Friday, August 25, 2017

Back to Kiev

Our first days as a family of three could not have gone any better. Sveta has been simply amazing- always happy and silly, and so much fun. We never knew we could love someone quite as much as we love this little girl. The three of us have stuck together to avoid any more separation anxiety, although Eric did successfully and quickly go get dinner for us last night without any issue. Food is still an issue a lot of the time but we are trying hard to figure out what she will eat. She is very much like a toddler when it comes to food, and textures and temperatures seem to play a big role in what she will eat at one moment and not another. Fortunately yogurt (close to room temperature) and fruit always seem to work- for now!

On Wednesday we took the train from Odessa back to Kiev. We were nervous to see how she would handle the 7 hour trip but, as usual, she was amazing. To be honest, we are very glad to be back in Kiev. Not only does it mean we are another step closer to going home, but our apartment is in an area with much more to see and do, as well as more foreigners. Thursday was Independence Day in Ukraine so everything was closed (and many things today too), but on Monday Sveta is scheduled for her medical exam as part of the immigration process. We are hopeful this will go smoothly and are still praying that we will have her passport in our hands by the end of next week.

Today we went to a large shopping mall because we desperately needed to find some warmer clothes for Sveta. Odessa was close to 100 degrees the last couple weeks and now Kiev is in the 60s so she didn't really have the best attire. At the mall we discovered they also had a bowling alley and decided to check it out. Sveta had a blast! She had the same priceless reaction every time a ball would knock down the pins- shouting "Wow!" and jumping up and down.  Watching her reaction to all of these firsts is so special.  Even simple things like being mesmerized by the washing machine tonight or a revolving door at the mall are so cute to see.  We are certainly enjoying our bonding time here as a family of three, but are so very eager to get home.  Please be praying with us that we can be home during the first week of September.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gotcha Day!

August 21st was officially gotcha day for our girl! It was quite a bit more emotional than we had anticipated.  When we arrived at the orphanage one of the caretakers was doing Sveta's hair and getting her dressed in the clothes we brought. She was Sveta's favorite and vice versa so she was already very emotional about her leaving the orphanage. After Sveta came out of the room with her small backpack and a going away gift, she was sobbing which made this mama cry too.  We tried to comfort her and the caretakers tried to comfort her but nothing was working.  We had brought treats for her to share with her group and she cried all through that too.  She knew that she was about to leave the only world she's ever known with two people she barely knew and no idea what was beyond the fence. We were able to tour the orphanage to see where she had been living for the last five years and by the time we were done with that her tears had stopped.  She wasn't completely her happy self, but more content than earlier.  We finished the last of the paperwork we needed to do and then it was time to go.  Sveta left the Baby House for good with us as her mama and papa! We were overwhelmed with joy that this day had finally come and are so blessed to be together as a family now.

Since she had been so sad earlier in the morning we had already planned with our driver to meet up with Sveta's best friend who had left the orphanage with her family from Italy one week earlier.  It was so fun to see the two girls interact and talk together and it made Sveta very happy.  We went out to lunch together (Sveta's first time in a restaurant) so the girls could have some more time together.  Sveta was quite funny (or embarrassing) at the restaurant.  She was very adamant she wanted soup and pizza and let the waiter know right away. Then every time he walked by she would ask him about her soup and pizza.  Since we had ordered a pizza to share, Eric and I were given plates while we waited for our food.  Sveta wanted a plate too so she got the attention of the next waiter that walked by and eventually got her own plate. She also got plates for the other people at our table even though they didn't need them.  Apparently Sveta didn't care for the soup because she didn't eat it and told multiple waiters about it as we were leaving!

After lunch we came back to our apartment and Sveta did great through the afternoon.  We tried to all go out to get some dinner but weren't having luck with Uber so Eric took the bus on his own to get something to bring back while Sveta and I stayed at the apartment.  She was fine for a few minutes but then lost it completely and threw a very loud fit.  It's so hard not understanding most of what she's saying but I kept hearing the word "papa" so I was hoping her only problem was that he wasn't there.  She was completely inconsolable. I texted Eric and told him to hurry up!  We went outside and walked around a bit watching for the bus which helped some until he got back.  Then when she saw him she got louder again and for the next hour or so would only grunt at him when he tried to talk to her.  She had calmed down though and eventually was back to her happy self.  Whew! We were taking it cautiously after that through the night and decided that at least for the time being, all three of us will stick together at all times!  Sveta had a great night and is still happy and content this morning.  Pray for our girl though.  This adjustment cannot be easy at all, and is probably downright scary.  Pray that she will have peace and we will be able to comfort her when she needs it.  It is such an adjustment for all three of us.  Also pray that we can figure out what foods (besides juice, candy, and ice cream) she will eat.  So far she has said no to just about everything else (besides the pizza at lunch yesterday). This is our last full day in Odessa and unfortunately it is raining so we're not sure we will be able to do much outside. Tomorrow afternoon we will take a train back to Kiev. We continue to pray that her passport will be in our hands by September 1st (or earlier!) and all things needed for immigration at the embassy will move quickly and smoothly.  We continue to hope we will be on our way home by the first week of September.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

