Friday, April 29, 2011

Sterling Mei: (1) There And Back Again

(Adoption-Chinese script)
From my personal journal, nearly 2 years after our adoption of Aleksandra:

April 14, 2006: 12:07 A.M.

I remember the stained glass window that shined bright in the dusty Soviet era stairwell. It seemed so perfectly out of place in those hopeful and yet bleak surroundings. I remember the tarnished and road-weary aluminum milk truck that came to a dusty stop beneath the proud Russian Birch tree and the sweet nannies in their socks and sandals as they walked with containers to meet the bearded driver. I suppose our donation was already being partially spent to provide a few days worth of fresh milk to the many babies and children who remained. 

I remember Aleksandra, her warmth and soft smell and her tight, tiny grasp in that massive country as I fearfully held her as my own. Surely we wouldn't be permitted to steal her away. 

I remember the air ceasing to move and the earth stopping to watch when she smiled at us.

I remember that moment when my soul changed as the judge began to sign her name on our approval. I remember my  surprise as my emotions found their release with sweet abandon as we stood there. I remember my daughter's precious, loving doctor who shed a tear of her own when she spoke those words of advice to this new father of a little girl. I can replay in my mind perfectly her smile through tears as she gave Aleksandra a quick look and a final squeeze. Her emotion filled me... I feel the power to this day.

I am in wonder of how all this came to be.

I remember so deeply the tear-filled evening as Kel and I wrestled and prayed with the question of her adoption and the possibility of her illness. And, the overwhelming conviction, the sheer assured determination that our decision was right. Never have I felt so sure, so content, so resolved about anything.

I can still feel the tremendous release and soul engulfing appreciation as we learned on the doorstep of the notary that our Sasha was healthy!

And, oh! My heart still quickly beats when I play back the fast running rush through the streets, to beat a deadline, racing blood work on foot because traffic prohibited our progress. I had never felt so alive!

These emotions paralleled the birth of my son, when I was there to sever the umbilical and pull him close. Twice I had been allowed to experience miracles. The miracle of birth, and the miracle of adoption. Both acts such a deep part of my own personal faith.

I am in awe. I am thankful. God has taught me to wonder. I weep in happiness. My cup overflows.

I grasp the meaning now of, "I shall not want."

And I long to go again.

I read these words again tonight, now five years since I have seen them. I had written them and forgotten about them in the bottom of my writing trunk. But now the memories flood back like breakers.

As I read them, I am taken back to those days when Kellie and I knew that we had to adopt again. We read countless books and articles and spoke to other adoptive families. Our hearts turned to the Chinese situation, with thousands upon thousands of infant girls who could give love to a home, and be a daughter and sister to our family.

We began on a journey that spring that we still walk today, 5 years later. Adopting our daughter has given us so much, and the most frequent question asked at our house continues to be spoken from both Aleksandra and Caleb, "when is our sister coming home?"

We started out about 80 travel groups away, anticipating about a 2 year process. We now are down to 5 travel groups, and we are beginning to feel our spirits quicken. 

Our Log In Date (L.I.D.) card that has sat
on our mantle for nearly 5 years as we learn
patience, and lessons of life, and wait.

And--of course, complete mountains of paperwork (multiple times) and pay fees!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Bedtime Memory... (8/3/02)

He was crying while the movie began. It was I Am Sam. I had placed so much importance on watching it's start. I yelled, "go back to bed Caleb!" I heard him wimper softly, longingly, "Daddy... Momma...." and then, silence.

I realized he was much more important. I climbed the stairs and stepped over the gate. He was sitting up. Looking, waiting, hoping for me. Memories of my own childhood fearful nights crashed down on me. I remembered tearfully waiting for mom or dad--just hoping they would come save me from the shadows...somehow interpreting my silent screams.

He reached out for me. As I raised him to my left shoulder, he began to pat my back. The universe came into focus and my heart found its place. I felt the weight and warmth of his body every bit as real as the comfort of the moment.

I closed my eyes and tasted the full pallete of emotion...the incredible flood of feelings that were colored by every emotion I had every felt. I told him, "I wish I could spend every day with you. Days of fun like we had today. Go night-night honey and when you wake-up we'll have another fun day together tomorrow. He said, "ok" and continued patting my back.

My feelings were so strong they blinded me. My impulse was to hold him closer and say, "I love you Caleb" followed by a quick kiss to his cheek. The realization that he listened to my words...that he understood my words... we shared some communication at a deep level. 

