Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our first field trip

Today we arrived at the orphanage about 9:15am. The kids were brought to us in the large playroom as we had to immediately go get their pictures taken downtown (more about that in a second). We discussed having Joe start with Antoaneta to try and encourage her to interact with him more. When the kids were brought out Myra went to take Petar from the caregiver, but both kids were cranky and Antoaneta was having none of Joe. She went behind the caregiver. So we aborted that plan and switched back to our normal mother/daughter, father/son matchup (at least she didn't completely run away from us!).

Next – we had to bring them outside again (yikes) and into a car (double yikes!). We were going downtown to bring them to a photo shop for pictures. Turns out the FBI requires good pictures of the kids so they can do a criminal search in their databases using face recognition software....hmmm...wonder what those two toddlers have been up to? Well, they were 'okay' in the car, mainly just staring out the window with a few short fusses. At the photo place we took off their coats and Petar was up first. The photographers assistant held him on a stool and with the use of some toys in the background the photographer got a few nice 'smile shots'. Antoaneta...not so easy. She didn't want to sit on the stool, or stand on it, or sit on the assistants lap, or look at the camera. They tried for a bit, then took what they could get! Good luck FBI officer! Rosi went to fill out the papers and the kids stayed with us. Antoaneta loved pointing out a Pooh calendar to Myra and then she starting talking a lot about the different cartoon greeting cards. Petar stayed with Joe without any problem until it was time to put the coats back on when both melted down letting people in the store and on the street know about their displeasure. They calmed down but continued to squirm and be unhappy when we got in the car. The morning happened so fast and we are never really sure of the schedule until things happen. Because of this, we didn’t have a single toy with us (and we brought a suitcase full to Bulgaria on the plane!). Rookie mistake. We should have had something to entertain/distract them. Luckily Myra’s purse was full of little (though not age appropriate) things that got us most of the way home (flashlight, tripod, mirror….) It was so strange because during the car rides they just had us hold them on our laps – no seatbelts or anything! But, they are not use to such things and it worked out fine - none of that happening in the U.S! We did learn that we severely lack knowledge of nursery rhymes, kid’s songs, etc. We can get through about one verse (if that) and then we look at each other baffled and make something up or just fall back on “Second verse same as the first!”.

The playroom was fairly busy when we got back (this room is just for kids playing with adults). We had to stay there for a bit but it was just too much and Petar REALLY wanted to ride the car around again. The “no” answer he got was NOT appreciated causing yet another scream. We finally went back up to the family room after about 10 minutes or so. We took out a couple new toys, one was a BIG hit. It was a cat w/ wheels that you just push down on and it speeds across the room. Petar really was into crawling back and forth to chase it around the room! Antoaneta went back to some of the previous days toys. When she found the textured animal book she took it over to Joe (shocking!) we think because he read it to her yesterday. We had some more play time and Myra learned that she could get eye contact from Antoaneta by doing an 'airplane' with her so she was looking straight down. We also brought flavored yogurt for them for a snack today – THAT was a big hit (except when they finished it, then the world was a very very unhappy for a moment), but Antoaneta let Joe feed her the entire time!

Their teacher came in with the social worker so we could ask them a whole list about their development/achievements (through our coordinator Rosi) – what a VERY useful meeting! The teacher had a lot of information for us and we could tell that they really keep track of the kids. It was also fun to learn about the party they have for kids to celebrate the first time they walk. They have a celebration including a number of items on a table that the kids walk up to and choose one item. The items represent different professions (e.g. stethoscope, etc) – they believe the toy they choose may represent their future career. They then told us that they actually have pictures of this and several other milestones, along with a scrapbook that we will get during our 2nd trip – this is more history of their first years of life than we ever hoped to get! This orphanage seems to 'lead the way' for others and really do so much to teach the kids and help them to have some normalcy in their lives, as much as can be expected in an institution. We also learned that starting now (because the adoption is happening), their beds are being rearranged to be beside each other so they can create a good bond as siblings. They will also often show them the picture books, teddy bears with our recorded voices, and blankets we brought and speak to them often about us so they are more prepared when we return. They have found that this really helps them have a more successful transition and we are so thankful to know this.

