Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Safely Home

We arrived safely home last night after a long two days of traveling. Misha loved meeting Duncan for the first time and had a big smile on his face! We brought Misha a few photos of Duncan to get him used to a big brother and it looks like it worked! Misha continued to smile when we loaded everything into the van and John started to drive home. It was the most I have seen this little boy smile.

Thank you to everyone who came to DIA. It was great coming out to a group of friends and the big WELCOME banner! Thank you to Heidi and Felix Roge for the great welcome home bags for all three kids! How did you know these kids are cucumber monsters?

Misha woke up screaming/crying around 3:00 am. We had put him in with Mari to keep him comfortable and I think he either had a bad dream or woke up in the dark and was disoriented. Poor little guy. We calmed him down and he slept another hour before his jet-lag took over and he came into our room for "Poppi".

We could not have done this without my Mom who stayed at our house and cared for Duncan. She spent the night last night and woke up and made us all Mickey Mouse waffles for breakfast! Misha's first taste of pancake syrup was a success!

Duncan looks as though he has grown an inch or two in the last 5-6 weeks! We need to measure him to find out. He was a good sport while we were gone and was a really good boy for his Grandma.

Mari will return to school tomorrow - so she had an early evening tonight. Misha will be home with me for at least a few weeks to work on his English, manners, and not hitting, kicking, pinching, or biting. We want to wait until he moves out of his confused "Kid Vicious" stage and has some words to express what he is feeling.

We are now a family of five and we parents will have to work on helping each of our children adjust to the situation and learn to love each other.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Flight Information

Many of you have asked about our flight information.

LOT Poland 752 (Departing Saturday, October 18th)

5 hour layover at the Warsaw Airport

LOT Poland 285
Arrive: LON / HEATHROW 9:45 PM

Overnight at Marriott Heathrow London Airport

UNITED 939 (Sunday)
Depart: LON / HEATHROW 1:05 PM
Arrive: DENVER 4:14 PM

We will have to go through Imigration in Denver and have the meeting in which the Immigrations Officials take us into a room, open the sealed envelope from the US Embassy in Kyiv with all of the documentation. Once we get the official stamp in both of the kids passports, they will offically become US Citizens. This process can take anywhere from 40-90 minutes depending on how many officers are working at DIA at that time of day. Then we pick up our luggage, transition through US Customs, and finally out the famous glass doors at the north end of the DIA Terminal building.

While we know that many of you want to come out to welcome all of us back, please do not feel that you have to! Your thoughts, love, emails and prayers have been felt throughout our journey!

Received the US Visas for Kids Today - Headed Home!

Yesterday we had the Doctor's appointment in the morning. She gave both children a clean bill of health. Due to Mari's age, 11, she had to received a Hep. B shot (which I felt bad about because I had assured her that she would not need any shots). Mari was a trooper! Both of the children's blood work came back fine also - thank Heaven. Mari was tired and kind of out of it the rest of the afternoon. I don't know if it was the shot, nerves at leaving here, or the excitement of returning to Colorado (or some combination). She asked "no returning Gorodnya" and I told her "no, maybe someday". I think it is sinking in. She has been a sweetheart with translating Misha's needs to us, translating to Misha what we need of him, and helping to get him down for naps and for the night. I hate asking her to take on this "mother" role when I need to impress upon her and Misha that I am the Mother now, but I am guilty of taking the path of least resistance and will work on communicating one-on-one with Misha when I get home.

With our medical paperwork in hand, we headed to the US Embassy yesterday afternoon. It felt a little wierd blowing past the people in line outside - but that is what we were instructed to do by the guard outside after he saw our passports. I held our passports out so that the Ukrainian's in line could see that they were dark blue American passports and they didn't try to lynch us for butting in line. Luckily, I had read Stefanie Krebs' blog and knew that we weren't allowed to take anything into the Embassy except paperwork, passports, $400 cash USD per child (bring extra in case you paperwork is not complete and you need to beg for copies at $1 per page), and in our case because it was a cold day, our coats.

