First Trip to the Orphanage
We arrived at the orphanage tired and dirty, but running on adreneline. Patrick and Mitchell had held up so well, but were running out of steam at this point. They still managed to sit quietly while we met with the orphanage director. He is a nice man, but again, the Kaz culture makes them seem stoic and unfriendly at first. He asked us a lot of questions which our interpretor, Larissa, answered for us.
Then the really uncomfortable part happened. They brought in two little girls for us to “see”. The first was a 17 month little girl named Alissa (I think). She had difficulty making eye contact and seemed very delayed, but adorable and in need of a home none the less. And then darling Kristina came into the room and she just took over! The boys went up to see her and engaged with her immediately. Then she let me hold her for a moment. It was so uncomfortable to be in a room with 2 children needing homes and have to pick one. The director sent us out of the room to discuss the children and then we went back in and told him our decision.
As you can already tell, we choose Kristina to bond with. We learned that she was abandoned by her mother at a hospital when she was taken in for a severe respiratory condition and anemia. Her mother never visited her in the hospital and had to be tracked down by police. It was at that point that she signed away her parental rights and she was admitted to the orphanage. She was put into the orphanage at 1 year 8 months. She is now 2 years and 4 months. That’s about all we know at this point.
The best moment and quote of the day came from Patrick. As we were leaving the director’s office, I asked him what he thought about Kristina and he said “P is for Perfect!). That about summed it all up.
After asking to bond with Kristina, we were able to spend about 30 minutes with her following the meeting. I was pleasantly surprised with how playful and engaging she was early on. I think having the boys there really made a difference in her comfort with us.
It was a magical experience and truly one that I cannot accurately put into words. Unfortunately I am unable to post any photographs of her until the court date and judgment are finalized. But take my word for it, she is amazing!
We were happy to then return to our home away from home and get some much needed sleep.
James went by himself this morning to visit Kristina. He was thrilled that she ran to him with open arms when he arrived. We are marveling at watching her have more “freedom” to do things. For instance, they have them on a very strict daily schedule so they only go potty (in a little potty seat) at certain times of the day. In the bonding room where we have her, I took her to the big potty yesterday and then she kept wanting to go back again and again. I couldn’t figure what she was doing, but I think it was just having access and freedom to go if she wanted to go. She’s like that with many things including the snacks and beverages we bring her.
When we came to meet up with them at the orphanage, there was a special concert going on for the children. What a treat to see! It was some sort of TV show with local personalities who came to sing and dance for the children and caregivers. It was sponsored by the military and James was seated next to the 2 star general in charge of the group. Luckily I had my video camera and was able to record a lot of it. Patrick thought it was too loud and had a hard time during the performance. Mitchell of course was on the front row sitting with the children (looking like a giant by the way) and Kristina was in Papa’s lap. When they put Kristina down to dance with the group she completely doubled over and was crying hysterically. I carried her out and she held on to me tight. I guess it was too loud for her too. Later on, the caregivers jokingly told us that we had spoiled her already because at the last concert, she was in the middle of everything dancing and having fun. Oh well, let the spoiling begin!
Mitchell took a late nap so just Patrick and I went back for the afternoon visit. We had a wonderful time. There is such a limited amount of things to do there, but we try our best to keep it fun for her. She was full of energy this afternoon! She talked a lot (of course we can’t understand her) and was very playful. She was also being a bit of a stinker too trying to spit and thinking that was really funny along with throwing things and laughing about that too. She is going to be a handful for sure!
The best part of the visit was when we went to drop her off in her room. She cried for the first time when I left! She kept putting her arms up for me to take her and looking at me with those big brown eyes full of tears. The bonding is working! Hopefully she will be really ready to leave when the time comes.
What a father’s day James had with Kristina! He went by himself to see her this morning and during their playtime, she surprised him with an unsolicited kiss on the check! She has not given any of us a kiss yet so that was a big deal, especially the fact that it was a surprise. She also initiated hairbrushing with him and she enjoyed taking his sunglasses on and off, sounds like a flirt to me! James was all smiles when he returned from the orphanage this morning! During our afternoon session, we all went together and she gave kisses to both of us on demand, what a treat!
We’ve hit the 2 week mark and the minimum amount of bonding time required by Kazakhstan, YEA! Tomorrow, the petition for Kristina’s adoption goes to the court system. Wish us luck with judge selection, we’ve heard there is one that we do not want.
Kristina was delightful again today. She actually fell asleep this morning on my shoulder, it was wonderful! That was another first for us. She was much more playful and full of life this afternoon. James and I each got some time with her one-on-one as the boys were playing solo today and not requiring as much attention. It was a really nice day with her.
My heart has been breaking as we have seen 2 infants dropped off at the orphanage in the last 2 days. One situation was a young, tired mother that I saw curled up in ball holding a small child in a blanket in the director’s office yesterday. And then today, some of the staff pulled up in a car with a newborn from the maternity hospital. It sends so many mixed feeling through me…I can only pray the children will find good homes and the mothers made the right decision.
