Friday, January 23, 2009

Home at Last!

The four of us are now home. We did take the opportunity to tour Moscow on a very warm, roomy tour bus. It is an amazing city. Lots of history reflected in beautiful buildings constructed during very key moments in Russia's history. The Kremlin and Red Square should be seen by anyone who has an opportunity to do so in their lifetime.

We were blessed with a cancellation that shortened our return from Moscow from three plane trips to two. Kirill had another tantrum on the plane, but it lasted only twenty minutes this time. We are convinced that he is just terrified of having to return to Russia, even though we feel he received excellent care by the orphanage system. Kirill doesn't express his feelings much at all. Even when we are in the company of people who speak Russian and English, as we were on the ten hour flight home, he clams up and sulks, or cries and screams. We just hold him, stroke him gently, let him kick and scream and tell him we love him, and all seems to settle down just fine. Several times he asked "dome"? (home?). When we had to say "not yet", he would frown. When we finally did arrive in Des Moines, he asked if we were home. When I said yes, he smiled, then began repeating many words back to me in English. It is as if he had to be truly "home" on American soil before he felt 100% sure he was not going back to Russia.

We enrolled Kirill, now David, as he insists on being called, at Wallace Elementary School. We were again blessed, as we have been many times in this adoption experience, with an ESL teacher who is Bosnian, but who also speaks Russian. David took to her very well. We can easily tell he wants to start school now but will be starting in three days. His school is a relatively small one, with ESL students from about 9 different countries. At this time he is just getting adjusted to his new home, getting to know his grandparents, and exploring the house in its entirely. He opens all doors, turns all knobs, and pushes all buttons--most physical, some metaphorical (!). Our chihuahua sits on his lap often, which we consider a very good sign, since dogs are very good judges of human character. He has taken to his grandpa, and appears to feel at home. He tried on a couple of cowboy hats Billy, a very nice boy from California, had sent to him as gifts. They suit him well. David is on his way.

We look foward to seeing Nastia this Saturday night, the third of the Camp Hope group to arrive in Iowa. The Des Moines based Russian adoptee community is growing little by little.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


This is Celia, Danielle and Kirill's 11th day in Russia and my4th day and we have been in Moscow for the past 4 days. It is snowing almost everyday and the city it is in a constant state of overcast. It is as cold here as it was in Iowa, but not as much wind, so going out for walks everyday is reasonably well tolerated. We are staying at the Holiday Inn, and fortunately, most of the employees who work at the desk speak functional English. This has come in handy since we have no translator on this third and last adoption trip. We are really on our own. Kirill has melted down several times since I have been here, but nothing Celia and I have not been able to handle. We have come to realize from our understanding of the potential energetic and physical effects foods sometimes have on children's behavior that Kirill cannot eat sunflower seeds or too much sugar. Nor can he watch any cartoons or other television for that matter that involves violent themes. These stir up something deep within him that makes him irritable and tantrum prone. So we keep television limited to the Animal Channel and benign Russian cartoons (fairy tales and the like). Managing Kirill is all about energy management and early recognition of frustration from not being able to communicate. He is also much like a shark in water, full of movement and energy and constantly eating or snacking. As long as he sleeps well, eats good food, and does not watch bad T.V., he does very well. Celia and I twice to three times a day take him downstairs to the lobby and ask the English speaking employees to ask him if there is anything he wants to ask us or wants from us. This seems to keep him out of the realm of frustration, giving him the opportunity with communicate with us. Celia and I are desperately trying to learn as much Russian as possible to help matters as much as we can.

Overall, this transitional period is more representative of what were are likely to go through when we return to Iowa. After Celia and I were able to get Kirill to fall asleep last night (after midnight) we laughed at the fact that it had been some time since we had to manage outbursts, much like we did with Camille when whe was younger, and to a lesser extent Danielle. Both our daughters turned out to be great, well behaved kids; if we figure things out right with Kirill, he should follow suit.

The hotel is a very nice one, but smoking is allowed, and Russians guests and convention attendees take full advantage of this. The lobby and hotel restaurant smell constantly of tobacco, so we go to a national chain coffee house-restaurant (Kofye Haooze--phonetically translated) which has great food and coffee, and little smoking. At the gym here in the hotel, only Americans seem to be working out. Step outside the revolving main entrance door, and instantly noise, car exhaust and lots of people scurrying about greet you. Moscow is huge. We will probably not have an opportunity to see much from a tourist standpoint as Danielle is not handling the cold mixed with snow very well and you have to do a lot of walking to really explore the city. But the hotel has a very nice gift shop, and we are really looking foward to just getting this process over with and on our way home. I feel Kirill needs a sense of routine, and to see his good friend Danya whom he used to live with at the orphanage (now in Iowa with Barbara, his mama).

