Thursday, July 23, 2009

Friendships for the Lost Souls

It never ceases to amaze us how complete strangers are brought into our lives; and in the most unusual way sometimes…Over the past 20 years we moved often with Brad’s job; which was always a scary but exciting time for us. We had to leave the friendships and things we loved behind; most of them just distant memories as we reflect back on the years. We were excited but scared to pick up and move and start our lives all over again with a different house, new jobs, new schools, new culture, and new friendships. In a sense we were orphans as well. We left our extended families for an adventure of a lifetime. Granted we now see family from time to time since we still live a 5-hour drive away from where we call “home”.

As we started out this adventure of a lifetime we were newlyweds, then new parents, and we were all alone. We didn’t have parents to babysit for us. Our children didn’t have the 1st birthday (or any other birthdays as far as that goes) or many other holidays with cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. A friend once told us to never play the “could’ve, should’ve or would’ve” game. You have to do what is right for YOU as a family. No matter how far away from our families we were, they were always a phone call away. It didn’t change the miles between us, but somehow brought comfort in troubled times. This strengthened our relationship not only to each other, but our children as well as we learned how to play and grow together, to respect, trust, and love. We depended on each other and we put our faith in God’s hands. God has the ultimate plan for each of us…

We always talked about adoption when our biological children were growing up but for some reason it just didn’t happen. We had to keep reminding ourselves to have patience, what is meant to be, will be…

As you all know God did have a plan for us, not only did he teach us about patience but he also is testing our faith. Our new teenager daughter continues to test our faith, trust, patience, and love. It has not been easy for us; and we're sure it hasn’t been easy for her to leave her siblings and the only world she knew. God knew we needed these friendships and this child in our life because he knew we were lost and alone so many years ago. He believes we may be able to help her deal with her loneliness and loss. We just hope and pray that she will overcome her fears and learn to appreciate her "adventure of a lifetime". HE puts people in our lives and we sometimes do not understand the “why”. Perhaps we are not meant to understand; just "go with the flow". HE has the ultimate plan for each of us…

If you ever want to make God laugh… Tell Him your plans!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Heartbreak Hotel

We really are trying to bring closure to our blog page, but we just never seem to have enough time... Here it is, April 13th.. Tax day is two days away & we're not ready for it and we just had a conversation with Vera that ripped our hearts out...

The abridged version is that she is unhappy here and wants to return to Ukraine when she turns 18. A lot of it we can attribute to homesickness. Some of it we can attribute to anger about being told she could not attend the prom of "not her school".

She wants a family, but no rules, and believes that people with a lot of money are bad people...

She thinks Mari & I do not love each other (we're more like brother & sister than a married couple to her), partially because I don't bring her flowers or gifts... I tried to explain to her that the greatest gift anyone can give is their time.

She feels that since she was no longer going to the internot, all she really has to do while she is in the States is learn English, then not go to school anymore.

But she flat out told us that she could not allow herself to love us because she wants to leave. She does not really think of us as her family, though she calls us "Mom & Pop"...

We try to explain to her that several people spent a lot of time working to make this happen, but she does not see that...

Mari and I are at wits end... There's a lot more to this conversation, but these are the high points. We don't want to give up, but know that no matter what we do, she will be gone... Sooner rather than later...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Greetings

Okay... You caught us again...

We have been back in the States since January 31, and have literally hit the ground running.

We started her right away at Gretna High School, getting her involved with their 'peer buddy' program. After a week of not much to do but hang out with the other kids and not getting much out of the class, she was tested on February 6.

Vera is in an English Language Learning program at a neighboring school since Gretna does not provide the service directly. The beauty of this particular program is that it is all English, all the time.

We do have every intention of providing some closure to this... in the near future.

In the meantime, we thank you all for your prayers and support...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Still more fun with Jay & Martha

I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you (John 15: 15b-16a)

Okay, so you caught us... It’s been a week since we last posted. Some how the blogging is starting to seem rather anticlimactic, but it has been an important part of keeping friends and family updated, as well as maintaining somewhat of a diary of this process from our perspective.

