I apologize for this extremely long "catch up" post. Feel free to stop reading anytime boredom settles in, or skip to the bottom for today's events. Sorry there are no photos, I'll try and post the few we have tomorrow sometime after coming out of our sleep deprived coma.
I am typing this post at 1:15 AM from the warmth and cozy comfort of my own electric blanketed soft wonderful bed. To say I am in heavenly bliss couldn't come close to describing what I feel right now!!! Our bed...our home...our town...our friends...
I am not ashamed to say that I walked in with the kids and a couple of my dearest friends tonight as Dominick rushed back to the airport to get our luggage, and I couldn't hold in the sobs.
It wasn't really about the house or the stuff or the conveniences.
It was about being at the end of an emotional marathon, only to acknowledge that the stark truth is we are beginning yet another.
So much to share, and I am on overdrive at the moment so I might as well blog, right? Everyone in the house is fast asleep but me, and although I have been wide awake well over 50 hours now it seems I have caught my 4th or 5th wind and will struggle to finally fall asleep.
Let's back up to my last "real" post, in which I was a Cranky Momma. While I hated being unable to post a more "refreshing" and "inspiring" post after that one, I also think that often people leave out how really, really hard this is. Sure they were minor complaints overall, and of course I know many people live like that day in and day out...but isn't that also sort of the point? Why in this day and age should ANYBODY ever be without clean running water in their home? Why should ANYBODY live in poverty to the degree that so many throughout the world live in? Why should ANYBODY live in fear of getting sick as they are terrified of going to the MD in the city they live in because they might leave the office or hospital in worse shape than when they arrived...if they leave at all.
But the truth is that the fall that day really, really hurt. It put me in a very sour mood and was and continues to be extremely painful with a 9 inch deeply bruised area that made flying home a real treat.
And also, I just wanted to go home. I wanted MY life back, MY friends, and control to whatever degree God allows me to pretend I have on any given day.
Our time in Almaty was uneventful and yet kind of sweet. We arrived to be picked up at the airport by Oleg, who is really a neat guy and good coordinator whom I would highly recommend. We learned we would not be staying at the Kazzhol after all as they had given our room away, which incensed Oleg and he knew as we did that they were trying to avoid seeing us to deal with the credit for overcharging last time. I am happy to say that Oleg went back later and fought successfully with them to get back our promised refund, which left me feeling even fonder of him. He asked if we wanted another hotel or an apartment he had arranged for us if we wanted it. We preferred the apartment option at only $160 per night, sight unseen as we had literally expected our costs in Almaty to inch upwards of $800 a day if we needed two rooms at the exorbitant prices charged there and no way to easily feed us all for our 4 remaining days.
Good choice...the apartment was AMAZING. We had 3 good sized bedrooms, a very large and open living/dining/kitchen area, 2 bathrooms and a way to cook for ourselves to further save cash. It was modernized with very nice western style furniture, a flat screen TV and beautiful lighting. Although the beds were not really any better than the Kazzhol's in terms of being basically a box spring mattress, we felt like we had died and gone to heaven when we walked in. I hadn't realized just how used to the tiny apartments and odd furniture and layouts I had become until we experienced this apartment. We were on the 7th floor of what really was a very old apartment building but it appeared from window peeking that most of the apartments had all been upgraded and were extremely modern. OK...the outlets still all were pulling out of the walls...but it was great in every way. We dumped our luggage and headed off in the dark to the nearest local market which was called Interfoods I think and was small but "real" with meat we could trust and a nice variety of German products that were more familiar to us. There we bought enough food (or so we thought) for the 4 days, we had chicken drumsticks which is the girls' favorite way to eat chicken, a roast of some sort to cut up into stew meat, soy sauce for rice, and of course drinks and snacks. We all hauled it back the 2 blocks to the apartment and the kids squealed in glee putting it all away.
We even had a box of Ritz crackers!!!!
And trust me, after 2 1/2 months, yes...everything DOES taste better when you put it on a Ritz!! Hahaha!
Then we had a long 3 days ahead of us with nothing really on the agenda, and not much to do with no driver to do it with. We had the girls' medical appointments the next day, the appointment at the US Embassy the next day, and not much else going on and many long hours to fill with 5 kids who were "museumed out" after Astana and us trying to hold the costs to a minimum after our Astana treat. It also was our first real extended time easing into having no access to an interpreter.
I really, really hate being unable to explain things to the girls, and to expect them to just blindly follow us along everywhere. It is not the way I parent at all, and I was quickly reminded just how much I hated this phase with Kenny for the exact same reason.
