Christmas Day 2009
Thank you God, for all your blessings!!
Today we officially became a family of 7! It seems quite anticlimactic as we go back to the same routine we have had for the past few weeks...but in a small office in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan our family grew by 2.
It was not easy, we WERE grilled for a solid hour. Arriving for our court time at 2:00 PM and not leaving until about 3:15 PM. Our judge was a plump, jolly Kazakh woman who at times was equally stern and inquisitive. Others present were a younger Russian male prosecutor who asked only a few questions, a secretary, the older Kazakh woman from the Department of Guardianship, and the very tall blond Assistant Director from the Regional Boarding School. She was the woman present the Monday night we left the girls behind, thinking we would never return.
Dominick was called upon first to answer questions for the judge, who did most of the questioning rather than the Prosecutor. Angela and Olesya were present but were left in the outer office for the majority of the proceedings until they were called upon to answer questions.
The judge asked a variety of questions including whether we lived far out of town or not, as she was looking at the photos we had submitted years ago of our home, and what our area was like. He was asked about his occupation and our finances, but things got tough when it got to how we parent and how we plan to discipline the girls. The deaths of Russian adoptees at the hands of the adoptive parents was brought up...we were asked if we had a chamber under our house that we would put the children in if they were bad, or if we would send them outside in the cold to freeze if they misbehaved. All sounds like nonsense unless you have followed the stories as I have over the years of ill equipped parents who have adopted children and horribly abused them as Reactive Attachment Disorder took it's toll on a family. I know that over the past 10+ years there have been over 10 children killed at the hands of their parents, I don't even know the exact number but for some reason 17 sticks out in my mind. Makes this questioning seem far more pertinent when seen in that light.
The judge also brought up the sibling rivalry issues, and race as well. Did we think that having children of a different race would be a problem? Yes, they know that America is far more open to diversity but we are adopting Russian girls with existing Kazakh boys at home...don't we think that will create problems? Thankfully we could honestly say we had already discussed this issue at length with the girls and the boys both, and feel it is a non-issue. We told the judge to look at the many photos of the kids playing together as a way of proving our point. If she had seen this kids in person for 10 minutes goofing around together, she would throw that question away.
When it was my turn I was questioned thoroughly about how I thought I could effectively mother 5 kids as well as cook, clean and take care of the house. I laughed and said what I thought to be honest...we often have far more than 5 kids we are caring for...sometimes up to 38 with Scouts! We are used to large groups of kids, enjoy them very much, and 5 actually doesn't feel like all that many (OK...so I exaggerated for effect!). I also pointed out that in our home, we are a team...the boys help with laundry and dishes following the lead of their Dad. We all help with every task, and that makes the jobs much easier.
She was concerned about how we planned to integrate the girls into English language and American culture. I explained the girls would be home full-time with me until September, and that I would be teaching them vocabulary and gradually introducing them to our life by slowly exposing them to different situations. This didn't seem to satisfy her, and she more deeply probed about how I thought I was able to teach them enough. I admit I got a bit perturbed at this and brought out my Big Gun...Kenny. I said that honestly, language was the least of my concerns although when we adopted Kenny at 8 1/2 it was my biggest. I explained how Kenny had lost all Russian by his 7th month home including even the ability to count to 10. I talked about immersion and how greatly that differs from taking a class in a foreign language. I said that Kenny's teachers had all been amazed at his vocabulary for only 3 months in English when he started school, and yes, I certainly did think I could manage to teach them rudimentary English, thank you very much! I admitted that having one another they would likely hold on to Russian a little longer as Kenny had no one to use Russian with, but they would most certainly learn faster than any of us could imagine. My confidence in answering that one seemed to be what she needed and she quickly moved on after that.
She next asked about what we would do if the girls acted up, if they had problems...that older kids can be difficult and did I think I could handle that as their mother? I quite firmly responded "Of course they will act up, they are children! We are NOT looking for perfect children, we are not perfect ourselves." I then went on without being asked "We have struggled at times with all of our sons, but Joshua was the hardest as he had a very hard time bonding with us. We spent years working with him when others told us to relinquish him. He is now an amazing little guy and we love him dearly and he loves us. We do not quit on our children, I know others do, but we do not and we have proven that already.". That pretty much summed it up, and the judge smiled and seemed to think so too.
Angela was called in first, and had her back to us as she stood at the table to speak with the judge and prosecutor. The basics at first, then she got down to business quickly. Did Angela really want a family? Did she only want to go to America? Did she understand that this was forever? Did she realize she would be the oldest in the family and her momma and poppa would rely on her to help with the younger children? That she would have to set an example? Quietly Angela answered "Da" to each. Then came the tough part, did she realize her name would be changed to LaJoy and her biological parents would not be named on her birth certificate...that it would be changed to our names? The tears started then, Angela vehemently said "Da!", but it was so obvious how deeply her biological mother has wounded her. She didn't sob, they were quiet tears that rolled. The judge was not easy on her, telling her that she had to want a family and not just to go to America...that she would have to respect her new parents and everything was going to be very different...was she really sure she wanted this? Angela again through her tears said "Da", then the judge asked her if she felt love for us...and she quickly said "Da" and smiled a little, then the judge had her sit down. She sat down first next to Dominick who then moved over so she could sit between us where she gently wiped her tears and smiled at us both, holding Dominick's hand, me with my arm around her shoulder.
