++Boys will post updates on their blogs when we arrive in Petropavlovsk and have time. We are paying $5 per hour for internet and don't want to waste money! Don't worry though, they are writing and will have something to say!++
I am writing you from the comfort of our room at the Hotel Kazzhol here in Almaty. Our already extremely long trip was further lengthened when our flight out of Frankfurt was delayed 4 hours due to mechanical problems. After sleeping maybe 2 or 3 hours total since the night before we left Montrose, I was surprised to find that I was (and am) doing really well. Everyone else has grabbed sleep on the planes and napped here or there and although we are tired, we have had no melt downs, no one is being snappy with anyone, and generally we are all doing better with the jet lag than we ever have…even though I am not quite sure how!
It was hilarious that the boys were quite animated and wide awake the entire time we waited after having passed through security, only to watch them drop like flies within about 7 or 8 minutes once seated on the plane…first Kenny’s head dropped before we even taxied to the runway, Josh then leaned over on Matthew, and finally Matt succumbed to exhaustion. The way they were in the terminal you never would have known how tired their little bodies were! Kenny had us all totally cracking up when he asked something about our flight and kept saying “Rapunzel…Rapunzel” and we had a heck of a time figuring out what in the world he was talking about. Turns out he was trying to say “Lufthansa”!! So we joked the entire time about flying on “Rapunzel Airlines”.
We arrived in Almaty at 4:30 AM to a wet and slushy wintery morning, and after being held up in customs longer than anyone else we finally made it out and forced our way through the 40 or so taxi drivers hovering at the door vying for our business by crowding around you yelling “Taxi…taxi” and found our driver, Nikolai. He was a very nice gentleman and he guided us to the large van that was waiting for us in the parking lot, and we were off to our hotel.
This time, the drive in from the airport was as if we used to live here, it felt so familiar. With some holiday lights displayed her here and there, and with the gradual modernization over the course of the past 10 years since we first came for Matthew’s adoption, the drive from the airport and the surroundings have taken on a bit of a Vegas feel with a couple of large screens displaying advertisements, lots of flashy lights, etc.
As we checked into the Kazzhol, we had the unpleasant welcome of being told our room rate was far higher than we had been told, reminiscent of our stay here 2 years ago when we adopted Kenny. This “bait and switch” is aggravating and you feel powerless when you are standing there at the counter trying to fight being taken to the cleaners knowing you can’t do a darned thing about it. The rooms here ARE clean and decent, and you feel relatively safe and are within walking distance to a market and such things, but get this…we just paid $510 for the “privilege” of having our room for a 24 hour period and sleeping on box springs. Yea, can you tell I am beyond annoyed? We were quoted $150 per night, and we understand that checking in at 6:00 AM on one day and leaving at 7:00 AM the next day would probably lead to being charged for 2 days, as it might as well in America. But to then be charged over $200 more than you should irks me to no end. The problem is, Almaty has become SO expensive to stay in that even at this rate, it is still one of the lowest around that is not a “per hour” kind of hotel, if you get my drift, so threatening to stay somewhere else doesn’t do much good as even with getting your pocket gently picked here you still are probably getting off cheaper than staying somewhere else.
We all slowly crashed and slept for about 6 hours before being woken by a call. Oleg Semykin, our coordinator, was here to see us. After stalling for 10 minutes while we all got dressed and neatened up, we met the mysterious man whose name we have seen on all kinds of documents but whom we have never met. What a really nice guy! He arrived with his young daughter in tow, and wanted to simply touch base with us and see how everything was going and answer any questions we might have.
Both Dominick and I instantly liked him, with his kind and warm smile and inviting demeanor. He is Kazakh, and has been to America many times, so perhaps it was this familiarity with our own culture which made us feel more comfortable with him. Building on the trust factor was the fact that he was shocked at what the Kazzhol had done to us at check in (and his shock was indeed genuine) and he asked to take our bill and go downstairs to inquire about the charges. As he uses this hotel frequently with his families, he was apologetic and wanted to determine what had happened. He returned saying they had charged us additionally for each child for two nights, and he wanted to keep our receipt and speak with the manager about this on Monday to see what he might be able to do. I can honestly say it was one of the few times in all our visits to Kazakhstan were we felt someone was as outraged as we were at being overcharged simply for being viewed as “deep pocket Americans”. While I doubt he will be able to do much about it, it was so nice to feel we had someone on our side.
We later went out for a long walk to try and find a grocery store nearby, and it was growing dark and even more damp as we traipsed about. Because of its location on the globe, here in Kazakhstan evening arrives at about 5:00 PM and believe it or not, at 8:30 AM this morning it was still pitch black outside! Going further north to Petropavlovsk will exacerbate this and we will have even less daylight to enjoy.
We found a little market where we purchased some bread, cheese and some really bad salami for dinner, along with a Diet Coke to help me keep going through the evening. We came back and had a picnic dinner on our beds, then Kenny, Joshie and Dominick played cards while Matthew read and I started writing for the blog. About 10 minutes later we all looked up and Matt had literally fallen asleep with his face in a book! Dominick said “There’s your son!” as we have laughed about Matthew’s recent transformation into a total bookworm. Joshie was playing in his bed…which has turned out to be a baby crib brought to the room!! We all quietly giggled when the Russian maid brought it in and made it up for him, with Kenny having a hard time not out right busting up at the sight of it! But it works and he is still small and light enough that it actually makes a nice little bed for him and is better than 3 of them in a double bed kicking each other all night.
