorrow or the next day, depending upon where we have internet access. Nitey nite!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Arrived in Frankfurt

We have arrived in Frankfurt, safe and sound, but really tired. The flight from Montrose to Denver was actually pretty turbulent and I am not a roller coaster lover, so I was a bit green around the gills when we arrived but the boys were all laughing about it and having a great time every time the plane dipped and bobbed. Not necessarily my idea of fun but then we always have to fly in those little prop planes from Montrose so you'd think I would get used to it by now. Don't think that will ever happen :-)

We left yesterday at noon and friends were kind enough to come see us off, which was really nice. Not living near family makes moments like these sometimes feel a bit melancholy, but not this time! We had kids and adults all waving and hugging us goodbye, and photos of us boarding the plane.

The boys were awesome little travelers, behaving beautifully even on very little sleep. Matthew has been a huge help and is hauling around 50 lb bags without complaint, and even Joshie is dragging along carryons like a trooper. Interestingly, even in Denver, we noticed 2 or 3 Asian woman giving our little family the double take, which actually surprised us as that isn't usual when in larger cities. We are flying Lufthansa, unlike most families adopting from Kyrgyzstan who are using British Airways, because we are flying in and out of Almaty, Kazakhstan rather than Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We love Lufthansa (makes it sound like we do this all the time, doesn't it?) and this time was no exception...super clean planes, very good service, and they even gave away travel games to the kids!

Dominick and I both commented upon arrival in Frankfurt that this time around it doesn't feel foreign at all, which was a real surprise to us both. When we went to get Joshua and flew into here and had an overnight layover, it all felt fresh and very different. It feels kind of familiar this times, which is kind of nice. I have again been surprised how much of my 2 years of high school German have come back to me...not necessarily that I can remember vocabulary but I feel very comfortable reading signs and understanding them, hearing flight numbers, etc. and I can pronounce it very well...now if only I could say the same about Russian which would have been much more practical at this stage! I actually have a German maiden name, "Roehrman" which was at one time "Roehrmann" and my Dad had managed to trace our family back several generations to Germany.

The hotel is just as we remembered, clean, nice, and yet the room feels smaller! Maybe it is because we are 4 now rather than 3 as last time, and the 2 of the 4 are bigger and take up more space. The rooms are fairly small and with the tremendous amount of luggage we have with us we are walking on top of each other, but we could care less and that kind of thing doesn't really bother us. Tomorrow we are renting a car and going to try and visit a castle and see a little bit of Frankfurt. It will fulfill 2 dreams at once, Matthew's to see a castle and a real knights armor, and Dominick's lifelong dream to drive the Autobahn!! It all sounds so darned exotic for this hick, very un-chic family from Montrose.

No matter what else though, our main goal for the trip is not very far from our minds. Joshie was tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable sleeping upright last night, and he opened one eye and looked at me and said "Mommy, I just want to get Toktogul and go home!!!"

Not much longer now...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Today is the Day!!!!!!!




Wow...the day has arrived!!! The photo is the ENORMOUS amount of luggage we are taking. Before you think to yourselves "Typical Americans...gotta travel with everything including the kitchen sink!", we are taking about 150 lbs of stuff for a couple of other folks, missionaries who live in Kyrgyzstan. We offered to carry things over since we are traveling with 4 people and have a larger allottment of luggage...and it will give us the opportunity to meet new friends over there! It should be great fun, but frankly I am not exactly sure yet how we are going to maneuver through airports with all of the luggage and 2 children with only 4 adult hands! Somehow though, we will manage it. We already talked about it with the boys last night and we did our little family cheer "We're LaJoy's, we can do ANYTHING!!", and I have no doubts that we can :-)

Before we board the plane in just a few hours, I wanted to thank all of you reading this blog. Your prayers, interest and support have no doubt eased our journey. There are a few other thank you's that are definitely owed. I am trying to keep your privacy but want to acknowledge you in some way:

1) To our moms - Thank you for being our moms, for loving us, for showing us how to love others. Don't worry about us too much, we'll be ok and are at this stage "old pro's" at this. We'll stay in touch as we can. To "Lizzard", your brother says thanks!!

2) To the gang on Essex Street - We love you and appreciate your ongoing concern and support. Your friendship means so much to us!

