Sunday, November 18, 2007

1. First day of school
2. Just playing around

*Note - D has become our son's middle name, and his first name now starts with N. We have chosen not to use our children's names on this blog for their privacy and safety.

Well, it is clear that neither of us has a future in blogging. Somehow it was a little easier to find the time to blog, when we were sitting around our apartment in Ukraine. When Matt and N arrived home, we became busy with life, and adjusting to a new little boy in the home. N is doing really well, and MOST of the time he is a delightful and happy five year old boy who is speaking mostly in English. We had a few temper tantrums in the beginning, but as the weeks have passed, those have disappeared. I will attempt to go back and give the highlights of the last few weeks.

Matt and N arrived at the airport around 10 pm, and even though they were happy to see us, they both looked exhausted. They had been traveling close to 24 hours. Fortunately, they were upgraded to first class from Kiev to New York, which was wonderful, but N did not sleep a wink on that leg of the flight. They did sleep some on the flight from NY, so at least they were a little bit rested. We buckled N into his car seat, and told him we were now going to his new house. When he arrived, he spent a little time looking around, and we showed him his new room. He walked around his room pointing to every single toy and piece of clothing and asked, "Is this mine?" over and over. This is a child who has really never owned much of anything, and he seemed a little overwhelmed to have a room of his own, full of clothes and toys. We let him play with his toys, and eventually he settled down and went to sleep. When he woke up, it became clear that we had a son who was very used to a strict routine. He asked for his clothes, and slippers. I laid out his clothes for him, but I had failed to buy him any slippers, so I grabbed a pair of flip-flops, and he happily put those on. He then got dressed, washed his face, brushed his teeth, folded his pajamas and put them under his pillow, and made his bed. Then he asked for permission to play with his toys. After playing for about 30 minutes, he asked for breakfast. When I told him yes, we could have breakfast, he immediately started cleaning up all of his toys without being asked. He and I snuck into the kitchen, because everyone else was still asleep, and I made him some oatmeal. He still continues to be a pretty orderly child, and never complains when I ask him to clean up his toys, or his room. Most of the time, he is eager to please and is really cooperative.

For the first couple of weeks, we stayed home as much as possible. The hardest part was just keeping N entertained. He was used to having a very structured routine in the orphanage, and he really did not have the ability to play independently because, I am sure, he never had to in the orphanage. I did my best to structure his day, and provide different activities, and toys to play with throughout the day. During those first few days, we swam a lot (he had no fear of the pool), rode bikes, played soccer, played with play-doh, watercolors, and a variety of toys. The girls were a big help that first week, because they weren't back in school yet, but after they went back to school, it was much harder to keep N entertained. He really wanted mama to play with him all day long, and he would follow me EVERYWHERE I went in the house those first few weeks.

He has been very affectionate with us both from the beginning. He loves to sit in our laps and just be held and cuddled. When we first came home I would tell him "I love you" in Russian, and he would just giggle. Then he started saying it back in Russian. I still tell him "I love you" in Russian, and he says it back in English now. When "papa" leaves the house, N stand on the porch yelling "love you you popi" as he drives down the street, and when he comes home from work, he is usually tackled at the front door, and then there is a 30 minute nightly wrestling session in our family room. He also used to repeat "maiya (my) mama" over and over dozens of times throughout the it's just a couple times a day. He loves to play with his sisters, and they love him too. B likes to mother him and take care of him, and K is just a really good playmate most of the time. They did have a few, short-lived moments during those first weeks when they wanted to send him back, and there are times even now when they need to go to their rooms to get away from their rambunctious brother, but most of the time, they love to be with him, and they all play well together. During the first few weeks, he did drive us crazy by constantly playing with the light switches, TV buttons, cabinets, and doors. I think everything was just so new to him, and he was extremely curious, and wanted to explore.