So how did we fill our hours? We got out a bit each day and walked, going to Tsum to look for a couple of items. Matthew and Joshie both found Kazakh felt slippers there, Olesya found a yurt and camel, Angela still spent nothing and I almost caved in and offered Kenny a little extra cash to spend but realized he had already admitted this was a lesson he needed to learn about not spending all his money and saving it for later on and so I bucked up and didn't do it...but it helped that he hadn't really seen anything he expressed much sincere desire for.
We wandered over to the famous Green Market indoor bazaar where we saw pigs heads and entrails, carved up horse meat, and had vendors literally grabbing at us in a very enthusiastic manner to purchase their dried apricots or their Koumiss (the Kazakhstan national drink of fermented mare's milk). The place was crazy so we got our tomatoes and pistachios for the girls and got out quickly.
We also made some inroads during this time in getting across that family life is not all scheduled all the time, and purposely had many hours where we allowed everyone to lay around watching cartoons or playing whatever they came up with. It is important for the girls to break free of that structured lifestyle and it will take a lot of time before they (or we!) become comfortable with it. But we are firm believers in having down time for our kids to figure out how NOT to be bored and be creative. This is something that institutions simply do not have as it is easier to manage kids who are always busy doing something.
I came up with a few ideas as we got a little bored of Russian language cartoons or needed to break up the day. We had pillow fights with all of us squealing and chasing each other around. Yes...us too... We had a large empty vase and we spent over an hour pitching Tenge into it. We found we had a couple of games we had saved that were PERFECT and I highly recommend them to parents adopting new older kids. One is called "Blink" where you have two players pitted against one another and match colors, shapes or number of items as quickly as possible. No language necessary but you do see how quickly your new child can process information, which leads me to admitting that I only won a couple of rounds before being beaten handily by any of the kids but Josh or Kenny. Another game is called Toss Up and is super simple game utilizing colored dice. We spent a long evening of Black Jack betting again with M&M's. I also found that a computer game we brought along for the kids called "Mysteryville" was also a good one which appealed quickly to Angela who spent 3 or 4 hours one evening searching for hidden objects...and not realizing that she was learning many new vocabulary words. We added in time playing with Banangram letters and realized Angela has a really good command of the letters and sounds, and can even spell words without silent letters very well! Olesya knows most of the letters and many of the sounds but is not very confident with it all yet. All in all it was fairly relaxed, boring at times, but a nice time of dropping it all down a notch. We had a lot of giggles, lots of good bonding time, the girls helped in the kitchen and Olesya in particular LOVES to stir or cut things up. Angela was a big help with dishes and cleaning up after meals, and also helped some with meal prep. They also are beginning to sort out what needs to go in the fridge and what does not. We have had cans of Kracks put in there, boxes of crackers, etc.
I also took time to pull Kenny aside alone and talk a little about what we were seeing with the girls, how quickly they were picking things up, and that he might feel uncomfortable as he eventually observes them learning at a much more rapid pace than he does. I contrasted his knowledge base walking in to our family with theirs and explained about transferred learning, how if you can read in one language you can figure out more easily how to read in another, etc. I told him that we would never compare any of them and their skill levels as everyone was coming to the family with different backgrounds and we wanted him to know ahead that he might find himself comparing his abilities with the girls, whom it is obvious will learn quite quickly. I reminded him of how complicated learning to read and sound out words was with speech issues such as his, and just how far he had come. One thing we observed immediately was that Kenny really struggled to play Blink quickly, which illustrated the concerns we have about processing issues. He'll get there though, and we don't want him feeling inferior. He was glad we talked about it as he had already noticed and said he knew they would both be reading very fast and spell well way earlier than he would be able to.
The medical appointment was cursory as usual, but we got the documentation we needed to go to the Embassy appointment and that was all we wanted. The next day we had the Embassy appointment where we met another 2nd time Kaz adopting Mommy and visited briefly, discussing that our flights were on the same day so we would see one another again. We had hooked up via email prior to going to Almaty but we quickly realized upon arrival we would have no transportation and no easy way to connect. But it was great to pass the final hurdle to us being able to leave, to be in that office for the very last time for our family!! 10 minutes later we were out the door, immigration envelopes and the girls' American visas in our hands, and ready to go home.
Smooth sailing from there on out, right? Well...yes...sort of...with a couple of minor bumps in the road along the way. After all, this is the LaJoy adoption, right? You didn't SERIOUSLY think we would have no travel issues, did you?
