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!
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...