Friday, December 26, 2008
One year ago...
We left Kiev at 3 a.m. on Friday morning...incredibly tired but excited.
It had all come down to this.
Today's meeting would decide whether we would be adopting from Ukraine. It was a good feeling, a feeling of peace...at least we would know one way or another. And it was completely out of our hands...which, as weird as it sounds, was a good place to be.
As we drove through the empty streets of Kiev (I had no idea the streets were ever empty) we called up the kids...just to check in and hear their voices.
We got the typical responses...
'When will you come home,"
"How much longer, Mom," and...
"I can't wait to see you."
"Just a few more days," we promised, "but first we have to go find out if this is your little sister."
We hung up.
It was going to be a long day.
The drive was interminable, magnified by the fact Meshack and I were jammed in the back seat of a tiny car like a couple of overstuffed teddy bears in a little girl's backpack. Sitting on our laps were three carryons.
We couldn't move.
We had only brought one suitcase with us, just in case we needed to stay the night...but we brought all the carryons with us because they held the valuables...the laptop, camera, camcorder...and we didn't want to put them in the trunk - just in case we needed anything.
You know...granola bars, breath mints, toilet paper, the family photo album...
All the important stuff!
We slept on and off during the trek...all the while our translator and driver chatted back and forth in the front seat like old friends.
I will never again complain that men don't talk. I'm telling you those guys talked the WHOLE 6 hours.
I could hear them even in my sleep.
Not one word of it in English...and not one word of it was translated for us.
They could have been talking about how loudly we snored and what idiots we were for paying them to drive us to Odessa for all we knew.
We showed them...
We have a trick of our own...
I'll share it later.
I'm also going to write a post about the driver later. He defied every stereo-typical man comment I and every other woman on earth has ever uttered.
And then some.
He was a piece of work, I tell ya.
We stopped a couple of times to get coffee, gas and to take a potty break. The bathrooms weren't that bad. I've seen worse in U.S. gas stations so that was a pleasant surprise. (I know you all rely on me to comment on Ukrainian bathroom quality...I didn't want to disappoint. ;)
What wasn't pleasant was the ride.
I was freezing. And those who know me know...I don't freeze easily. For some stupid reason I had decided not to wear my comfy white, warm athletic socks that day...opting instead for some black dress socks - you know, the thin kind that don't do anything but make your feet match your black shoes. I don't know what I was thinking. I was wearing my black boots after all...no one was going to see my feet. I guess I was having flashbacks to Alek's adoption when I had to remove my shoes before entering the orphanage.
I didn't want the orphanage director to think I didn't care about the details.
So to appease my vanity - I froze.
I know the car had a working heater...during the first hour of the drive I was just fine. But at one point it started getting cold, and since I couldn't get a word in edge-wise to our translator...I suffered in silence.
I finally spoke up with about an hour to go...but it still didn't get that warm.
Come to find out...the driver had his window partially rolled down.
We arrived in Kiev around 9 a.m. and immediately set to finding the inspectors office. This was no small feat. I don't think the driver had ever been to Odessa before and while our translator said he had, he sure didn't act like it.
The pair kept stopping and asking for directions about every block or two...another stereotype thrown completely out the window. I honestly think I could have figured out how to get there quicker just by 'listening' to the directions instead of stopping only to hear the first two words out of their mouths and taking off at breakneck speed, and then stopping a block later to ask another unsuspecting pedestrian.
About an hour later we pulled into the parking lot.
Lev jumped out, and telling us to stay put - the first English he's spoken in six hours - ran into the building.
A half an hour later, Lev came back and told us to follow him. We went in the building through one door...immediately turned and walked through another set of doors...then started climbing three flights of stairs at breakneck speed. Lev was running up the stairs...Meshack and I were desperately trying to keep up.
Finally, I gave up and just walked.
I figured he'd stop and wait for us eventually.
We got to the top of the stairs and Lev disappeared through a door...we stood there and waited, not exactly sure what we should do.
He popped his head back out and motioned for us to follow him.
We stepped inside to find a nicely dressed woman, sitting at a desk, looking through our dossier. Lev introduced her as the inspector and said she would be asking us a few questions. We got the usual spiel...'describe your house', 'tell me about your children', 'why do you want another one' and 'why Ukraine?'
We explained to the best of our ability and she must have been satisfied because she told Lev to come back by in an hour...she'd have the referral ready.
So we left.
An hour later we returned and Lev walked out with the precious document.
It's time to go meet the little girl.
We pile back into the car and start driving. Again...Lev and the driver obviously have no idea where they're going. They stopped every few blocks for directions. I felt like just telling them to stop at an Internet cafe and Google it.
Being men, I don't suppose they would appreciate the advice.
We finally pulled onto a back street barely wide enough for one car...let alone two. We drove past some very nice homes and some shacks....then past a large gate and by a church under reconstruction. We got to the end of the street and straight ahead we saw the Black Sea...our one and only glimpse of it.
We turned around...the orphanage had to be there somewhere.
Finally we went back to the large gate...Lev asked a bystander some questions and then told us to get out...we were there.
We were kind of surprised. The gate was gorgeous...unlike anything we had ever seen before at any other orphanage we had visited. It looked brand new and would rival anything we had ever seen surrounding palatial homes in the states.
We walked through an opening, down a sidewalk and into a brand new building...at least it looked brand new. The inside was completely renovated...it couldn't have been more than a year or two old. Very nice.
