Friday, March 29, 2013

Mission Accomplished

I'm happy to report that the last few days have gone much better.  Ruslana slept through the night the past two nights and her hyper spells have worn down.  She hasn't had any sad moments since the first night and she seems to be enjoying her time away from the orphanage.  She's also completely comfortable around us, and obviously loves us a lot, with makes me feel good.  Fingers crossed that all this good behavior continues.  Yesterday she asked us repeatedly for something to eat, which we thought was a type of soup.  We ended up discovering from our facilitator that it wasn't soup, it was ice cream! Ha! We decided to get her a cone for her good behavior.  This girl has got to learn to take bigger bites takes ages for her to get through it!

After about 30 minutes...
An hour...
And the finale...NOO!! Don't bite the bottom!!
On the way to get ice cream we saw a babushka with a cat in a hat. Random?

When we arrived last Friday we paid an extra fee for Ruslana's passport to be expedited.  We were told that, in doing so, her passport would be finished in three to four business days.  Well, our 4th business day came yesterday and it wasn't ready.  Forget that it was promised, that's irrelevant in Ukraine.  Our only hope of finishing everything in time to go home on Saturday was if (1) the passport finished this (Friday) morning, (2) we pay more money to have a special driver hand deliver the passport to Kiev, and (3) then there needed to be enough time to finish the paperwork at the Embassy, before it closed at 4pm, and hope the Visa would be printed at the same time.  It was a tight timeline, and in our experience, those never work out.

To top it off, we discovered last minute that we needed to have health insurance verification for Ruslana at our embassy appointment, which, by the time we realized it, was in two hours.  The insurance company in the US was closed due to the time change, and we weren't sure what we were going to do.  Thankfully I have the world's best mom who went to my house at 3:30am, dug through files, and sent me pictures of the filled-out application I faxed in last week.  We had to hope that this would serve as sufficient documentation.

Praise God the passport finished at 11:30 this morning and was on its way to Kiev.  We couldn't pick up the medical exam results or start processing the Visa until the passport arrived, so it was imperative it got here when promised, which was supposed to be at 2:00pm.  That is after all what we were paying for.

We headed to the embassy with the plan of meeting the driver with the passport at the office.  Seeing as though our last drive to the embassy didn't turn out so hot, I took preventative measures this time.  I packed a couple of trash bags, an extra pair of pants, and gave Ruslana a motion sickness pill before we left.  I wasn't taking any chances this time! I also told her to tell mama if she felt sick, but she responded by laughing, so I wasn't feeling totally confident in that one.

Once we arrived at the embassy (vomit free!!!), we were told we couldn't start any of the paperwork until the passport arrived.  It needed to get there no later than 4:00pm or we'd have to wait until next week.  The familiar knot in our stomachs we've experienced so many times over the past two months was in full force as we glanced at the clock every few seconds.  What seemed like an eternity later, the passport finally arrived at 3:56pm.  Yes, with only four minutes to spare.  Thank goodness the embassy workers were gracious enough to stay after closing to finish up the paper work, accept our health insurance verification, and issue R's visa on the spot.  Yes, the adoption process is now officially DONE!!!  

Victory shot--we're finished and vomit free!
What we thought would take 4-6 weeks in country ended up being just two days short of 8 weeks.  Boy are we ready to go home! We are taking the next plane out of here and will arrive in California just in time for Easter.  Hallelujah!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Roller coaster

I've officially earned my mom title over the past 48 hours.  No, I didn't go out and buy mom jeans or a mini van.  Although those things actually sound pretty good right now.  Let me start from the beginning.