Day 20–Gotcha Day
It’s official! Kristina will be coming home with us tomorrow!!! We had to wait an hour in the hallway before we were called in to see the judge. Olga and Larissa kept us laughing by talking about all the folks coming in and out of the area. We were relieved when we saw that our prosecutor was one of the people that Olga and Larissa like. Our session took one hour. James did a beautiful job in his statement. I was asked a lot of questions following his statement. The funniest one being the Judge’s concern about why we decorated our house in dark colors…in the photos we submitted, the living room did look dark so I ended up pointing out a color on the wallpaper in the courtroom that was representative of the actual wall color. They had a lot of questions about the boys and how receptive they were to having a sister. When she announced her verdict that not only did we get custody of her, but that she was waiving the 15 day appeal period, we about fell out of our seats! She said something along the lines of “I see no reason not to grant immediate custody given that two young gentlemen have traveled all the from the U.S. to get their baby sister”. It was a beautiful moment and one that we won’t ever forget. We both cried by the way!
We can’t actually bring her home until tomorrow when we get her new birth certificate. Our plan is to have a celebration party with her class and caregivers in the afternoon and then we will bring her back to the apartment. What fun awaits us tomorrow! I know it will be very emotional on all fronts. I’ll report tomorrow.
We did see her tonight and take her to get her passport photo so that they can start on the paperwork for that process. It was so fun to watch her experience the car! It’s safe to say that she hasn’t been in a car in at least 8 months. She was wide-eyed and quiet and taking it all in. She leaned hard into me and barely moved a muscle. I don’t think she was afraid, just observant. Oh my, what experiences she has in store for her.
I’m off to celebrate with the gang. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to report tomorrow. I can’t tell everyone enough how much we appreciate the prayers and good wishes during this process. It means so much to us. Thank you for sharing in our experience.
We started out at the orphanage at the regular time. They didn’t tell us that they were taking Kristina off site for something medical related before we got there so we just hung out with the other children for an hour. We have fallen in love with another little girl who is 3 years old – we’d love to find her a good home if you know anyone thinking about adopting…If only we could take them all!
When we arrived, the caregivers sat all the children down and we gave them their bags. It was so disturbing to me to see that the majority of them didn’t even know what to do with the bags. They just stared at them. We had to go around and open them up and show them what was inside. Of course, they did know what to do with the cookies and juice. Then we met with the director and signed a few forms so that we could take her. We had to change her into the clothes we brought from home and leave the old ones behind. James negotiated a pair of “her” shoes to take home in exchange for a new pair we brought.
The most emotional part of the day was when we were walking out of the door with her. The caregivers had all the other children line up and give her a kiss on the check before she left. I started crying at that point and didn’t stop for about 30 minutes. The only reprieve was when our beloved Pasha came to give her a kiss and he basically wrapped both arms around her and gave her a 5 second kiss smack on the lips! Oh, we will miss him! Yes, I did get it on video.
I’ve attached my favorite picture of the day which is of the boys walking out the door with her and heading for the van. It was not staged, and again I cried as it was so sweet. She really seemed prepared for the change and was just great. I’ve also attached a photo of her here at the apartment running around in my shoes. I think this is a girl that will love to dress up!
Dinner at home was well received by Kristina. She was the first one at the table and the last to leave. She tried some of everything that we all had. Let’s hope she keeps up the adventurous eating spirit. We had a good evening. The boys were calmer than I thought and she was excited to be here. Then came the challenging part of the day – bedtime. She cried a lot when it came to going to sleep. We both felt like she was somewhat afraid. To make a long story short, she finally fell asleep in our bed and slept the remainder of the night there.
All in all, I think things have gone very well with her brief transition. Again, I am emotionally drained and so very ready to get everyone home. We will fly to Almaty on Monday and Patrick, Mitchell and I fly into Memphis on the evening of the 4th. James is still slated to be here with Kristina until the 18th, but we are getting the feeling the paperwork should be done sooner. He can’t really re-book tickets until he knows for sure that everything is ready. Paperwork, paperwork..
The day started off with a smile knowing that Stacy and the boys were stateside and with friends they love. Kristina awoke with a smile and an appetite and had her usual fare. She is quite affectionate in the morning. Hugging and playing games has become the routine. After a late start we walked to the grocery store and had a local dish recommended to us by the KLM agent. This was a success with Kristina and likely to be repeated.
Marina picked us up for Kristina’s medical evaluation and we were on our way. After her evaluation we went to a local restaurant that was themed as an old time Russian peasant house. The food was good and Kristina had a chance to experiment with new food as well as have a few familiar tastes. After her 2nd bath of the day she was eager to wrestle and play games. It is joy to see her defenses drop and her comfort level increase on a daily basis. Tomorrow we will be heading to the mountains.
Back on schedule with a six twenty wake up call. It is hard to complain with Kristina sleeping almost twelve hours. Sometime around ten she noisily made her way to my room. I think this is a trend. The hours until our daily outing seem to quickly melt away. Meeting Kristina’s needs is all consuming but I know this one on one time in her native land is truly a once in a lifetime experience. At ten we were off to finish any last minute souvenir shopping. It is a challenge to determine what will be relative to a growing girl to cement her heritage.