Oleg shared with us that Svetlana, our coordinator in Petropavlovsk had been involved in a bad car accident a few days ago…something we had already learned from the other family there right now…and that she would be unable to represent us in court. However, he reassured us all was well and Irina will be assisting us in Petropavlovsk and representing us in court. We have heard from the other family that Irina is a wonderful woman and we look forward to meeting her and having her work on our behalf.
Then we got an answer to one of our biggest questions thus far…the girls do NOT know we are coming as someone wisely has kept them in the dark as things drug on, not wanting to get their hopes up only to have them disappointed if things fell apart. So unless someone at the orphanage says something over this weekend or on Monday before we arrive, it will be a complete surprise to them that we are here!! Can you imagine what that will be like for them? To have dreamed of something for years, to go to school one morning and be called out of class and discover that your dream of a family has just come true…that your life from that very moment on will never, ever be the same. What an incredible mix of emotions that must envelope them as they take it all in!
I think knowing that this will be a total surprise to them suddenly brought it all home, and the excitement now has FINALLY started to descend upon me. The hassle of simply getting here is almost over, the nightmare of paperwork is largely behind us, and now the time for the reward of it all is upon us. And what a blessed reward it will be!! I have a funny feeling that at some moment on Monday morning the tears, frustration, heartache and yearning felt on both sides of the world for YEARS will fall away, and we will be able to say with certainty “It was all worth it.”. At least, that is the hope I hold for us all.
And it is quite a strange sensation (and not a little intimidating) to realize that my life as a mother of 3 is soon coming to a close and will be replaced with a new life, one of greater responsibility, greater challenges…and a heck of a lot more laundry! HAHAHA! I have long since adjusted to the idea of mothering 5 children and of having a larger family than I ever imagined us having. But the reality will certainly be different than anything I have envisioned, and I know it will be hard at first. Heck, it might be hard forever! But as I think of the empty and quiet house we once lived in, when I step back in time to the 13 years we were married before Matthew ever entered our hearts, and I mentally walk through the past 10 years of our lives which have been happily filled with the addition of Kenny and Joshua, how could I not be filled with anticipation of all that is to come?
The life filled with Legos, stuffed animals, bedrooms with clothes strewn about, busy lives playing Taxi Driver, and loads of giggles and laughter…it is a life Dominick and I came very close to never having. I know so many who can’t wait until their kids grow up and move out, who complain year after year of summers spent “stuck” with their kids at home, who have no idea of what it is like to want a family desperately and find it just out of reach through no fault of your own. There were moments during those first 13 years of our marriage when I wondered if I would ever tuck my own child into bed with a hug and a kiss, when I couldn’t even picture a Christmas with stockings hung for Santa fill. The gift of even one child was more than I could dream of…let alone FIVE amazing, terrific kids!!
We have spent the last 11 years of our lives doing everything possible to build our family. I have completed more adoption documents than I could possibly ever count…surely more than 1,000 notarized, apostilled, signed and dated documents have passed through my hands over the years! Dominick has worked and sweated and slept less than any man I know in order to provide the funds to simply bring the boys home…that doesn’t include feeding, clothing and housing us all. We have answered invasive questions time and time again about everything from our childhoods to our style of discipline to our sex lives. We have had our home inspected, our `bodies poked and prodded and our hearts and motives judged. We have dropped everything to get “just one more apostille” or post placement report done. We have apologetically begged accountants and doctors and banks to complete forms “just one more time”. We will continue to have the presence of social workers in our lives for years to come as we subject ourselves to follow up reports, and no doubt turn for help as issues arise. It is NOT the way I ever imagined what our lives as parents would look like.
And yet I have never for a single moment ever wished for our family to have been created in any other way. When friends give birth, as many have over the years, I feel not the slightest twinge of desire to build our family in a more conventional way. I don’t feel ripped off, cheated or jealous…not for even a moment. For THIS is the way we were meant to create a family, that is not just a “want”, in some strange way it is what was always intended for us. Sure, we joke about how easy it seems when some just “pop out” a baby, and there are moments when we wish all of this were not so hard. But we have had experiences unlike any others we know, our lives have been so rich and fulfilled by the process of how we all came to be together. Perhaps because of the work involved, and the heartache and longing experienced, there is a greater appreciation for the miracle it is to simply apply the word “family” to us. For all of us, both parents and children, in our family came within a hair’s breadth of never really knowing what “family” meant…of not having the group hugs and shared common experiences that we all build upon to create the history of a family that we draw on for the remainder of our lives.
We ALL know what it is like to be alone, and to yearn for a closeness that every human desires.
Maybe it is our collective understanding of this as members of the wild and wacky “Team LaJoy” that is what draws us all so close to one another. For when you realize what you almost didn’t have, when you don’t take it for granted that someone will always be there for you, it makes it that much sweeter when you do finally have it.
So tomorrow we take the final leg of the journey that will bring us to the brink of embracing two more who will forever belong to us, and we to them. It is the miracle of the LaJoy style of birth, and make no mistake of it…it IS a birth in every sense of the word, even if some choose not to see it that way. The labor has been HARD, but the end result will surely be as precious as any newborn babe swaddled and asleep nestled in its mother’s arms.
Good night, my friends. We are off to try and get some sleep and quickly shed the remainder of the jet lag. We’ll write as soon as we are up and running in Petropavlovsk with internet service!