We have been to the both the pediatrician, and the pediatric ophthalmologist, and the dentist. His health is good although he is definitely on the lower end of the height and weight charts. He was a little bit anemic, and is on iron supplements. He is very far-sighted, and he has new glasses, which he is very happy to wear. The ophthalmologist said the crossed-eyes should correct on their own, with the glasses, and after just a few weeks in the glasses, we can see a big difference already. And the dentist said he had reasonably good dental care, and he only has one cavity.

N is now in preschool. He attends preschool in English 3 mornings each week, and we found a wonderful Russian preschool that he attends 2 mornings a week. He really enjoys them both, and loves to go to school, and his teachers say he is doing well. He has had lots of opportunities to play with friends and family. He is very social, and so far he has done really well in social situations, and is usually well behaved in restaurants.

We feel really blessed to have N in our family. In many ways having him home with us has been much easier than I imagined, but it has still been really hard at times. He is an early riser, and I am not getting enough sleep. He is busy, busy, busy, and if I don't remember to provide constant activities, or even just remind him to play with his toys, he is still likely to get into something that he is not supposed to. But the joys far outweigh the trials. He is happy, and loving, and grateful most of the time. He loves my cooking, and raves about "oozhen" (dinner) every night. He eats all of his vegetables, and he wants to eat everyone else's. The only foods that he doesn't like are those that are particularly "American" - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hamburgers (unless it's loaded with veggies), hot dogs, and especially chicken nuggets. He looked at the chicken nuggets at a fast food restaurant and asked, "Is this food?" Who can blame him for that!

He has a world map up on his wall, and every night before he goes to bed, he asks to look at "Oookrieena" (Ukraine). Then he goes through the whole story. He starts with the train noises, and runs his finger on the map from Mariupol to Kiev. Then he puts his arms out like a plane, and runs his finger from Kiev to New York, and then New York to LA. Then he pretends to drive a car until he gets home. We are grateful that N was well cared for at the orphanage. After having him in our home for 12 weeks, it is clear to us that he was loved and taught well there. Although sometimes when the three kids are playing together, I look at him and I can't believe that he hasn't been here his whole life.

The first few days home

1. & 2. Swimming the first week home

3. A new haircut and a new attitude!

4. Playing with trains. Thank you Haugens! He loves them.

The Waiting Child

N has been in an orphanage since birth, although he wasn't available for international adoption until the day before we met him, because his birth parents' rights had only been terminated recently. He probably witnessed many kids being adopted, and probably wondered when it was his turn. I saw this poem a long time ago, and when I read it I thought. "Oh, that doesn't apply to us, because we aren't going to adopt a child that old". It turned out to be the perfect poem for our family.

The Waiting Child
by Debbie Bodie

I saw you meet your child today
You kissed your baby joyfully.
And as you walked away with her
I played pretend you'd chosen me.

I'm happy for the baby yet
Inside I'm aching miserably.
I want to plead as you go by
Does no one want a child of three?

I saw you meet your child today
In love with her before you met.
And as I watched you take her out
I knew it wasn't my turn yet.

I recognize you from last year
I knew I'd seen your face before.
But you came for another babe
Does no one want a child of four?

I saw you meet your child today
But this time there was something new.
A nurse came in and took my hand
And then she gave my hand to you.

Can this be true? I'm almost six
And there are infants here you see?
And then you kissed me and I knew
The child you chose this time was me.

A few more pics of the orphanage

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Outer Space

It is difficult to imagine what D is experiencing right now, but try to imagine what life must be like for him. He has spent his entire life inside the walls of an orphanage and then he is escorted away by yours truly, a man who speaks a foreign language. Things that you and I take for granted are amazing experiences for him. In the last 36 hours, he has ridden in a taxi, spent half a day on a train, gone potty in a public restroom, walked the streets of a cosmopolitan city, walked the isles of a grocery store, experienced the benefits of a luxury apartment like splashing around in an extra large bath tub and jumping on a King size bed, listened to an I-pod, watched cartoons on a lap top computer, flushed a modern toilet, washed his hands in a modern sink, slept on a King size bed, risen in a glass elevator, rode down an escalator, shopped in an underground mall, eaten pizza in a restaurant, and countless other things, all for the first time.