Unfortunately, I did not know to print out the paperwork in advance (before leaving Colorado as we did not have a printer here), available on-line at http://kiev.usembassy.gov/amcit_adoptions_eng.html The forms are also available at the Embassy. It took over an hour to complete just the forms. Completed samples are on the wall if you have any questions. A set of forms will need to be completed for each child as the Embassy will generate a file for each child. The forms include an I-864W (rev. 01/15/06), an I-600 (rev. 11/28/01), an Exemption from Immigration Vaccination Requirements, and a DS-230 Part I and Part II. We only had one copy of the Adoption Decree, so we pleaded with Natasha to make a photocopy. She came back and said it would be $1 per page. We were thankful to have this resolved for $8. Time in the Embassy, read as your child(ren) would be happier somewhere else, would be significantly reduced if you complete the paperwork in advance.

As I was ten minutes into happily completing forms, and John was keeping Misha from dismantling the Embassy (hah, they thought bulletproof glass would keep them safe), Natasha behind the window asked if we knew that our 171-H was for 2 children in the 6-10 year old age range. Althought Frontier Horizon had Mari listed as 9, Mari is 11. The Dossier was submitted before we had met Mari on her hosting trip. We had a long conversation/argument about Mari being just 4 months into her 11th year. Natasha did not care about this technicality, just that Mari was 11. Natasha left us to see how to proceed. I was no longer happily filling out forms, but had a pit in my stomach and could barely concentrate. Great, to get through this whole process, to Ukraine the kids are ours, and to have it hinge on a piece of paper generated by our Government!

If you are in process with competing documents for your Dossier, I would recommend
a.) having your Social Worker, and your employer in the employment letter, downplay your salary as it is open to all to see in the various proceedings and thus an assessment point for how much money you will be asked to forfeit for "expediting fees", and b.) have your Social Worker list the age of child(ren) that you would like to adopt at as wide of range as possible (keeping in mind that there can not be more than 45 years difference in age between the child and either parent, and that there must be 15 years difference between the age of the child and either parent).

Natasha reviewed the rest of our completed paperwork and told us that we would have to discuss the issue concerning Mari's age with the Consular Officer in the morning. We were hoping the Officer would be American and would listen to reason and would wave this technicality. John asks if I can cry if I need to. Trust me, if the Officer says "no" to the Visas, I won't be pretend crying. We should have caught this, we didn't, our Facilitator should have caught this, he didn't. A restless night of sleep. We want to go home desperately, we miss Duncan so, so much!

Allyson offered to pray with us this morning, which we did, and we faced the day ahead covered in God's Armour. We arrived at the Embassy for our 10 am appointment at 9:30. We checked in and went to wait in the Waiting Room, with toys and kid's books and near the Cashier's Window, and were called at 10:05. After 20-25 minutes of being processed we were asked to wait 30 minutes while the Visas would be prepared. No mention of Mari's age at all. We didn't bring it up either.

After receiving our sealed packets of paperwork and the 2 Ukrainian passports with US Visas, we headed to TGI Fridays for a Celebration Lunch with Christina. A cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke - WITH ICE. How much more American can you get?

We are looking forward to being home, but dreading the flight and the 5 hour layover in Warsaw tomorrow. We worry about Misha on the plane and keeping him occupied. He exhibits the typical orphan behavior of no respect for other's property, hitting, kicking, and is a child in need of boundaries and guidance. Hopefully the person sitting in front of him on the flight will be patient and understanding if he kicks the back of the seat. Please pray for us on the flight home, for our safety, for our sanity, and for Misha to relax and sleep.

I will blog when I get home as I have a whirlwind tour of Kyiv to post. Kyiv is 1500+ year old beautiful, bustling, growing city of 5-7M people and a young democracy. It will be interesting to see how the country changes from this visit to our Heritage Trip visit planned several years down the road when Misha is old enough to appreciate seeing his country and learning about his heritage.

Thank you for all of the comments and e-mails. They have kept us going and we looked forward to reading them whenever we could! Hugs to everyone! We will see everyone in Colorado and Dunc buddy, we will give you one BIG KISS (and lots of little kisses)!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Received the Children's Passports Today!