This poor young girl, so much to deal with, such conflicting emotions she must be experiencing. We have no doubts now that she wants to go with us, can see the good of a family and can willingly and eagerly join in...but we all can feel 2 or 3 different emotions about an event. She is still leaving all she has ever known behind, she is going to have to fight off the demons of poor family example from the past, she is going to have to reorganize her thoughts around moms and what and who they are. She is obviously more comfortable with Dominick right now, but we know she had a constant in her life with Boris and that has made a big and positive impact. However, she is not at all shrugging me away, is open and affectionate with me, teases with me, and in time we will have a close relationship as well. It will take me being the "adult" and staying very, very focused to help that develop to be all it can be.
Next came Olesya, who fairly quickly dissolved into tears when asked why she wanted to be adopted and she said "Because I want a Momma and Poppa" and she could hardly choke out the words. How did she feel about brothers? Good. Did she like to play with them? Yes. What would she do if they took a toy and she wanted it back...would she go to Angela for help? No, she would ask Momma and Poppa. She had regained her composure a little until asked again about the name change, then once more started crying and agreed to it. She was then told she could go sit down, and the only chair left was next to Dominick, and she sat down, buried her head in his chest, and sobbed for a good 5 minutes. When I leaned across Angela to pat her back and see if she was OK, she looked up at me and grinned through her tears and nodded that she was OK.
The woman from the Department of Guardianship spoke next and said that she had witness our first meeting, and it had not gone well so she had backed off and let us have time over the following days. When she next met with us all was going well. She said she could tell we were a very good family, that our boys were polite, well behaved and doing well, and she thought we would be an excellent family for the girls who had been through far too much in their lives already and deserved the kindness we would give them.
Next was the one I was most worried about, and with her first words I gulped deeply, as did Dominick. We tried not to look at one another as she was talking. I ended up loving what she said and feeling more comfortable about everything. She was honest...she told of the 5 years of pictures and letters, of shared lives. She said for months and months both girls kept coming to her asking when their new family was coming...if she had heard any news. She told about their first reaction, about them being scared and pulled in different directions...and about our "break in relations". She then smiled and turned to the girls saying that we had barely left the building when the had broken down and spent the next day crying the whole day, begging her to contact us and bring us back. She then looked at us and said "I have to thank you for your patience and love. This was very hard, and you were very sensitive and understanding. You are very, very good people and have a very nice family." She added that she felt we had handled it all as only the most loving parents would do and showed wisdom. She said she felt the girls deserved such parents and brothers, that they had experienced a very, very sad life already and this was their chance at real love and she highly recommended that the court approve their adoption.
The prosecutor spoke briefly next, saying we were experienced and good parents, knowing much about adoptive parenting and Kazakhstan having been here several times. He too mentioned how terrible the girls lives had been in a family before, and that they deserved a chance at happiness and to have a good, loving family. He felt we would be that for them and be able to handle the issues that would come up, and he too recommended that the adoption be approved.
Unceremoniously we were ushered out to the outer office where we stood for less than 10 minutes before being called back into the chambers, which really was just a large office with linoleum nailed to the floor.
There, the judge quickly read the verdict, that she was approving the adoption and wished us much happiness. That was that, move on, another family is waiting outside for their turn.
And that, my friends, is all it took to add Angela and Olesya to our family! (She says with a hearty laugh, knowing it took much, much more than 1 hour in a judge's chambers!).
What a road we have traveled!
What a road that still stretches out before us.
We are barely beginning, we know that, you know that...but to get to the end you have to begin somewhere.
Now the real work begins.
We are blessed to be their parents, and as I sit here tonight it STILL doesn't feel real. I know, as with each of our past wonderful additions, that feeling will creep up on me. Maybe it will be one evening as one of them glances up at me and my heart melts. Maybe it is going to be the first time I introduce them casually to someone not even thinking about it as I call them "our daughters" and then I stop for a moment and realize what I just said. Maybe it will be the first whispered giggles in broken English as we are all nestled in the camper for the night this summer.
But when I look at these pictures, finally...thankfully...I do not feel as if a part of me is missing. They may not be sleeping under our roof or in their beds, but they are definitely ours.
Here are some photos taken over the past couple of weeks of our new daughters.
May I introduce to you:
Angela Elizabeth LaJoy, Age 11
Olesya Erin LaJoy, Age 9
OK...I gotta say it...AREN'T THEY BEAUTIFUL??????????????