We left for the Almaty airport at 1:30 AM for the first leg of our trip home, having kept everyone up for the night so they might sleep better on the plane. The ages our kids are, this worked really well. As we climbed into the van to depart for the airport Angela quietly said next to me "Good bye Kazakhstan, Hello America!" with a smile on her face. We took about 45 minutes to get checked in. Yes, you read that right...7 people, 10 passports, 8 checked bags, and visa documentation to check and recheck and finally they were done with us. The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful but it was a kick to watch the girls as they tried to figure out what to do with their meals. They had no idea what they bread and jelly was for, and ended up spooning the jelly out of the little container and eating it by itself even after I explained it. Olesya played with the sugar. They were intrigued by the "spork".
It was also fun to watch them in the bathroom with automatic faucets :-)
Our 7 hour layover in Frankfurt passed relatively painlessly with...of course...a stop at McDonald's for breakfast where we sat with a really interesting fellow who was Canadian and yet lives in St. Petersburg, Russia with his wife and their child and works at a University there as an English teacher. He had worked in orphanages in the past as part of a church group but said he can no longer do it as it is just too terribly sad to him to see so many children there in desperate need. We wandered around a bit, then settled in at our gate for 4 hours where Kenny and Matthew both took naps.
Then on to the awful flight to Denver, where before we even left the runway our airplane was delayed about an hour for de-icing. Considering the possible consequences, I wouldn't say we were all that upset over it but not relishing spending yet another hour stuck in a seat. But all goes well and other than being terribly uncomfortable for about 11 hours, we had no real complaints.
We land in Denver and sail through the immigration process, hurrying all the way to get to our gate to board our last and final flight to Montrose. When we checked in at Almaty we were given no boarding passes for the boys for some reason for this last leg of the flight. We attempted to get them in Germany but were told we could not get them until we arrived in Denver. So we check in and recheck all that luggage upon exiting immigration in Denver and were told "No worries, they'll know at the gate that you are here now and you have plenty of time." Ahhh...not so sure about that is what I told Dominick. We ran as fast as we could to the gate where they were boarding our flight as we arrived, huffing and puffing with 5 exhausted kiddos in tow...only to be told that even though it was now30 minutes prior to flight time and we had checked in downstairs 15 minutes earlier, they had oversold the flight and had given away half our seats...the ones we were not given boarding passes for originally. The next available flight into Montrose? Tomorrow.
Last time this happened with Kenny's arrival, Dominick was the one who totally lost it in anger. This time, it was me. Totally lost it may be a bit of hyperbole, but to say I was quite vehement in voicing my disgust would be a pretty fair statement. They said they had 3 seats left and the rest of the family could come home tomorrow. Although I knew it would do no good at this stage in the game, I was truly mad now and told them it was wrong of them to do this, particularly since their clerk downstairs had made it clear our seats were reserved and they would be notified. I said it was no wonder that people had a hard time controlling their tempers in airports, as the customer service was horrible, that seats that were bought, paid for weeks in advance, and the passengers were in the system in route via computer should not have to fight for their seats simply because airlines oversell every flight...that we had not even gotten to the gate too late or checked in too late.
A supervisor was called who looked us square in the eye and said "Your right, airline service across the board is poor. But we don't make the system, we just have to work with it. This should not have happened to you, but when we overbook this is what we do." How refreshing it was to have someone say "Yea...you're right...this isn't a good way to do business." She said she could get us on the next flight to the next town over from ours, an hour's drive from us, and that she would issue us 7 flight vouchers as well because this was not our fault and we should not have been stranded. They also gave us meal vouchers and we quickly called upon friends to see if they could retrieve our travel weary clan from so far away from home. Luckily, they said "Get there...we'll get you home!"
We later learned though that we missed out on something very special...it seems quite a crowd had gathered to meet us at the airport to greet us, and we felt so badly to have missed seeing them all, telling them how much we loved them, and how we appreciated their love and support through all of this. Even Matthew's best buddy Clay was there waiting to see him, and when Matt heard that he looked like he wanted to cry. To all of you who went out of your way to try and welcome us so warmly, I am so very sorry and sure wish we could have been there!! It was completely out of our control, and while receiving the vouchers somewhat placated us, we would have much rather have had our plans remain unchanged and even my mini temper tantrum didn't help!
It was as we boarded that last flight home that we had our only true rough moment. I ended up needing to sit next to Angela, just she and I, and she asked to sit alone or with Kenny. It had been building a little in subtle ways all afternoon and I had told Dominick that we might be working our way up to a little necessary enforcement of parental control. It has been challenging to establish strong boundaries from the beginning when you have others translating for you all the time, when you are at a language disadvantage in their native country, and when there are concerns over bonding and wanting to promote it.