John drove to Chernihiv today (over 2 hours up and 2 hours back, plus the wait while the passport office staff were at a long lunch) to pick up the children's new passports! They were promised on Friday and didn't materialize. Yesterday they were still in Kyiv, where they are generated (but we are not allowed to pick them up here). They were finally couriered to Chernihiv this morning and received at 11:00. The passports are Ukrainian with their new Barrett names and what we will use to have the US Embassy affix their Visas into. Once we reach the US, we can apply for US passports.

This is a major hurdle and puts us one step closer to being able to leave. Tomorrow is the medical exam for the children, their blood work is already completed, which is required by the US Embassy. We will also go to the US Embassy and apply for the Visas. This gives us a buffer of a day for anything to go wrong. We are saying our prayers that everything runs smoothly.

We miss home so much. The apartment is our oasis of America in this city. Last night we gave into temptation and went to O'Brian's Pub for some comfort food. We both had Chicken Kyiv ... it seemed a shame to miss while in Kyiv! We are so thankful for your comments and e-mails that brighten our day. Yeah! The end is in sight!

St. Nicholas Church and CIty Landmarks

We wanted to share a few of the landmarks in Gorodnya. The city was founded in 1550. It was considered a major village during this period. John would say that little has changed other than the addition of electricity, indoor plumbing in some cases, and vehicles. We have included a few old photos that we found on the internet. The poplar trees still line the roads and we are sure that most of the homes in the photos are still standing and in use. We know that the wells are still in use.

We pass St. Nicholas Church every day on our way to the Orphanage. Even if the gates are closed you can reach in and undo the latch and walk around the grounds. We did not try entering as a priest was on the side of the building and he justed looked at us. He looked like he was right out of the 1800’s (including the dark scruffy black beard and long, dark, shoulder-length hair that he was trying to pull a comb through) . He lives on the grounds in a small trailer house. He intently watched us walk around and take pictures. We told him “hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye” in Ukrainian – he just looked at us and never spoke (a vow of silence?). The frescos are of Archangel Michael and Archangel Gabriel.

The Madonna sits in the main town square, right across from the Lenin statue. Lenin stands in front of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (a big white two story building with a amphitheatre inside) which is where we found the computer classroom that has allowed us to have internet access for 5 grivna per hour ($1 USD). The building is also the unofficial community center and we often passed ballet or dance classes later in the afternoon. The name has been pried off the Lenin statue, but everyone knows who he is and it is just easier to leave him standing there rather than go to the trouble to rent a crane or tip him over and possibly dent the concrete below.

We found a beautiful stained glass window of three women, one bearing a loaf of bread, in the building that houses the Market grocery store that we frequent. A restaurant is upstairs. You are unable to see the window from the outside, which is a shame.

We have found several monuments to fallen soldiers from the area – one for WWI and WWII and one for Afghanistan. We also pass a monument honoring the Soviet Military with an old jet mounted in concrete.

Beyond the poplars that line the roads, there is a beautiful park filled with willow trees surrounding a lake. A mural of a Ukrainian Family (Papa, Mama, and son) is at one of the entrances to the park. The mural reminds me why we are here and once we reach it we are almost at the Orphanage!

Now that we are in bustling Kyiv, we miss our little town and look back at it with fond memories (everything except the bed and the mud)!

Landmarks in Gorodnya

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Road Trip to Bahmach and then Chernihiv

I am a full week behind on my blogging! I need to get my you know what in gear and get caught up! If all goes well, we will leave this Saturday for London, overnight at Heathrow, and arrive home at 4:44 pm on Sunday. We miss Duncan so much! He has been such a trooper and such a good boy for Grandma!

