Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bringing Ella Home

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our "after the airport"

It feels amazing to be home, but the adjustment has been harder than we thought.  With our adoption, there have been a lot of challenges including paperwork, waiting for our first travel dates, traveling to Russia and back three times, preparing for court, living out of a hotel, the flight home... but after the airport has been our biggest challenge yet.  It's funny because we definitely came to the orphanage "expecting the worst and hoping for the best"... but somehow we figured since she was doing so well there, she would continue to do really well at home.  (Did I really say she didn't cry at first?  Yeah, that was definitely the honeymoon.  ;)  It's been a tough few days.  Our poor little girl has had her schedule completely flipped upside-down and you can tell she isn't happy about it.  :(  She is up for several hours at a time during the night and is exhausted for most of the day.  One minute she will be running around and laughing... the next minute she is crying incessantly on the floor.  I know she's been through a lot... I totally get it... going from the orphanage to the hotel to a fourteen hour plane ride to coming home on Christmas Eve is A LOT.

Adam and I woke up exhausted this morning.  I was up with Ella most of the night (just when I would get her to sleep, she would jolt awake as if she were never asleep to begin with), our house was a wreck due to unpacking, loads of laundry, and piles of Christmas presents.  Our dishwasher was broken.  We just didn't even know where to start... and well, add four kids to that, and it's pretty overwhelming.  I accidentally left Casey's bagel in the toaster, forgot Gavin asked me an hour before to help him find something, and was trying to pick up legos the older boys were dropping so Ella didn't put them in her mouth (we forgot what it's like to have a one year-old)...  Thankfully, with help from friends, we picked ourselves up and got it together.  I was reading some books tonight and realizing that I have a lot to be thankful for.  The fact that Ella is crying when I put her down or leave the room is actually a good thing.  It means she is attaching to me, which is the most important thing right now.  I read her some books tonight too and she was absolutely enthralled with them... I can't help but wonder if she has ever seen a book before.  I fed her a bottle and she fell asleep in my lap.  These are the moments I am seeking out and holding onto.

As the book I read tonight put it, "Parents who have had to work so hard to become parents may expect bliss.  And while I wish for you nothing less, at best it will be fleeting emotion and at worst it will elude you like a recalcitrant toddler.  You are jet-lagged and adjusting to a significant change in your life.  Your child is jet-lagged and adjusting to an even larger change in her life.  Throw in unpaid bills, unanswered calls, and visitors at the door and you've got the makings of something, but it's probably not bliss."

"Change is stressful, even positive change, and from your child's point of view, adoption is the total change of everything she knows.  She faces new caregivers, new environment, new smells, new sounds, new foods, a new bed, a new schedule, new expectations, and the list goes on and on.  When you think about it, it's a miracle the poor kid is even functioning.  And this explains the times when she isn't.  How she behaves in the first couple of months is no indication of how she'll be in the future.  None of us is at our best (or even at our normal) when we are frightened and stressed.  I would certainly hate to be judged at that time.  Regardless of how your child behaves, remember that she is not being bad, she is not trying to ruin your life or your home or your family.  She is coping the only way she knows how.  However hard it is on you, it is harder on her.  Tell her how brave and capable she is to handle all that has been thrown at her.  Even if she doesn't understand you, she'll pick up on the tone and it will remind you as well."

Reading this made me feel better, like everything I'm going through is normal and expected.  So I want to thank you for your prayers and support.  Thank you for the welcome home signs, brownies, and muffins.  Thank you for the dinners so I can focus on bonding with Ella, but still make time for our boys.  Thank you for letting me cry on your shoulder.  Thank you for your phone calls and texts just to let me know you're thinking of me.  Thank you for your excitement for us in bringing her home.  Thank you for understanding that it's a hard adjustment at first.  Thank you for showing me what being a friend means through it all.