Two days ago we met at the U.S. Embassy and processed all paper work needed to legally leave Russia and legally enter the U.S. with Kirill. We waited in a medium sized room with numerous other American families who had children much younger than Kirill. Many parents were considerably older than Celia and I, and had children no older than two years of age. The American officials were very pleasant, and had processed our documents relatively quickly. We now wait for another individual named Alana to further process our documents so that we have a passport for Kirill. It admittedly makes me nervous every time I am asked to pay $300 here or $150 there to people I don't know to process our documents, but so far everyting has come through as we had hoped or expected. We have learned that we just have to trust the process.

We are due to see Dave Lentell and his daughter Nastia in two days. This should help Kirill to be able to speak Russian again. His occasional meltdowns notwithstanding, he really has been very patient with this last adoption phase. It is our understanding that if you explain to him well why we do the things we do as parents, he behaves just fine. Danielle's martial arts teacher Paul Green (who has also adopted Russian children) told me once that Russian adoptees need about 6 weeks to speak functional rudimentary English, and are usually fluent by 6 months. We feel Kirill will be no exeption.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Learning Boundaries

Today is our 6th day in Russia and are waiting for Kirilli's passport to be completed. These last couple of days have been a real learning experience for Danielle, Kirill and I since the word limits and boundaries have been the main subject. I have also learned a very interesting fact about Russian culture and children: children respect their father but moms are supposed to be fun and sweet, and easy to convince. (very much like Mexicans). Kirills seemed to really embrace this since he has thrown tantrums that he never thrown when David was here. Nastya (our translator) explained to me that children love their moms but see their fathers as the disciplinary figure. Unfortunately, he has found that it does not quiet work like this with me. So he usually sulks but this morning he did have a full tantrum. So he vent for about twenty minutes while we waited when he realize his tantrum was not working he decide to pick the mess he had made and go down to have breakfast. All has been good since then.

Overall, I have to admit that they have been very good for been confined to a small hotel room. We try to go out for walks and we visited a couple of times the outdoor carnival. We also went to see a movie, which my Daughter seemed to enjoy a lot spite of been in Russian. Unfortunately there is not a lot for them to do around since more play areas are closed. We also have had limited transportation since Nick has been busy picking up families and Nastya helping people with their paper work.

Dave (Lentell) arrived last night with a gift for the kids (DS chargers, theirs died in the first try). Today he has a very hectic day. He has to pick up Nastya, visit several offices and apply for Nastyas passport, so we hope to see them tonight sometime after five. Its going to be nice for Kirill to have someone to speak Russian until we go to Moscow.

Take care and until next time.


Sunday, January 11, 2009


Hello to everyone from Russia.

Today Sunday in Petro and the first day after their long Christmas vacation. Yesterday the kids and I went out with Nastya (our translator and we visited the Karelia Museum and learn a little bit about the history of the state of Karelia, later we went to the outdoor carnival and the kids played on the inflatable and ride the train. It was very cold so we could not stay as long as we wanted. Since it was the last day of their Holiday everyone was out and about. The carnival was full with families who were enjoying the end of their vacation. Danielle and Kirill could have stay much longer but Nastya and I were in serious need of a drink.
I was very surprise when Nastya told me we were doing paper work today. Apparently in Russia after a long vacation people start working immediately after is over it does not matter is on a Sunday. I am glad because it give us one more day to do all the paper work we need. Right now we are waiting a the hotel because one of Kirills papers were wrong. His name was spell differently since they spelled David phonetically and apparently you can use different letter for the same sound. Hopefully tonight we will be able to apply for his birth certificate as well as his passport.
I am glad to report that his relation ship with Danielle continue to be as normal as you can expect for siblings. They play and fight and fight and play. The longer they are together the more they seemed to get into this funny routine. I only sit back and watched. Danielle was having a hard time today, missing home and particularly Camille. She was crying so Kirill told her he was also missing home but he was not crying. I asked him if he was missing the orphanage and he said no that he was missing his home in America particularly his dog chopper. I thought this was very interesting. He was so serious to when he said it. I guess is a good sign that he is already feeling part of our family.
I will say goodbye for now and I hope those who live in Iowa do not have to shovel to much snow.
Love from Russia.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Adjusting to a new family