I hope I have not given you the impression that the orphanage in Mariupol is an inadequate place. After taking a tour, I was blown away by how incredible it is. The orphanage director and her staff have done an extraordinary job making the living conditions very comfortable and the schooling environment outstanding. The children are divided into small groups by their ages and intellectual abilities. Each group has about ten to fifteen children and has its own living area. In each living area, there is a large living room, dorm room with beds and lockers, and a large bathroom. The children have access to a large assembly room, a Ukrainian cultural room, a plush music and poetry room, a cooking classroom where children learn how to cook basic foods, a physical education room, an art room, and an ecology room. Besides the children’s rooms, there is a commercial kitchen, a laundry facility, a medical exam room, a sewing room, administration offices, and a staff lounge. Included among the thirty or so staff members are a doctor, a director, an assistant director, nurses, a social pedagogue, a seamstress, administrators, caretakers, cooks, laundry workers, and security guards. You can now see why I am so impressed.

We completed the medical examination on Monday and picked up his Visa at the US embassy today. So, the final stages of the adoption process are done. In other words, we are almost home. This has been an incredible experience, but I am ready to return to California. See you soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007


After Tami and the girls spent more than 24 hours hanging out in airports and airplanes on Wednesday, I was quite happy when I heard that they had arrived home safe and sound. The first thing the girls did was check in on the cats. They missed them dearly and were excited to see them again.

While the rest of the family was traveling home, I was traveling on a train with Kostya from Kyiv to Gorlovka, Kostya's home town. Gorlovka is only two hours from Mariupol and thirty minutes from Donetsk. It made sense for me to stay in Gorlovka for a day while we waited to finalize things in Donetsk on Friday (today).

After arriving at Kostya's home yesterday morning, Olga made us a delicious breakfast, ham and cheese crepes, cheese and raisin crepes, and sour cream and raspberry jam crepes. She needs to open up a Ukrainian restaurant in So. Cal. Any investors? After breakfast, Kostya showed me around Gorlovka. He owns a comfortable apartment which is within walking distance from a grocery store, a bank, many parks, four large ponds, the city square, a bowling alley, and two large universities. It is nice place to live and raise a family. I even had a chance to chat with his 60 year old father about politics, sports, and the USSR. He too is quite a gentlemen and I was fascinated by what he had to say. I am grateful to have experienced Ukrainian hospitality first hand and in particular, the hospitality of Kostya's family. They treated me like King.

Earlier this morning, we hopped in a taxi for Donetsk, the capital of this region and the site of today's work. You see, it has now been ten days and D is our son. So, I now have the right to obtain D's birth certificate and passport. As a matter of fact, I just obtained D's new birth certificate which states his father's name, Matthew P. Armstrong, and his mother's name, Tamra J. Armstrong. Soon, we will be picking up his Ukrainian passport which is the final hurdle in the Donetsk region. After we get his passport, we will be traveling back to Mariupol and taking physical custody of D on Sunday.

It appears that we will be leaving Mariupol on Sunday afternoon by train for Kyiv. While in Kyiv, D will have to undergo a medical examination by a certified doctor and we will have paper work to complete at the American embassy. I am hoping to take D to his first soccer game on Tuesday evening to watch the Ukrainian national soccer team play against Uzbekistan. How's that for our first father/son outing? We will have quite a bit of time to play before we fly home on Thursday. I am sure it is going to interesting. I hope to see you next weekend. Thanks for checking in.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

It's Official!!

Our court date went well, as expected, and hopefully, we will be able to take custody of D on Friday, August 17th. The judge was relaxed and only asked us a few questions. It was a very smooth and easy process, but relatively uneventful. The best part is just knowing that it’s all downhill from here, and D is officially ours!!