Another blog I read writes:
"We are parenting damaged, traumatized children; don't let the pictures fool you. We're in the weeds. Every minute is on; there is no off. We've arrived late, cancelled altogether, hunkered down in therapy mode, missed appointments, failed to answer hundreds of emails in a timely manner, left voicemails unlistened to, texts unread, we've restructured, regrouped, replanned, reorganized, we've punted and called audibles, we've left the bigs on their own, hoping they are functioning well on auto-pilot after a lifetime of healthy stability, and sometimes, we put "Tangled" on for the eleventh time and cry in the bathroom. 

We are exhausted beyond measure. 

I know what you're thinking: You asked for this. Yes we did. And we'd ask for it again, with full disclosure and foreknowledge. We would. We would say yes to adoption. We would do it all over again. We might do it all over again in the future. 

That does not mean we are not exhausted." 

Many of you have asked about the boys and they are doing really well.  I have always thought Jacob would be the most excited... due to the fact he thinks this adoption was all his idea and has always always wanted a baby sister.   Gavin has been giving him a run for his money though.  Since he is our chill, laid-back one, I thought he would be indifferent for the most part.  He has been everything but indifferent though.  It is the absolute sweetest, most endearing thing to watch.  He constantly waves at her and says, "Hi baby sister!!"  When she cries, he tries to comfort her.  He brings her toys, but not dolls and all the girly stuff that he would never play with... he brings her his absolute favorite toys.  Last night, it was time for bed and he even offered Ella one of the stuffed animals he has slept with every night since he was two!   Ella brought all of the boys matryoshka dolls from Russia for Christmas and last night when Adam was holding her on the couch, Gavin whispered, "Thanks for the Christmas present, Ella.  I really liked it."  Heart. melted.  Casey has been doing a lot better than I gave him credit for as well.  Although he hasn't been overly affection with her, he hasn't been jealous or clinging to me either.  If anything, he seems to be taking on the big brother role of being independent and dependable.  Almost as if he sees her crying and knows that he has to be.  I am definitely taking every opportunity to love on him though so hopefully that has helped too.  They have all been amazing... when we needed them the most.

As I type, I can hear Adam talking to Ella like she is his whole world and she is cooing and giggling in response.  It gives me hope... that the only reason she has been so upset is because she is going through so many simultaneous changes.  Our sweet little girl crossed twelve time zones (I remember feeling like it was a challenge just for the boys to get used to the one hour time change of Daylight Savings!) into a whole different world, different language, different people...  and we are doing our best to love her through it.

Bringing her home on Christmas Eve was amazing though.  Watching the expressions of siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins as they met Ella for the first time...  priceless moments I will hold in my heart forever.  Pictures coming soon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another day with Ella!

Up and ready for another day!
 All bundled up with a hat my friend crocheted for her.  :)
 We decided to take a morning outing to McDonalds. 
  Can you believe this is what it looks like at nine in the morning in Moscow?
 Ella's first McDonald's experience!  (And definitely not her last... ha!)
 She shared Blini (Russian pancakes) with Daddy
 And fell asleep on the stroller ride home.  ;)
 We went to the U.S. Embassy today to get Ella's passport and visa.  He shared a lot of information with us like:  She is still a Russian citizen until her papers are stamped at customs in SeaTac.  Therefore, if we get stuck in the Paris on our way home... we should NOT leave the airport.  Ella will have dual citizenship until she turns 18.  At that time, she may choose if she wants to revoke her Russian citizenship or maintain a dual citizenship.  If children who are born in Russia return there after the age of 18, they may be enlisted for 18 months of mandatory military service. 
 Ella and Kelsianna (the little girl our friends adopted!)

  I'm not sure how well they knew each other in the orphanage... but now they are BFFs.  ;)

 We went out for one last dinner with our friends.  They are leaving tomorrow morning, which is a little emotional for me.  We've been through a lot together and made lifelong memories along the way.  I still remember meeting them in the lobby of this same hotel... seems like yesterday, but so much has happened!  They are an amazing couple and I truly hope we can get the girls (and us) together again someday.