We walked into the office and right into the orphanage director's office. No secretary to make us sit and wait...no chance to take in our surroundings.
We sat down and she immediately began to look through the file on the little girl.
Her name, we learned, is Nastya.
She is three years old...will turn four in February.
She is completely healthy, physically and mentally.
She just has a couple of minor birth defects which make her undesirable to Ukrainian couples. She was born without ears...and has a small imperfection on her mouth.
To Ukraine she's an invalid.
To us...she's perfect.
'Do you still want to meet her,' the orphanage director asked through Lev.
'Absolutely,' we said simultaneously as we heard a commotion in the hallway.
The next thing we knew, a little girl with brown hair and brown eyes pops into the room and immediately brightens it with her smile.
This is the little girl we have been dreaming of.
We had finally found Maddie.
While she was born without fully formed ears, Maddie can hear just fine. She has a condition called bilateral microtia. A rare defect...one that stunts the growth of the outside of the ears and most often leaves the ear canal closed on the outside. It's a pretty easy condition to correct.
A surgery at the age of 4 or 5 open the canal...and a set of cosmetic surgeries reconstructs the ears when she is older. When all of the surgeries are complete, no one will be able to tell she wasn't born with ears. (After we brought Maddie home, we learned she isn't a candidate for the surgery to open the ear canal.)
We hadn't heard of the condition six months ago. But then my brother and his wife decided to adopt a special needs child from China...and through Kaycee, we learned all about it. She also was born with bilateral microtia...and while she can't hear as well as Nastya, she has made tremendous strides in learning to speak English.
Len, Val, Shad and I are absolutely convinced God has put these two little girls into our lives for a special purpose. If it weren't for Len and Val adopting their precious Kaycee...Shad and I may never have considered Nastya. We would have been too scared. Now we're in complete peace about the decision. We know what to expect...and have no fears...no qualms.
We have the knowledge we need to help her.
And she has the heart needed to complete our family.
The orphanage director and Lev weren't convinced.
I think it's a cultural thing.
Before we had even gotten the referral, Lev had made quite a performance of trying to talk us out of even visiting her. He was convinced we needed to wait to find a 'healthy' girl.
We knew it was now or never. We would either be going home with a pending court date or we would be going home and never coming back.
He finally relented.
Now, he sat here with the orphanage director continuing to question whether we knew what we were getting into. We tried to convince them, they didn't seem to buy it, so we asked questions about her speech progress, how long ago the surgery was that she had on her mouth, if she was up-to-date on her vaccinations, etc. Anything to seem to show the appropriate level of concern, but all the while we knew in our hearts...had known since she walked in the door...
This was Maddie.
And Maddie is a bundle of energy.
She ran around the room, exploring every inch of the place, trying to take in as much as she could. She would go from person to person wanting to be held...only to get down a second later to check out something else.
This is where we have our one and only...okay, two concerns.
She obviously is going to have some attachment issues to work through. There was absolutely no fear in having us, Lev or the orphanage director hold her. We had expected this.
And we've dealt with it before with Alek...granted he was much younger, but for some reason it doesn't scare us. (It's probably a level of naivete.) We are convinced this is our little girl...God will show us how to handle it.
The other is her activity level and her seeming inability to settle down to a task for more than a couple of seconds. It may just be over stimulation - this is what we're hoping for...or it could be early signs of ADHD.
Either way...they're both things we can handle as well.
The doctor let us take her for some play time in the hallway...not exactly the best environment to try and settle her down for reading or quiet play. But we did our best and she seemed to respond.
We do know she responds well to 'nyet'. She knows full well what the word means and complies without much fanfare and no complaint. She is curious about absolutely everything and her gross motor skills are excellent.
She is a chatterbox...she talks about absolutely everything. I don't have the foggiest idea what she's talking about but she wants to make sure you hear her and understand her. I just kept saying, 'da, da, da.'
I hope I wasn't promising to take her to see the Russian circus.
All too soon, Lev came and asked for our decision.
Like he had to ask.
And the funny thing was that we didn't even need to discuss it.
We just 'knew'.
That question set in motion a very busy afternoon...we had so much to do and absolutely NO time to get it all done.
We asked if we could take some pictures of Maddie before we left, but they said there was no time. We would come back later to get some more visiting in and we could take pictures then.
So we left.
We never went back.
By the time we had gone everywhere we needed to...her groupa had gone to bed for the evening and we had to drive back to Kiev.
We had agreed to adopt a little brown haired, brown eyed girl from Odessa...and we had no pictures to prove it.
Nothing to take home with us to show off to friends.
No pictures to show the kids.
Lev sighed loudly as Meshack and I tried to figure out a way to get a picture of our little girl.
It was the last straw.
It had been a long, tiring, draining day. The last thing I needed was someone giving me smack. So as we pulled out of town I did something I had always dreamed of doing while on an adoption trip...
I turned to Meshack and said...
"I'm-a oing-ga oo-ta ing-wra is-ha ittle-la eck-na."
"E-ma irst-fa," he replied.
Let's see him translate THAT!
Top: I'll give him credit, Lev did eventually return to Odessa to take a picture of Maddie for us. We got this precious pic in an email about a week after we returned home. Above: Maddie poses in front of the Christmas tree last week. Its amazing how much she's changed in the last year. Below: The orphanage sits behind these gates. Beautiful, aren't they?