We went to the orphanage early Tuesday morning to finally break our girl out.  It was a surprisingly quick event--she hugged each of her groupa members and said goodbye, changed into an outfit we brought her, and said goodbye to the director and lawyer who were both visibly sad to see her go.  We were rushed out the door before any tears were shed and we headed off to Kiev.  Ruslana was a little more quiet than normal during all of this, but she did great. 
Ready to go in her new outfit!
Saying final goodbyes with lawyer (left) and director (right)
Before we left the orphanage, the director told us that in order to prevent her from getting car sick, they had given her car sickness medicine and didn't feed her breakfast.  I wasn't thrilled that they didn't feed her because she was hungry during the drive.  We arrived in Kiev--aka snow city--and she hadn't gotten sick once.  She wouldn't have gotten car sick even without the medicine, I thought. 
Most snowfall in 100 years...lucky us!
Killer icicles
After getting into our apartment in Kiev, we told Ruslana we'd go out for pizza, one of her favorite foods.  Our favorite restaurant in Kiev, which has the best pizza in Ukraine in our experience, would be the perfect place. We hopped on the metro and I'd never seen someone in such awe.  Every little thing was new and intriguing.  We had to grab on to her or she'd wander off, mesmerized, and look at something.  Even on the world's longest escalator down into the metro, she wanted to run down the steps.  This girl has no fear.  After a couple of train changes, we arrived at the restaurant.  The food was great, but we could only get her to eat one slice of pizza, which wasn't what we were hoping for in light of her skipped breakfast.  I think she was too busy taking everything in to focus on eating.  We could barely keep her in her chair--she wanted to walk around, look at people eating, and check out the pizza oven and the lobster tank.  We had a crazy woman on our hands.  But a happy one at that.
Metro escalator
Eating pizza at Al Fara
On the way back from lunch we somehow got off at the wrong metro stop, so we had to walk a ways to get back to our apartment.  She was either trying to run through the snow or, when the trudging became difficult, she'd get a piggyback ride by papa.  Now that's fatherly dedication.

Once we got back into our apartment, we displayed her new clothes for her enjoyment, and then she discovered the bath tub.  The orphanage only had a shower, so she had never taken a bath before.  She was amazed by the bath tub, and started stripping right away to give it a whirl. She had the funnest time taking a bath--it's something I'll never forget!  I sudded up her hair, showed her how to use body wash (she's only used a bar of soap), and most importantly, told her to lay down and relax her head on a towel.  She was in heaven.  She also got to use conditioner for the first time, which was super fancy to her. She liked the bath so much she ended up taking another one a few hours later! 

Checking out her very own new clothes
Every bath deserves a blow out!
She left the orphanage with a few personal items, including a diary containing the phone numbers of teachers and some of her friends in the orphanage.  She asked us if she could use the telephone to call her groupa.  We thought it might help the transition so we said ok.  Wow, this girl can talk.  I mean the "I'm a little teenager and all I want to do is talk on the phone" type.  She yapped away like we'd never heard before.  All we could decipher during her conversations was mama/papa and pizza.  At some points, she'd even go on the balcony to talk for "privacy," which is hilarious because we could still hear her perfectly but we had no idea what she was saying anyway.  She seemed to smile the whole time, and it appeared like she was telling everyone about her eventful day.

Talking away on the balcony
The rest of the evening consisted of us taking a walk per her request (which turned into a piggy back ride for most of the time) and eating dinner.  She told us several times how much fun she was having.  We thought we had the first day in the bag.  Or so we thought.
Walking with an Apple
Her bedtime at the orphanage is at 9pm.  We thought she'd go to bed easily in light of her incredibly exhausting day.  We tucked her in her bed, kissed her goodnight, and went to our room to work on paperwork for the next morning's embassy appointment.  About two minutes later she came in acting out that a monster would come in her window.  Papa explained there were no monsters and that he'd protect her even if there were, but she didn't buy it.  We decided we'd go in her room and sit with her until she fell asleep.  Well, that didn't work either. Next, we tried having her lay with us in our bed.  Another fail.  The next five and a half hours ended up being a total disaster.  She was hyper out of her mind--opening all the drawers in the apartment, asking for technology every two seconds, going through luggage, watching late-night TV, and messing with anything she could get her hands on. 