Tuesday night we said “Poka” to some people who have been very important to us in the adoption process. The abridged version of Wednesday is that we are now in Kiev waiting for the I-600 to get processed through the Omaha USCIS office and the National Visa Center in New Hampshire.

The Swinney family has been a source of positive energy for everyone, despite some of their frustrations; many of which have mirrored many previous adoptions.

Martha and I have developed this… How shall I put it? Common bond… and this addiction to Skype.

I for one am a night owl, and during a normal workweek, function on about 5 hours of sleep a night. This feeds my Sunday nap time. While we were back in the States for the holidays, I would spend my late nights checking company e-mails, power web surfing, and whatever project du jour I have in my inbox; and would periodically check Skype just to see who is on and to say ‘Hi’ to whoever is out there…

Somehow it never failed that I have caught the Swinneys logged in to Skype, so I just can’t resist… And we start in.. Topics of discussion range from current events to weather to general frustrations with the whole adoption process. Always light-hearted, always fun, and always dogging me about being up at 1 a.m. CST (‘Go to bed’ / ‘Yes, Mother’ / ‘Your Majesty will suffice’ / ‘whatever’…). And being the nice guy that I am, my “Mule” bundle was increased by a handful of games… The Swinneys are the type of friends you don’t mind doing a little extra for so I really didn’t mind.

Upon our return, we thought we had sunk to a new low… First off… EVERYONE has a cell phone, so two or three time daily chats aren’t uncommon… Second, we live across the courtyard from each other, so if we needed to, we would run down the stairs, across the courtyard, up the stairs and crash the other’s party and it’s fun.

Just so happens, the other day I was on Skype with our daughter Kelsey and who happens to pop up on skype… So the chat room begins again, talking about English lessons, how the others are doing, has anyone heard from Michelle, etc… After two or three episodes, Mari reminded me that they’re just across the courtyard, why not run over there?

“True, but, this is quicker…”

“You’re pathetic!”

“I’ve been called worse…”
Followed by “Don’t tell anyone how pathetic we are by skyping when we could just walk across the courtyard or yell from the balcony.”

“But we really are, and besides, one day we will all look back at this and laugh.”

We progressed further in to our pathetic ways the day I accidentally hit the “Call” button on Skype… and Martha returned the call…

(As the video comes on) “Don’t tell Mari this, but we’ve reached a new low in our Skyping”

(Mari is sitting on the bed and out of camera view) “Too late…”

At least from Kiev, we’ve elevated from pathetic to a more acceptable version of just plain sad… And we still have our friends.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

We're back!

Well, we’ve been back for a few days. The 10 days have been up for a while and the holidays have passed, so it’s about that time we return to Ukraine and pick up where we left off.

We look forward to catching up with new friends; all of us continuing on through the process in a fresh, new, year. We may miss Super Bowl Sunday, but, football is not one of Mari’s favorite sports and the Vikings got knocked out of the playoffs early. Get a dozen skaters on ice with sticks, well that’s a different story (We went to a fight and a hockey game broke out)…

This trip started at about 6:30 Monday morning when Andrew dropped us off at the Omaha airport on his way to work. A four hour layover in Chicago followed by a two hour or so layover at Washington Dulles, right in the middle of the inauguration festivities, and we will be on our way back to Ukraine to (hopefully) finish this off. Isn’t it just grand that the airlines can disrupt perfectly good layovers with flights?

Against our better judgment, we volunteered to be one of the “designated mules”, bringing back clothes, games, etc, for the families waiting for court dates, adoption decrees, or a friend in need of a replacement camera or whatever. The bonus plan is that it gives us another bag to drag stuff back in.

Something we were actually looking for, but weren’t sure if it existed in Ukraine or not was bubble wrap… Yes, Martha, I am serious about that, so of course it occupies space in one of the bags. It will also occupy time in the event of total boredom… I start at one end of the roll, Mari at the other and we just pop away at it!

