Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Our flight was direct from Moscow to Dulles in DC. Needless to say I was a bit concerned about a 10 and 1/2 hour flight with 2 toddlers. As you might imagine, it was a full flight and the plane was configured with 2 seats, aisle, 3 seats, aisle and 2 seats. Because we had changed our flights we were assigned seats at the airport and ended up with Jim across the aisle from me and the boys in the center. To make it even a bit more complicated, the rows were slightly staggered so Jim was a bit in front of us, making it even harder for him to help out. As I suspected, the tantrums began with the buckling of the seat belts and continued on and off for the duration of the flight. Elijah was somewhat entertained with the in flight movies, especially when I realized I could get the audio in Russian so that was helpful, but Joshua was a little pain in the a** for almost the entire flight. Everytime we had to buckle up, the tantrums started again with both of them in unison. It was the most exhausting and frustrating flight of my life. By the time we landed in DC, all of us had had it. It was 10 pm Moscow time and the boys had each slept for about 1 hour.
Once in DC, we had to go through immigration and customs which should have been short and simple, but ended up being long and complicated due to a number of screw ups. Our luggage was sent to the wrong baggage claim, a agricultural inspector dog tagging our bags and caused an extra inspection due to the food we had packed for the boys and we had to go through security all over again because we apparently went the wrong way to bypass that after rechecking our bags to Portland. Fortunately (or not, I haven't quite decided) we had a 7 hour lay-over so we weren't worried about missing our next flight.
Once we got through all of that hassle and got back into the terminal, we met Jim's brother Joe who had brought Alexis to the airport to meet us and fly home together. She was so excited to meet her little brothers! Thank goodness she was there too, because she occupied them for much of the layover time. They ran and chased one another up and down the terminal hallways. Finally, about 9 pm EST (4 am Moscow time) they all fell asleep, just before we boarded our flight to Portland.
We managed to keep the boys asleep and get them on board and buckled into their seats without any screaming. (Thank God!) Alexis was a bit stressed because she couldn't sit next to Mom or Dad (the plane was 2 seats on either side of the aisle so we put her next to Joshua with Mom next to Elijah and Dad in front of us), but she tearily survived being across the aisle from Mom.
The flight to Portland was uneventful and we managed to get everyone off the plane and to the car without much difficulty. They continued to sleep for the 40 minute ride home and we got them in the house and to bed without anyone waking up!! Yay. JIm and I finally fell into bed about 2 am and slept until the boys woke us up at 7 am. Fortunately, this completed the transition to the eastern time zone for the boys. Now Mom and Dad just needed to catch up.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
We arrived in Moscow on Friday night at 1 am and checked into our hotel. Thankfully, the boys went right back to sleep and Jim and I finally got a little sleep ourselves. Our coordinator, Natasha, had actually arranged for the doctor who was doing the US Embassy medical exam on the boys to come to our hotel on Saturday morning so we didn't have to go out and fight the traffic and wait in lines at the US clinic. That was so very much appreciated! The doctor was a Russian doctor who spoke very good english so it was easy for us to understand and communicate with him. As we guessed, the boys are both unusually healthy for children who have been in an orphanage. They both have some structural/postural issues which he attributed to rickets from lack of vitamin D as well as enlarged tonsils and sinus issues from chronic cold/flu viruses circulating at the orphanage. He was not really concerned about either issue and just advised getting them out in the sun, feeding them a nutritious diet and potentially getting them into some good arch supports because the arch structure of their feet was poor due to the rickets. After he left, we had free time until Tuesday when we went to the US Embassy.