I felt total. Completely unknown levels of satisfaction and happiness. He wanted to have fun with me tomorrow. He caused me to be Daddy.

I layed down with him and he rolled into his sleeping position with knees bent and tucked under his belly. I covered his feet with his blanket and patted his back. He closed his eyes.

I whispered thanks to God that I had this experience. That I didn't let harsh words and tears end the night.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Subtle Wisdom of Trees

I heard a gentle knocking at the door and realized two things: I had needlessly locked it out of habit, and Caleb was at the door first (his sister would have been pounding it).

I turned the bolt, opened the door, and in bounced Caleb proudly and protectively holding a small tree wrapped in a paper-towel and a bit of plastic wrap. In an instant my mind swept back nearly 24 years.

Arbor day, 1987 I was a buck-toothed, four-eyed fifth grader that made friends making fart sounds and folding paper frogs. The Arbor-day folks passed out Elm trees and I remember what a great day it was when I took it home and my dad helped me plant it in the backyard.  We mowed around that tree for 7 years, and then I went to college.  Each summer when I came home I would walk back and measure its growth. That tree kept growing and getting taller each year, and it always brought back the memory of that day me and my father placed it in the ground.

It was a bit of a monument for me, and it still is. A good day for a father and son to learn about life, hard work, long-term reward, and working together on something meaningful.

I asked Caleb if I could help him plant it, and he quickly smiled and said, "yeah, sure." I asked him where he wanted to plant it, silently hoping he would select the back yard. Of course that was not the case, he wanted it directly in the middle of the front lawn. I measured in my mind the strange looking twig sticking out of the front yard against his excitement and the importance of this memory.

We geared up in our work clothes, me with my large leather gloves and spade, and Caleb with his boy-sized gloves and shovel. We stepped off the yard, selected our spot, and began tearing up the sod in the middle of my front lawn with two of my neighbors observing.

"What are you doing there?" I replied, "Planting a tree." He said, "And you're digging up all that good dirt?" "Yep." Caleb cut out the first piece of earth and then I helped him form the bed that would surround the tree. The neighborhood observers now grew to three retirees. I could hear them muttering to themselves as we continued to remove the earth and form our new home for the Dogwood.

The time came for us to put the tree into the earth. We took off our gloves so we could feel the richness of the cool soil on our hands. Caleb carefully unwrapped the roots and I saw him looking closely at their substance. After a moment, he held it over the ground and looked up with a smile as I took a picture. The neighbors suddenly stopped their conversation and caught the moment with heartfelt clarity spreading across each face. I received a silent nod from Ron as I realized this man, my friend now thought of his own father and son.

The tree now is plainly visible as an 18" stick surrounded by a cubic yard of mulch. But when I see it, I see a beautiful 30' tree that shades the front of our home and that also represents two very significant days in my life. I hope that this tree and this day can someday be a good memory for my son.

It surely always will be for me.

I get one shot at this, and I am so thankful I did not miss this moment. The subtle wisdom of trees.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Warm December

Journal Entry: December 5, 2001
(A beautiful, unseasonably warm day)

It must have reached seventy degrees today.
My soul must have held the reflection of the sun.

The wheels rolled on the little red wagon
And the Radio Flyer carried my dreams.

A boy and his dog in the comfort of a fathers pull.
Memories tugged from summers and canines past.

The laughter of my son secrets to me that
life has meaning and I have purpose.

To love and to live.
And to be aware of the warmth in december.

Room 281: A Secret Within

At first glance, you may find this a rather dark posting, but I implore you to read on and allow the story to pull you in. We all share the same story, and we all seek the same answers. I found some this day, 10 years ago in an unlikely place. I share it with you today.

Journal Entry: April 3, 2001

I reached into the cart and found the rolled up gown. I put it on along with the powder-blue barrier gloves. As I walked into her room I knocked softly and eased open the door, noticing again the sign warning of her risk of infection. She had her eyes closed and I thought she was asleep. It was a fitfull rest. She muttered about painting the walls and then started fussing as the nurses coarse voice blared over the bedside intercom. 

The sun shone through the windows and warmed the room slighly above the familiar chill of the hospital. I heard a noise and noticed the air rushing from her lips, causing her cheeks to rapidly vibrate, making a sound like a horse after it's whinny. She quietly lamented that she was cold. I spoke to her.