After the meeting we fed them lunch again, this time they brought us bibs...guess we made a bit of a mess yesterday? Antoaneta still struggled with Joe feeding her lunch...but also wouldn't eat it all for Myra. The order is still important and she is becoming more independent (also noted by the teacher) and prefers to feed herself by drinking from the bowl (which she does rather well). In general the kids were more comfortable with us today and we were able to get more laughs and smiles, especially out of the very serious Antoaneta.

After lunch we sat down for coffee again to look through our pictures and videos of the day. Then we walked around Varna some more, including a visit to an Ancient Roman Bath and some pictures down at the beach (yes Rob, we picked up your sand sample today!). We also bought a random dessert from a grocery store just to try something new. We really do like this city and the Bulgarian people are so friendly and forgiving of our non-existent language skills. Tonight Rosi will be taking us to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant – we are excited!


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Tomorrow is our last day with the kids, we actually only have a couple hours because we need to head to the airport to get back to Sofia for all of Friday's paperwork. Thank you so much to all those thinking about and praying for us – we can truly feel them! Please pray for the parting tomorrow, especially that we can control our emotions to not scare the kids and that they can leave us somehow knowing that we care and are returning for them! Our kids are healthy and as many positives as we note, institutionalized life is hard and there are things that we can’t wait to provide for them at home that they just don’t have the means to give them here. It will be very hard to leave them here, knowing what kind of life and attention they can have with us.

We use to really emphasize how hard for us this whole two trip thing was going to be. However, we now overwhelming believe that this really is in the best interest of the children and they are the ones we need to consider, not how hard this will be for us. This allows them to get to know us, at least briefly, in a safe (safe to them) environment; allows us time to ask questions about them and observe them so we can better prepare our home (favorite toys!) and outside resources; allows us to give items (such as pictures) to their caregivers so that they can talk to them about us more and prepare them to leave with us; allows us to explore their birth city and take pictures to share with them later; and allows potential parents to make a very informed adoption decision so to reduce problems down the line (although not really applicable to us since we aren't faltering!). The best way to approach this to reduce the trauma on them is through a gradual transition. Just imagine the trauma of swooping into a building, picking up two kids the first time you meet them (especially when they are toddler age or older) and taking them from the only place they know. That induces much more trauma and therefore can take longer to recover from the transition. We really believe in this type of gradual transition, which is why many countries (and domestic foster care adoption) are focusing on this. The wait will be sad, and hard at times, but in the end we know it is best for them and that is what is the most important. Of course we wish the time between trips was shorter than ~ 4 months, but it is what it is. The transition home with us will still be difficult as they will be grieving all they are losing, but hopefully it will be just a little less scary if all four of us are more prepared...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 3

Today we really had the chance to be with the kids for an extended time! We were so nervous over breakfast about what the day had in store. We knew today would be a good day to really see how the kids responded with us and also give us a chance to learn more about them and challenges they are facing in their development, not to mention more about their likes and dislikes! We left the hotel about 8:45 and made it to the orphanage at a little after nine. The social worker met us at the front and then showed us to the family room. Shortly after she brought the kids up to the visitation room!


We had a paper bag with a collection of different toys we brought to entertain (and entice) them for the morning. Antoaneta wasted no time in picking out a BIG bag of foam 'wood-faux' blocks. She sat down on Myra's lap (as usual!) while Petar crawled on Joe's. Both started methodically picking out a couple blocks at a time until Petar decided it was time to pick up the whole bag and dump them on the floor. At this point we heard, for I think the first time, a noise of excitement from Antoaneta! Antoaneta entertained herself for awhile stacking blocks (and taking them away) in Myra's hand. Peter made all sorts of happy noises playing with Joe, especially when Joe brought out these textured bouncy balls we had for them to play with! We continued to find Antoaneta very serious-faced and needing a bit of interaction to get a smile out of her – but, we are new and unknown people so we were just happy she seemed content being in our laps and playing! Petar is primarily just a happy little guy and seems to enjoy attention from anyone, although he crawled mostly towards Joe!