Danielle and I have been in Petro for a couple of days. Our trip here was mostly uneventful until we have to drive from St. Petersburg to Petro. We have our first taste of a Russian Winter. The landscape was beautiful but the roads were very bad. It was so cold that the defrost could not keep up so we have to stop several times to clean the ice. Illya, thanks goodness, have a good handle of the car and he drove as save as it was possible under the conditions. We finally made to Petro in one piece and I have never feel more thankful of seeing the Karelia Hotel. We pick up Kirill the next day. He was already waiting for us and ready to leave the orphanage. Alla talked to me about final arrangemens while Kirill showed Danielle the orphanage. Kirill refused to take pictures of the orphanage (????), finally Danielle was able to snatch a couple of pictures. Danielle and Kirill have become siblings faster than I expected. The act like they live all their lives together. As I predicted, Danielle is the bossy sister and Kirill loves to make her mad. Luckily, most of the time they get along well, sometimes too well if you know what I mean. Trying to keep up with the two of them does not leave a lot of room for writing. The truth is that I am very glad I decided to bring Danielle. They have had an opportunity to get to know each other before facing all the demands of home. Kirill is loving the website Barb recommended to learn English and he has spent most of the time trying to learn while Danielle does homework.
I will leave for now since Nastya will be here soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

End of Our Second Trip

We just dropped off our son at the orphanage again. This Russian adoption process is insane, but it is what it is. And if you play your cards right, and respect Russian protocol and culture, all goes according to what you are told by those in the adoption agency. Some personalities to highlight, as Celia and I reflect on this second stay.

Ilya: He is your Russian connection here in Petro. Without him, you get no child. He is the one who greases the wheels of the adoption system, and I would say does it honestly. He is very much a business man in the sense that he is very responsible and concerned about his reputation as a professional. You might not think this about him by the way he dresses, however, we have never doubted his integrity. I am trying to convince myself he has a sense of humor. A few times, he laughed at his own comments, but never at our humorous attempts to break the tension associated with the adoption process. He did lighten up, though, last night when we and the Lentells went out to dinner at a Mexican Restaurant here in Petro. We saluted to our respective successful adoptions, and he clearly was pleased with how everything went in the process. Not because he was going to get paid, but because he genuinely felt Kirill and Nastia were going to good families. If you can ever imagine an English speaking Russian figure in a Robert Ludlum spy novel, it would be Ilya. He literally appears then disappears, only to report back later with updates and further instructions.

Alla: She is the very loving orphanage director who always seems to be at the orphanage!! She is always a pleasure to visit with. She loves Kirill to no end. We always felt that she liked us very much as adopting parents. She was also a very good source of information from Kirill about how he felt about being adopted by Celia and me and coming to America. This information was relayed to the social worker and others involved and eventually to the court. She was a strong ally in this whole adoption experience.

Nick: Our driver, looks to be about in his fifties, and spoke very little English. But very pleasant and understood well the words "bathroom" and "food". He also reminded me of a Ludlum character. He apparently likes Euro-techno music. We heard a lot of it in our 6 hour trip to Petro.

Natalia and Anastasia: Both very good translators who know their town of Petro very well.
Natalia is very seasoned as a translator because she had spent time in the U.S., majored in English at her university, and has a mother who taught English. She barely has an accent. She also seems to understand the American mindset very well. Natalia is very pleasant to work with, and interacts well with the children. She is very soft-spoken, but understood us very well, even when we used vernacular or slang terms. For $10/hour, I thought we got our money's worth with these two young ladies, both in their early twenties.

Child Welfare Social Worker: Our interaction with this tall, attractive, professional appearing woman in her thirties was limited to disclosure of Kirill's history and her appearance at court. She does a very nice job informing you of everything you need to know about your child and appears to have worked with Kirill on a number of occasions with respect to how he felt about being adopted. Because Russian are very superstitious, I suspect she did not want to get to know us on more than a professional level. We saw her twice during our visits here. Her job is very difficult as it often involves taking away parenteral rights.

The Ophanage Kids: We were able to see a lot of the as we picked up and dropped off Kirill numerous times in our two trips here. Some are not adoptable and are at the orphanage because their parents cannot afford to take care of them-but they have parents. Others are adoptable, and others are probably somewhere in between, perhaps part of Camp Hope 2009's group of adoptees. They are beautiful kids, always smiling and laughing. We spoke to Karina, one of the kids who knows Kirill well, but she is not adoptable. Her parents ostensibly are undergoing some financial hardship. She is delightful as are the others we ran into. She looks like a little gypsy girl with her beautiful darker colored skin and hair. She stands out in your average group of Russian kids, most of whom are blonde.