Then her hyper spell turned into a total breakdown.  We had told her to close her eyes and go to sleep.  A couple minutes later, when we checked on her, we found her laying under the covers, sniffling, looking at a small photo album of maybe 15 pictures, which represented her entire life.  After 10 years in orphanages, that tiny photo album is all she has to remember her friends and the highlights of her life to this point.  She told us she missed the children in the orphanage, and that she was nervous to go to America.  But she also told us that she was happy to be with us and didn't want to go back to the orphanage.  The entire thing was incredibly heartbreaking.  Ten year old girls should not have to experience this kind of emotional trauma.  She has been so brave and tough over the past two months, and now all the emotions were hitting.  Having never slept away from her friends, I can completely understand why she couldn't or wouldn't sleep.  Poor baby. I hope she truly knows how much we love her, and that her trust and reliance on us continues to grow.
Tough Night
Going on only a couple of hours of sleep, we woke up yesterday morning for an appointment at the US embassy.  Despite the long, traffic-filled, bumpy car ride, everything was going well.  But just as we were pulling up, with absolutely no warning, Ruslana bent over and threw up all over me.  I'm talking all of the contents of her stomach since she was born type of throw up.  It was all over my coat (even inside my pockets) and drenched my pants.  Feeling nauseas anyway, I was struggling not to lose it too.  With only a couple minutes until our appointment, we couldn't do much cleaning up because we had only a couple of tissues, and there were no bathrooms or facilities outside of the embassy.  And to top it off, we could only reach the embassy bathrooms after we went through security. There was literally nothing I could do but enter the embassy covered in vomit.  Lucky me and lucky security guards.  When we went through the screening I opted out of the x-ray due to my pregnancy, so a poor guy had to scan me personally.  He didn't speak English, so I couldn't even explain that my daughter just threw up to me.  I was just a stinky American, I guess.  After the security check, we met with an officer to turn in documents and answer questions.  Then we had to drive across town in traffic to have Ruslana's medical exam.  After that we were asked for lunch, so it was a good four hours before I could change.  And seeing as though I only have one coat and barely packed anything, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do for the rest of my trip. Oh well, such is life.  And that of being a mom, I'm learning.  Blessings comes with responsibility, right?

Well, we finally got back to our apartment.  After I got into some clean clothes, I told Ruslana that mama and papa were going to take a nap, but that she could play a game on the iPad or watch TV.  That should entertain a kid for a bit, right?  Nope!  Our "nap" consisted of her putting her fingers in papa's ears, turning the lights on and off, begging for the telephone, yelling at us, tickling papa's feet repeatedly, wiggling into bed to pull off our covers, and my favorite...splashing papa's face with snow (apparently from outside one of our windows).  Having only had a handful of hours of sleep combined over the past few nights, this was less than thrilling.  We've tried so hard to remain firm and consistent while being loving at the same time, but the language barrier has made it difficult.  I'm trying to remain patient and remind myself that all of this is brand new to her.  She's never been taught anything and it's our job to do it.  It won't come overnight.  Like Mark said, she's a wild mustang and we just need to break her in!

Despite the difficult last 48 hours we've had, I've loved spending time with Ruslana (well, except for the throw up).  She is a spunky spitfire who loves life.  For better or for worse, that's exactly why I love her so much. Running on virtually no sleep, dealing with meltdowns, and getting thrown up on...I think I'm on my way to earning that coveted mom title. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Last Day in Region

Today we had our last orphanage visit with Ruslana. We played cards, worked on some English words and math problems, and played a couple of games on the iPad.  We were excited knowing that after today we will no longer be limited to timed visits in a single room.  She'll be with us wherever we go all the time! 

After our visit we went to the grocery store to get goodies for a going away party with her groupa. We weren't allowed to bring cake or ice cream, but we could bring cookies and candy (hmm?) as well as fruit and juice. As always, the grocery store was an interesting experience.  I think I got pushed at least five times while shopping, and as we were unloading our groceries to check out a lady (Ms. Cutter) shoved us out of the way and started giving the checker her items.  Real nice lady.  Sadly we've come to expect this kind of behavior.