At one point we decided to do the ‘kid swap’ and Joe carried Antoaneta around for a bit and put her at eye level with some more toys that we up on a shelf. She found one toy that played a song when the button was pushed. The song is now forever engrained in our heads considering the number times she handed it back and said ‘again’ in Bulgarian.


The social worker brought some coats to the room and said we could take them outside for a bit if we wanted. About 10:45am we decided it was time to venture out. We walked to the outside playground and tried a see-saw-type toy that did NOT elicit any positive reaction. Next up our bag of tricks was to blow some bubbles we brought. Joe tried and tried to get them to enjoy blowing, chasing, or even looking at the bubbles to no avail. We thought those were going to be a major hit! They seemed generally scared to be outside with us and the sun seemed to both Petar’s eyes a bit. For one more attempt Joe blew up a beach ball and we tried throwing/kicking it around. Again…nothing. When they do use the playground it is generally with a larger group of children and being out there alone may have made them a bit uneasy. Then we realized that going back inside was the best choice.


We went into one of the playrooms and they seemed to be familiar with this place because they were instantly much happier. Petar especially loved it when he would push himself on a 'car' and Joe would 'get him' and tickle him. Antoaneta had DEFINITE opinions of which indoor swing was okay and which one was not (the blue one for some reason was NOT an option and she made that known). At one point Antoaneta saw a caregiver who was with two other boys giving them some crackers. She quickly hustled over in her direction looking for the food! She had part of a cracker and came back to Myra but unfortunately she dropped it on the floor. Before she could muster up too much a meltdown Joe quickly got the goldfish from our bag and just one of those seemed to do the trick (you could tell by her face it was definitely a new taste though). She also really enjoyed a push around the playroom a few times by Joe in the BIG car. Joe tried to push Petar on the swing for a bit but when he tried to take him out, it was taking a bit too long and the screams and tears started flowing. Luckily after only a few seconds he was back on his plastic car smiling and zooming around the room.


We went back up to the play room about 11:45am because they would be bringing their lunch to the family room today and allowing us to feed them. That was an interesting experience. Myra was feeding Petar and besides making a COMPLETE mess out of him he was doing okay. Antoaneta on the other hand was not having any of the tactics Joe was trying and was NOT happy. With each attempt to feed her the bread or rice she would grunt and turn her head away. Shortly after our coordinator realized what was happening and said 'Oh, the SOUP is first, then the main course and dessert'. PLUS they do not eat the soup with a spoon, they just drink it right from the bowl. Apparently routine REALLY matters to her! Even once we established the routine, it was still clear she preferred to be fed by a female. So again, we did a quick ‘kid swap’ and Joe switched over to Petar and Myra fed Antoaneta the rest of her lunch. Petar scarfed down just about all of his but Antoaneta, being a bit unsure about the surroundings and people feeding her, stopped a bit sooner. Again being a girl after Joes heart, she got up from the table and started picking up the blocks (and every other toy in the room) and putting them in the bag the blocks came in. She does like her organization!


Before she could finish, the kids were whisked quickly away for their nap at which time we headed out with so much more on our minds then the day before. We all (us, our coordinator Rosi and the Italian family & coordinator) headed out for lunch (we didn't realize how hungry we were!).


After lunch (at about 2pm) we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. We used this time to relax at a coffee shop watching the videos and looking at the pictures we took that day. We also took a walk around Varna. We really like this city and made sure to take lots of pictures to share with the kids some day!

