Sunday, February 07, 2010

Our First Days Together

Day 2 in Astana began with an unplanned trip to the Emergency Room!  Let's face it with 7 people and 2 1/2 months, something was bound to happen.  So we had another first, and that was an experience with the medical care system here in Kazakhstan.  Kenny had been having a problem with one eye for about a week.  He had complained that something had gotten in it, but then the next day or two it was better, then all of a sudden it was worse.  He was battling that cold we all had a little and we thought it was the cold having gone into his left eye.  It continued to worsen, and in talking with Irina when we were a day from leaving Petropavlovsk she suggested we wait to get it checked in Astana if we needed to go to the MD as the care in Petro was lacking, to say the least.  She said even her own family tries very, very hard not to see an MD unless there is no other option and since we were close to leaving she thought it wiser to wait until we got here.  So that is what we did and when it was certain it was getting worse we asked to take him to get seen by someone.
Zhanara tried to get us into the American medical clinic here, but we would not get in until the next day.  We felt Kenny's eye had grown considerably worse overnight and didn't want to wait so we asked to go to any good clinic and said that being here we knew that even the Kazakhstani one would be good.  So we went to the ER of the local hospital were walking in the back door I was at first a little worried but once past this dark, frigid coat check and screening area we were ushered immediately up to the eye clinic within the hospital and I was pleased to find everything appearing sterile, gloves and masks in use, and high tech eye equipment being used.  Kenny was quite scared and a little panicky, of course, but he held my hand during everything and ended up doing really well.  It turned out there was something embedded in his eye that had worked it's way in deep and had to be removed, so they numbed the eye and went to work and 15 minutes later he felt great relief, and we walked out with 3 prescriptions and a bill for $47.  I couldn't believe how cheap it was!  After the infamous Lego Incident with Joshua that cost us almost $800 at Montrose Hospital, I was stunned as I had expected this to be several hundred dollars, especially considering we were in Astana.  You can imagine the conversations and comparisons Zhanara and I had in the car afterward, she was so surprised at the cost of our medical care in the US and couldn't believe how much we paid for medical insurance on TOP of that care. 
Some of our conversations have led to a much better understanding on her part of where our higher American incomes go, and our level of taxation and standard necessity costs are more than she ever thought they would.  But we were told that the average interest rate here on any mortgage is about 18% making it virtually impossible for anyone to do more than rent if they are not one of the elite high income earners.  Zhanara also said they pay $120 per year for auto insurance which is a far cry from what we pay in America.  It makes for some very interesting conversations.
Then we were off for a day of fun at the Duman Entertainment Center which is sort of a combination of various entertainment areas including a terrific indoor aquarium exhibit, and indoor playground which proved to be for younger kids so we didn't try it out, and a 5D movie theatre.  We had a lot of fun there, and the kids all enjoyed the aquarium a lot.  Then it was off to the Mega Mall where there was a Babylon which is sort of an indoor entertainment center as well but had a huge 5 story indoor playground for older kids.  With so little opportunity to get outdoors and run around here the kids have been wonderful about not going too stir crazy but they needed some time to get sweaty, run around and yell a little!  Each of the kids, including the girls, has been wonderful about not asking for a single thing and at Babylon it was no exception.  Olesya has figured out quickly that she can not ask for things and get them, and what we saw during some of our visits has not happened since.  She would not ask for much but chocolate, etc...nothing big at all, but still we have sort of always had a rule that you don't ask for things, but sometimes you will get a surprise.  I hate being hounded by a child every time you are at a store, as we simply do not have the money for a "little treat" each time we go. 
We did tell each of the girls that the boys had saved money for over a year for this trip and would be spending it on things they wanted to buy, and that we were giving each of the girls $50 to purchase souvenirs or whatever they would like to remember their country by.  At the Aquarium each bought a little item and paid for it by themselves and seemed happy with it.  However, both are being very cautious about spending and we have had to remind them 3 or 4 times that they have money we are holding for them and all they have to do is ask and we will let them know how much they have left.
I was sharing with someone else today that it is obvious that the girls are uncertain what to do with themselves during "down time".  They are both used to having their days pretty well planned out with very little time left after activities and homework to just hang out.  Unstructured time to dream, play and explore is something they are a little uncomfortable with, and I admit I too am for them as I feel unsettled knowing they are unsettled at moments.  But I remind myself Kenny was the same way when he came home and it is truly an important thing to teach them to simply "be" and be comfortable with it.  But I fear we have a long way to go on that and I need to find ways to help them in this area.