3) To Tokie's adopted Auntie - Thank you for your special support...your generosity and love are appreciated more than you will ever be able to understand.

4) To Our Wichita Clan - All of you and the extended family as well - You, of all people know that blood means far less than people want to give it credit for. You have gone to great lengths to show us your love, and we are beyond grateful that you have also wanted to maintain this wonderful friendship even though it is long distance.

5) To the two Joan's in our lives, "Grandma" and "Miss" - Thank you both so much for your love for our family, you have added so much to our lives.

6) To Mel and the boys - We will now match your family! Hahahaha! Thanks for listening to me over and over again, hashing and rehashing it all. Thanks for sharing that you have also hashed it all out in your mind as you drove or were puttering around the house. Your excitement and joy for us makes it that much more special.

7) To Suzi B and Trevor Bean - You guys are such good buddies! We'll miss you doubly...during our trip and afterwards. Thanks for all your prayers seeing us through.

8) To the Tucson LaJoy's and extended family - We love you all and are so glad we have you praying for us, reading about us, and sharing this experience with us as best you can. Your emails have meant a lot and I love seeing "Tucson, AZ" show up on the blog stats!

9) To our Jetway Cafe family - Thanks for holding down the fort for us as you have done twice before. We couldn't do it without you, and we hope you know you are greatly appreciated!

10) To the Congregation of Hillcrest UCC - Thanks for being our local extended family...you all mean so much to us.

11) To Adoption Alliance, Karen, Saule, Kuba and crew: Some of you we have yet to meet, and we are looking forward to it very much! Thank you for all of your work, much of it unpaid or underpaid. Your obvious concern and love for the kids is extraordinary, and we are so pleased to be working with you all.

12) To all of those virtual friends - Your emails over the months and years have held us up, your shared experiences have made us feel "normal". We have learned so much from all of you and will continue to do so. Thank you for sharing this journey with us.

13) To the Government of Kyrgyzstan - Thank you for trusting us to raise one of your children. Thank you for allowing us to be parents one more time. Your gift is one of the 3 greatest we have ever received.

And best of all, to Toktogul...

Honey, we love you already and can't wait for you to join our family. Your ability to maintain your optimism and kind-heartedness in the light of the less than perfect beginning you have had in this world is impressive. Your obvious desire to embrace us as your new family gives us great joy and will hold us strong in the coming days as we all struggle to figure out what our new family is like and as you begin to assimilate to your new life. Know that we will walk before you to light your way, beside you to encourage you each and every day, and behind you to watch you play!!

And now...we are on our way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Last Minute Preparations



So now that we have the passports/visas in hand, I can focus on the last-last-last minute things we wanted to do. One of them was to pick up a special gift for our coordinator, Saule. I have heard from many that this woman is amazing and that she really, really cares about the kids. I know just from comments she has made that I have shared here on the blog that she has a soft spot in her heart for Toktogul, so I wanted to get her a gift that was more meaningful than cash or lotion or some other small trinket.

I had an idea to have a small quilt made for her. I approached a friend of ours from church who I knew was an avid quilter and shared my idea with her and asked if she would be willing to make it for me. Betty Ann graciously agreed to do so, and then insisted that she not be paid for it, saying it was a pleasure to be involved with such a special little project. I gave her a general idea of what I wanted to do with it, and she took it from there. I knew I wanted the hearts and the flags of America and Kyrgyzstan, and I wanted Toktogul's photo incorporated somehow. So we both went to work, I with Photoshop and a Russian translation to add to his photo, and she with her quilting skills and creativity (of which I have none!). Thanks to a friend who kindly interpreted for me and sent it via email, I was able to add to his photo "Thank you for finding my family, Toktogul LaJoy". On the back of the quilt she added a white heart where we can sign it as well.

When I saw it today, I was so thrilled...it could't have turned out better! It was exactly what I had imagined, and is beautiful. I only hope that Saule loves it as much as I do!!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

OK...The Time for Panic is NOW

We have been struggling with our Kazakh visas for 2 weeks now, and as of today we still don't have our passports in hand with visas. Yes, you heard that correctly...we have 1 working day left or we can not get on that plane. I am usually good natured and roll with the punches fairly well, but I am officially declaring myself in Panic Mode. The Assistant Stork has been phenomenal in trying to push this through, and I have nothing but high praise for Steve Morrison there. This is really a delay caused by the Kazakh Embassy in the US, and we are praying hard and long that Steve's courier can pick it up this evening and get it FedEx'd in time to us.