 Our last day in Moscow is tomorrow... so we are finally off to see Red Square!  If I don't get a chance to post anything, please keep our fourteen hour plane ride on Christmas Eve in your prayers!  :)


 We got to do some sightseeing in Yaroslavl (the town where Ella was born) on Gotcha Day, right before we went to the orphanage.  Here are some interesting facts I found after doing some research... 
Yaroslavl was officially founded in 1010 by Prince Yaroslav. Before that, it was a small but growing trading post inhabited by pagans who worshiped a sacred bear. According to legend, Yaroslav rode into the village, killed the bear with his axe and thus subdued the city. Today, the fabled site of the ceremonious killing is marked by a large stone monument and the city's emblem features a bear and an axe.

Located along the banks of the Volga and Kotorosl rivers, the city was long an important commercial center. After being declared the capital of its region in 1218, the first stone buildings were built, although none of them survive to this day. By 1463, Yaroslavl was usurped politically by Moscow, and it was never to regain its former power, except for a brief period in the 17th century when it was temporarily made the capital of Russia after the Poles and Lithuanians captured Moscow. With over 600,000 residents, Yaroslavl is, by population, the largest town on the Volga. 

Here is the Kremlin in Yaroslavl
(There was also a gift shop here, so we were able to buy something special for Ella from her birthplace)

  Here is the church of St. John the Baptist, featured on their 1000 ruble.

 Parliament of the Yaroslavl region, with an ice skating rink in front  :)
 Here is the infamous Volga river (the largest river in Europe) on which Yaroslavl is located

The top of the river is almost frozen over!
 The doors to the orphanage in Yaroslavl, where our little girl spent the first year of her life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Our first day with Ella

The orphanage left us with Ella's schedule yesterday, so we are trying to stay with it the best we can.  Obviously we don't have porridge (and tea just seems really weird to give to a baby), but she has been really happy with formula, bananas, bread, and baby food!
We dressed up Ella and decided to go on our first family outing!
 Here is she all "babushka-ed" up as Adam and I like to call it.  When we talked to our adoption agency representative, she told us how important it was to completely bundle her up... to the point where you only see her eyes and nose.  Did I do a good job??
It's snowing in Moscow!
 I thought I'd give a few examples of how Russians dress.  See, I told you they love high heeled boots!  ;)

 So our first outing... was to Starbucks!  Of course.  ;)

 Daddy's hat...
 Mommy's hat...
 Ella's hat!

 Having her favorite snack while Mommy and Daddy get their coffee fix.  ;)
 Then we went to the mall for lunch.  The mall in Moscow is enormous... seven floors and we get lost every time!
 The Russian doctor visited our hotel this morning for a routine check-up (needed for the visa).  He said she looked amazing, we just needed to fatten her up a bit.  Okay... cinnabons for lunch it is!!
 Walking the mall with daddy

 We found a super fun little store that was perfect for Ella!  Miniature shopping carts, strollers, vacuum cleaners, toy kitchens... all for her to play with!  She was in heaven.  Adam and I decided we would come to this store for at least an hour each day we are here.  :)
 Russia has some seriously cool toys.  Really expensive, but quality... and very unique!
 Everyone that sees her in the mall immediately coddles her and talks "baby Russian".  It's hilarious because she totally seems to understand what they are saying and we have no idea.  I think it is comforting for her to hear Russian after listening to us speak nonsense English all day.  (Although sometimes, I will use the few Russian words I know just so she hears something familiar). 
 Ella is the sweetest baby girl!  She is down for anything and is seriously so good natured!  She loves walking around and exploring, but is also happy to be pushed around in the stroller.  I also had fun trying out the ergo in the hotel.  (Adam doesn't want me to take her outside in it though because he thinks I will slip.  ;)  She really hasn't cried, maybe this is the honeymoon though?  People say orphanage babies have learned that people don't necessarily respond when you cry, so they eventually give up (which breaks my heart).  Ella is truly the most mellow baby I've ever seen... she just eats when you feed her, sleeps when you lay her down, gets back up when she falls.  She really does seem happy though... we had her giggling in bed with us tonight forever.  Precious moments for sure.  I'm so glad we have these quiet days together, just mommy, daddy, and Ella bonding together in Russia.  ;)