Mammaw opened her eyes and looked at me. I silently showed her the picture of Caleb, her fresh great-great-grandson. I didn't know if she still would find familiarity in my face. As I reflected her gaze, she looked at me like she had fully expected to see me on this Tuesday afternoon. I felt guilty that I hadn't been to see her since August.

We talked for a while, and I think she knew that I didn't know what to say. My reality had been assaulted by her condition. She softly spoke that it made such a difference that I was just being that moment. 

Her foot was alone outside of the thin blanket and I tried to cover it up. I was afraid to touch her. I didn't know if I might hurt her, or if I might take some stow-away germ back to my newborn son. And then I decided it didn't matter. The value of touch was worth more than life. Besides, I had those powder-blue gloves on. I commented to her that I must look like a clown in my robe and gloves. She gave me a slight smile and chuckle.

She showed me her tongue... it had blisters on it. Her arms were bruised from countless needle sticks. She was 91 years old. Reality slams me that she was once 6 months old, just like my son. She was once tiny and new. I'm now wondering why time spends us and leaves us? I asked her if she was lonely?

Her eyes met mine and spoke more than my ears have ever heard. She then told me that she missed her mom and daddy so badly, she sometimes couldn't bear the thought. My heart tore in two. I told her of Caleb's recent dedication in church. I told her how much I loved and appreciated her. I told her that I am who I am because of the life she gave.

I asked her if I could pray for her. I had never prayed at her side before, although she had prayed at my side when I had been sick. I recovered that day. I prayed and thanked Jesus for her choices, her dedication, her witness. I prayed that I could carry on her legacy.

She told me she was dying. She fixed my eyes and told me that my life had meaning--that I wasn't here just to live. She told me that deep inside me I have a power to be a healer. She said she had always seen it. I must be watchful and pray to know when to use it. I strive to always watch. 

In room 281 it could be hard to find hope. Her meals were liquid from a can, she was contemplating her death and missing her daddy. She knew alone. Yet she found hope. She had within her a secret.

I covered her shoulders and tore myself from the room. I felt my heart shatter while my soul wept. How beautiful she is. How cruel reality can be. How amazing it is when hope can enter a room. Even a blue-powder barrier room numbered 281.

Red Van and Sharp Tooth (A Caleb Thomas Story)

(From my Journal: April 23, 2003)

He rides in a red van, dinosaur in hand. He mimicks my words and attempts to mirror my faces. He likes to eat french-fries and candy--orange juice is a new favorite. His bedroom has one red wall--he picked it out himself, and quite forcefully (at a decisive age of two).

Sticky hands to him are quite so much upsetting--indeed cause for a scream. Although, a soiled bottom is not yet bothersome enough to merit use of the big boy potty. Hot wheels and spiderman have the ability to fly, and applesauce has an amazing tendancy to cling to his face and whatever else is within arms reach.

And...oh how everyone is easily classified as "good-guy" or "bad-guy." Darth Maul, buy the way, is most definitely a "bad-guy," although Anakin is still a bit confusing... 

Sharing is great with the neighbor's toys, although more than traumatic with his own. His most spoken phrases are: 

#1 "whas-sat?" (Translation--what exactly is the thing I make reference to with my finger, what does it do, why it it here, will it hurt me, is it a "good-guy" or "bad-guy" and...wait while I ask it no less than 30 times),

#2, "I scared," (Translation--I don't want to go to bed, take a bath, go to so and so, sit in my chair, or go the the potty so maybe this ploy will work) and of course, 

#3 "Huh?" (Translation--I generally am not interested in following your line of questioning/ conversation because I find it dull, threatening, nosey, and I like to see you grow increasingly frustrated as you continue to repeat yourself to me."

However, I'll please have my oatmeal in the morning, cheese and crackers for lunch, candy for dinner, sharp-tooth in hand (at all times...10 months now...WOW!) keep my hands clean, ride in my red van to "see Papaw" and bless you on occasion with bliss as I smile at you and give you a hug. I may even tell you, "I love you too." 

And for now...the red van is in the garage, we have said good-night to Jesus and the moon, and I rest my head by my red wall with my sharp-tooth safely in my hand. And my daddy watches with complete happiness.

Sharp-Tooth is in MANY photos...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Aleksandra Elise: (13) American Tourists!

It's those little moments in life that make all the difference.