But as any adoptive parent of an older child knows, they will test you just like any toddler will regardless of their age, and often their need for control is deeply rooted. Part of it is probably physical discomfort with being with me at certain times when her guard is up more, part of it is the age old struggle of who is The Woman of the house and maybe she is sensing Olesya viewing me gradually more and more as a mom meaning that Angela will have that role less and less. Maybe it is feeling like she has lost every single thing familiar and it all hit her today as she got further and further away from her home. Of course, there is exhaustion thrown in the mix but I am not naive enough to blame it solely on that, there was a lot more going on there and has been since the beginning. But I decided homecoming or no homecoming the time had come where I was going to take a stand and I gave her no options, told her firmly I was her mother and she was not acting nice, and she had no choice. I tilted her chin to make her look me in the eye and told her to stop it right now. She didn't like it one bit, but didn't say anything or do anything else disrespectful in return, and we had a silent flight home as she fell asleep along with every other LaJoy kiddo.
I woke her gently and told her it was time to get up, which she did but of course didn't want to walk near me and was quite subdued looking as she walked into the terminal where our friends awaited us.
You know what I love most though? I love having the kind of friends who are "thick and thin" mature and insightful friends...whom I could look straight in the eye upon our arrival as we pulled away from hugs and say that Angela and I had a little problem on the plane rather than try and hide it and pretend all was peachy keen, which I thought about for about 20 seconds not wanting to ruin a special homecoming. And yet I know no one judged me, and no one will judge her. The kind of friends we have are such a gift from God, truly a gift. All I heard on the drive home and subsequent short visit at home afterwards was understanding of how very hard this is...and how long it might take us all to truly bond. No one in our close circle of friends will ever say "I told you so" or "You should have never done this". They are practical and realistic, and only want to offer comfort and support so we can make it through the very difficult road that is ahead of us. They greet us with flowers and food, cards and balloons, hugs and encouragement sent via others. And they know we are really just beginning, that our children have a lot to overcome, and that we can not do it alone. Thank goodness we don't have to, for I could never, ever be the mom I need to be without the outlet of those whom I can be very "real" with. Years ago I was more worried about what others might think, these days I am a little less so and more concerned with being authentic in whatever it is I might be going through...for that encourages deeper relationships with others as well and they then feel safe to be their "real selves" with you too.
But thankfully, God didn't let the night end on that note. After making it in the door just a few steps and breaking down on my friends' shoulders, I composed myself a little and I walked down the hall to where the girls were seeing their room in person for the first time. Angela and Olesya were both there, and Angela reached out to me with a huge smile and a very close, more intimate hug than I have ever had from her. I whispered in her ear "I love you so much, welcome home Angela." and we stood there for a long moment. Then I turned to Olesya who was grinning from ear to ear and also gave me a big bear hug as she said in her ebullient way "Thank you Mama....Thank You!" then skittered off to check out the rest of the house.
Later, after the house emptied and only the old and new residents remained behind, we all changed into PJ's and then the boys came into the girls room where they were already buried under the covers of their new bed, and we prayed for the first time in that room together...a room that held so much promise and was empty for so long. Matthew led us in prayer, and we all left with hugs, smiles and kisses knowing full well this is not easy, it wasn't from the beginning and it might not ever be, but it is very well worth it.
Broken children can often look perfectly normal on the outside, and yet be battling demons on the inside for years to come. Both Angela and Olesya will struggle with much over the coming months as they adjust to a new life, as they learn what it means to be family, as they take the tentative steps towards trusting others.
To those of you who have followed us as we traveled, who have emailed and commented, who have prayed and shared...thank you. We couldn't have made it this far without you. But I implore you, please don't leave us now that the "excitement" of adoption travel is behind us, and real life lay stretching out before us. We need your support now more than ever. We need your prayers for our family so much!! It may not all be "puppy dogs and rainbows" as my mom has recently said, but I promise to keep it real, to share what is going on as it unfolds...not because I am dying for some sort of blog audience, but because I honestly don't think I can do this alone, and we need you. It is going to hurt deeply at times, just as tonight did, and I am scared of walking this road by myself. I won't be able to remain mature, focused and centered without a ton of help. And I guess deep down inside I know there will be judgment cast upon us for all kinds of reasons from others and I need a place to turn to where some of you have gone through this, where many of you can nod your head with experience and say "Oh yea, that is SO hard!", or where you can at least imagine yourself in our shoes as you work toward bringing your own children home.
And I asked myself often on this special, one of a kind Valentine's Day celebration...will I ever be the Cindy I was before we left? At what point will I be me again? Or am I forever to live in an altered state from whence I started?
I think I already know the answer to that one. Nothing will ever, ever be the same.
Guess we'll just rush headlong into it all, and see who I have become. Whom we all have become.
But for tonight, or shall I say this morning considering it is now 3:45 AM, I will snuggle next to my hubby and rest as easy as I can, leaving tomorrow to take care of itself.
I am so very, very glad we are ALL home!