We spent the time at the pool, walking around Moscow (it was unusually warm while we were there) and generally getting to know each other. We discovered, as I had suspected, that our "potty trained" 2 year old is not really potty trained, but rather will potty on demand when asked to but won't ask you when he really needs to. Mama does NOT have a schedule like the orphanage so thank goodness for pull-ups! We discovered that a hotel employee vacuuming is worth about 30 minutes of extremely focused attention. We discovered tantrums!! Epic tantrums over anything and everything. Apparently they believe that louder is better, which in an orphanage may be true, but not so much in our house. We worked on names. They had us down as mama and papa right from the start (they had been told that they were going home with mama and papa). Their new names, on the other hand, took some getting used to but we're getting there. We explored food, lots of food. Elijah puked on me every day for the first 3 days because he just didn't stop eating when he'd had enough. Finally I realized that I had to limit how much he was allowed to eat at any one time which led to more tantrums but finally, no more puking. We roamed up and down the halls of the hotel, just trying to burn off some toddler energy and get out of the hotel room which after 3 days was getting a bit claustrophobic.
On Tuesday, we had our appointment at the US Embassy for our exit interview and to get entry visas for the boys since they were traveling on Russian passports. When we arrived at the embassy, we found ourselves in a waiting area with about 30 other people, American families and adopted children, all waiting to do the same thing. Our coordinator had arranged for our visa fees to be paid in advance so we didn't have to wait in line to do that. Again what a relief!! The computers were down at the Embassy while we were there. Some of these people were panicked at the though of not being able to get their visas and go home with their children when they had planned. One couple had friends who had adopted previously who got stuck for 5 extra days because of a computer glitch. Keep in mind that Jim and I had been in Russia for a total of 1 week at this point and could hardly wait to go home. Some of these people had been there for 3 weeks or more because their 10 day wait after court had not been waived. Eventually they resolved the computer problem and people were able to pay and get their visas but the stress, ugh!!
So while we were all waiting for our exit interviews, a very nice American woman came out and gave us all the instructions about what would happen from here forward. Our children are Russian citizens. Once they land on American soil and we get through customs and immigration, they are automatically granted US citizenship, but they will retain their Russian citizenship until they are at least 18, at which point they can formally renounce it if they choose to. They warned us to be very mindful of this if we were adopting boys that might someday travel back to Russia because Russia has mandatory military service for all males between the ages of 18 and 35. They said that the Russian government will not come here to the States to enforce that, but if our sons are in Russia between those ages and still have their Russian citizenship, it can be enforced. That's kind of scary!
The last thing we were required to do before we could leave was register our children with the Russian government. We were given a choice of "regular" registration for $150 per child or "fast" registration for $250 per child. The difference being same day turn around or 24 turn around. Apparently, the fast registration was done by someone who had a "connection" with whatever Russian government agency it is that handles these registrations. Since we could fly home on Wednesday instead of Friday if we did the fast version, that's what we chose. So our driver, after we left the Embassy, drives down the road a bit and pulls over to the side where a very nice woman jumps into the car and proceeds to tell us that she will be doing the registration for us. We needed to give her the boys passports and the $500 fee and she would return all of our documents to us at our hotel by 9pm so we could fly out in the morning. If that sounds a bit odd to you, it did to me too. Now I don't think I've mentioned that all along on this adoption journey we have been traveling with and paying out large sums of money with brand new $100 bills. If I hadn't read about this time and again on the Russian adoption boards and had our bank know exactly why I was requesting huge sums of new $100 bills, I might just think I was involved in something illegal, but it's how the adoption business is done in Russia. So this last weird little encounter in the back of the car was not that far out and we just went with it, trusting that our translator and coordinator knew what they were doing. It worked out just fine and we left Moscow on Wednesday, March 17.
I've got to sleep now, but I promise to be better about posting. I'll continue the story soon....
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Since I wasn't expecting that today, I didn't have a small bag set apart with just the stuff I needed to take them so we had to drag the entire big suitcase inside and up the stairs to the tiniest office ever. Here I had to open this gigantic suitcase and try to dig out an outfit for each boy along with their coats and boots and snacks for the ride and toys. Now imagine that it is 700 degrees in there and you have a 2 and 3 year old walking in and on the suitcase trying to get to the very loud noise making toys on the table next to you. Now listen to those loud noise making toys over and over and over again while you try to undress and re-dress them and get them all bundled up in their winter gear. Absolutely comical!