Pocketed in the urgent nature of our travels, we found moments to pause and take advantage of the uniqueness of this point of life. Flying to Moscow our connection at LaGuardia involved a 6 hour layover that gave us a nice cushion for shopping in the airport and a nice dinner.  When flying back home, we found ourselves with an evening and an overnight stay.

Our final full day in Moscow during trip #1, we had some time to squeeze in a guided van tour by Ludmila, Anastasia, and of course Vladimir 1. We saw the 250 year-old Moscow University, Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior (what an amazing history), the massive sculpture of Peter the Great (again, it has a crazy story), and did drive-bys of Olympic Stadium, Red Square, the Kremlin, and the new Russian Federation government seat--called the White House. We ended the day with shopping at the GUM Department store, and a stop at the Arbat Street Market for souveniers! We have a beautiful hand painted panorama of Moscow that hangs in our kitchen today.

Our initial flight home gave us the chance for a bit of an adventure since it was just the two of us.

We followed William Shatner's endorsement and tried Priceline. We stayed in a HUGE apartment in Mid-town for 80 bucks! We opened the door and were shocked when we moved our eyes across the full sized kitchen, living room, and bedroom with a king-sized bed! If you've ever stayed in the big apple, you know that space hard to find, and even harder to afford. It was perfect after an action packed week and a long flight. Decompression is vital.

After tossing our bags in our temporary home, we took a cross-town walk to the Empire State Building. We talked our way into the final elevator going up, and stepped out onto a near empty observation deck. The night was pure magic, the view was clear, and we were at the top of the world.

The next morning we had breakfast at a corner coffee shop and made our way to H&M. We are faithful watchers of TLC's What Not To Wear, and we were hoping to catch a glimpse of Stacy & Clinton! Although we didn't find them, we did find a couple of bags of fashion at discount pricing.

We went home rested, happy, and excited for our return.

Our second flight home and subsequent stay in New York was not as relaxing, but was certainly just as action packed. It was chronicled in Aleksandra Elise: (11).

We always try to find time to stop and experience the landscape wherever we find ourselves, whether in Moscow, New York, or even good old Cincinnati. There is beauty and fun times to be discovered wherever you are. And of course, food to try and clothes to buy!

Cathedral Of
Christ the Savior
Statue of
Peter the Great
Olympic Stadium

Full Sized Kitchen!
(that we did not use)
Walking in the NYC Apartment
Living Room of Apt.

Empire State Building!
Massive Bedroom!

View from the Top!

I think that about wraps up Russia.

до свидания

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Aleksandra Elise: (12) Russian Top Ten Travel Tips

Russian Top Ten Travel Tips
See Reference Below!

#10  Every Van Driver is not named Vladimir.
The man who drove our van in our first trip to Russia was called Vladimir. We returned on our second trip to find another man driving our van who was also called Vladimir.  I incorrectly thought that maybe this was just a word that meant Van Driver, and I asked the question. 

#9     If the menu specifies an item as "Meat," don't ask any further questions.

#8     If you're a female, in a Cathedral... take off your gloves!
We learned this the hard way as a very animated and offended Babushka rushed over to Kellie in a panic!

#7     Be sure to pee before you take a Russian Road Trip (and bring your own T.P.).
We all learned this one at the expense of Kellie. It involved a stop alongside a village tavern, a run across a dangerous multi-lane road, locals who did not want Americans around, payment to use the facility, and... an absence of toilet paper.

#6     If you look too much like a Russian, people will think you are Russian.
I found this one out first-hand. It was my goal to simply not look like an American, and so I buzzed my hair, wore dark clothes and clunky shoes.  Apparently I was far too convincing. 

#5     Beware of the couple on the plane that shoots Vodka and then hides under the blanket.
No, this was not us... and I can't tell you what they were doing (this is a non-adult content site).

#4     It is advisable to simply throw your underwear away.
This lesson was courtesy of me. The airport security agent found it necessary to open my suitcase in the middle of a thousand people and sort through my dirty underwear one pair at a time. Very thoroughly.

#3     When shooting Vodka in a gift shop--have a buddy.
This one was me. I figured, "why not?" and then stumbled into a wall to the delight of many onlookers.

#2     When in a ceiling to floor bathroom stall in a Russian government building--know how to operate the door.
I wanted to tell this story in one of my early posts, but decided it wasn't pertinent to the story (Kellie was glad I thought so). We were on our way to get our referral information and Kellie went missing. Our guide found her several minutes later, locked in a wooden and concrete bathroom stall, crying out "Anastasia... help me please." 