We literally did hit the ground running Tuesday, getting the birth certificate… Internal ID was not so easy. Still have a couple issues since she was de-registered from Internot 4 when she started at the trade school and failed to register a residence. Essentially she is a non-person in the eyes of Ukraine, so how can she apply for a passport. This appears to be a fairly quick remedy and will be resolved on Thursday.

So for most of Wednesday, we spent our time exchanging currency, eating, grocery shopping (the one dude that works there takes his job WAY too seriously and is REALLY scary), and souvenir shopping.

About 2 or so, Alyona calls & says they will be picking us up around 5 to take care of some things… 5 pm arrives and it’s off to the races again. Five people do not fit very well in a Daewoo sedan… The Passport office was about a 10 minute walk… Well, 15 for someone with a bad knee… Once again - How can a non-person apply for a passport? Don’t ask, I sure wasn’t going to. Alyona must have some pretty good contacts, because the applications was completed on Wednesday and the registration issue was finished on Thursday.

The supporting documents were shipped via FedEx to Omaha on Thursday, but the tracking number did not appear on the web site until Friday evening. So much for a Monday delivery, but we are still optimistic about being on our way back by next weekend.

Last but not least… Something I know Vera’s been looking forward to: English lessons that have been put off for the past four weeks. We will ensure a captive audience for the English tutor. (insert evil laugh here)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Phone calls...

As we continue “The Waiting Game”, Christmas and New Year’s Day have come and gone and the Christmas d├ęcor has been unceremoniously pulled down, boxed, and put away. The pounds we lost in the first three weeks walking around in Ukraine have been found and put back where they were. And the worst part of it all is that we have done this without our new daughter.

In the meantime, we have returned to our jobs and some sense of normalcy until the government offices return to action in a couple weeks.

With nothing better to do on a quiet afternoon, I pulled out the cell phone we were using in Ukraine and looked up Vera’s phone number. Skype is a wonderful thing… and inexpensive to call Ukraine… So we have managed to use it on a couple of occasions…

(Ring)
“Da”
“Vera… It’s Papa.
(Several excited gasps) “Pap.. Papa.. .PAPA! HI! How are you?? (More excited gasps and an obvious loss of words)
“Fine thank you. Happy New Year! How are you?”
(Still breathless from excitement) “Good… Happy New Year!!! Mam.. Mama.. How is Mama, and Andrew and Kelsey?
“They are very well.”
(Deer in headlights) “What is ‘well’?”

I explained as best I could that everyone was fine, we missed her and will be back in a couple weeks. I could sense the deer in the headlights at times, but breaking sentences down to two or three words at a time helped. Kelsey also had a chance to talk with her… Several “Happy New Years” and “I don’t understands” later, I get the head set back…

On the second call, Vera was not as excited as the first call, but still very happy to hear from us. Mari had a chance to ask some questions and see how she was doing… Mari got a few answers from her, then, “I don’t understand” and the phone gets handed off to Lena. Apparently we talk too fast for her… Okay then… I get the headset back again…

“You I understand… Kelsey, I no understand… Mama, sometimes I understand”

That is a step in the right direction… Now she is supposed to be getting with a tutor while we are away so she can pick up some more English. We explain to her that school here will not be easy until her vocabulary and comprehension improve. She understands.

So for the next couple weeks, we have the Skype phone (used sparingly) and Michelle with her hit and miss internet connection and just regular Skype to tell her we miss her, we love her and will be back soon.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Home for the Holidays


Vera spent Friday the 19th with us. Martha had loaned us her ‘Prince Caspian’ (Narnia) DVD to watch after dinner. After some minor technical difficulties, I got it to play on Kelsey’s laptop (that she named ‘Claudius’ for reasons known only to her – I don’t ask anymore). It’s kind of nice that Vera is starting to let her guard down around us, although she is still self-conscious about her English. She has, at our encouragement, taken it on to find the English tutor to continue her lessons. Perhaps since no one knew when this would happen, she backed away from learning English.