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The Spanish restaurant was calling our name for dinner and gave us a chance to discuss our decision on names for the kids (not to be revealed quite yet) over some Tapas and beer!

DSCN3508 Only TWO more days left with the kids! Watching them leave the room and go over to the tiny elevator each day is hard. Not knowing where they are going, who is taking care of them, what they are doing, etc. is very difficult. We’ve only been able to see small parts of the orphanage (directors office, lobby playroom, and small family visitation room). Other than the hallways the rest is a bit of a mystery.

P.S. For those who don't already know we cannot share with you any pictures of the kids. Until all the paperwork is done and the court proceedings completed (so, about 3-5 months after our 1st trip) we are not allowed to share these publicly due to strict privacy laws in Bulgaria to protect the children's rights. After all, until that happens, they are not legally our children. We respect this wholly and won't do anything to jeopardize our adoption! Just think of this as our 'expecting' period where you don't get to see the kids until the official 'birth'!

Monday, March 28, 2011


This morning (Monday) we packed up to leave the apartment and head to Varna! We had a fairly good night sleep, considering our anticipation of the big day ahead.  We walked around the streets of Sophia around 7am trying and find breakfast but nothing was really open (not even Dunkin Donuts!) so we just stopped into a little 24 hr corner market and bought some interesting yogurt, bread and cheese - no coffee to be  found!  There were only a few people scattered around, which gave us good access to more pictures of Sofia, including a pack of random city dogs (wild dogs we've noticed are not uncommon here).

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Our VESTA agent, Rosi, met us outside the apartment at 7:45am where a taxi took us (after many attempts to figure out how to cram all of our luggage into a very small car) to the airport!  We found out on the way that the drive to Varna was about 7 hours and that the orphanage policy was to only allow us to visit in the morning from 9am – noon, so we were very thankful that we were flying, otherwise today would be a no-go!  We had a momentary scare when the flight was canceled but later found out it was just combined with a flight going to another city along the coast and Varna as just added a layover now. The flight was only about 50 minutes, but still included a shot of coffee and a yummy crème filled croissant.  It was still so unreal that we were actually on our way to the city where our children were born! 

Again, because of our American super-sized amount of luggage, we had to take a taxi as opposed to sharing a car with another family :-) . We went straight to the orphanage and the 30-minuted trip on the way there now seems like only a blur. We kept looking around, anticipating a stop around every corner.   Once there we rushed in with a couple suitcases and proceeded to madly pile all the donated clothes in the Directors office and make up a quick gift bag for the staff (the bonus is we were now on our way to reducing 5 suitcases to 3). We sat down to ask some questions when the door open - OUR KIDS WERE COMING IN!! We didn't even have time to think (for the 789th time) "will they like us, will they be scared, cry, be happy?  They were here!!