#1     If you can't get your reservation--have your baby poop on you and threaten to change the diaper on the counter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Aleksandra Elise: (11) Are We There Yet?

The New York Skyline was incredible. We unfolded and pried ourselves out of the airplane and made our way up the ramp into the terminal. I knew it was a ridiculous thought, but I already felt like I was home. We had been traveling over 14 hours, and had not slept the night before. We were completely punch-drunk. I was smiling like a fool for the simple reason that we could read the advertisements and understand the voices over the airport intercom.

We made our way through customs, and then awaited our turn at immigration. This was our final step of the process until we started moving toward home. The final hurdle to gain the government's permission to complete our family. We completed the forms, answered the obligatory questions, and received the necessary stamps and signatures. I remember the smile on the official's face when he said, "Welcome back, and congratulations."

It was now early evening and we had collected our bags, Aleksandra was safely back in her Baby Bjorn and we had located the shuttle to our hotel. Our flight to Indianapolis was the following morning, so we had another night in a hotel. We had booked the room weeks in advance, selecting the hotel for its proximity to the airport and its accommodations. I had been looking forward to the pool and the spa all week.

We arrived at the hotel to find that our room was unavailable. They had double-booked the room. The room that I specifically secured weeks in advance. The room that included a King-sized bed and a baby bed. The room that we had been longing for all the way across the Atlantic while our daughter screamed and we lost our collective minds.

I was beyond reason. I was tired. I was sick. So was my wife. My daughter was screaming, a line was forming behind us, the clerk was telling me that there was "nothing he could do," when suddenly it happened.

The orphanage had warned us about adverse reactions to new foods. And oh my goodness... their warnings were quite valid.  Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, not a grunt, not a smile, not a peep... my sweet little daughter dressed in pink... unleashed a torrid, an absolute tsunami from her previously sweet little bottom.

This was a diaper buster. She had a onesie on, and she was in the Baby Bjorn. All this offered no protection for me. In a blink of an eye, everything she had eaten, now in a fetid liquid form had shot from between her shoulders, out the bottoms of each pant leg, and through the fabric directly to my chest and stomach. It was, with no exaggeration, a complete explosion.

The clerk saw it happen. I watched his eyes and his expression. I lost all composure as the emotional impact of the entire trip hit me as a wall of poop.

I unhooked the harness, held my beautiful, pink-dressed, poo-dripping daughter over the expensive marble counter of the hotel, looked the clerk in the eye, and shouted, "you can either put us in our room right now, or I will change this mess right here."

There were audible gasps behind us as the crowd suddenly gave us room, and I plopped her bottom on the counter and started flinging poo from my fingertips like a monkey at the zoo.

The concierge suddenly turned to his computer, began typing like a mad-man, and miraculously proclaimed with gusto, "I have you a room available immediately." Finally, we can go relax (and get cleaned up).

We drag our bodies, our stinking entourage including all our luggage  down the hall, up the elevator and find our door. Kellie slides the key in the lock--flashing red light. She tries again--flashing red light. I take the card in my nasty hands and slide the lock--flashing red light. I leaned back against the wall and slid into a seated position. I simply sat there. I wouldn't even speak. I think I was near catatonic.

Seeing my near homicidal state, Kel rushed to the nearest phone and called the desk. I must say that I am still shocked by the speed at which the bellman reached our door and corrected the situation. He exchanged our keys, opened the door, helped us with our bags, and rapidly made his exit. For the first time in this entire excursion, we had been assisted without the expectation of a tip!

We cleaned ourselves up and collapsed for an hour. Then we realized that there was a restaurant in the lobby, and we were desperate for American Food.  We ordered nachos, chicken wings, artichoke dip, and entrees. We also ate dessert. It was wonderful. It seemed as if it were the best food in the world. Even Aleksandra (now pink and sweet and good smelling-whew!) seemed thrilled.

We went back upstairs and Kel and Aleksandra laid down in front of the T.V., and I dragged myself up to the pool. I had been looking forward to it, and I was going to swim even if it drowned me to do so!

I didn't swim long! Soon I was nearly crawling up to the room where we watched Head of State with Bernie Mac. We laughed until we cried... it was a much needed release. Soon enough, it was time to lay down. Our sleep was uneasy, and never very deep. We tossed and turned and worried about the condition of our daughter, and catching our flight.