We then headed to a nice outdoor restaurant and ordered pancakes(crepes) with three side flavors and an order of spaghetti with sauce.I have witnessed more dining grace at a crab boil than Kristina’s approach to today’s lunch fare. Sticky like only honey and jelly can deliver. Spaghetti sauce from ear to ear and hand to hand. When we settled our account I could barely lift the tab off the table as the waitress had set it in a spot of honey. And… this is after I had already cleaned the table once with a wet wipe.Back on schedule Kristina took an hour and a half nap.
Departure Day—Day 38
July 13th, 2007. We’re off to a rousing start. It’s four a.m. and I hear the cell phone ringing from the side of my suitcase. I got Kristina up at four thirty and she had an amazing enthusiasm given the early hour. Marina arrived promptly at five and managed Kristina while I staged the suitcases for the elevator ride. Given the nature of the Almaty airport we have no time to squander. I learned on this day and at this moment that they turn the elevators off at night. My goal of not being sweaty before the travel day was dashed. I began to lug the suitcases down four flights of dark stairs . I had loaded all but the smallest suitcase when the apartment manager had been located and activated the elevator. The manager brought the last vestige of our Kazakhstan adventure down the elevator and we were airport bound.
I think a fear that walks with any adoption process is the what if. Leaving the country of Kristina’s birth took away the last what if that loomed in my heart and mind. It was a joy to spend half the time of our previous family layover and have a cursory knowledge of where the food and children’s entertainment was to be found. A bit of Americana. Kristina had her first McDonald’s in Amsterdam on Friday the thirteenth,July, 2007. Big bite, MMMMM. Spit. She then ate half the bun.
We’ve made it to our last flight and the emotion continues to grow. The enormity of the challenge is coming into focus. The paperwork mountain that Stacy was able to navigate. The unparalleled behavior of the boys. The focus of the family in sucking it up for the greater good of bringing this abandoned treasure home. Everyone did their part. Stacy was a marvel of strength and perseverance. Random thoughts engulf my mind as we continue our trek towards Memphis. Can I really be taking Kristina for her twentieth trip to the potty? Yes you will wear this seat belt!Why are we traveling on Friday the thirteenth? This is the last time I will ever have a one on one time with Kristina of this duration. As we touch down in Memphis another wave of emotion sweeps over me. It hits me that Friday the thirteenth will forever evoke special memories and emotion for the Keenan family from this day forward. I am reminded of my visit with the United States Consulate in Almaty. Kristina will be a U.S. States citizen when she takes her first breath of Memphis air. I decide to let her sleep through this fateful moment and let everyone on the plane disembark before I roust the United States newest citizen.
We regroup and move our Kristina caravan through the customs labyrinth. As we approach the yellow customs line Kristina conveys the necessity of her first U.S. potty break. This need behind her we reenter the visitors line and present her sealed document envelope prepared by the U.S Consulate in Almaty Kazakhstan. We were greeted with smiles and admiration and then escorted to a side room for additional processing. Upon completion of this stage we were congratulated again and told we could apply for her Social Security card and passport in short order. Regaining our luggage we cleared customs. Total customs time was one and a half hours.
The walk through the airport with Kristina was long in length but far too short in duration. I knew that this stage of our journey was reaching an emotional zenith and didn’t want to let go of the raw emotion that I knew was at the end of the hallway. I wanted to bask. I wanted to revel. I don’t think that Memphis airport security is particularly partial to basking and reveling. So with bags on both shoulders and Kristina in my arms we marched toward the warm embrace of a family waiting to be reunited. Joni was the first to capture our approach and alerted the family as she aimed the digital camcorder in our direction. The balloons were floating high as the boys, adorned with their Big Bro shirts, skirted security and collectively carried her back to Kristina’s Momma. A short time elapsed before she recognized Stacy and then a warm calm of acknowledgment came over Kristina’s face. Stacy and I looked at each other and began to cry. After the luggage was located we moved in mass to the parking lot. I have long anticipated this moment and was not surprised at Kristina’s reaction to her first car seat experience. Loud , yet joyful noise to my ears. I took the wheel after a six week driving break and we headed to Joni’s house.
The rest of the evening is a blur. I seem to have a vague memory of a hot shower and shave, a beer and a wonderful pizza. Some time after that the Nutella was located and shared. After a short period of decompressing I ceded total parental control and climbed into bed. Laying in bed the import of what had been accomplished washed over me. I remembered a gift we received at the beginning of our adoption process. In sharing our desires with a respected friend she in turn graced us with a Bible verse and an adoption saying . The Bible verse became our focus for the entire trip. “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made”. Isaiah 43:6,7. The adoption phrase she shared further cemented our resolve. Not flesh from my flesh nor bone of my bone but nevertheless still my own. Never forget for a single moment you weren’t born under my heart but in it. Thank you friends and loved ones who shared this journey with our family. Your prayers and comments helped sustain us in a distant land .