Antoaneta (nicknamed, "Toni") was in a cute pink little dress with white stockings and black shoes and immediately spotted the doll Myra was holding. She came and grabbed it and promptly walked away.  Petar, in a yellow jumper, laughed and smiled at Joe as he walked in holding the hands of the social worker. Immediately without thinking we both dove right for the floor and sat down at their level in front of the Director desk (feeling bad now, we may have seemed a little rude!). Myra went and placed Toni on her lap and quickly found out that Antoaneta was more of a "shape stacker " than a "doll girl " and she sat contently on her lap to play (future engineer or architect?) . Petar sat on Joes lap for most of the time but instead of pushing the dump trunk back and forth it mainly just became a plastic projectile. He laughs and giggles so much and loves to be held. They are adorable!  We spent about 15 minutes in the directors office just talking to the kids and asking her some questions about their daily routines (Rosi was our translator the entire time). We then picked up our kids and headed upstairs to the family play room.  We had another 25 minutes to play with them (she graciously extended our stay 15 minutes past the visitation time). Antoaneta was very shy with Joe (they don't see many men), but happily took the toys he gave her and directly handed them over to Myra.  Petar continued to laugh and enjoy playing with Joe and a light up toy (which really grabbed both of their attention).  Joe was thrilled to see that one of Antoanetas favorite activities is to pick up all the toys and put them all away in a bucket . A girl after his own obsessive-compulsive heart :-)!!  Myra FINALLY got a big smile and little laugh from the typically very serious-faced Antoaneta when she tossed her up a little and laughed with her.  Petar enjoyed any toy put in front of him, as long as he was being held.   Petar then enjoyed playing with Myra's hair and Joe turned on his 'baby whisperer' charm towards Antoaneta . She started to warm up to him just in time for us to give them back to the social worker. She picked Petar up and we brought Antoaneta to her side. As soon as the social worker opened the door, Antoaneta went darting out of the room (with people running after her before she reached the stairs!). The end happened just as fast as the beginning! BUT it was a WONDERFUL first visit, the best we could realistically hope for -  thank you everyone for your prayers!!  As you can imagine, children are often very scared and unsure about these visits, but their 'grandmother' and social worker really prepared them for today. While they don't really understand the concept of "Mom and Dad" they were well aware that someone was coming today just to see them, and only them. This played a huge part in how receptive they were to us. They didn't cringe or pull away when we kissed them (but tomorrow is another day and attachment will be a long process – much much longer than a few hours, days, weeks, or months!!). The only part we regret is it all happened so fast that we didn't have the camera ready. It stayed in the Directors office will all of our bags when we quickly left there and went to the family room. Really the world was a blur from the moment they came into the room and we dropped everything where it was (we're actually still missing some things!) and devoted the next short but precious 45 minutes to our kids. Honestly not having the camera was probably good because it was short and we were able to just concentrate on them. Tomorrow the camera and video camera come out to capture the pictures and video that will help us through the next ~4 months!!

We left in another whirlwind off to check into our hotel in downtown Varna.  Our hotel is very nice and right in the middle of this big pedestrian-only square.  It is only one block from the beach of the Black Sea (though it is a chilly 50 degrees here now). After a short break and talk about our morning we had lunch with Rosi and asked her lots of questions about Bulgarian culture, customs, and holidays.  Rosi then offered to walk us around the city square of Varna and took us to a beautiful "Church of Assumption'. She purchased us two candles and we went into the church and decided to light them in honor and prayer of our two children. We are certain that all the Vesta personal are great- but we have found Rosi to be wonderful and feel quite lucky to have been assigned her! 

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After our walk we went back to the hotel to do some rearranging, but Myra prevented Joe from napping by rearranging some suitcases (and him (see picture)- yes, she's so mean) and then took a walk along a road by the Black Sea. 


Dinner was at a nice Spanish restaurant with Rosi, another VESTA coordinator, and a case worker from Italy.  Tomorrow we leave at 8:30am to go to orphanage and are able to stay until ~12:30,  we are going to be allowed to feed them lunch this time!  We are bringing a whole new bag of toys for tomorrow… it is fun learning what they enjoy!  We will have normal visitation hours tomorrow and Wednesday but Thursday will be shorter as our place leaves for Sofia at 12:30pm.  We thought we would be there through Friday, but it turns out the notary (to complete the paperwork) is not there past 1pm so they like to get us there early to make sure nothing goes wrong with the paperwork.  The bright side is we now have some time in Sofia to purchase gifts for them to bring back home and give later as they grow up to educate them about Bulgaria. We'll make the most of the hours we have and can't wait for the morning to come.

And…we’re OFF!!