The morning came, and we made our way to the airport, again checking our bags and going through the security protocols. We jetted off, taking another step closer to home. In a few hours we arrived at Indianapolis Airport. We were now about a hundred miles from home.

We collected for the final time our plunder and made like nomads through trams and buses that eventually delivered us to our car, strapped our daughter in the new car-seat that we had installed a week prior, paid the man, and set out south-eastward to Cincinnati. It was 11:20 PM.

It became quickly apparent that our daughter had (1) never been in a car-seat, and (2) disliked it with extreme prejudice. I make no exaggeration when I tell you that she screamed, and shook, and maintained a bright-red color for the 2.5 hour journey.

It was late. We were beyond exhaustion, and we were also now half deaf and traumatized from all the screaming.

At 2 AM, after traveling 38 hours with very little sleep, having suffered a poo-explosion, and a harrowing, inconsolable scream-fest as I tried to stay awake and remain between the lines, we made the final turn to our house and I suddenly slammed on the brakes.

To my horror (my apologies to my family, you know I love you)... I say again, to my absolute horror, our driveway and the street outside our home was filled with cars. Every light was on in our home, and we were about to suffer an ambush!

The Grandmas!
I slammed on the brakes because I immediately turned to Kellie and said, "no way I am going in there, we're going to a hotel." I don't remember what she said, but it must have been very convincing. She must have threatened bodily harm? I remember though that I conceded   that our family loves us, and we could get through this on last crazed     moment.

Our van bounced up the driveway (I drive fast) and before I could put the engine in park, out the door came a cluster of fighting grandmas. This was a priceless moment. It still makes me laugh, and all the grandmas still fuss about it. Bottom line from my perspective--it looked like the scramble after an onside kick in an NFL play-off game. I won't tell you who won, in an effort to protect the innocent (and myself).
Love at First Sight!

As great as this was, it does not receive the honor as my best memory of the night. When Caleb and Aleksandra met for the first time... I think every eye in the room (and there were many) grew damp. They both smiled, laughed, and embraced each other. I am still completely in awe from that moment.

All I can tell you, those of you who have been so patient to read my ramblings... is that I know deep in my heart that this moment was always meant to be. I make no claim to know the future, and I can't tell you how to live your own life, but I can tell you that I experienced a perfect moment, and it forever changed how I see the world.
My Mom & Dad meet

Nearly 7 years ago, and we still sit and stare at our children in wonder. It is easy to lose sight in life and forget the beauty that surrounds us. But I have to tell you, when you are willing to embrace it, when you are open to see it, the beauty in life is everything. It is all-encompassing and it is unparalleled.

I started out to make a single post about our Russian Adoption, and    now 11 posts and nearly two-weeks later I see our story and I am happy.

Auntie & Uncle!
I am overwhelmed.

We still had things to complete. We re-adopted Aleksandra in an Ohio State Court, and we had years of follow-up home-studies and reports back to the court in Moscow. All of that is behind us now and we are left with the memories of those wonderfully crazy days. How I feel about it all now is summed up in a journal entry from May 18, 2004, a couple of weeks after our arrival home
Our home is filled with joy. Two children fill our lives. Two sweet faces sleeping in the glow of nightlights. Shadows intersect in the hallway between their rooms--embracing in the echo of the shared smiles and sparkely eyes given and received by a 3 year old and a 7 month old. I reach out to this feeling of rightness. I drink deeply of this life. I am already obsessed with this desire to adopt again. We are not finished. I know we are to have another child, another story. I pray that God holds us tightly as we find this new intersect. For now though, we bask in this absolute awe.
We are now 5 years into the process of our second adoption, and our hearts again begin to quicken.

1st Family Portrait!

Aleksandra 2011

To Continue, click the link below:

Aleksandra Elise: (10) The Kinship of a Bunny

The white Russian Birch trees seemed silently to stand in rows watching as we made our final circle to Orekhovo-Zuevo. We passed through the checkpoints without incident and made the now familiar turn into the complex. I knew this would be my final time here and I wanted to remember every detail so that I could someday tell my daughter about this incredible story that we all were able to live.

The Doctor and wonderful ladies
of the orphanage.