So we finally got out of the orphanage at 6pm and got on the road for the 6+ hour drive back to Moscow. Now the roads in Russia in the winter time leave something to be desired. I will give them the benefit of the doubt since it is winter, but I suspect they aren't much better in the summer. So now all 4 of us are sitting in the back of this big conversion van bouncing all over the place as our driver races out of town as if he's Mario Andretti. Did I mention there are no such things as car seats in Russia? And no seat belts in the back of the van to tie them down with even if we had them. So we are bouncing around (like heads banging on the roof bouncing) and the boys just think this is a riot. They are in an all out full belly laugh every few seconds while Jim and I are praying that we get to the highway soon which, while still pretty rough, is a dream compared to this.
Shortly after we started bouncing down the road, Tanya, our translator, started handing me the boy's paperwork which included their daily schedule and I see that dinner time is 6:15. Of course they were not given dinner before they brought them to us so we pulled out our snacks and they began inhaling bananas, applesauce, cheddar bunny crackers and some beef jerky that I had for myself.
So you know what happens next right? It took precisely 60 minutes from the time we left with our children for me to be puked on. Elijah had almost finished his cheddar bunnies when he started to cry and hold his mouth. We thought maybe he had bit his tongue or his cheek because of the bouncing. Just as Jim was trying to see what was happening, he hurled all over himself, my leg and the floor of the van. Ah yes- all the joys of parenting right from the get-go. :-)
So we stopped to get him cleaned up and then let them watch a video before they fell asleep. They are both sleeping as I write this and hopefully that will continue once we get to the hotel which is still a couple hours away at this point.
Tomorrow we will begin the process of doing what we need to do for the US Embassy so we can finally come home next week.
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If we are lucky, they will get the passports issued today and we will be able to pick them up today. If not, we will get the passports tomorrow morning and then pick up the boys. If we can't take them today, at least we should be able to visit them.
Our sleep schedules are terribly screwed up. Jim's body is refusing to adapt to this time zone and he has been sleeping in chunks during the day when he can and up most of the night. I on the other hand have been able to transition somewhat except for Jim disturbing my sleep because he's up. It's really hard being trapped in a hotel room with someone on a different schedule. The next couple weeks ought to be interesting. At least once we get home we have space and should be able to get away from those who are actually able to sleep at the appropriate times and not disturb them.
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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Much of it was your typical court room procedure as you would expect. We had to state who we were, our birth dates, addresses, etc. (It is really difficult, by the way, to listen to your translator when the person speaking Russian never takes a breath!) Then our petition to adopt the boys was read aloud and we were asked if this was what we wanted to do. The each of us had to stand and be questioned by both the judge and the prosecutor. Most of the questions were basic things like "Do you have all the medical information about the boys?", "Do you have room in your house?", "Does your extended family support you in the adoption?", "Is your daughter happy about the adoption?". Nothing really difficult, but they did go back several times and ask about whether we could support 2 more children and there were lots of repeated questions about our parenting style. They were trying to be sure that the boys would not end up abused or worse. They even told us that several Russian children have died recently in the care of their adoptive American families and they wanted to be sure that would not happen here. We also had to share what happened on our first 2 visits with the boys and what their personalities are like.
After they were done questioning us, the social worker presented her case. She described the situation the boys were removed from, the birth mother's few (2) attempts to visit over the last year, their health at the time they were placed, and more. She was questioned by the judge and the prosecutor quite vigorously as they made sure that the decision to place them for adoption was the right one.
At about 12 noon they took a break so that the judge and the prosecutor could call the court and the Minister of Education in Borovichi (this is where the orphanage is) to confirm that there were no further petitions from the boys birth family to regain custody. That wait was very stressful!! But it wasn't long and they came back about 15 minutes later and said that neither the court or the MoE had received anything from the family. This was when I was finally sure it was going to happen. At that point, they read through some more documents and asked us again if we wanted to proceed with the adoption. We obviously said yes and then asked if the judge would please waive the 10 day waiting period since we had a 6 year old at home who is missing school as well as us. The judge left the room one last time to make her final decision and returned about 12:45 with the ruling in our favor for the adoption as well as waiving the 10 day waiting period. I am so glad that is done!