It feels like we've been packing and preparing for the last two weeks. How much can you really pack you ask? Well, the answer is 3 checked bags, 2 carry-ons, and 2 briefcases. Granted only one suitcase and some of the carry-on luggage is for us, but I guess this is just preparing us for future travels with the twins! In a way it still doesn't feel real. Maybe that's because we travel a lot so sitting in the airport isn't really a new experience. We left the house at 5:30am Saturday, all our luggage in tow and after the first leg of our flight (Tampa to DC) Joe's brother picked us up at the airport so we could spend our 7 hour layover with his family and Joe parents who drove down for the day. It was great seeing everyone and we filled up at Olive Garden hoping that a full tummy would put us to sleep on the log leg from DC to Munich. So much for that plan! Really the flights were on-time and uneventful but lacked any significant sleep.

We arrived in Sofia at about noon on Sunday and were met by Petko who works for a sister agency to All God's Children International (our adoption agency in Portland). Surprisingly when waiting in line at customs we ran into another family that was on our flight who is from the U.S. and is on their second trip to Bulgaria…picking up their twins! Congrats to Stephanie and Josh! Petko drove us to our apartment in Sofia for the night. More than we could have asked for, a two bedroom apartment with full kitchen and equipped with some toys and child potty seats (we'll appreciate all that on our second trip!). I must admit though we learned early on not to judge a book (a building in this case) by its cover. From the outside we weren't sure exactly what we were going to think of the place we were staying but the apartment inside is AMAZING. VESTA (the sister agency) is really taking incredible care of us (the inside pictures aren’t very good because they are screenshots from a video). Petko oriented us to the city from our apartment and then sat down with us at a restaurant for lunch. While he wasn't able to stay, he just wanted to make 100% sure we were comfortable and oriented before he left.

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We couldn't let our first meal go by without trying some authentic 2011-03-27 06.39.16shopska salad (we've made this for some of you at our house but I can tell you….ours doesn't hold a candle to the real thing). This, paired with a beer and some Bulgarian wine set the mood for a great lunch. While we debated over the menu, the waiter stopped and asked if we wanted to try something traditional from Bulgaria, to which we of course answered yes. He quickly chose two nice dishes (one lamb, one chicken) and sent them our way. The restaurant was in an outside courtyard and with the sun shining and temp rising into the 60's, we had a wonderful introduction to Sofia.

Even though our eyes could barely remain open we were determined to stay awake and try to put our bodies into the local time zone (7 hours ahead of East coast US). We started walking around the city and found an extensive park and shopping area (after a quick shot of coffee (yes, literally 'coffee' is about a shot worth of liquid) from the Bulgarian McDonalds! A large mountain range provides an awesome backdrop to Sophia, especially from the airport (so the picture here doesn't do it justice!). We walked for a couple hours, thinking we were heading to this outdoor market which we unfortunately never found (skipping ahead…Monday, after resting for the night, we realized that the right we made should definitely have been a left!!).

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Throughout the whole day we would have flashes reminding us that, yes tomorrow we will meet our children and yet it seemed so unreal. Our eyes barely remained open long enough to head back to the apartment at about 5:30pm. We took a nice 2 hour catnap and then got up and decided to find something to eat close to the apartment. Not much was open but we found a couple of quick chicken wraps. Our suitcases seemed to have exploded in the apartment so we needed to get them in order because Monday morning we needed to head out for Varna (city on the Black Sea where our children's orphanage is). We were told upfront to be flexible during this trip. So taking that to heart, when they said we would be flying to Varna in the morning instead of driving, we just respond with, 'OK'! Really it is the best choice. Varna is a 6-7 hour drive from Sophia and would have REALLY cut into our visitation time at the orphanage.

Myra spent some time wrapping bows on the presents we brought for the caretakers at the orphanage and we rearranged the suitcases with the expectation we would be heading straight from the airport to the orphanage. Thanks to help from friends and family we filled one suitcase with clothes to donate to the orphanage (who lost much of what they had in fire about a month ago…). We wanted to have these, the gifts, and some toys for the kids easily accessible. We finished up about 10:30pm, set the alarm, said a prolonged, "Oh my gosh, we are meeting our kids tomorrow" and then headed off to bed….finally. A big day awaits….now where is that needed sleep?