The entire staff came out to greet us as we entered the common room. All the caregivers that we had seen over our combined 12 days at the orphanage, the nurse, the doctor, and the director. Our guide Anastasia was there. She had been with us every step of the way. We had trusted her with our lives and our fortune and she had met every demand, and fulfilled every promise.

The appropriate papers were handed to the director, and Aleksandra was placed in the arms of my wife. As I looked at the faces of the Russian women who had been everything to my daughter, I was overwhelmed with the tears and love that they could not hold back as they said goodbye to Sasha. Through Anastasia's translation, we were told that Sasha had been their зайкаtheir Zayka, or  little bunny. My heart ached for them as we watched them say their goodbyes.
Time to go home.

Shepherds, Lifords, & Pribyls
We passed through that heavy wooden door one final time, along with the Lifords and the Pribyls, two other adopting families that we had come to know over the past week. We all seemed to pause together and look back at that building that we had first seen nearly 6 weeks before. What had seemed so cold and foreign, now filled our hearts with wonder. So much love, hope, trust, and responsibility has been handed to us. We could never repay them for their sacrifice. What an incredible group of people who dedicate their lives by providing hope to the hopeless, and giving treasure to the barren.

Aleksandra, Hayden, & Samuel
They boys kept staring at
These moments were magical. The sunlight absolutely sparked down from the sky and the crisp air crackled through the branches of the trees. Aleksandra was wearing the little perfect pink dress that we had brought from home, given to us by my Uncle Stephen and Auntie Michele. Aleksandra had a pink hat that made her smile every time we put it on her head. To this day, that girl still picks out hats in every clothing store we enter! Her room is full of them.

First Automobile Ride!
U.S. Embassy
We made our way to the U.S. Embassy. As we passed through the gate and under the American Flag, we were greeted by U.S. Marines who declared to us that we stood on American Soil. At that moment, our daughter became a U.S. Citizen. We made our way into the building and through the corridors and found the Immigrations Officer who made it  official. We were ecstatic. She now was our legal daughter, and she had the full protection and guarantees of a United States Citizen.

First Bath!
Back at the hotel we had arranged a Pediatrician to meet us in our room, and a thorough exam was given to our daughter. Her findings were forwarded to Children's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio where we had made arrangements for a full battery of immunizations and examinations our first week home.
First Gerber!

We also shared our first meal out with Aleksandra, and we were joined by our new life-long friends, the Pribyls & the Lifords. We were amazed at how strongly our daughter reacted to real food! Soon though, the reality of exhaustion found us all. We were dealing with real issues of physical and mental fatigue. Aleksandra had also hit her limit on stimulation. We left the restaurant in a rush with a lot of stares as we hastily made our way out the door with Aleksandra shrieking a full blown square-mouth scream.

As soon as we stepped out the doors, we all fell silent. We had walked to this T.G.I. Friday's in Moscow and it was no short trip. On our way there, the sky was bright and the wind was warm. In the short time we dined, the wind changed and blew a snow-storm down from Siberia... and now we found ourselves in the thick of it! Aleksandra was in her Baby Bjorn, inside of my shirt. She was deeply layered, but Kel and I were not! The wind whipped down the canyon of steel and concrete and blasted us with snow. Never again would we laugh at the layers the Moscovites packed on.
Our Suite

We finally collapsed into our beds after an impossibly long day, and found we could not sleep due to sore throats, stuffy noses, and a restless little baby girl. We were still euphoric, and we could not sleep. We had intended to take a 6 AM walk about 7 blocks away to get pictures in front of St. Basil's. We dragged ourselves out of bed and dressed, and then collapsed back on to the bed. We had promised to each other that we would stand on Red Square with our daughter... but we were far too spent.

We gathered our now lightened bags and made our way with a final van ride to our Adoption Agencies office for more endless tear-filled hugs and goodbyes, and then we were dropped off back at Sheremetyevo Airport. We purchased some final souvenirs, stood in the long line with the Russians (while in Rome...), and finally boarded the plane to New York. As the wheels chocked into their bays and the nose pulled up, we breathed easy, knowing that we would soon be home. Smooth sailing from here on out.

We were exhausted, slightly ill, and emotionally high. We had smiles on our faces that would not go away, and we were slap-happy. We took turns holding our beautiful daughter, watched Disney's Freaky Friday for the 4th time, tried to force down yet another meal of smoked salmon, and prayed please God let these wheels touch the ground!

Through hindsight I can tell you, it is good that we did not know what the next 36 hours had in store.

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