Saturday morning found us on the 6th level of Europa Mall for breakfast. It was really kind of nice feeding three people for only about 70 hryvnia (about $10). Vera still stumbles through her conversations with us but appears to be a little more confident although still very self-conscious.

Back to the room to finish packing. Many of the things we brought over for Vera went to Michelle’s on Friday night, so Vera knows where to find them. Some adjustments to the packing and we have everything packed tight in the bags. Hope nothing breaks.

Vera went with us to the airport since she had never been there before. The airport was definitely a new experience for her; it has cold metal seats for everyone in the cold drafty main lobby. As our 1 p.m. check in time approaches, Vera knows she can't go beyond the doors to see us off; she decides it is time to go. Outside to show her where the mashukas are; then back in for “Poka” (bye) hugs & kisses. Vera looks at Mari and asks "Mama, why you cry?" Mari tries to explain that there are happy tears for the adoption being approved and sad tears that we are leaving for just a little while. We don't want to leave, but we have much to do at home and not much we can do here. We have Skype and e-mail and we intend to use it as much as possible.

Our trip home includes an overnight stay in Vienna... Hope our luggage makes it. Unbeknown to us, the hotel we stayed at was right across the street from the airport as we requested shuttle service to/from the airport in our online reservation. It's nice to know someone got a good laugh at our expense. Nice room, reasonable and fairly quiet. Being in a strange city after dark and not knowing the language, our sense of adventure was not too great; we stayed close to home, having dinner and breakfast across the street at the airport (cheaper than the hotel).

Ten hours on an airplane (we were thinking only 7 or 8) to Washington Dulles...

‘Are we there yet?’
‘No.’
‘Are we there yet?’
‘No.’
‘Are we there yet?’
‘No.’
‘Are we there yet?’
‘YES!’
‘Really?’
‘No.’

We clear the first line at customs, then on to the luggage return. Come to find out we only have ONE bag... Where are the other two? Well, apparently they were only checked through to Dulles and went to the other line.

‘Where are my bags?’
‘They'll be here in 30 minutes.’
‘You told us that 20 minutes ago’
‘They're on their way.’
‘We have a connecting flight in 20 minutes and still have to clear customs’
‘You have plenty of time’
‘Right. So Austrian Airlines will be footing my bills if I miss my connection?’
No response.

We get our bags and finish running the gamut through Customs. One of Murphy's laws kicks in: The shortest line, will most inevitably, move the slowest. The people in Customs were excellent. They did their best to ensure it was a fast and painless trip through the line. Now, it's off to the next conveyors to drop off our bags; then continue to the United Airline gate for our flight. We made it there in time, just to learn that the flight is delayed. What to do? Will we make our next connection? Will our luggage make it?

Patience...

Mari went over to Wendy's for a soda, then to a pretzel stand for some greasy, over-salted pretzel sticks. Should have had a burger...

After about a 30 minute delay, we board the aircraft. Very nice. We got an unexpected seating change to economy plus which gave us some extra legroom... WHERE WAS THAT ON THE FLIGHT FROM VIENNA?? The flight was uneventful, however due to the delay in Dulles the couple next to us would miss their connection. We made our connection (delays, delays), and get to Omaha around 11 pm.

Our luggage, however, was not as fortunate… We realized that two of our bags were only checked through to Washington. When we re-claimed them, we failed to pay attention in class and didn’t realize they were not continuing on to Omaha with us. We joined the growing line at the baggage claim office, and as I finally got a chance to explain the situation, the clerk nodded empathetically, filled out the form and told us she would call with news. In the meantime, feel free to use the online page to check the status of your luggage (as I have visions of two suitcases getting a better tour of Austria than we did).

The abridged version is that we got one bag back late Tuesday evening and the other bag (with our Christmas gifts) back on Wednesday morning… Don’t ask… I did and I’m sorry…

For now, we will enjoy the holiday season as best we can with our family knowing there is someone missing. We will keep her in our prayers, as well as the other families who are patiently waiting for their Christmas miracles.