Last Tuesday we drove from Gorodnya, where the kids live in the Internot (Boarding School/Orphanage), to the city that they were born in, Bahmach, 3 hours to the southeast to get their new birth certificates processed and picked up. We had to get up at 4:30 am, well one of us did – the one who wears makeup – in order to be ready to be picked up at 5:30 by our Facilitator, Sasha, and our driver, Sergei. For those of you who know me, I am not a morning human. We were up even before the rooster that crows behind the hotel – totally unnatural. We had been at Larissa, Victor, and their daughter Nastiya’s home for dinner the previous night. Victor cooked the mushrooms that we had picked that morning! Dinner was delicious – at least the foods that I knew. I was gracious and took some fish rolled up in aspic … different. I also tried salo (raw bacon fat) to see what the fuss was all about … still no clue and I was sorry I did. When visiting a home for dinner in Ukraine, as most countries for that matter, it is customary to bring a gift. Vodka and chocolates will do. Word to the wise, if you select a nice big bottle of vodka ($12 USD for a large bottle and quality brand) know the Ukrainian custom first that if a bottle is opened it is to be finished. John learned the hard way. Dinner was followed by chai (hot tea) and torta (torte layer cakes) and candy. We had a lovely evening, watching videos of Larissa’s dance recitals and looking through the family photo albums, that ended around midnight. I then spent over an hour on the phone with United trying to get our reservations sorted out to return home.

At 5:30 am, the morning was foggy and drizzly. John put us in the far back of the minivan in the third row – luckily it had seatbelts – in case we hit something in the heavy fog. For the first hour you could barely see 15 ft. in front of the car. Early in the morning is when the Babushkas herd the cows home to be milked or to pasture after being milked, so we had to stop several times for herd crossings. The Babushkas are in no hurry. The cows are in no hurry. We sit. We have moved away from Gorodnya, population around 10K, to tiny villages and miles and miles of farm land. The soil in one area had been plowed, revealing the black soil called Chernozym underneath that Ukraine is so famous for. This is truly the breadbasket of Europe. The joke is that if you leave a shovel out in the field that it will grow branches.

Finally we see Bahmach on one of the mileage markers – we are getting close! We arrive at 9:15 am safely and congratulate Sergei on the drive. John and I have both driven in fog and it is really hard. I had a headache from watching the road so closely so that I could warn Sergei of anything/farm animal that he might not have seen. We find the City Government Offices and Sasha has us wait in the hallway. The wait is not long, less than 1 hour, and we have the new birth certificates in hand! It is official, Mari is Mariya Renee Barrett and Misha is Michael Joseph Barrett – both born to us! Gestation was 18 months and labor will be 5 weeks long – but the good part is that John shared in it! While we were in Bahmach, I wanted to see the home that the children lived in before their mother died. We assume that the residence is being used by the kids’ older siblings, 23 and 24, as the older sister is listed as the contact. We don’t want to knock on the door, we don’t have the children with us for a reunion, we just want a few photos. As we drive to the childhood home, we stop for a train. This is the second time we have stopped for a train. Bahmach is huge rail hub linking Ukraine to Russia. At the crossing, there is no automated arm that comes down. The RR Crossing warning light starts making a weird sound and a person in a booth near the crossing goes out and manually pulls a barricade gate thing in front of the track. After the train has passed, the human moves the gate back. A woman was doing this job the first time, then a man. Crows, birds we have seen a large quantity of the entire time we have been here, drink from a puddle near the track. Crows will always remind me of Ukraine now.

We follow a small car with a warning sticker with a “Y” in the back window. This is a student driver and everyone behind him is forewarned! After finding the home and taking a few pix, we head back to Gorodnya. The fog has lifted and we see the beautiful countryside that we passed, hours earlier, in the fog. We travel through miles and miles of sunflower fields. The flowers are all frozen now and their little heads are bent down, but we can imagine how gorgeous this was in July. Ukrainians, at least in Gorodnya, love sunflower seeds and are constantly spitting the shells out. Plus spitting in general and blowing your nose by holding one nostril and getting the contents to hit the sidewalk – reserved for boys and men!

We return to Gorodnya and Sasha takes the birth certificates to our city office so that tax id numbers (like social security numbers I think) can be issued in a few days (needed for the passports). We grab a picnic lunch (no breakfast and it is now 4) at the grocery store and pick up the children. We now head to Chernihiv, an hour to the south and the capital city of the Chernigov Region, so that the children can be digitally photographed and so that we can apply for Ukrainian passports in the children’s new names. After all of the “business” is taken care of, we return the children, and head back to the motel. I call United again for another 2 hour phone marathon to try to find 4 flights out together and at a fairly reasonable cost. We finally find something that will work, I make the reservations, and I literally fall into bed exhausted. We are happy that we have made this progress and that we have flights out and will see Duncan again!