So...any of you out there who are praying folks, can I ask for a little one to be sent up for us??

Otherwise, I really am calm, believe it or not! :-)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Accomodations in Kaz and Kyrg

For those of you reading this blog for research purposes, I thought I'd share a bit about our plans for the trip. It can be difficult to make hotel arrangements in a city you have never been to with no "chains" and the one or two that exist like the Hyatt are exhorbitant. While I wish we could have afforded a place like the Hyatt, the $300-$500 pre night price tag precluded us from doing so. You don't do this three times and not learn where you can cut corners! We are basically Best Western type travelers here in the US with the occasional Motel 6 thrown in for good measure, so as you can tell our standards are probably not as high as others so keep that in mind when reviewing our selections. So here is our plan:

In Germany - We are staying at the Ibis Hotel for our layover. We stayed there last time and were quite pleased with the accomodations as well as the price, just over $100 a night (ok I STILL cringe at any hotel over $70, but this is not America so we are stuck!). It really is a Best Western quality hotel, nice and clean, transport to and from the airport, decent little restaurant inside. Rooms are not super large but were fine for one or two nights as we needed. Here is the link: http://www.ibishotel.com/ibis/fichehotel/gb/ibi/2203/fiche_hotel.shtml

In Almaty - We are staying there 2 nights when we arrive before traveling on to Bishkek. When we return to Almaty to finish the process we will be staying in an apartment that our friends have lined up for us. Well, actually Dominick and the boys will be spending most of the time there whiole I travel on to Petropavlovsk to visit our sponsor daughters. In the past we have stayed at the Almaty Hotel and really liked it. It was newly remodeled, had affordable 2 and 3 room suites which when traveling with children helps a lot (they are not enormous but definitely give you more room), their breakfast buffet was to die for and easily serves as lunch as well with both breakfast and lunch foods served and it is included in the room fee. There is a little cafe open 24 hours on premises and it is within walking distance of a couple of small markets and right across the street from the renovated Opera House. The link is:

http://www.advantour.com/kazakhstan/hotels/almaty/almaty/index.htm

However, this time we are staying at the Hotel Kazzhol which I have heard from many people is outstanding and caters well to adopting families. Although we are not bringing along a baby this time and are using it is a transit hotel on the way to Bishkek, I am betting it is bette set up to accomodate children and we got a rate of $150 per night for a room which will house all 4 of us, which in Almaty is a great rate (I am still gulping at the cost, can you hear it from where you are?). It is more centrally located and witin walking distance of many things so we thought we'd give it a try. They have also promptly answered all emails in decent English. Here is the link:

http://www.kazju.kz/kazzhol/description/

In Bishkek we are staying at the Asia Mountains Guest House, which is VERY affordable at about $70 per night (Now we're talking my kind of price!). I have heard from Michelle who was mentioned in my previous post and is a single adopting mommy that we will love it, it is clean, food is very good, and it is near restaurants and shopping. We liked it because our agency said it might better accomodate 3 boys wanting to play :-) There is internet access there so I can keep on blogging, and a nice outdoor area as well. Here is a link to a much better site about the Guest House than some other sites, it has a great description and lots of photos and I am glad I saved it becasue I have never been able to locate this link again by Googling:

http://asiamountains.net/en/hotel_asia

I hope these links help some of you traveling in the future! And those of you following the blog who are just curious about our trip but will never set foot in a place like Kyrgyzstan can see it isn't all that bad ;-) At least you'll think that until I post pictures of the Green Market in Almaty where you can obtain fresh meat, entrails, pretty much anything butchered right there out in the open...hahaha! Then you'll not be fooled by our "luxurious" accomodations!! I will post specifics about the hotels once we have stayed there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Word About Tokie

I just received an email from Michelle. She is an adopting mommy too, adopting a cutie pie infant Kyrgyz boy from the baby house in Bishkek, and she is also using our agency. I had asked Michelle if she could find out from our coordinator over there, Saule, if Toktogul knows we are coming. Here is what she wrote me:

"Saule and I were talking about Tokie yesterday. He is very excited to come home with you and knows that you are coming soon. I guess he has been teasing Saule for a while that she is trying to keep him all to herself and that she has to let him go home with his mommy. She also told me the story about how all of the kids are calling him the american boy and how much he loves it! She really thinks the world of your new son. Of course, I haven't gotten a chance to meet him - so I can't relay any impressions to you - I wish I could. But I can tell you that when Saule talks about him she uses the words gentle, kind, and she says good, good, good heart he is a very good kid. "

That's my boy!!