In the evening we headed back to the orphanage for the party. There are seven other kids in Ruslana's groupa--all of which are wonderful.  It's been really tough knowing that these children don't have a loving family.  They each lit up when we gave them individual attention.  As we watched them interact with us and Ruslana during the party, it was so obvious that they each yearn for their own mama and papa to love them completely and unconditionally.  I pray they get adopted soon. They are available for hosting this summer if anyone is interested!
Papa says "watch yourself" to the boy next to Ruslana

Miss Cool with her juice box pose
Having fun with the English-Ukrainian translator
As the kids ate their food, we asked them questions--what's their favorite hobby, school subject, color, animal, what they want to be when they grow up, where they would travel if given the opportunity, etc.  They had a lot of fun sharing their interests and dreams with us.  We discovered Ruslana's new favorite color is red (it was yellow last time we asked) and her favorite subject in school is now Physical Education (I guess she's tired of Math, her old favorite subject, after all the practice problems and reciting of numbers and symbols in English!).  When asked where she'd like to travel to she said "America" (phewf!).  Ruslana seemed very happy and proud during the party.  We hope these positive feelings continue as she enters what will no doubt be a difficult transitional time of leaving the orphanage and coming home with us.

After the party we walked around the orphanage to get photos of her in various rooms.  I think she will enjoy looking at these photos as she gets older.
Sitting at her desk
Sitting on her bed--last night of sleeping on a piece of plywood!
In front of the orphanage swimming pool--totally sweet
Outside of the activity center
In front of a sea mural
Ruslana with the Orphanage Director
Yesterday we were able to get some photos of where Ruslana spent the early years of her life--the maternity hospital where she was born, and the baby house where she lived during the first three years of her life.  It makes me sad knowing that I wasn't able to be there for her during the first 10 years of her life.  I pray that God will continue to restore any loss she suffered on account of not having the love and care of a family.  We are already so thankful because we can see that the Lord has preserved her and protected her in so many amazing and miraculous ways!  Praise God!
Maternity House
Baby House
Baby House
And here is the public school she currently attends.  The school teaches grades 1-11: 

Tomorrow morning we will leave our region and head to Kiev.  Hopefully the roads will be cleared of snow by then and not cause any delays.  We're thankful to be leaving because I don't know how much longer it'll be before our hotel room crumbles. I sat on the bed (which is a box spring) today and it snapped in half. Woops! And check out our wall:
I refuse to open the cubby hole out of fear of what's in it
And the elevator. 15 floors?  Nope!  Only 5.  I'm curious to know what happens if you press 15.  A Willy Wonka elevator ride perhaps?  I don't want to risk finding out and getting stuck in a 3x3 coffin.

Tomorrow morning we will take Ruslana out of the orphanage forever.  What a monumental day in her life.  I can't even imagine all of the emotions she must be feeling right now.  Please pray for her to stay focused on what she knows--that her mama and papa love her, will protect her, have her best interests in mind, and that the benefits of the predictability of her old life will be so vastly outweighed by the love of the family she is now a part of.   

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Back in Ukraine

Although we missed Ruslana like crazy, it was nice being home for a few days last week.  We slept in a comfy bed for the first time in over five weeks, ate familiar food, saw family, Mark was able to go to work, and I was able to see the doctor and check on baby boy. We had our second trimester scan and everything looked great!  It's amazing how much detail doctors can decipher from an ultrasound.  Baby boy had every little detail measured--including his kidneys, bladder, and even the chambers of his heart. He has long arms and long legs for his age which confirms our theory he's going to be a sports superstar.  Before going to the doctor, I was concerned that my pregnancy would prevent me from going back to Ukraine with Mark. The doctors parting words to me were "get on that plane and get your girl!" I am so thankful I was given the green light to fly back to Ukraine and finish up the last steps in our adoption.  Baby boy is one tough cookie for enduring Ukraine, and we are so thankful for God protecting his precious little life.   