We leave Kirill again with a heavy heart. He was sad this time as we dropped him off because even though we told him we could not take him back with us this time, I think wishful thinking got the best of him. This time, he walked back to his room with a long, sad face. It was very hard to leave him this time. He knows, however, Celia will be back with his sister Danielle in two weeks.
In general, we did not have any unfavorable experiences here. Some interesting observation about the people and the system were noteworthy: It is a very maternal society in the sense that most professional positions, such as physician, judge, administrators, and the like are filled by women. Russians don't say excuse me when they want to pass or get by; however, they are not rude, either. They smile, but it's almost a bridled smile, as if not to be too friendly. But the few Russians we met that did speak enough English to help us were very nice. Most of women are generally thin, attractive, tall, and very fashionable. Men here tend to be a bit overweight, sport very short hair, and do not grow beards or other facial hair much at all. They also like dark colored clothing, and smoke more than the women do. However, the people we met and observed here walk far more than Americans do, and are far less overweight. Rarely did we see an obese person. Rarely did we see an overweight child. We did not see any obese children here. What we did see a lot of were liquor kiosks!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Official!

It is indeed official: Kirill is now our son. But not until after what has been perhaps the most stressful day since we began this journey of a foreign adoption. Today we went to court and met with the judge, and state of Karelia prosecutor in a court session that lasted 4 hours. In attendance was also Kirill's social worker, Svetlana, orphanage director, Alla, and our translator Marina. Nobody smiled; it was all business, and Celia and I were grilled to no end seemingly. The grilling began with Celia then me, and involved many questions ranging from why a foreign adoption, why Kirill, why Russia; do we make enough money to afford Kirill; what about the recent case of the adopted Russian 2 year-old that died of heat stroke in a car in Virginia by a neglectful father, and many other legitimate questions, all intended to give us an opportunity to prove our worthiness as adopting parents of a Russian child. We were counseled the day before on what things to say and especially what not to say. What was abundantly clear was that there was no family of Kirill's left that could take care of him, either because of financial or health reasons, or both. To this day, nobody knows the whereabouts of his parents, Julia and Sergei. All attempts were made to place Kirill with Russian families in a foster care setting, but everyone agrees formal adoption is in Kirill's best interest.

The prosecutor was a thin, blond attractive woman in her early twenties, dressed in a military type uniform, and new at the job. She was very particular and was also upset about the fact that no Russian families existed that could adopt Kirill in the area. She grilled the orphanage director about how much she had tried to place Kirill with whatever family was left (and aunt and a grandmother. Both signed off formally on Kirill). The judge was also a woman, around in her 60s, and very stoic. She too was concerned about the lack of available Russian families able to adopt. Additional questions centered on how we plan to deal with a child that does not speak English, and how we parent in general. Lots of open-ended questions. Overall, there was a clear bias against Americans adopting Russian children, but this was tempered by the fact that we were very good candidates to adopt Kirill, and that adoption was in Kirill's best interest, even if it was by foreign parents. We recessed after giving closing arguments, and returned an hour later to receive the verdict, and it was as we had hoped: we were granted legal parenteral rights to Kirill. We then gave a small set of roses to the judge and the prosecutor, which is a customary gesture. Just before we left, the prosecutor came up to Celia and me and admonished that we take very good care of Kirill, because we are the only family he has now. She tried to talk to Kirill, but he did not pay much attention to her. I don't think he liked what she represented: someone who could argue against our petition.

After Kirill found out about the verdict, he smiled, hugged us, and said he was very happy with the news. We then went back to the hotel for a little while, and had a beer (Celia and I, of course)at the hotel lounge. He then talked to his "babooshka" Ruth in California and sister Danielle in Iowa by phone. Kirill's mood clearly changed. He began laughing more, and then began repeating more words in English. We then hooked up with Dave and Lisa Lentell and their Nastia, and had a very nice traditional Karelian dinner, during which Kirill and Nastia proceeded to go bonkers!! Lots of singing and giggling. I think Kirill was just relieved, but Nastia was probably expressing nervous energy, as the Lentells go to court tomorrow. Both kids are beautiful, full of life and promise. As damaged as they were in their earlier life, they have come a long way. This is a credit to the Karlelian orphanage system, child welfare system and Russian medical care, which has done a great job bringing Kirill, Nastia and others to such a highly functional level. Kirill is incredibly intelligent, warm and very, very patient. He has become very close to us during this short stay. At this moment, as I right this blog, he is sitting in bed with Celia and me, watching Russian television.

The Russian government is very upset over the fact that this Virginia father was acquitted from this case that took place last summer. However, from what Ilya told us, Russian perception of what goes on in the world is based on the Russian media, which at this time is fairly anti-American/Bush. So we endured this adoption process during a very charged political and emotional time. I suspect there will be some curtailing of adoption of Russian children by Americans in the coming years as a result of this case.

We leave Kirill again in two days, but Celia and our daughter Danielle return January 6th for a 3 week stay, partly in Petro and the rest in Moscow. I will join them in Moscow for 5 days. We bring him home for good on January 21st. It has been one of the most eventful days in our 13 years as a married couple, and well worth the effort involved in making Kirill our son.