More Paperwork

Saturday was a "working Saturday" in Ukraine which meant we were able to take care of a couple more things.  We went to the orphanage in the morning to meet with the director and finish signing Sveta out (though we won't actually take her until Monday).  We then went back to the bank because our facilitator and driver wanted to try and "talk loudly at them" to get them to close Sveta's accounts right away so we wouldn't have to worry about it next week.  Ukrainians do not trust banks at all and we quickly learned why.  When we got to the bank we found out that everything had just been completed on their end a couple minutes earlier and we could sign and get the money right away.  We took the money back to the orphanage to give to the director and that's when we found out the bank had only given us the interest made on her account and not the actual original deposit, which was a much larger amount of money.  So back to the bank we went where our facilitator and driver demanded they give us the rest of the money.  This took quite some time and eventually they said the director needed to come.  Once she got there it was just after 1:00 which is the lunch hour so nothing could happen now until 2:00.  So we went to get some lunch and wait until 2:00 when we could try and get everything resolved.  They continued to try and not give the full deposit but with the orphanage director, our driver, and facilitator refusing to budge, they eventually did give the full amount in cash back to the director (legally they should have given it to us, and then we would have given it to her, but that's another issue!).  Thus during our few hours spent at the bank we learned why Ukrainians do not keep their money in one!

Everything is in place for us to officially, and finally, take Sveta from the orphanage on Monday morning!  Since everything will be taken care of in Odessa after that (our driver will send the passport to Kiev once it's ready), we have train tickets booked on a day train back to Kiev Wednesday afternoon, where we will stay until we can finally fly home.  Please pray with us that we will have her passport in hand no later than September 1st (two weeks after submission) and that we can be on our way home during the first week of September.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Paperwork Day

We had a long, but mostly successful day chasing paperwork yesterday!  Now that our ten day wait is over, the adoption has officially taken effect, we are officially her parents, and we can begin working on the paperwork required for her immigration to the United States.  Our facilitator was able to pick up our court decree from the courthouse on Thursday which meant we were able to leave early Friday morning to head to the rural village where our daughter was born, and get to the records office shortly after they opened.  It was about a two and a half hour drive on the worst roads we had ever been on by far.  We had no idea how long it would take to get her new birth certificate once we got there and was the part we were most worried about for the day.  However, we were very blessed to have her new birth certificate, with her new name and new parents, in hand only 30 minutes later!  We then started the long bumpy ride back to go on to the next thing.  Unfortunately a short ways into our journey we discovered the road had been blocked by protesters (who were protesting the horrible looking road) and no one was getting through.  The only other way out of the village was 100 km out of the way.  Our driver parked the car with the others and she and our facilitator told us to wait in the car while they walked up to the barricade to see how long it might last.  When they came back a short while later our facilitator told us that if anyone asked, we were to pretend we were important officials from the embassy who were late for a flight and desperately needed to get back.  They would move their barricade and let us pass through because of that.  So we drove up to the barricade and sure enough everyone moved aside (we heard them saying "Americans, Americans"), they moved their barricade, and let us (and only us) through! Another huge blessing!  We were back on the road again and by early afternoon had arrived back in Odessa.  We stopped by the orphanage so our facilitator could give them documents necessary for starting the sign out process and then our next stop was the bank.  Every orphan in Ukraine has a bank account that the government puts money into so that when they age out they have something to get started with.  When a child is adopted it is customary to close out the account and give the money to the orphanage.  This sounded easy enough to us since we figured we would just basically sign something that said to give the money in the account to the orphanage. Nope. First the bank must verify some of our documents to ensure we are who we say we are, and are really her parents.  This will take at least 2-3 business days.  Then we will need to go back to the bank to sign off on them giving the money to the orphanage.  So because of that we will not be able to go back to Kiev as soon as we thought we could. Fortunately though it doesn't slow down anything else in the process right now.  After the bank we went to the main passport office in downtown Odessa to have them scan some documents and start the process of applying for her passport.  We were originally thinking it would take up to two weeks to get her passport but found out yesterday the wait time is now as much as 4 weeks!! (Please pray we get it within 2 instead!) Our last stop of the day, just before they closed, was the local passport office in the district where the orphanage is located.  We had to give them some documents and paperwork for her passport as well.  We were able to get everything we needed to accomplished yesterday.  We are so thankful to have our facilitator doing all of this work for us because most of the time we have no idea what's going on or what we're supposed to do next!  We just do what we're told- stay in the car, sign here, etc., and know that she's got it under control.