We were talking today that Angela in particular seems to have no interest in anything beyond sports, almost as if her life was purposely narrowed because she was good at them so no one helped her explore anything else she might enjoy.  We found a huge emphasis overall by the staff on being good at athletics making a girl be nothing more than an athlete, and nothing more should be expected of them.  Many casual comments about many other kids that "they are a sports girl", as if there was nothing more to them.  It may very well prove to be true that she has no other strong interests but it is not at all like in America where children are exposed to all kinds of activities and may love sports, but also have many other things they enjoy.  I hope we can eventually find things that she enjoys to do in addition to sports.  I think back to Kenny's first year or so home when he literally didn't know what to do with himself and we had the hardest time buying gifts for him, as there was no obvious direction to turn for interest.
That night after a busy day, Angela and I had a little important time together as she and I sat on the couch and she showed me all that she left the orphanage with...books with messages written in them from her friends, Valentine's cards, drawings she herself had done, her entire past was spread out before me.  I'd ask who had written each one, unable to read a word of course, but she would share the name of the child who had written it, many of whom I knew and could picture, and I would ask "good" or "bad" and give a thumbs up or down to indicate whether she liked them or whether they were good kids or not.  Surprisingly...or maybe not...she seems to have great affection for each one and think they were all very good kids.  Looking at the children we have been lucky enough to adopt and the ones I know of who were adopted from there, I am inclined to agree.
Olesya has been my little kitchen helped, and LOVES helping prepare a meal.  She jumps at the chance to stir a pot or open a package, and I can see we will have a lot of fun together with Kenny cooking soon.  They are both very, very much alike in a lot of ways. 
Matthew, Kenny and Joshua are doing super with everything.  I have had a little "alone time" as we call it with each one over the past couple of days, checking in to see how each is feeling about everything, if they have any questions or worries or just want to talk.  Joshua said he loves them a lot and feels they have been with us a long time.  Kenny said "I think they are becoming a real part of our family!  They are fun to play with and I am glad you did it, even if I was a little scared.  I am not really scared anymore and I like the changes to our life.".  Matthew said "Things are going good, Mommy.  I think all our friends will like them a lot, and they seem pretty happy with all of us.  I like having both of them around, it is not as hard as it was with Kenny because they are both more grown up."  So the consensus seems to be that they are "keepers"...hahahha!
For Mom and Dad there is still the watchful eye on every single thing going on, studying the dynamics, assessing where we might be in a few weeks or months with educational needs, etc.  Angela gently corrects Olesya when Olesya is doing something that is pushing it in even the slightest way, and we are gently telling Angela we have it under control.  Watching our boys' behaviors for cues has kept Angela very much in line, and if Olesya hasn't "read" something well she fills her in.  But nothing at all is weird, hard or difficult.  And the boys have been stellar in every way, seeing what we are trying to correct and working with us on it.  I know within my heart that this would be much harder without them here, much of their good example has rubbed off already.
I am expecting things to get harder when we get home and settle in.  We are prepared for some testing, some discomfort on their part with not being in a group environment and not going straight into school but instead remaining home to work with me on language acquisition in every day life situations. It will feel totally weird to them, and yet we can not just drop them in school without at least some functional English and not expect problems.  We are sure we will have moments when Angela misses her old life, as it was not at all a bad one in many respects and it will be hard to go from being successful and looked up to for being a good basketball and soccer player to not having that kind of recognition for awhile.  But hopefully time and patience will help us move beyond those hard times and find ourselves in a place where she feels secure and confident.  For Olesya it is much like Kenny...since the day we left she hasn't mentioned the orphanage ones, not her friends, nothing.  There is no indication that she misses the place one bit yet.  Of course, we know there will come a moment when memories are allowed in, the new has worn off, and there will likely be some tears there as well.
We are enjoying them all tremendously, watching them laugh and play together as if they have always been brothers and sisters has been awesome and surprising.  They are all thoughtful of one another, helpful with us, and just an amazing blend of personalities, races and temperaments.  There is this common thread that seems to run through each of them, and I can not put my finger on it but am glad I recognized it way back when.  Whatever "it" is, it is working!!


Anonymous said...

Oh what a beautiful family you are! I just love that photo of your kids together (top photo).
You deserve to have this "honeymoon" together ...well-earned!

Tammy said...

What wonderful - and interesting! - memories you are making. After spending so much time there, you must have such insight into how things work.

I love seeing all 5 of them together - and like even more seeing pic's with you and Dominick in them. Make sure you get lots of them together as a family of 7!

It is interesting to listen to the girls' subtle adjustments they have to make. In many ways, this is the east part, as you said. The language is familiar and real life hasn't set in yet. So enjoy this time together and try not to worry. There will be plenty of time for that later!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for making us a part of your family--in photos and words. We are making your family ours with prayers and love.


Anonymous said...

So happy for all of you!
In addition to being a time for the girls to learn English, their time home will also be so important for your bonding. Not sure how that would work if you threw them into school (very much like an RBS without the boarding of course) right away.

Enjoy making memories!
Teresa F.

Maureen said...

Poor Kenny's eyes look swollen in that first picture. What a brave little guy. I'm glad your Emergency room experience was a good one! It's also neat how that trip created an interesting money conversation. Thanks for sharing.

Again, I'm so glad to hear that things are going smoothly! For all your fears and worries (which I would have too!) you sound like a pro. :-) But, of course, you have wisely done lots and lots of research before this point.

Joyce said...

Just a little comment as I was reading about the interaction between Angela and Oleysa and how she corrects her. My first thought is to let them just adjust and then right on the heels of this is that it way better your way to have it up front that you are the parents from Day 1. She is now the child and is allowed to be the child. I admire the insight you have in raising your kiddos but also that you continue to share with us readers.
Safe travals

Anonymous said...

Do you know how inappropriate and offensive it was for you to have referred to your boys as being the girls' "slaves!"??

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