While we had planned on returning to Ukraine on March 25th, we found out last minute that the U.S. embassy is changing certain policies on April 1st, so we flew back on the 20th to hopefully beat any delays that would inevitably accompany the upcoming changes. We arrived in Kiev around midnight on Thursday night and were greeted by our facilitator and driver.

As we were loading our luggage in the trunk of the car we saw two pieces of rolled up newspaper.  Just as we were about to toss them aside the driver ran over and told us there were birds in them. Umm..what??  Yes, each rolled up newspaper had a living dove inside.  Only in Ukraine would this happen.  The poor little guys were trapped in the newspaper rolling around the trunk for next three hours as we drove to our region. Our urge to spontaneously liberate these poor things was quelled by the assurances of our driver (apparently a noted expert in dove breeding) that the birds were perfectly safe and comfortable in their newspaper coffins.

Unfortunately, the good ole icy, potholed roads were just as we left them. But, we made it safe and sound into town. We had originally planned on going back to our old apartment, but that ended up being impossible due to busted pipes.  Our facilitator had arranged alternate accommodations, but we couldn't get ahold of the landlord, so we found a hotel and checked in around 2am Friday morning.

At 8am, we started our very busy day. We picked up the court decree declaring us Ruslana's parents (woohoo!), had her birth certificate changed, applied for her tax ID number, and went to the notary to sign documents.
Court house where we picked up the decree
Proud "official" papa with court decree
Facilitator and driver applying for tax ID number
Later in the afternoon we picked up Ruslana to get her passport photo taken. It was so wonderful to see her after being apart for a week and a half.  Here's her passport photo:

The ironic thing is that she was grinning from ear to ear literally the whole time she was sitting for her photo.  I have no idea how the photographer captured a moment of her not smiling, but I think she looks darling!  And don't let her hair fool you--it may look like business in the front, but let me assure you, it was a party in the back...

After the passport photo, Ruslana and I went back to the orphanage to play for a bit and Mark went to the bank to attend to Ruslana's government bank account.  With 19 hours of travel during the previous day, a time change, and lack of sleep, we were beat by the end of the day.  But we accomplished everything necessary, so we were very happy!

A huge snow storm has rolled through Ukraine that's left many cities with no electricity. We've had quite a blizzard here, with about 12 inches of snow accumulating in the last couple of days alone.  Those ski masks I've always made fun of suddenly sounds like a great idea!  Needless to say, the weather is quite a bit different from the 80+ degree weather we experienced last week at home.
The very beginning of the blizzard--this picture doesn't do the current situation justice!
Kiev was hit with a ton of snow and currently transportation in and around the city is impossible.  We hope the roads will be cleared by Monday so we can return to Kiev (with Ruslana!!) and wait out the rest of our trip there.  That would give us the opportunity to let Ruslana experience her country's capitol city before becoming an American.  Please pray that we can travel back to Kiev safely on Monday, that Ruslana's passport processes quickly, and that we can fly home to California on Saturday and be home as a family on Easter Sunday.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Ruslana Claire Jackson

Our star performer: 

Cuddle Bug: 
Hide-n-Seek Queen: 
Lover of Chocolate and Fun: 

Darling Daughter:
Card Shark:
Nature Lover: 
Dancing Queen:

Officially OURS!

With our 10-day waiting period over as of yesterday, we are now the official parents of our wonderful new daughter, Ruslana.  We are so blessed and proud to call her ours.  We love her so much!

Thank you to everyone who has supported us throughout this journey.  We couldn't have done it without you.  After several days back home in the US, we are back in Ukraine to get her passport, visa, wrap things up at the embassy, and bring our girl home in (hopefully) a week and a half. Stay tuned!