Monday, June 11, 2007

Back Home

After an exhausting trip, we touched down at Dulles on Friday afternoon and were greeted by record heat. But who's complaining? We're a family, and we're home.

On Sunday, Irina celebrated a belated third birthday. Her mommy and daddy are already wondering where they're going to store all of the gifts that she keeps getting. But she's having the time of her life.
She wasn't sure she would like Dakota when she first met him (perhaps the feeling was mutual!), but they have already become buddys. Dakota seems to be looking after her, in fact. He checks in on her if she cries at night.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Rounding for Home

Our last day in Kiev ends where our first day began: at McDonald's, where Irina had her first taste of America today, in the form of its famous french fries. The extra value meal tasted extra special today.

The past few days have been a blur. Monday was all about hustling down to Donetsk, the provincial capital, to get Irina's paperwork completed, which included a new birth certificate and an Ukranian passport. For a while, we weren't sure how we'd get to Kiev, as the train was reportedly sold out, but our coordinators made a few calls, the tickets came through, and we hustled back to Kramatorsk to pick up Irina and board the train. We spent that night on the train and arrived at 8 a.m. in Kiev on Tuesday morning, where we promptly went to get a pro forma medical exam for Irina as part of the US visa application. From there, it was on to the US embassy here (in Kiev), where we waited quite a while to meet with a consular officer as part of the visa process. Irina was understandably becoming fidgety, and her daddy was grumbling about where all of the taxes go, but we finally met a consular officer and the visa was granted. Tuesday night's sleep was especially welcome.

Wednesday we spent some time at a park in Kiev that had a lot of playground equipment (and a lot of kids!). Today we intended to go to the zoo, but we wound up at a mini amusement park (my mistake), which, as it turned out, wasn't a bad alternative.

Irina is doing well, considering all that she has been through. She has anxious moments, but they're declining. I'm amazed at how easily she has adapted. She's a sponge, too: her vocabulary is growing daily (we need to be careful about what we say!).

Irina's mommy has been a trooper. I'm extremely proud of how patient and motherly Darlene has been. Three days on the job, and she's a natural!

We're having a final meal with American friends Rafa and Kim and their new family. And then it's packing up and some sleep (hopefully!) before an early flight on Friday.

To all of our thoughtful family and friends: thanks again for comments and emails. There will likely be a few more updates. Because, of course, the trek really isn't ending in Kiev.

Monday, June 4, 2007

It's official

No returning Irina to her caregivers. It's just the three of us, on a train, headed for Kiev, after a long day of getting all of the paperwork processed.

We feel elated; our family is official! What's more, it's Irina's third birthday today. She's celebrating by watching the Ukranian countryside pass by, on her Momma's lap. It's a good birthday.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sunday at the Monastery

Oksana arrived this morning, and we decided to visit a monastery. We drove about an hour outside Kramatorsk. We visited a beautiful, centuries-old place nestled along a riverside; it's called the Sviatohirsk Lavra. It's considered one of Ukraine's holiest places.

We didn't make it for a service; that starts at sunrise (5 a.m.!) but we did spend quite a while on the grounds. Here, Darlene and Oksana are wearing scarves and wraps, as required for all female visitors. The history is pretty interesting. The Russian writer Anton Chekov spent some time on the grounds in the 19th century. During a good portion of the 20th century, it was used for decidedly non-religious purposes by the Bolsheviks or the Soviets; monks were literally living underground in tunnels at one point during the Soviet era. Since the early 1990s, however, it has been reclaimed by the Orthodox church for use as a monastery and cathedral. We really enjoyed the tour, getting out into the green countryside, and the wonderful meal we had with our driver at a little restaurant tucked away in the woods outside Kramatorsk.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Three Weeks

Life does come at you fast. Three weeks ago, we arrived at Kramatorsk with hope and trepidation, not really sure what we were getting ourselves into when our eyes met the gaze of a brown-eyed girl.

And now? And now, our preoccupations are probably not that different from many parents of toddlers: How to discipline firmly, but lovingly? How soon before we get her to understand the importance of looking both ways and never running into a street? Can we encourage creativity without relying upon batteries? Where will she be able to socialize with other children? And exactly how does one conduct potty training?!

I know it's just the beginning. But taking one day at a time and asking for help from family and friends--plus, a little faith, hope and love--have helped to transform us into Irina's fledgling parents in the course of three weeks. I'm sure it will all work out. Besides, potty training will be Darlene's job.

Friday, June 1, 2007


We do our best to communicate with our new daughter. She clearly is more conversational with her caregivers, who speak Russian--after all, it's all she has known for nearly three years. We know a few Russian words, and encourage her when she uses an appropriate Russian word (e.g, majik for "ball").

We're using plenty of English with her, too (if for no other reason than our Russian vocabulary gets depleted pretty quickly!), and she's picking up words quickly. She's already using "juice," "bubbles," "banana," "boom," "woof" (when she sees a dog), and "big step" when she climbs a step. At her age, we don't anticipate many problems learning a new language.

It took us about two weeks, but we figured out another Russian word ... malako. Almost every day we would visit Irina, we would hear a lady outside the orphanage grounds yelling "MAH lah ko" in a very drawn-out way. We initially thought she was nuts. We then saw that she would stop to talk to other people, before she'd resume walking down the street yelling "MAH lah ko." So we figured maybe she was a mother, calling for her child. A couple days ago, it all came together: after she made the rounds around the block yelling "MAH lah ko," she returned to a spot where about ten people were lined up with jars ... the woman would take their money and give them a jar of milk. Malako means milk, as one enterprising Ukranian has taught us. The Ukranians seem to really prize fresh, raw milk.

So, anyway, we're trying to work malako into one of our conversations with Irina before it becomes "milk" when she gets to the States.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa V!

Irina was in party mood today, in celebration of Grandpa V's birthday!

Actually, these decorations were all around the playground today. We found out today is a national holiday of sorts, "Children Protection Day." So, orphanage staff had decorated the whole playground with banners and balloons.

We do wish Grandpa V "Happy Birthday!" His new granddaughter looks forward to meeting him soon.