Three's Never a Crowd!


I thought you all might want to see what the boys' room looks like. It definitely isn't Martha Stewart, but hey, we all have different gifts! hahahaha! No, we really don't have to have them all in one tiny room but Matthew and Joshua both let out a howl of protest at the thought of being separated from their new brother :-) So here we are, three in one 10x12 room! I am sure it will make Toktogul feel more comfortable, not being alone in a room after a lifetime of having other children sleeping all around him. We recently transitioned Josh over to the single bed, as we didn't want Toktogul feeling put off to the side, so he will sleep on the bottom bunk, and Matthew on the top bunk. And in case you are wondering what that little sign above the top bunk bed says, it reads "Reserved for Kazakhstani's Only"! Gotta add Kyrgyz too now, don't we?

And Yet Another Gift...

I am laughing so hard right now, I had barely hit "publish" on the last blog entry when UPS pulled up at the door with another package...my mother-in-law sent us a Talking Translator! Wow, that sure will come in handy, both during our layover in Germany as well as in Kaz as it translates German and Russian as well as 18 other languages. We will surely be using this a lot at home! Thanks Grandma Toni! Although I'll bet Dominick, the true Gadget Guru will hog it all the time :-)

We Are Blessed


Sorry I haven't blogged much the past couple of days. We were busily finishing up all that needs to be done and suddenly today I stopped, looked around, and realized that we are basically finished! Packing is all complete, the house looks as good as it ever will, last minute paperwork is done, and now all there is to do is get on that plane on Saturday afternoon!!


We had a wonderful weekend full of little surprises. Saturday we received 3 unexpected packages from the mailman...it felt like Christmas around here! The first package contained some DVD's and books for the boys for the long flights ahead from our special friend and social worker, Joan. Man, did we luck out in finding her when we were struggling so much with Josh and attachment. She saved my sanity and has become a wonderful friend of our family. I doubt many adopting families have such a strong advocate in their corner, and one who truly cares about them beyond writing a homestudy.


The second package was a Mother's day gift for me from my mom...and I am totally ashamed to admit that I BLEW IT and didn't get anything in the mail to her or my mother-in-law. Time got away from me, and actually I didn't even realize it was Mother's Day until mid-week. Luckily, my mom understands and we have a running joke anyway about cards arriving late, so it was my turn this time I guess :-) Sorry Mom, you know I love you and Hallmark could never express it well enough anyway! So I opened that box and lo and behold there were 2 of the Susan Lordi "Willow Tree" figurines in there, the ones you may have seen that have faceless characters of mothers, fathers and sons (are there daughters too??) in all kinds of poses. They are SO us, remind me so much of our family at this stage and I love them. The boys did to and spent time arranging and rearranging them and Joshie kept naming them for all of us. I am not really a collector of things, being the non-girlie mom that I am, but these are so special I just adore them.


The third package was a sweet surprise as well. There is a special woman who is related to us, my brother-in-law's mother-in law (got that???), named Barbara. When Matthew and Joshua each came home, Barbara made them each a baby quilt, and these were the most loved items you could possibly imagine. Matthew's in particular was a raggedy, torn, frayed utter mess when he finally grew beyond carrying it every single place we went. Well, Barbara, bless her heart, made a quilt for Toktogul. It is beautiful! What an incredibly thoughtful thing to do, to recognize that regardless of age, Toktogul's "birth" into our family is just as special as Matt and Josh's. In many ways, his age may mean he needs a "lovie" even more than the other boys as he has far more changes coming his way than they did. I can just see it now, all three of them playing on the bunk bed filled to the max with stuffed animals and blankies, pretending it is a castle or a ship or some other wild fantasy. Sadly, in my whirlwind housecleaning/nesting I was unable to talk either of the boys into discarding at least a few stuffed animals...yes even Matthew at almost 8 loves them! The quilt has a wonderful mix of squares appealing to the younger side of him and the older side as well...Pooh Bear and construction vehicles, airplanes and puppies. It was obviously made with a lot of thought and love put into it, and it will rest at the foot of his bed awaiting his first night of sleep in his new home. Thank you Barbara, for continuing the tradition...and hope you saved some of that airplane and construction truck material for the next little one that we are all anticipating that is on his way!