We were not able to take Sveta from the orphanage yesterday but, in the end, we were okay with that because we were able to get so much accomplished that will lead to her getting home.  Monday should be the day that we get to have her with us for good!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 10

We have reached day 10 of our ten day wait after court! The last ten days have felt very long at times, but also easier than some since we knew when this part would end. Tomorrow we are supposed to travel to a rural village near the border of Moldova with our facilitator to try and get our girl's new birth certificate. We have been told that it is such a rural village there are times where they don't have electricity or a working database to produce the birth certificates. Please pray with us that everything will be working tomorrow and we will be able to get it without any hiccups! Once we have her birth certificate we will be able to apply for her passport here in Odessa, which we also hope to do tomorrow. Lastly, since our wait is up after today, tomorrow should be the day that we can finally take her from the orphanage to be with us for good! If we are unable to get back early enough with her birth certificate though we will have to wait until Monday for gotcha day.

Once she is with us we plan to travel back to Kiev to get started on some of the immigaration work while we wait for her passport to be ready (which can take up to two weeks but we pray it will be much less). Train tickets between Odessa and Kiev can be hard to get in the summer, especially last minute, so we pray there will be enough available for us on the day we need them. We have also started seeing what it looks like to buy plane tickets home at the last minute, and the results have not been good.  We need to decide if we want to purchase tickets now while we are still a few weeks out and hope we can change them easily if necessary, or just wait and pray we will be able to get tickets that we are comfortable with when the time comes...  For now, we are just thankful we have gotten to the next part of the journey and greatly appreciate your prayers and good thoughts for everything to go well tomorrow, and that our day will end with our girl in our arms for good.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Our Daughter

Our court appointment went well yesterday afternoon and we legally became the parents to our five year old daughter, Svetlana Laurel Zander.  We could not think of any better way to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary! The mandatory ten day waiting period is now in effect until August 18th, which should be our official "gotcha day" when we get to take Sveta from the orphanage.  Before we can take her from the orphanage we will need to get some paperwork from a rural village about 100km away.  We are praying that we can get that paperwork early on August 18th so that we will have time to get back and get her from the orphanage that afternoon.  However, being a rural village it's very unpredictable and there's no guarantee we will get it early or at all that day.  If that were to be the case, then we would have to wait until the following Monday before we could get her from the orphanage.  We are then looking at about 2-3 weeks (we hope not any longer) back in Kiev before we have everything we need and she is cleared to travel HOME.  We are so in love with this little girl and so excited to finally be her parents.  It may have taken almost 5 1/2 years but she was always meant to be our daughter.  We are certainly counting down the days until we can take her from the orphanage and have her with us for good.  In the meantime we are still able to visit the orphanage just like before to continuing bonding with her.  She is a beautiful, active, sweet, and silly girl for sure!

Please pray that we will get the paperwork we need and be able to take Sveta from the orphanage on the 18th.  Also, that we will easily be able to get train tickets from Odessa to Kiev when we need them (we've been told this is very difficult in the summer).

We will share pictures of our girl publicly after gotcha day :)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Court Date!

We are so excited to share that today we heard when our court date will be! Our court appointment is scheduled for Monday afternoon! Not only is that only 3 days away (thankfully we are still in country and didn't decide to go home and wait to hear when court would be!), but it also happens to be our wedding anniversary. To be completely honest we had actually been praying that court would happen on that day, just because it would be a little extra special. As each day this week went by and we didn't hear anything we began to realize that having court on our anniversary just probably wasn't meant to be. Really we were just not looking forward to having another long weekend of not knowing when we would get to move forward. But God's faithfulness came through once again in the eleventh hour when we found out late on this Friday afternoon that we would be going to court on Monday.  We also received the news earlier in the week that we were completely approved by the SDA to adopt our specific child, which was another huge answer to prayer since that is the step that has caused some extra hurdles for a lot of families recently. Now all we need is a favorable decision from the judge on Monday and this child will legally be ours! After court there is a ten day waiting period before our custody officially begins though. We do plan to ask the judge to consider waiving this waiting period. It is very rare that a judge will, but we are praying they might just decide to allow it this time. If not, we will at least know we only have 10 more days to wait before we are officially together as a family!

Please pray with us that court will go well on Monday and that the judge may even decide to waive the waiting period.