Sunday was a quiet day around here. We went to church where our church family circled around us for a blessing to send us on our way. I was asked to say a few words and totally lost it, felt like a happy little fool as I stood there sobbing like an idiot, tears of joy that just wouldn't stop falling. We have an awesome, incredible church family...one like no other. The support, encouragement, love and acceptance they have offered us is unbelievable, and I can't imagine worshipping anyplace else. Our church home has added enormously to our lives and to the lives of our sons. We are a small Congregation, but are active and engaged. It is wonderful to know they are all there, pulling for us!


And so here I sit, typing away as if I didn't have just FOUR DAYS until we depart. Our lives are about to be changed forever, our home will be filled with the sounds of more laughter...and my hallways will be soon cluttered with even MORE smelly boy-socks! Ain't life grand???


Friday, May 11, 2007

7 Years Ago Today...

It was 7 years ago today that we were standing in a court room in Aktobe, trembling as we hoped that the judge would allow us to become the parents of this beautiful, happy baby boy we had spent several days getting to know. If I had know then what I know now about what a truly incredible son I was bringing home, I would have trembled all the more. The next day, which happened to be Mother's Day 2000, Matthew was placed in our arms for good at the orphanage. I still remember the overcast, drizzly morning like it was yesterday. We walked in the orphanage and there he was, held tightly in the arms of his favorite caretaker. As the other children who had just been adopted were being brought in to their new parents, she and I stood looking at one another, and it was obvious she didn't want to let him go. She talked to him quietly in Russian, whispering words I would have loved to be able to understand and share with him now that he is old enough to grasp their meaning. Then, the time came for us to leave, and we stood there, this woman I didn't know and I, with this tiny little boy embraced between us as we hugged. She cried and quickly turned away, and I wondered how many times she may have hugged him, spoken softly to him, over the past 11 months. It was a moment forever ingrained in my memory, one where no words were really needed to convey the depth of emotion. As we walked along the broken down cement pathway leading away from the orphanage, I rested easy in the knowledge that my son had been loved before, that he had been fortunate in this desolate place...he had 3 mommies...his birth mommy, his forever mommy, and this woman who carried him over the bridge from one life to another.

Now my almost-8-year-old son is soon to travel back to his birth country, the place where it all began. He will help ease the transition of his new brother into our family just as he did with Josh. His compassion and maturity will no doubt surprise me, although by now you would think I would be used to it. His humor will relax the tension in all of us at this special, yet stressful time of our lives. He will comfort and tend to Joshie as he often does, he will somehow sense when I need a hug and be right there with open arms and a grin that has always been the light of my life since that first day we met him alone in an isolation room at the orphanage. His intelligence will be tested as he shares his insights about the logistics of this trip, ideas that will find Dominick and I looking at one another as we often have in the past with him and saying "Hmmm...that IS a good idea, why didn't we think of that?".

My son, shown in the photo shared here on the day we left the orphanage, was the best Mother's day gift I could have ever asked for. In fact, as I have often said, I couldn't even have "ordered" two children as wonderful, interesting, and sweet-hearted as mine. Now, as we approach yet another Mother's Day, it carries special meaning this year. The excitement of our impending travel to once again become parents to a very, very special little boy is reinforced by the memory of the joy we experienced that cold, misty day 7 years ago. My, how the time has flown! My, how my baby has grown! My, what a man he will become.

Matthew, my dear "first" son, you may no longer be my oldest, but you will always be my first born in my heart. You are the child that showed me what I had been missing all those childless years. You are the sunshine that brightens my world with so many rainbow colors. I love you dearly.

"I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living,
My baby you'll be..."

Thank you Matthew, for making me a mommy. Nite nite sweetheart.